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Campus Moves on Transgender Inclusion

President Nancy Kleniewski

Campus Moves on Transgender Inclusion

Although President Obama’s executive order on use of restrooms by transgender individuals is drawing controversy in some states, SUNY is committed to the inclusion of people of a broad scope of sexual and gender identities. Last spring, the SUNY Faculty Senate passed two resolutions supportive of students, faculty, and staff in transition. One urges campuses to allow students to use “preferred names” rather than “legal names” and the other urges campuses to install restrooms that are gender-neutral instead of designated for “men” or “women.”

I am pleased to report that SUNY Oneonta was ahead of the curve on both issues. During the last academic year, we adopted a Preferred First Name Process under which students can fill out a form in the Registrar’s Office to have their legal name replaced by their preferred name on class rosters and other documents. We have also made great progress on gender-neutral restrooms, with 61 gender-neutral restrooms currently installed in 30 campus buildings, and another four under construction. By December, every residence hall and every academic building except one will include at least one gender-neutral restroom.

The naming and restroom projects build on the campus’s gender-neutral housing initiative of 2013, which allows students of any gender to choose to live together in Higgins Hall apartments. This small but vital program meets the needs of students who prefer a less restrictive approach to roommate choice in the traditional halls.

Our campus community continues to move toward greater understanding of the fluidity of gender identity, as shown by the popularity of our 2016 Common Read book, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. It was gratifying to see so many students, faculty, staff, and community members interacting with Ms. Mock during her recent visit and after her Mills Distinguished Lecture. I want to thank the Common Read Committee, the faculty and staff who incorporated the book in their classes or activities, and all of the many people who contributed to Ms. Mock’s visit and the Mills Distinguished Lecture.

Andrew Gallup’s article was published.

Next I’m pleased to introduce a new Notes from Netzer feature. “Highlight” will recognize selected accomplishments of faculty and staff members. This month, I recognize the recent work of Assistant Professor Andrew Gallup in the Department of Psychology. Through research conducted earlier this year with two of his students, Andrew discovered a correlation between brain size and yawn duration. His paper, “Yawn duration predicts brain weight and cortical neuron number in mammals,” was published last week in Biology Letters and has received coverage from the Los Angeles Times, New Hampshire Public Radio, the South China Morning Post, ABC news in San Francisco, MSN South Africa and Yahoo!

- In this Edition -

Commencement Changes Proposed

Charitable Giving Increases Scholarships

Innovative Program Aims to Reduce Student Debt

Progress on the Faculty Center

Articulating the Uniqueness of SUNY Oneonta


Commencement Changes Proposed

Executive Assistant to the President Colleen Brannan

Commencement Changes Proposed
Along with a day full of celebrations come logistical challenges.

Following consultation with stakeholders across campus this semester, I have developed a proposal to restructure commencement. Recommended changes will sharpen our focus on students, reduce the number of venues in use and the associated overhead, and eliminate transitions between college and school ceremonies, which many families have found awkward to navigate.

If approved, college-wide and school-specific events will be merged in 2017. We will schedule a morning ceremony for the School of Social Science, followed by a ceremony for the schools of Natural & Mathematical Sciences and Arts & Humanities in the early afternoon, and a late afternoon ceremony for the schools of Education & Human Ecology and Economics & Business.

All three ceremonies will last 90 minutes and take place in the Alumni Field House, where students will be seated by school. A reception in the academic quad (Chase Gymnasium if weather is inclement) will follow each ceremony.

The proposed order of exercises for each ceremony is as follows:

  • Procession of the students, faculty, and stage party
  • Singing of the national anthem
  • Welcoming remarks by the president
  • Recognition of faculty and staff Chancellor’s Award recipients
  • Conferral of master’s degrees, with students being hooded and crossing the stage
  • Recognition of undergraduate honors students
  • Conferral of bachelor’s degrees, with students crossing the stage
  • Remarks from the senior class president
  • Remarks from the honorary degree candidate
  • Singing of the alma mater
  • Recession of the students, faculty, and stage party

My overarching goal is to ensure that graduation remains meaningful to degree candidates and their families. With this in mind, I reviewed the 2013 commencement survey, which gauged satisfaction with commencement among alumni and that year’s graduating seniors. I also sought feedback from several offices, all 28 academic departments and every school regarding several possible changes to commencement. Next, limitations in terms of space, staffing, and our institutional ability to choreograph a daylong series of events also informed the proposal.

I invite members of the campus community to call me at ext. 2748 or send me an email to share their thoughts about these recommendations before Oct. 28.

Charitable Giving Increases Scholarships

Vice President for College Advancement Paul Adamo

Scholarships are powerful points of connection to our college. The College at Oneonta Foundation hosts a scholarship dinner each fall where scholarship recipients and donors reflect on the growing impact of philanthropy at SUNY Oneonta. 

In the last fiscal year alone, alumni and friends’ charitable giving led SUNY Oneonta to establish 16 new scholarships and funds supporting our students. Outright giving and estate planning also endowed several new scholarships this summer and fall. Today the Foundation’s portfolio includes scholarships with endowments ranging from $25,000, the minimum required to endow a scholarship, to over $1 million.

While most of the college’s $51-million endowment is restricted to scholarships that reflect donors’ priorities and passions, consistent with our institutional strategic plan, scholarships also help increase students’ financial literacy and reduce their loan debt. This year over 1,000 SUNY Oneonta students will receive scholarships made possible by $2 million in gifts, grants and endowment income. 

One in six students here will receive an award, which is incredible. This tradition of giving differentiates SUNY Oneonta from other colleges. We will formally celebrate this at our annual scholarship dinner, coming up on Oct. 20. However, it is an accomplishment of which the entire campus community can be proud.

Innovative Program Aims to Reduce Student Debt

Financial Literacy Analyst Kevin Sutton

Charitable Giving Increases Scholarships
While taxiing students to their destinations on campus, Staff Assistant Alexa Sundal and Financial Literacy Analyst Kevin Sutton of Student Accounts quiz passengers, “Cash Cab”-style, about financial literacy.

Americans owe over $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. Nationally, students who earned a bachelor’s degree from a public institution this past spring owed an average of $26,872 at graduation, including both federal and private student loans. This represents an increase of 6% over 2015.

Preliminary calculations show that the average cumulative debt of 2016 SUNY Oneonta graduates was $26,492. We are taking a leadership role to reduce this debt level by implementing an innovative financial literacy campaign. The Making Cents Financial Literacy Program teaches students the importance of minimizing borrowing and provides them with knowledge and skills to become smart financial decision makers.

Interactive events such as “Making Cents of Life After College,” an online learning module, individual advising, and other activities (Have you seen the “Cash Cab”-inspired golf cart?) engage students. The program is off to a great start this fall with lots of positive feedback from students.

Now we are asking for help from the campus community. You can support financial literacy by promoting student participation in Making Cents activities, and also by volunteering to assist with programming. For more information, contact Making Cents Program Coordinator Kevin Sutton in the Student Accounts Office.

Progress on the Faculty Center

Provost Jim Mackin

The Faculty Center was created through shared governance toward the end of the spring 2016 semester. A nomination process and election led to selection of the Faculty Center Advisory Board. The following seven faculty members comprise the Board:

  • Professor Janet Day, Department of Health and Fitness
  • Assistant Professor Ursula Sanborn-Overby, Department of Psychology
  • Associate Professor Jacqueline Bennett, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Associate Professor Andrew Kahl, Department of Theatre
  • Assistant Professor Kristen Blinne, Department of Communication and Media
  • Assistant Professor Anita Levine, Department of Elementary Education
  • Associate Professor Steve Walsh, Department of Management, Marketing and Information Systems

Their first task will be to carry out an internal search for a Center director. I expect to fill this position by the beginning of the spring 2017 semester.

Articulating the Uniqueness of SUNY Oneonta

Executive Director of Communications Hal Legg

Charged by Cabinet to pursue objective 2a in our strategic plan, last fall I convened a working group including members from academic and administrative units to “Craft a distinctive identity for SUNY Oneonta that highlights our values and achievements.” I’m pleased to present a summary of progress after just over a year of work.

The group’s initial challenges were to determine the meaning of the objective at the functional level (What will the college do with its identity?), and then to decide how to accomplish the objective within the timeframe of the strategic plan.

In addressing the first challenge, we see two distinct needs:

  • Coming to consensus internally about the college’s core strengths, characteristics and aspirations; and
  • Resonating with the people we, as an institution, are trying to reach, influence and move to action.

The college’s identity would be the basis for messaging that presents SUNY Oneonta in a way that’s consistently authentic within the campus community, and for engaging external audiences. This has value in reputational management, philanthropic efforts, and especially recruitment.

Shifting population demographics, particularly the shrinking of high school graduating classes, have begun affecting enrollment already. Competition for traditional-age prospective students from New York state is increasing as their numbers decrease. The ability to clearly articulate who we are as an institution will help us attract the academically well-qualified 17- and 18-year-olds that historically have constituted the majority of our student body.

At the same time, to sustain enrollment we must increase the number of non-traditional, transfer and graduate students who choose SUNY Oneonta. Work toward objective 2a is an investment that will help us effectively appeal to this broader marketplace of potential students.

On the question of how to go about our work, the group decided that research ought to inform decisions about the college’s identity. We would like to understand the opinions of several external audiences, for example, parents of prospective students, our graduates’ employers, and donors. We also would like to learn more from internal stakeholders, such as currently enrolled students, faculty members and staff members.

The group could not identify existing resources at the college to conduct a study of this type and scale. After deciding to seek an independent, outside vendor with expertise in higher ed market research to lead this effort, we described the project in a request for proposals (RFP) that the college issued over the summer.

The group began discussing the result of the RFP yesterday at our regular monthly meeting. Conversation focused on containing costs while gathering enough information necessary to make sound judgments about SUNY Oneonta’s identity that will contribute to the college’s success in a changing landscape.

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