Félix V. Matos Rodríguez took office as the 6th President of Eugenio María de Hostos Community College of The City University of New York (CUNY) on July 1, 2009. Trained as a social scientist, Dr. Matos Rodríguez previously held leadership positions in foundations, universities, policy centers, and branches of government in which he combined his scholarship with social policy, advocacy, and change.
On December 31, 2008, Dr. Matos Rodríguez finished his service as Secretary of the Department of the Family for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico managing an annual budget of $2.2 billion. Dr. Matos Rodríguez oversaw nearly 11,000 employees. Earlier, he had served as Senior Social Welfare and Health Advisor to the Governor of Puerto Rico.
Dr. Matos Rodríguez is a graduate of Colegio San Ignacio High School in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His undergraduate studies were at Yale University, where he graduated cum laude in Latin American Studies. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University.
While at Hostos, Dr. Matos Rodríguez is on leave from his tenured position as a Professor of Black and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies at Hunter College of CUNY, where he teaches courses on Caribbean, Latin American, and Latino history. He has also served as director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter, which is one of the largest and most important Latino research centers in the United States. In addition, Dr. Matos Rodríguez is part of the History Department at CUNY’s Graduate Center.
Prior to his work at Hunter College, Dr. Matos Rodríguez was a Program Officer at the Social Science Research Council in New York City and a faculty member at Northeastern University in Boston. He has also held visiting and adjunct teaching appointments at Yale University, Boston College, City College (CUNY) and the Universidad Interamericana–Recinto Metro.
Dr. Matos Rodríguez is currently serving a three-year term as a Board Member of the American Council on Education (ACE). He is also a Board Member of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, the National Community College Hispanic Council, and FedCap. In the past, he has been a board member of ASPIRA of New York, Inc., and Phipps Community Development Corporation, as well as the community advisory board of El Diario/La Prensa.
Dr. Matos Rodríguez has received numerous awards for community service, including recognition for excellence in education from the New York State Senate and Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Latino Caucus in 2002, a special recognition from the New York City Council during Hispanic Heritage Month in 2003, selected as “Man of the Year” by the New York City League of Puerto Rican Women in 2009, received El Diario/La Prensa “EL Award” in 2009, “Educator of the Year” in 2009 by the National Dominican Roundtable, Effective Leadership Award by the Latino Center on Aging in 2011, the Academic Leader of the Year Award by the Association of Hispanic Healthcare Executives (AHHE), and the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Health in 2011.
Dr. Matos Rodríguez is married to Dr. Liliana M. Arabía, a dentist, and they have two sons: Lucas and Juan Carlos.
1. Share the greatest impact of your childhood.
I was fortunate to have grown up with all my grandparents, and also to have known four great-grandparents. I think this gave me an early sense of the importance of history, and made me very aware of the struggles and history of working-class folks in Puerto Rico.
2. Define your experience growing up being Latino and being Latino in today’s world.
I have experienced two kinds of “Latino worlds,” if you wish. The first was growing up in Puerto Rico, where everyone around you is either Puerto Rican or Latino. The second was coming to the East Coast and then dealing with the experiences that Latinos face here. Being Latino in today’s world is still a work-in-progress, as Latinos have not achieved the improved quality of life they deserve. I do the work that I do because I want to be part of the generation that significantly advances fairness and the quality of life for Latinos in the US.
3. Tell us some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome.
I have been very fortunate to have grown up in a middle-class household in Puerto Rico, and thanks to the sacrifices and decisions of my family, I’ve had access to better educational opportunities than my grandparents and parents had. My challenges have been mostly personal: traits in my personality that I have had to improve or modify in order to be a better husband, parent, and professional.
4. What would you say was the greatest positive influence on your career?
Clearly my parents Marta and Félix have been the best role models one could hope for. Not only do they have a solid loving relationship—each being very different from the other—but also they taught me to work hard, to value education, to give back to the community, to respect people of all social backgrounds, and to be proud of my country and its people.
5. As an honoree, what do you hope that being a trendsetter will inspire you to accomplish?
To continue working on behalf of the great talented students at Hostos Community College and future generations of students like them.