2017-2018 Is Off to a Great Start
Ready for an Eventful Year
Good morning! It is always a pleasure to welcome faculty and staff who’ve joined our community, so I would like to introduce our newest employees. If you are just starting out or have been with us for less than a year, please stand so your colleagues can welcome you.
Among us are also a number of colleagues who have recently marked significant career milestones. If you were promoted during the past year or received continuing appointment or permanent appointment, please stand to be recognized. Congratulations on your achievements.
Today is a bittersweet day for me. I always love the beginning of the academic year, when you can just feel the energy and optimism in the air. And today I can certainly feel that excitement. But I can’t help feeling a bit sad, too, because this is the last opening breakfast I will share with you. So this morning I want to look back on the highlights of the last nine years, to think about what we have accomplished together and then to look ahead at the coming year to see what we will do next.
One of the proudest accomplishments we can have as a public institution is to help more students get access to a college education. First through the Educational Opportunity Program, then the College Assistance Migrant Program, and now the Access to College Excellence program, we have helped hundreds of low-income and first generation students enroll in college, and succeed academically. Last year’s inaugural class of first-generation students in the ACE program did very well academically and we expect that the class that joined us this year will succeed as well. Our CAMP program recently received a grant from the U. S. Department of Education for five more years, ensuring that five more groups of students will benefit from the program.
Part of students’ success is due to the support they receive in the form of scholarships. Through the College at Oneonta Foundation and institutional funding, one in six of our undergraduates now receives a scholarship from the college, in addition to their federal or state financial aid. Thanks to all of the faculty and staff who teach and mentor students in our access programs, who donate money to support scholarships, and who raise money for student scholarships.
Another great accomplishment over the past decade has been our continued ability to attract and retain high-achieving students even though the number of 18-year-olds in New York State has been decreasing. This semester in particular we enrolled our largest freshman class ever while maintaining high academic achievement (approximately a 90 average and 1129 SAT). It is a great testimony to the strategic work of the Enrollment Management group, Academic Affairs, and many other partners to help achieve and maintain our robust campus enrollments, including graduate enrollments, which have also shown a dramatic increase. I want to give a special tip of the hat to the folks in New Student Services and Academic Advisement, who led the transformation of our Orientation program to a single, academically-focused event that gives all students strong connections to their academic programs.
One of SUNY Oneonta’s enduring values is inclusive excellence, the belief that all students, faculty, and staff bring assets to the campus because of, not despite, our differences. Many individuals and groups are working together to help increase the level of diversity on our campus and to ensure that the interactions we have with each other are constructive. I’m happy to report that this first year class includes an increase from less than 20% to a new high of 28 percent of students from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups and that our faculty members from underrepresented groups now make up 20 percent of the faculty.
But inclusion's not just about enrollment, it's about success. We have put many supports for diversity in place, including the Tapestry of Diversity Award, the Bias Acts Response Team, and the Kente graduation celebration. In addition, over the past few years, we have increased the number of staff supporting diversity among our students, including LGBTQ students. During that time, we institutionalized the experimental SUNY Pride conference, adopted a preferred names policy, installed gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the campus, and created a gender-neutral housing option in Higgins Hall. This morning, I'm proud to announce that SUNY Oneonta is a 2017 recipient of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. We are one of just two SUNY campuses to earn a HEED Award this year, and it is the second time we have won this prestigious honor.
Teaching and learning are the key components of our mission, and in support of that mission we have increased the number of full-time teaching faculty by 27 percent over the past nine years. We have also invested significant resources in improving student learning, including numerous workshops to foster pedagogical innovation. For example, we know from research that learning by doing is more meaningful for students than listening to lectures and taking tests. So we have increased the focus on applied learning opportunities for students, including internships, supervised research projects, studying abroad, and doing service-learning in community settings. These hands-on experiences help students learn more deeply and apply their knowledge to new situations, as well as preparing students for jobs.
I anticipate that the new Faculty Center will promote innovation in teaching and learning and will complement the work of the Teaching and Learning with Technology Center. Many members of the faculty and administration have adopted and supported applied learning, and I thank the champions who pioneered these efforts.
One longstanding point of pride for Oneonta is our sense of community and the strong bonds between students, faculty, and staff. Over the past few years, we have strengthened some of our traditions and incorporated more community spirit. One of the most important traditions, Freshmen Pass Through the Pillars on the day before their first classes, is now complemented by Senior Pass Through the Pillars the day before they graduate.
A new initiative, the Common Read, invites all students, faculty, staff, and community members to read and discuss a book related to diversity and to hear the author speak at the Mills Distinguished Lecture. I have been very impressed with the quality of the authors chosen by the volunteer committee and hope that the Common Read will continue to strengthen our intellectual community.
Another community building initiative is the first year Living and Learning Communities, in which students who share an interest get to live and learn together in the residence halls with faculty and staff members who share their interests. This could not happen without the time and thought that faculty and staff devote to sharing their interests with students.
When I arrived here in 2008, I was struck by people’s pride in the appearance and smooth functioning of our so-called “Signature Campus.” We have worked together to rebuild and modernize the campus, to make it safer, more attractive, functional, and efficient. Over the course of the past nine years, we have built two new buildings and renovated 11 more, revamped the main quad, installed storm water retention systems, and installed miles of cable and underground pipes.
Together we have worked diligently to make the campus more environmentally sustainable, revamping how we run the campus, our lighting, heating, waste recycling, storm water retention, and LEED building methods. But it also includes education and influencing people’s habits about how they use resources, taking the stairs instead of elevators, using public transportation, refilling their water bottles at the fountains, and buying gently used clothing at the campus thrift shop. Our students have been powerful advocates and partners for sustainability along with many faculty and staff champions.
Of course, none of this could have been accomplished without your help in planning and budgeting. With dozens of people participating, we collaboratively crafted two strategic plans for SUNY Oneonta and reallocated funds in the budget to meet the goals in those plans. It is never easy to make budgetary decisions, especially during a Great Recession, so I appreciate the spirit of collaboration that people brought to the Strategic Planning Council, Budget Advisory Committee, and other planning discussions.
We also must recognize that in order to do our best work, the ever-shrinking fraction of the college budget provided by the State of New York has to be supplemented by private gifts and grants. Through our two capital campaigns, annual giving, and careful investments, we now have an endowment approaching $55 million that supports student scholarships, research, travel, active learning, faculty development, and community outreach. Just as importantly, we are infusing the campus and our extended Oneonta community with the spirit of philanthropy based on the trust that donors’ gifts will be used for the highest priorities of the institution.
What challenges lie ahead for the current year?
First, we will focus energy on what students need to succeed academically and personally. Faculty committees will propose essential learning outcomes for all students in a revised general education program. A re-invigorated Gen Ed will help first-year students experience more engagement with their studies and encourage them to persist at SUNY Oneonta. The administration and faculty will work collaboratively to improve student academic advising, helping students to plan their programs, identifying students who may be experiencing difficulty, and providing timely supports.
Second, we will work together to ensure that all members of our campus feel welcome and valued. We will aim to incorporate transfer students more smoothly into academic programs and campus life and to ensure that transfers have the same opportunities for success that freshmen have. We will aim to break down the barriers between campus groups, especially between professionals and classified staff. We will encourage academic departments to infuse cultural competency into their curricula to help all students broaden their horizons and understand members of other groups.
I welcome your help in our efforts to meet these challenges.
And finally, the College has to find a new president. I am confident that SUNY Oneonta will attract an outstanding leader. This college is a gem, and any number of top candidates will sense its value immediately. When the time comes for campus visits by candidates, I hope you will participate in the process. The Search Committee and College Council will benefit from hearing as many perspectives as possible.
As you know, I have four wishes for our students:
- That they study something they love and become good at it;
- That they grow as people to be thoughtful, confident, creative, and ethical;
- That they graduate on time with the least possible debt; and
- That after graduation they launch successful careers or go on to graduate studies.
Right now, though, I am focused on the year ahead. It's off—as always—to a great start, and I wish you the best for 2017-2018. Thank you for what you do each and every day to help make Oneonta all that we want it to be. Let’s work together to make this the best year ever!