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The Inauguration of
John R. Halstead, PhD

Dr. John R. Halstead, Sixth President
SUNY College at Brockport
Inaugural Address
April 7, 2006  

“Celebrating Student Success”

Introductions and Salutations

Good afternoon. I am pleased to extend my personal welcome to our special guests as we come together today to celebrate student success at SUNY College at Brockport.

Welcome Trustee Patricia Stevens, Chancellor Ryan, Senator Joe Robach and Assemblyman Bill Reilich, County Executive Maggie Brooks, City of Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy and Village of Brockport Mayor Mort Wexler, Supervisors Lenhard and Lester, Council Chair Scott Turner, College Council members, Foundation Board Chair Mary Worboys Turner and Alumni Association President Brenda Beal; distinguished platform colleagues and guests; honored delegates and fellow presidents—especially from SUNY, the Pennsylvania State System, Colgate University and my Rochester area colleagues.

To you, Professor Dawn Jones, and your dedicated committee to whom I owe so much for putting together not only this inaugural ceremony, but also this series of speakers and cultural events celebrating student success; Kathy Groves, Sheila Strong and Leslie Ferrante of the Office of the President—you are all terrific!

Welcome members of our close-knit College community—our students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni; the honorary committee and civic leaders from Greater Rochester of which we are an integral part; friends and family from Pennsylvania to Michigan, Maine and beyond—even relatives and childhood friends from Cortland (can I say that word in our gym?), my immediate family—Karen and Bill, Jean, Bill and Sue, Earl and Mary, Meg, Anna, the Eves family—and especially Kathy and Christine.

I welcome you with an open heart and great humility. I’m grateful for your love and support!

Trust and Stewardship

You have entrusted me with the leadership of SUNY College at Brockport as its sixth President. I accept your charge—but more importantly, your trust—to continue my stewardship of SUNY Brockport.

At the same time, I honor our past presidents, especially my predecessor, Dr. Paul Yu, as well as John Van de Wetering and Al Brown. All have become valued friends and, yes, that quintessential interim (interim…interim) John Clark, who “set the table” for my success. Please join me in honoring these gentlemen.

As Pulitzer prize-winning author P.F. Kluge lamented when he returned to his Alma Mater—A College Homecoming: “Every time I come back here I’m more convinced of a truth. The idea of a college community, a place where we’re all in it together… but whenever I’m here, I can’t stop imagining how much better we could be if we asked more of ourselves… oh the possibilities, the potential, the chance of magic…I picture a college more diverse and more intense, a college where students of all races and backgrounds can…achieve, a more daunting college… a place that graduates remember not only with affection but with awe… I picture an administration that makes—and accepts—no excuses… I picture a faculty that engages openly in disagreements but feels a larger commitment to this place and realizes that being here every day is a gorgeous blessing.”

This day is such a gorgeous blessing—a time we can all celebrate together our #1 goal: student success.

Not coincidentally, in the spring of our lives—in the life of this College—it is a time of renewal here at Brockport and also for me. A homecoming for me as I’ve come back to my roots in Upstate New York not to relive history, but to make history with each of you working together in the spirit of shared governance to make SUNY Brockport an even better place for future generations of students. Or as President John F. Kennedy stated much more eloquently, “Hold fast the best of the past and move fast to the best of the future.”

It’s also a time—only a week away—that I celebrate my late mother’s birthday and know that she and my late father are looking down upon these proceedings with great joy!

My father used to reminisce about the Normal School and creating the Foundation at Cortland; while my mother was a graduate of Albany—both before the founding of SUNY in 1948—ironically, the very year I was born.

As my Cortland friends and family today will attest, it was through their rare combination and cultivation of a love for family, public education, community service and a life-long commitment to upstate New York that I owe my return to my Finger Lakes roots and now Brockport—this village on the Erie Canal.

Reflections on Being a College President

Former Yale President and Baseball Commissioner, the late Bart Giamatti, once said: “Being president of a university is no way for an adult to make a living.” Well, I must be in my second childhood, because I absolutely love it!

My colleague, Art Levine, who recently stepped down from Columbia Teachers College, noted two conclusions about college presidents. First, that “powerful ideas and the people who formulate them provide leadership for higher education.” Secondly, that “campus leadership and successful presidencies require people with the capacity to champion the best ideas and translate them into practice.”

Let me assure you that after only eight months, I know for sure that we have the leadership—much of it reflected on the stage today, plus my talented Cabinet—to champion new ideas and aspirations and to continue to “Expect the Extraordinary” at SUNY Brockport.

Celebrating Student Success—Our Core Value

As I stated at our convocation at the beginning of the academic year, one learns a lot by just listening and observing. I’ve been listening to the sounds resonating on campus and beyond as evidenced by my Presidential Questionnaire in my first couple weeks to all 1,300 employees—plus in my weekly meetings with each department.

You were not shy in responding and trumpeting your well deserved pride in the quality and dedication of our faculty and staff as I’ve seen first-hand each and every day as I walk our 465-acre campus and go to the MetroCenter and our Rochester Educational Opportunity Center downtown.

As I observe our commitment to the academic experiences and dreams of our students—yes, “Dreams Begin with…” as our Web page graphically proclaims—I am most impressed with Brockport’s focus on our mission—our priority of student success first is very real!

A couple months ago, Chancellor Ryan convened the SUNY Presidents in New York City where we heard Deno Curris, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).

In a cover letter prefacing an October 2005 AASCU Report of Graduation Rate Outcomes, Dr. Curris asserts that what sets best-practice institutions apart “is the presence of a campus culture and value system thatfocuses on student success… Developing a pervasive attitude that student success matters, setting realistic, high and mutual expectations, coordinating disparate efforts and leading [that’s my job] in a way that is never satisfied with the present effort.”

My staff will tell you that sounds like me as well—always striving for continuous improvement, pointing to 19 key performance indicators from student retention to philanthropy, and formulating our MOU and Mission Review II.

Alluding again to the AASCU outcomes report, this pervasive attitude that all students can succeed is marked by: 1) a culture of high expectations; 2) a strong sense of inclusiveness where students are engaged in a campus network that reinforces the value of frequent faculty-student contact, residential education and a rich range of cultural and student life activities; and lastly 3) a clear, distinct mission fostering student learning—all enduring attributes of our College!

But heeding the AASCU Report also requires that we take stock of our academic culture and improve student outcomes. For example, our first-to-second year retention rate of 83.2 percent is outstanding—one of the reasons we were selected as one of the “12 Pillars of Excellence” nationally—but it’s imperative that we do better on our graduation rates. Our students deserve no less!

At Brockport, I challenge us all to sustain our culture of student success by sponsoring our signature programs coinciding with the celebration of Scholars Day April 12, the College’s Honors and Awards Ceremony April 27 and College Recognition Day on May 5.

But we need to do more by investing in the culture, such as our Extraordinary Student Scholarship Program leading the way in SUNY with $2.6 million committed annually, yet in need of a renewed source of funding through our Foundation, private and corporate support.

And, yes, as your President, I need to “walk the talk” and look in the mirror to reflect upon how we are doing—if our day-to-day operational decisions support such a culture of student success. I’ll need your help in that.

Diversity and Excellence

Another one of my nine primary goals—and essential to assuring student success—is embracing diversity in its fullest sense. You’ve heard it often during our annual Diversity Conference, our Martin Luther King celebration, and during faculty colloquia and the President’s Advisory Council: “Diversity is everyone’s business at Brockport.” Or as President Brown stated in 1979:“The full potential of every human being can be developed.”

A 2005 report Now is the Time: Leading for Excellence finds our association again calling for change. AASCU charges presidents to make our colleges and universities “look like America” and to consider what would be different in classrooms, science labs and public space if multicultural perspectives truly permeated our campuses.

Quoting a recent Ford Foundation recommendation: “Diversity ought to be woven into the academic life and purpose of the institution: valued by faculty, expressed through the curriculum, sustained and nourished through cultural expression and extracurricular life.”

Examples today include the combination of the Gospel Choir and Community Chorus, our world-class dance program and Faculty Emeritus Garth Fagan’s Lion King playing in Rochester. Plus the hiring of three Presidential Fellows in English, Anthropology and History, and African-American Studies who will enrich our faculty ranks.

Recently retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (whom I met when starting my executive higher education career back in the early 80’s) stated in the landmark Michigan case that, “The Court has long recognized that education is the very foundation of good citizenship and for this reason… the opportunity through public education must be accessible to all individuals…”

The AASCU Task Force puts it simply: “The diverse campus leads to student success” and “diversity and excellence go hand in hand.”

Our Growing Rochester Presence

Let me now turn briefly to one of my other primary goals: To strengthen Brockport’s visibility and collaboration in the Greater Rochester Area using our MetroCenter as a focal point symbolic of our strong presence downtown—strategically located as a cornerstone of the $230 million Renaissance Square Project and for greater collaboration with our partner, Monroe Community College.

The late John Gardner—not our illustrious professor of business and economics who’s very much alive—once reminded us that, “More than ever, place matters.”

A 2006 publication by the Alliance for Regional Stewardship, AASCU, and NCHEMS posits this concept of “regional stewardship” calling on us “to build sustainable places and focuses on the imperatives of an innovative economy, collaborative governance, and social inclusion”—a concept they claim is “gaining traction nationwide.”

Our unique place within the Greater Rochester Area means that we will be engaged in issues ranging from economic development to the environment to school reform—as exemplified by our ambitious grant to the Gates Foundation, which I recently discussed with Superintendent Manny Rivera of the City Schools, and our initiative to increase math and science teachers in collaboration with my Rochester college presidents and Senator Chuck Schumer.

Other examples abound from our proposed $33 million Special Events Recreation Center with support from SUNY and $15 Million from the State Legislature—friends such as Senators Joe Robach and George Maziarz and Assemblyman Bill Reilich.

Six Major Initiatives for Ensuring the College’s Success

In his testimony to a joint session of the Legislature, Chancellor Ryan stated that we must turn our attention to making SUNY exceptional. Chancellor Ryan, I can assure you that SUNY Brockport is doing its part!

To continue to advance our institutional quality and to define our quality in increasingly comprehensive ways, I’m proud to announce six exciting new initiatives :

Emblems of Quality

First, accreditation from nationally recognized accrediting bodies using rigorous standards of practice in a given discipline is emblematic of academic quality. The College is currently accredited—in addition to Middle States—by 12 national accrediting agencies. As we vigorously pursue accreditation in other areas from theatre to NCATE (both just achieved), exercise physiology and mass communication to health care administration, SUNY Brockport will set a goal of achieving accreditation in all disciplines for which it is eligible.

New Program Development Fund

Secondly, any quality organization must be agile—both responsive to change and accountable. Thus, the College will establish a “venture capital” account—seed money from a variety of sources—to assist in the development of new programs while (and this is the accountability part) making the hard decisions of what to give up in times of competing resources.

Career Span Professional Development for Faculty

Based on the SUNY Task Force on Faculty Development and our campus-based advisory committee, the Provost’s Office will identify the major intellectual, scholarly and professional development needs of our faculty at three stages of their careers. Our Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching is strategically positioned to coordinate this initiative. A critical component is to continue to recognize the relationship of sponsored research to student success—at both the undergraduate and graduate levels—and the development of first-ever endowed professorships as part of our comprehensive campaign.

Restoration of Positions

Fourth, back in 2002-03, the College lost about 45 staff positions due to cutbacks in state appropriations. Although we replaced about 15 of these positions last year, many remain unfunded. Thus, as resources become available, we will establish a priority funding process to begin to buy back some of these positions to better maintain our beautiful campus and enhance our student learning environment.

Lake Ontario Research

In the area of research, I’m announcing today my intent to match the recent earmark of Congressman Tom Reynolds, by committing an additional $150K to the design process of the $12 million Lake Ontario Natural Resource Center at the Port of Rochester. As I expressed in a recent op-ed piece and to Mayor Duffy, this will be a major research initiative with corollary benefits in economic development, job creation and educational outreach in the Great Lakes—a precious eco system that holds nearly one-fifth of the world’s fresh water.

Our Presence in Greater Rochester

Finally, in addition to our national marketing efforts, we’ll ramp up our public information campaign in the Greater Rochester Area to continue to build Brockport’s reputation.

As the region’s largest, most comprehensive four-year public college committed to achieving excellence in both undergraduate and graduate education—the liberal arts and the professions—we will redouble our efforts as your public university.

Coming Full Circle

As I began my journey at Brockport back in August, I asked your advice to your new president. When I asked what primary factors contributed to our reputation for excellence, I heard your resounding, unified voices:

  • The quality and dedication of our faculty and staff.
  • Our strong commitment to quality experiences for our students.
  • Most of all, our singular focus on the #1 goal of our Mission Statement: student success—the real reason for our celebration here today.

As the 2005 AASCU study tells us, to maintain this commitment to excellence, our campus culture must always be marked by a prevailing attitude that all students can and will succeed underscored by a belief system that our campus can and will strive for even greater student success. And finally, that we exhibit a sense of family and a communal understanding of the distinctiveness of our mission at SUNY Brockport.

Speaking of family, coming back to my family roots in Upstate New York has been a joyous journey. But there’s a difference—I’m no longer that “boy” cutting across the president’s lawn to the Ellen Van Hoosen Campus School. Instead, I stand proudly as your sixth President in this, my capstone presidency at this vibrant College we call SUNY Brockport.

I’m looking at the future and it looks bright indeed!

James Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge (2002) state:

“The domain of leaders is the future. The leader’s unique legacy is the creation of valued institutions that survive over time. {We’ve been here since 1866}. The most significant contribution leaders can make… is to the long-term development of people and institutions so they can adapt, prosper and grow.”

What will be my legacy as your sixth President? Your leader? Only time will tell, but I hope with your help we can sustain the long-term development of the College so we, too, can continue to adapt, change and prosper. To leave SUNY Brockport an even better place. I can truthfully think of no better legacy.

Thank you for the distinct honor of serving this College.