Journal News: New president Judith Huntington knew College of New Rochelle's affairs

December 26, 2011
by Gary Stern

Judith Huntington is the insider.

Before becoming the 13th president of the College of New Rochelle on July 1, she had a truly unique perspective on the college. As a former senior manager for accounting giant KPMG, she had spent the 1990s auditing CNR. After being asked to join the firm’s partnership, she was also asked to consider CNR’s need for a vice president for financial affairs.

“I never thought I’d be working at a college. Period,” she said. “But I loved CNR’s mission: educating women; challenging women; addressing disparities, especially in male-dominated fields; making higher education accessible. Everyone here believed in the mission.”

So the Mount Vernon native took the college path, serving as CNR’s financial chief until succeeding Stephen Sweeny, who retired after 14 years as president. Now Huntington is molding her intimate understanding of the college into a vision for CNR’s future.

She wants to emphasize CNR’s tradition as a Catholic college, founded to serve women in 1904 and expanded to educate adult students, while modernizing the college for today’s high-tech, hypercompetitive world.

“We have to come up with new and creative ideas to distinguish ourselves from our competition,” she said. “Standing still is not an option. You have to maintain who you are — what your core values are — while you change.”

Huntington was already known for her high-energy, cheerful leadership style. She tends to describe weighty administrative tasks, from fundraising to overseeing construction of the college’s $28 million Wellness Center, as fun. She has had individual meetings with close to 100 faculty members and also led several two-hour get-togethers with students.

“She is certainly enthusiastic and gregarious,” said Walter Sullivan, an associate professor of educational leadership in the Graduate School, who met with Huntington for 45 minutes. “She has put a lot of time into reaching out to everyone, which is critical in these uncertain times.”

The Ursuline Sisters founded the college as the first women’s college in New York state – and its School of Arts and Sciences continues to serve only women. CNR’s mission grew to serve others groups that did not have access to higher education, including minorities and adults.

Today, CNR’s School of New Resources, which serves adult students, has campuses in Co-op City, lower Manhattan, the South Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem.

So Huntington is focused on CNR’s tradition of providing access — which will be a growing challenge as the college’s annual costs for many residential students top $38,000.

Adult students in the School of New Resources, who account for almost 3,000 of CNR’s total enrollment of 4,790, pay much less.

CNR will give out about $13 million in scholarships this year, up $2 million from three years ago. About 90 percent of students get federal, state or college aid.

One of Huntington’s top goals is to defend federal Pell grants and state TAP grants from future budget cuts.

“Our students are incredibly bright and hard-working and they take nothing for granted,” she said.

She wants to promote the use of “e-learning,” evaluate students’ academic and workplace needs, seek new funding sources from corporations and foundations, and stick to the Ursulines’ social justice ideals.

While president-elect, Huntington and a group of Ursuline sisters visited northern Italy, where St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursulines, served.

“Angela said to pay attention to the needs of the times, and Judy was really struck by her words,” said Sister Ann Peterson, a trustee. “Judy understands what we are trying to do here, and her financial experience is so important.”

Huntington grew up in Mount Vernon and Thornwood.

She and her husband, Brad Huntington, have two children, Amanda, a junior at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., and Bradley Jr., a senior at Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers.

The family lived in Yorktown Heights, where Judith Huntington served on the Board of Education from 2007 to 2009, before moving to New Milford, Conn., a year ago.

“This is the best job in the world,” Huntington said. “It’s all fun.”