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Lunch at The Four Seasons with: Stephen Greenwald

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-02-15

It's a long way from Hollywood, where Stephen Greenwald spent many years making money as a movie executive, to Manhattan's Canal Street, where he's now raising cash for a New York educational institution. But come to think of it, how different is it really, being the president of the fabled DeLaurentis Entertainment, and being president of the fabled Metropolitan College?

"In both instances, I've had to use my education and skills as a lawyer," Mr. Greenwald said yesterday. "In both instances, I've had to deal with projects involving the business community. In both instances, I've needed to deal with that area where culture meets social needs. And of course, in both instances, I've needed to be exceptionally attentive to what other people are saying."

That he's done all this with great flair can be seen from the expansion of the college from 1,100 students when he became president in 1999, to 1,700 students now. It can be seen from the fact that the college headquarters is increasing its space from 80,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet to accommodate increasing enrollments and to provide additional facilities for its students. It can be seen from the growth of the institution's budget to $28 million, almost all of it raised through tuition, individual and institutional contributions, and from federal and state grants. It can be seen from the fact that Metropolitan College, now 40 years old, operates in the black.

At a time when most educational institutions in the city and around America are struggling to stay out of the red, Mr. Greenwald's acumen and contacts have helped Metropolitan College ensure that its students -- mostly in their late 20s and early 30s and hailing from less privileged sectors of society -- receive what the college calls "purpose-centered education."

Such education, he said, helps move them from the less privileged precincts of their backgrounds into the "solid middle class," where they have a vested interest in the success of their communities and the society in which they live, rising in the ranks of corporations and public institutions, inspiring their children to excel beyond their parents' aspirations.

"This is all about giving our students a stronger stake in society," Mr. Greenwald said.

And how is this done?

"Through a work-based model," he said, over soup and Maryland crab cakes. "This is about giving our students a leg up their career ladder. This is a powerful way to learn. At Metropolitan, we're doing the heavy lifting of higher education."

Metropolitan's students mostly work during the day and attend classes in the evenings at the college's headquarters at Canal and Varick Streets, and at extension centers in the South Bronx; Flushing, Queens, and Staten Island. They can earn bachelor's degrees and master's degrees as well -- in business administration, public administration, and education, subjects that would help them strengthen their resumes.

"Let's face it -- we are a credentials-driven society," Mr. Greenwald said. "Higher education is the pathway to positions of leadership and influence in our society. What we're doing at Metropolitan is opening up opportunities for people who're traditionally underrepresented in leadership positions. Our students are buying into, and are motivated, by the American Dream."

But their transformation into members of the "solid" middle class also helps New York's commercial, public and financial institutions, Mr. Greenwald said.

"We're doing this because it's vital to our city that there is more diversification and representation in the upper echelons of management of corporations, government, institutions of all kinds," he said.

To expedite the process where scholastic education is fertilized by work experience, Metropolitan arranges arrange internships and jobs for students with many of the city's top companies and public agencies. Thus, Metropolitan students have worked in health-care companies, pharmaceuticals, banks, financial-services institutions, even at entertainment enterprises, such as the Tribeca Studios. Indeed, they have even attended the famous film festival in Cannes to further their education.

The reporter does a double take, not entirely sure if he's heard Mr. Greenwald right.

"Cannes, as in France?" he asked the educator.

"As in the resort by the Mediterranean," Mr. Greenwald replied, with a sweet smile.

And what would Metropolitan students be doing at Cannes besides, of course, having fun?

"Fun is part of it, to be sure," Mr. Greenwald said. "But we offer a MBA in media management -- the only institution in the city, and perhaps even in the country, to do so."

Could his background in making movies have something to do with the development of this program?

Another sweet smile.

"Of course," Mr. Greenwald said.

The frightening aftermath of September 11, 2001, led members of the college's public administration faculty to create a master's degree program in emergency and disaster management. In the spring, he's taking 20 students to Israel for 10 days.

Why Israel?

"We want our students to understand how countries that must cope with emergencies practically every day to it," Mr. Greenwald said.

Another innovative program is called "Welfare to Careers," intended for undergraduates from families that have lived on public assistance. Nearly 200 students have been enrolled in the bachelor's degree program, which has received $3.3 million from federal, state and private grants.

"There are large sectors of society where talent is wasted," Mr. Greenwald said. "We've proven that, given the right resources, people can make use of their talents, earn a degree, and apply their skills to a productive career."

Here's an example of how Metropolitan links its programs with the city: it helped start a chartered school in the South Bronx, and students in the college's master's program in education teach kindergarten to 8th grade. This collaboration between the college and the chartered school is certainly an innovative enterprise.(A chartered school operates independently of the public school system and is commissioned by the state; President Bush, mayor Bloomberg and City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are great supporters of such schools.)

Besides its innovative multidisciplinary curriculum, Metropolitan also helps create access for its students to obtain better jobs. "We not only provide them with credentials to become players, we help them become players," Mr. Greenwald said.

That means personal engagement on his part with the mandarins of New York society, using his formidable powers of persuasion to get them to create more openings at their companies.

""Unless we close the inequality gap, the stability of our society is at stake," Mr. Greenwald."Can you think of a greater challenge than that?"

The reporter couldn't.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist


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