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New Queens College prez keeps up fast pace in post

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Since he became president of Queens College July 29, James Muyskens has gone from meeting to meeting with these priorities in mind: to keep higher education affordable, to improve the quality of faculty and students, and to improve campus facilities.

From his 12th floor office overlooking the college campus and Manhattan skyline, Muyskens in an interview last week described what was a typical day for him: Before 9 a.m. he met with a person involved in fund-raising to prepare a report to present to a foundation. At 9:30 a.m. he met with the provost to go through a long agenda, including the recent hiring of 31 new faculty. At 11 a.m. he met with an administrative officer about advertising and promotion, especially for a new bachelor’s degree in business administration that will be offered next fall.

At noon, Muyskens met with political legislators. At 2 p.m., he met with a development officer to discuss a $100,000 gift which had been given to the college. At 3 p.m., he met with a group looking to hire a Webmaster for the college. At 4 p.m., he met with a reporter for an interview.

After the interview, he expected to meet with an executive assistant to go through a state of the college address speech which he would be delivering the following week. At night, he was planning to attend a play put on by students called “The Doctor In Spite of Himself.”

“It’s a lot of fun although it takes a lot of time,” said Muyskens of his job, which more often than not takes up time on nights and weekends.

“It’s not hard to go to the play tonight — that’s just fun,” he said. “And last weekend at the reunion when I talked with the class of 1952 about their days at Queens College, that was just fun.”

A large part of his time is spent fund-raising for the college, said Muyskens. Tuition at Queens College is about $3,200 per year for full-time students who take four to five classes a semester.

“It’s affordable, and that’s part of the mission here,” said Muyskens. “We want to be the place where people from Queens are able to come and get an education that’s second to none even if they don’t have a lot of resources.”

    Funding for the college comes from state dollars, student fees and private sources.

    Muyskens also spends a lot of time visiting the college’s departments to get to know faculty and students. Of the 30-some existing departments, Muyskens has visited about 10, he said. He is currently helping to recruit some new faculty to fill vacancies.

Before coming to Queens College, Muyskens served as chief executive officer and dean of the faculty at the University of Georgia for seven years, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan. for seven years, provost of Hunter College for three years, and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Hunter for six years.

“I’ve been extremely fortunate. I haven’t had to go out and look for jobs. I’ve been asked if I want to join them,” said Muyskens. “It’s really exciting to be back in Queens.”

Muyskens graduated from the Central College in Iowa, earned a master’s of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Michigan.

One of the first things Muyskens did before even taking the job as president of Queens College was meet with student leaders. Among other things, students told Muyskens that they thought the campus would be a better place if they had more opportunity to mix informally with other students. That is one of the reasons that the school is constructing a new cyber café at the entrance to the school library, said Muyskens.

Other construction projects currently underway on the campus include the complete renovation of Powdermaker Hall, a large building that housed 40 percent of the school’s classrooms, and the renovation of the student union.

“It’s very important that we have a campus that’s attractive, where students can do more than just come to class and leave,” said Muyskens. “To do that, you need to renovate.”

Though Muyskens has been lured away in the past by recruiters trying to fill top level positions at other colleges, he said that he is definitely planning to stay at Queens College for a long time.

“One of the things the college needs very much is to know that it has a president who’s looking at the long term,” said Muyskens.

Muyskens said he felt a strong connection with the college partly because he lived in Flushing during the years that he was working at Hunter, and partly because his wife graduated from Queens College in 1988 with a master’s degree in early education.

Even though each college that he has worked at has its own personality and character, the colleges were alike in many ways, said Muyskens.

“They all had a strong commitment to getting the best faculty you can get, to giving the students the best education you can get,” he said. “They had some of the same issues - trying to get more high school kids to finish high school, trying to keep the cost of education affordable.”

There are currently 16,400 students enrolled in Queens College, and Muyskens expects that number to grow steadily for the next five years.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 229-0300, Ext. 155

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