Provost: Disillusionment and deadlock imperil the American experiment

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Gary Reichard awarding degrees at commencement in 2017.

Is the American republic headed for collapse?

“Potentially,” says Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Gary Reichard. “There’s been a swirling downward of public trust in government over the last several decades. It’s certainly as bad as I’ve seen it during my lifetime.”

Reichard’s views are hardly casual – he is, after all, a political historian who has written well-received books about American political history. His own work in politics early in his career included working as a speechwriter for Dick Celeste, an Ohio Democrat who also worked as a university administrator after serving in the House of Representatives and as governor of his home state.

Reichard spoke recently about his upcoming Dean’s Symposium address – Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 2:30 in the Lecture Hall in the Center for the Performing Arts – with some consternation.

“I’m not looking forward to speaking publicly about this subject, things are so bad,” he said with a genuine look of worry. “It’s a unique and frightening time.”

Reichard's 2016 book, Deadlock and Disillusionment: American politics since 1968, has been well-received critically and popularly.

Reichard’s address will be based on his 2016 book, Deadlock and Disillusionment: American Politics Since 1968. In it, he traced the contours of the decline in political discourse and trust in government from Nixon onwards. And though he did not try to predict the 2016 race – the book came out in February of that year – he believes the election and current state of affairs confirm its premise and conclusions.

“In one sense, I can say, ‘I told you so,’ but as a citizen, it’s deeply concerning,” he said. “In a general sense, we’re approaching crisis stage.”

The Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation marked the beginning of a decline in public trust in government that has continued to today.

“The Nixon years saw the arrival of the politics of cynicism,” the provost said. “It would be briefly countered by the advent of the Reagan era, to some degree due to his sunny personality. But at the end, with Iran-Contra, a widespread feeling re-emerged that you can’t trust anything the government does. Political hardball on both sides during the Clinton years only worsened the situation.”

For Reichard, the issue is not only who the president may be; although the tone set by the White House is influential, the problem is deeper. Partisanship in the media is a big factor, Reichard added.

“If Hillary Clinton had won, we’d probably not be much better off, as she was as polarizing as President Trump,” Reichard said. “And all the distrust and discord are amplified by social media. We need to find a way to turn around and go back the other direction.”

Whether the country can is unclear, he said.

“I think we are near a breaking point,” Reichard said. “Up to the point of Clinton’s impeachment, you could still have the sense that (Republicans and Democrats) could cooperate when they had to. But the dysfunction has grown dramatically.”

The answer is for people to recognize that the very system of American government is now at risk.

“I think we face a genuine risk,” Reichard said. “The solution is for people to care. The government needs to represent all of the people. The only hope I have is that people who go to the polls won’t just vote for partisan positions. We need the huge numbers of voters closer to the middle of the political spectrum to cast their votes more from an interest in saving our system than to advance an ideological agenda.”

“We’ve always been divided, that’s our history,” Reichard continued. “We’re mostly a country that revolves around the middle. I’m hoping particularly that young people will understand that their future is very much affected by the survival of our system of government.”

Catastrophic Sick Leave Bank Program (CSLB) – Open Enrollment Period, Oct, 1-31, 2018

The Catastrophic Sick Leave Bank Program (CSLB) enables eligible employees with five or more years of full-time continuous CUNY service to donate sick leave and/or annual leave to the CSLB Program, provided that the employee maintains a sick leave balance of at least 24 days. Moreover, eligible employees with fewer than five years of service are entitled to donate annual leave each Program Year. Donating time to the CSLB each Program Year allows an eligible employee to receive up to 90 days from the Bank in any Program Year should the employee be on unpaid status due to a catastrophic illness (as defined in policy). Employees must be in a full-time title employed on an annual salary basis and have at least two years of continuous full-time service with the University to be eligible to receive leave from the CSLB. Those employed in substitute titles with no underlying regular annual appointment are not eligible to receive donated leave.

There will be an open enrollment period for employees to elect to participate in the CSLB by donating time to the Bank or change their election to the CSLB. The open enrollment period will run from Monday,  Oct. 1 through October 31, 2018. Days donated to the CSLB must be deducted from your time and leave record immediately following the enrollment period. As a reminder, those who enrolled last year should continue to have their days deducted in November; unless the employee elects to withdraw from the Program or is no longer eligible to participate. Employees will be notified under separate cover with instructions on how to complete their November timesheets.

Full-time members of the classified, instructional, classified managerial, executive compensation, and non-represented staff are eligible. Employees in skilled trade titles represented by District Council 37 and those skilled trade titles represented by Teamsters Local 237 are also eligible; all other skilled trade employees and employees represented by IATSE, Local One are presently excluded.

Please see the links below to view the Catastrophic Sick Leave Bank Program policy and applications to enroll in order to donate, receive donated leave, change your donation, or withdraw from the Program. If you should have any questions, please contact Deborah Cisek at 718.982.2684.


CSLB Program Policy


CSLB Enrollment Forms to Donate Time


CSLB Application to Change Donation or Withdraw from the Program


Budding engineers take a step toward thought-controlled drones, with CSI prof’s guidance

It might sound like fantasy to say a computer can read someone’s mind and then activate a motor. But that’s exactly what young mechanical engineers at the College of Staten Island devised this summer—and at a fraction of the cost of similar devices available commercially.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Aleksandar in the laboratory he called "the playground" at CSI where engineering students develop solutions.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Aleksandar Haber guided the work of two Staten Island high school students who developed a low-cost noninvasive brain-computer interface.

Watch this video for a demonstration of the project.

“An electrode is placed on a person’s head,” Haber explained. “As the person blinks, an electrical signal is generated. The voltage signals are detected and analyzed by a computer algorithm.”

The algorithm searches for voltage patterns that correspond to blinking, he added. Once the pattern is detected the algorithm generates control signals that are used to drive an electrical motor.

“This is a proof of principle that encourages us to develop more sophisticated algorithms that can detect more complex mind commands.” Haber said.

Dominick Villamor, pictured here, wearing a set of electrodes that detect and transmit electrical signals to a computer. Villamor is one of two Staten Island Technical High School students who developed a device to allow someone to operate a motor by blinking.

The key difference for the students’ project is that the cost of their device is no more than $1,000. That’s about 20 times less than the cost of currently available commercial models, Haber said.

“It required a lot of trial and error as well as brainstorming due to the fact that our research budget was really limited,” he said. “It turns out that with $1,000 you can make something that is quite useful and that can serve as a testbed and demonstrator for advanced artificial intelligence algorithms.”

The two Staten Island Technical High School students—Daniel Indictor and Dominick Villamor—worked as part of a summer research program at the College of Staten Island under Haber’s direction.

“The coolest thing was when I could interpret the data for myself,” Indictor said as he demonstrated the device on a recent afternoon. “The use of engineering to solve real-world problems is very cool.”

The computer dashboard for interpreting electrical signals generated by blinking.

“It is amazing what they did, taking into account that they are only 16 years old,” Haber said of Indictor’s and Villamor’s work. “Usually, graduate students are working on these types of projects. These projects can help the students to be admitted to top engineering schools or even to obtain scholarships.”

People who have suffered spinal cord injuries or who are otherwise unable to operate a machine using their arms and hands could use the set-up the students developed to do so. But their work is just a first step, Haber said.

“We’ve developed a low-cost system for integrating brain signals to control mechanical devices—motors—but this is just to prove the principle,” he said. “The ultimate goal of the project is to control a drone.”

The approach would similarly involve electrodes placed on someone’s head to read the signals a person’s brain generates as he/she thinks, say, “up,” “down,” “left,” and “right.” Each of these ideas generates a pattern of electrical signals, Haber said, adding that as many as 16 electrodes could be reading the signals. The students’ project involved just one electrode, though.

“I was a little skeptical in the beginning that this was possible,” Haber said. “But we play with algorithms and hardware and the results can be quite amazing.”


PSC-CUNY Grants Program

The Grants Proposal System (GPS) is now open for Cycle 50 applications to the PSC-CUNY (Professional Staff Congress of The City University of New York) Grant program. Please have your grant application submitted into the system by Monday, Dec. 10 so that the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research can review it prior to final submission. The final submission deadline is 11:59pm on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018.

The PSC-CUNY  Research Award was established as a major vehicle for the University’s encouragement and support of faculty research and to leverage external funding. It seeks to enhance the University’s role as a research institution, further the professional growth and development of its faculty research, and provide support for both the established and junior scholar. There are three categories of awards with a maximum award of $12,000 dollars. Seed money is used for research activities and is often a building block for other funding sources.  As such, the program is a key funding source for smaller-scale projects and/or pilot data studies.  Success rates of applications are higher than you will find with other sponsors of all kinds – we strongly encourage you to prepare and submit a proposal to this CUNY-wide program.

Additionally, there will be no exceptions for late submissions under any circumstances. The PSC review committees will not review late requests. If the submission is not in the GPS by 11:59pm on Dec. 15, you will need to wait until Cycle 51 to reapply. We strongly urge you to not wait until the last minute to submit your application. And remember – the CSI internal review date is Dec. 10.


Remembering 9/11: In part memoir, part investigative history CSI alumni and FDNY captain recalls tragedy

On Sept. 11, 2001, Andrew Serra was both a student at the College of Staten Island and a firefighter with the Fire Department of the City of New York. But when tragedy struck, his training as a firefighter took over—he ran toward the danger. Although it took a long time to write, his experiences that day are now part of his latest book, Finding John.

Andrew Serra, a CSI alumni and captain in the Fire Department of the City of New York, will speak at the College's 9/11 Memorial on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at noon.

Part memoir, part investigative history, Finding John is the poignant, emotional story of a firefighter’s life in the months and years after September 11. It is based on Serra’s experience working at Ground Zero in the months after. He will speak at the College’s 9/11 Memorial at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at the Memorial located near Building 2A.

Serra spent the first 35 years of his life on Staten Island in Dongan Hills, Richmond Town, West Brighton. His mother, whose father was a firefighter, insisted he take the exam to become a firefighter. “I like being able to help people when they need it the most,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be an emergency, though. Even little things—someone’s stuck in an elevator—you help them out and now their day is better.”

The 9/11 Memorial sparks a range of emotions, he said. “Sometimes you can feel like you’re back in that moment, the shock and the loss. I feel proud to have worked with some of the people I did; I saw what they went through and how they conducted themselves in that horrible time. They were selfless people. It’s a full range of emotions.”

Serra is also the author of two historical novels. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children. 

What happened that day for you? You were on your way to classes?

I had class that morning. I was supposed to be working but I had switched with a co-worker. I was getting ready to go to class when I heard about the attack. So, I headed to the station (in Red Hook, Brooklyn).

Finding John is Serra's part memoir, part investigative history based on his time at Ground Zero in the months after the 9/11 attack that killed almost 3,000 people.

When tragedy strikes, many people run, but firefighters head toward the danger.  

We train for so long, we prepare for so long for things like that, for emergencies. We want to use our skills. We want to help. That’s the first instinct. We try to stay ready so that when something happens we can help.

9/11 was a monumental tragedy. In one interview you said you felt very angry about it. How did you process that?

For me, I think writing the book was my therapy. It took me 15 years to even start it. There was that underlying anger—the shock the loss of everything that happened. It’s a memoir but there’s also an investigative aspect of the book. During the recovery operation, myself and a couple of co-workers found the remains of a firefighter. A book was published later accusing that firefighter of looting merchandise from one of the stores in towers. There was a huge controversy at the time even though there were facts that that wasn’t the case. That stayed with me because I found one of those guys.

Then it turned into a memoir and writing about it allowed me to come to peace, to get to that place, to move past the anger.

Firefighters confront traumas often, more often than most ordinary people. How do you deal with that? 

We have our own defense mechanisms. We like to joke around a lot with each other and bust each other’s chops. 9/11 was beyond that. Some reached out to each other, some went to therapy. I think writing was my way of dealing with it.

When you were writing about it, was that difficult? How did the writing go?

Starting it was the hardest thing. I had published a couple of novels. I didn’t think I could do it. I felt it was too overwhelming, especially with 9/11. There’s so much to tell, so much history, so many details. I realized I could write it when I just started writing what I saw, my own feelings, my own personal experience.

How did the College prepare you for a career as a writer? Was the College an important part of your path?

For sure. I had a couple of great profs who really inspired me. Even though I didn’t study writing per se, in English and writing classes I had a couple of profs who encouraged me. I did one year at SUNY Cortland before I came to the College. I went to work full time as a truck driver before I started. It took me a while to get my bachelor’s—eight years. I just kept pecking away at it.

What are you doing now?

I’m a captain in the Department; that’s my full-time job. Writing is always not far behind. I’m usually working on something. Right now, I’m working on getting Finding John out there.

Serra will speak at the College’s 9/11 Memorial event on Wednesday, Sept. 12, on the Willowbrook Campus. The Memorial is located near Building 2A.

Finding John is available on Amazon:




College of Staten Island selected for U.S.-Japan COIL Initiative

From Study Abroad programs to the English Language Institute, the College's Center for Global Engagement connects students to international opportunities and important resources. The Collaborative Online Learning Initiative (COIL) is the latest addition to the Center's resources.

The American Council on Education (ACE) announced today that the College of Staten Island was named one of six U.S. colleges and universities chosen to be a part of the U.S.-Japan COIL Initiative, which aims to expand U.S.-Japan higher education ties through collaborative online international learning (COIL), a method of linking faculty and students in two countries for shared teaching and learning using online communication.

The College of Staten Island and DePaul University (IL), James Madison University (VA), University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Sinclair Community College (OH), and Northern Arizona University will each partner with a Japanese higher education institution to develop, deliver, and assess COIL courses to be offered in 2019 and students in the two countries will then work together to complete assignments that meet shared learning objectives.

“We firmly believe that global engagement is critical to education,” said CSI President Dr. William J. Fritz. “Through initiatives like COIL, the College is connecting students and faculty to institutions in Japan, which make global engagement practical and meaningful.”

The award will support the development of a COIL course by Jane Marcus-Delgado and Valeria Belmonti, both of whom have extensive experience in interdisciplinary international education and telecollaborative pedagogy. Marcus-Delgado is director of CSI’s International Studies program and an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Global Affairs. Belmonti is director of CSI’s Modern Languages Media Center and was Associate Director of Technology/Coordinator of Heritage Telecollaboration at the Center for Integrated Language Communities, a National Language Resource Center (2014-2018).  The course designers will work with a Japanese institutional partner to give CSI students the opportunity to engage with their counterparts on global issues that impact them personally and will enhance their academic experience.

Stephen Ferst, director of CSI’s Center for Global Engagement and a leading voice in U.S. international education who regularly presents on campus internationalization at national and international conferences, will also participate in supporting the COIL initiative.

CSI will send a three-member team to participate in a workshop alongside other U.S. and Japanese teams in Washington, DC, October 24-26, 2018. Once the COIL courses are underway during the 2019 semester, representatives from ACE and invited experts will visit campus to provide additional support and monitor progress.

“An indispensable aspect of the selection process was that the six schools represented the vast diversity of U.S. higher education. Students who attend community colleges, small private, large public, or other types of institutions deserve access to global perspectives,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell.

Originally developed and disseminated by The State University of New York’s (SUNY) COIL Center and often referred to as virtual exchange, COIL is a cost-effective, accessible method for delivering global learning and intercultural experiences to greater numbers of U.S. students. ACE will work with the SUNY COIL Center to provide professional development and support to the U.S. institutional teams selected for the initiative.

The Initiative is designed to test the idea that students who participate in COIL courses will increase their understanding of the partner country, sharpen their cultural competency skills, and become better prepared for in-person education exchanges. If successful, ACE aims to expand the program to include additional U.S. and Japanese partner institutions.

Follow along with CSI’s progress under the hashtag #USJPCOIL. With questions about the Initiative, please email


The U.S.-Japan COIL Initiative is supported through a grant from the U.S. Embassy Tokyo, and coordinated in partnership with Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT)​.


ACE is a membership organization that mobilizes the higher education community to shape effective public policy and foster innovative, high-quality practice. As the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, ACE represents over 1,700 college and university presidents and related associations. For more information, please visit or follow ACE on Twitter @ACEducation.