Notes from Netzer

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Our Warmest Welcome Ever

The Class of 2020 passes through the pillars.

The midway point of the academic year might seem like an unusual time to be excited about the first impressions of newcomers who arrived at SUNY Oneonta back in September. However, last summer we made sweeping changes to the way our campus greets incoming students. Now after gathering their feedback on our new orientation format, the result is clear: the Class of 2020 reports feeling academically engaged, productive and comfortable here.

Over 80% of respondents to a post-orientation survey strongly agreed or agreed that the “Majors Meeting” was helpful in meeting faculty and learning about a major and/or minor associated with a department.

Students also responded favorably to the session about general education and applied learning. Roughly two out of three agreed or strongly agreed that the session helped them view general education courses as opportunities to broaden their knowledge and develop themselves, and that it left them interested in applied/experiential learning opportunities.

According to a second survey conducted six weeks into the fall semester, over 80% of new students strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “I feel like I belong.” Just over 10% were not sure, while 10% strongly disagreed or disagreed.

The new class scheduling sequence was an important corollary to our revamped orientation. The block, pre-set schedules that the Division of Academic Affairs developed in the spring and shared with incoming students over the summer were well received. Roughly two out of three students surveyed reported being very pleased or pleased with the level of interaction and ability to work with their summer advisors via email or phone. Fully 94% strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, “The courses that I am taking this semester will help me advance toward completing my degree.”

Reimagining orientation took an effort that stretched across campus and challenged conventional wisdom. I extend my appreciation to all who participated in this undertaking, especially Director of New Student Services Monica Grau. She spearheaded our planning, then kept the schedule moving throughout orientation, and afterwards compiled and reported the student perceptions that I’ve shared here.

Under Monica’s leadership, the programming we developed has given new students a better introduction to SUNY Oneonta. As a result, they are happier, more connected to their faculty, and moving in the right direction academically.

Koch and Olstad teamed up this semester to offer PHIL 230 and ENVS/GEOG 268 Group Photo
Thirteen students studied the Hudson River from source to sea during a unique pre-semester field experience in fall 2016.

Highlight: Innovative Learning Experience

This month, I am pleased to share a story about an innovative learning experience led by Drs. Michael Koch and Tyra Olstad from the departments of Philosophy and Geography & Environmental Sustainability, respectively. Koch and Olstad teamed up this semester to offer PHIL 230 and ENVS/GEOG 268, a dual-enrollment course examining New York state environmental history and ethics. The course began with a five-day pre-semester field experience following the Hudson River from its source in the Adirondacks to its end in New York City. This hands-on approach is an excellent example of faculty creatively collaborating across disciplines to promote inquiry, service and scholarship, and stimulate critical and ethical thinking: two aspirations within our Strategic Plan 2015.

Watch this interactive story about the Hudson River course.


Sanctuary Campuses

In recent weeks there have been calls and at least one petition to make SUNY Oneonta a “sanctuary” campus for undocumented students. As I shared in an email in November, SUNY System Administration has declared that the authority to designate sanctuary campuses would rest with the Board of Trustees, not individual campuses. Earlier this month, our College Senate passed a resolution urging the Trustees to permit campuses to declare themselves sanctuary campuses.

SUNY Oneonta already provides many of the protections that sanctuary campus status, as proposed, would offer:

  • The University Police Department does not and will not check on individuals’ immigration status. That is the role of federal officers, not our UPD.
  • Being located on state property, SUNY Oneonta cannot bar Immigrations and Customs Officials from entering the campus, but college officials are committed to protecting the privacy of all students. Also, SUNY Oneonta does not collect or keep records on students’ immigration status.
  • New York state law requires all state schools to charge in-state tuition to all New York state residents, based on their home address and/or the high school from which they graduated, and no other criteria.
  • All students are entitled to confidential counseling, and if students who are part of the program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival—commonly called DACA—have questions, college personnel are ready to assist them confidentially in obtaining necessary information.
  • We are committed to strengthening SUNY Oneonta as a safe and welcoming learning and living environment where everyone is valued. This objective is memorialized within our strategic plan. If you experience or witness any act of bias or hate, please report the incident. Our procedures for reporting bias acts provide guidance for what to do in response to a wide range of offenses, from graffiti to physical attacks.

Consistent with our mission to create a student-centered learning environment, SUNY Oneonta will provide support for those who are concerned that anti-immigrant sentiment may mar their college experience.

Change to Strategic Plan

I have decided to remove Objective 2a—“Craft a distinctive identity for SUNY Oneonta that highlights our values and achievements” from our strategic plan. This choice is the result of consultation with the President’s Executive Council, the Strategic Planning Council, and the cross-divisional work group pursuing the objective.

Objective 2a was a source of confusion within the campus community. While debate about its meaning was healthy, the window of time remaining to implement the plan, and changing pressures on the college since its adoption were key factors in setting it aside. The cross-divisional work group, which had developed a plan to research perceptions of the college across a broad swath of internal and external constituencies, also expressed reservations about the cost of such an undertaking in the current financial climate.

As an alternative action, we will focus on prospective students’ perceptions of the college so that we can reach enrollment targets and strengthen the college’s financial sustainability. The Strategic Planning Council has recommended and I have endorsed the idea of studying this audience for the purposes of broadening our applicant pool and increasing the yield rate of applicants the college accepts.

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