Skip Navigation

Brockport / President's Office / Presidential Speeches and Public Statements / Convocation 2009

Faculty/Staff Opening of School Convocation

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 – 9:00 AM
Edwards Hall, Blue Room
President John R. Halstead
The College at Brockport, State University of New York

"Hope and Optimism"

Last year, I started with why we’re all here–to foster student success–as illustrated by what we call The Brockport Promise. That’s still our promise!

But instead, I’ll begin with the dreaded R–word: RECESSION! But rather than dwelling on the negative implications, I will focus on the positives–if you will–that is, the very real OPPORTUNITIES it offers for exercising leadership, repositioning, and advancing the College for the future. Thus, my working title for this annual State of the College address is simply: "Hope and Optimism".

A recent (2009) white paper issued by Eduventures entitled "Leading in a Recession" advocates formulating an action plan requiring year-round demonstrated leadership and constant commitment to mission. Its premise: We can take advantage of the moment and look at opportunities! In fact, one proponent–Philip Goldstein in a related piece (2009) entitled "Managing in a New Reality"–was so bold to state, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste"!

Yet, this will require tough decisions. States former Northwestern Provost David Cohen, "Strong leaders will be decisive and execute cost reductions…but demonstrate to the enterprise that you understand the values and culture of the institution and you’re doing everything you can to protect them".

Remember our even-dozen "Guiding Principles for State-Mandated Budget Reductions" issued back in May 2008, endorsed by the Budget & Resource Committee and inclusively shared with College Senate? Especially principles number 1, 2, 3 & 7.

Let me briefly reiterate these four only:

  1. Consider all ideas and strategies within the context of our Matrix (a strategic plan that could serve as "best practices" across SUNY as strategic planning becomes the #1 goal of our new Chancellor, Dr. Nancy Zimpher, who used her 64–campus tour as the first phase of an inclusive process developing a strategic plan for The State University of New York…more later).
  2. Maintain the quality of our student body while looking at increasing our enrollments, including enhancing our retention efforts (more on all three of those aspects later, too).
  3. Protect our core academic mission as alluded to earlier. Centrality of mission is paramount. As we make tough decisions, what functions and personnel are most critical to our mission and efforts to advance the College?
  4. Maintain our commitment to student success and the overall quality of the student experience.

I’m big on context and perspective–always looking at the big picture, citing what’s happening nationally, but then bringing it to the local level: to our campus.

In the February/March 2009 issue of Higher Education Times–which has also labeled public higher ed’s money problems as "Another Inconvenient Truth"–Stephen Pelletier in "Leadership for Lean Times" cites the national scene stating that, "…some institutions are already taking a long view of the current turmoil". Calling it "an economic tsunami" he says that "wise academic leaders recognize that these conditions offer insights and even opportunities that can help them position their institutions for even stronger health after today’s storm clouds clear". He advocates for "sustaining institutional viability in an era of belt–tightening".

That’s certainly my premise this morning. As well as to protect the academic core as AASCU’s Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis, Dan Hurley, says that public universities are striving to do as we are here. But Hurley admits this will be challenging.

Speaking of state relations, let me now move to the state level, then the State System, and then to our campus. Last year, I referred to "Albany Ambiguity". Now that hasn’t changed. And even as good as our Vice President Spiro is with his fiscal crystal ball, we have nothing new to report from this summer since the State Senate took a bit of a recess or hiatus. It sure appeared to be "musical chairs" in leadership thanks to my friend Tom Golisano who is shaking up state government–trying to engender accountability. Yes, the Governor has launched a new Task Force on Taxpayer Accountability, but that’s already meant new reporting procedures cutting into precious time as SUNY sorts through the implications for us all.

The state budget gap continues (the latest a $2.5 billion shortfall) as does the national economic crisis (Marshall Drummond, Chancellor of the L.A. CC District was cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education calling this dip in financial support for colleges due to the recession a "valley of pain"). Yet there are some hopeful signs by June 2010 according to an April white paper on economic impact by consulting firm Witt/Kieffer.

There still seems to be governance–according to media reports–via "three men in a room" in Albany, even though the three men have changed from last year. But enter a new "woman in the room" in the person of our new Chancellor for the State University of New York. Many of you witnessed personally–and the Chancellor and I are most appreciative of your strong response–the leadership and listening skills evident consistently by Dr. Nancy Zimpher during her July 22 campus visit–part of a 64–campus tour in three months as phase I of SUNY’s strategic planning. As I said at our news conference, she saved the best for her visit to The College at Brockport–half–way through her state–wide whistle stops across SUNY.

As noted in my August 3 invitation to this convocation, I only wish we all had more time with our dynamic new leader. I could hear audible groans in Hartwell Theater when I had to end the open forum as she had to head downtown for a press conference in our MetroCenter, and later meet with Board members and community leaders after earlier having met with my Cabinet, deans, Senate President, students, and a brief campus tour as SUNY limited her stay to a half-day.

Two weeks ago when I ventured to New York City to meet with Chancellor Zimpher and other SUNY Presidents, I was again impressed by her vision ("vision trumps everything" as she said on her first day), her respect for presidential leadership (having been a two–time president) and her grasp of the daunting task of leading SUNY.

Our new Chancellor will be back for big–picture events at Brockport whether they are the ground–breaking for the Special Events Recreation Center in the Spring of 2010 or the launching of our Lake Ontario Research Center collaborating with Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy for the Port of Rochester with Congressional support from Congressman Chris Lee and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. We are most hopeful that some exciting multiple proposals now pending will, in fact, bring long–awaited money to our College’s shovel–ready labs. I’m sure that Dr. Joe Makarewicz says that our time is due and our initiative compelling!

Already, I’m encouraged by Nancy Zimpher’s vision and leadership as she has said that this is an immense opportunity for her and us and, in her words, "we can do what no other single campus or system can do". The Chancellor and SUNY Presidents are already looking at about 15 cross–cutting themes that will be refined and reduced through a series of state–wide town meetings that will be rolled out after Labor Day.

In the meantime, we are guided by our own Matrix, our transparency in managing the budget with the guidance of the Budget and Resource Committee this year chaired by Professor Jim Haynes, and shared governance exhibited by both Senate and Brockport Student Government.

So let me segue to highlights of what’s happening and will happen on our own campus by citing ACE’s December ‘08 monograph entitled "The Dynamic Nature of Knowledge: Future Challenges & Opportunities for College & University Leaders". Its central premise is, "One of the most difficult tasks college and university leaders face is balancing the demands of the present with doing the work necessary to ensure a successful future." That’s what our College leadership’s trying to do daily.

The ACE piece goes on to admit–as many of you may feel–"To many on campus, focusing on the future may seem like a distraction or even an imprudent use of time and resources, given the immediate pressures. However, it is essential to lay a groundwork now that positions colleges to be successful and relevant in the future. They can’t do this without simultaneously addressing immediate pressures and taking advantage of rapidly expiring opportunities."

It is this healthy tension between today and tomorrow that we will be feeling every day this year as we accomplish our day–to–day work and both plan for the future and reposition The College at Brockport.

With that, I’ll now share a few highlights or points of pride accomplished this past year and some exciting new initiatives for the year ahead. Appropriately–and in a prime cost–saving example–we are combining the update of our Matrix with our Annual Report in a new, single publication entitled simply Accomplishments due out in September.

To cite a few accomplishments across the College:

  • How about the first Academic Affairs and schools restructuring in 30 years thanks to Provost Anne Huot, Committee Chair Rich Fenton, and all of you who contributed to the dialogue? As a result, we will better accentuate our core academic strengths.
  • Further, this restructuring repositions the division, the deans, and the entire College in a more robust position for the upcoming comprehensive campaign…and, by the way, do not be surprised to see my time and energy increasingly devoted to fund–raising and the campaign if we wish for success!
  • Did you know that we just completed the most successful fund–raising year ever, raising $2.19 million thanks to the efforts of Vice President Roxanne Johnston, the Division of Advancement, and our Foundation? And give yourselves a hand for giving more than $160,000, thanks to Faculty/Staff Campaign Tri–chairs Trish Ralph, Dave Bagley and Ginny Campbell. But truthfully, we need to do much more.
  • Thanks to the good work of Vice President Katy Wilson and the Enrollment Management & Student Affairs folks, we’ve infused new recruitment and admissions strategies for undergraduate admissions including additional recruitment areas downstate, a fresh marketing approach and new communications software, a holistic review process (similar to that being used by private colleges and the Cal System), plus acceptance into the National Common Application Process.  Thus, we’re on target to meet our updated targets for new freshmen and transfers.
  • Collaboration is also a key word as Enrollment Management & Student Affairs has collaborated with the Brockport Auxiliary Service Corporation to refer students to the new College Suites so triples in residence halls are not exacerbated, and collaborated with Academic Affairs for two new learning communities: Health & Fitness and Civic Engagement & Service Learning to add to the existing two, a Global Village and Math & Science, bringing our total to four.
  • Tangentially, but as significant points of pride—speaking of both math and science and global—I’m happy to report that we were notified in May that Professor Sandy Miller’s $600,000 NSF grant was approved to benefit our physics, math and computer science scholars; to support 28 juniors, seniors and grad students with $5,000 scholarships starting this fall--going through 2013
  • And Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature Sharon Allen has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright fellowship to teach in Portugal this fall.  Dr. Allen follows three other English department colleagues previously named Fulbright recipients.
  • Communication is also important across the College.  The Provost has established a Chairs and Directors Forum providing middle management direct access.  A residual—yet substantial—benefit is to keep the College’s focus on our long-term future rather than the short-term fiscal challenges.
  • In yet another form of communication by today’s students—i.e., a host of technology-based tools that are transforming the way students interact with each other—and as the largest off-shoot of the American Democracy Program initiative—our College has been selected by AASCU as only one of 35 for a new initiative called e-Citizenship.  It will research how these technological tools impact the way citizens interact with our government.
  • As always, let’s take a glimpse of our future through the lens of our new students—both freshmen and transfers—perhaps, the most talented and diverse in the history of the College.  For example, the percentage of minority students in our freshman class is 10.2% vs. 9.5% the past two years; 15.6% for transfer students vs. 11% the past two years.
  • Speaking of diversity, don’t forget our 9th annual Diversity Conference on September 17 featuring keynoter John Quinones, author of Heroes Among Us: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Choices—another one of my summer reads.
  • Our latest Admissions Report (August 18) reflects the quality of our freshmen who have paid deposits, up 9.4% from last year despite applications being up only 1.5%. High school average continues to be 91, Class Rank at 75%, SAT scores about 1100, ACT scores 24, Tiers I/II again pushing 80%.
  • Transfer applications are up 10% and deposits 11.4% and total deposits for freshmen and transfers up 10.3%.
  • We are a hot college—and I don’t mean just the long-awaited arrival of summer last week with 90 degree temperatures.  Witness the end of July press release from the Princeton Review in which Brockport was just one of 218 institutions in 11 states listed as “best in the northeast”.  Or our 19-place jump in the U.S. News & World Report rankings ahead of SUNY Oswego, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Plattsburgh!  Ratings were based primarily upon academics; but also admissions selectivity, green initiatives, financial aid, fire safety, and quality of life.
  • Our future students will benefit from the creation of a comprehensive leadership program based on a social change model—including annual certificates and plans for an academic minor.  In addition, Enrollment Management &Student Affairs plans to develop an assessment team to work with a new Director of Institutional Effectiveness to create division-wide learning outcomes.
  • Our first to second year retention rate of 84% continues to place us within the highest echelons of public universities nationally, thanks to being one of 12 “National Foundations of Excellence” institutions selected about five years ago by AASCU.  Plus, we’ve just been selected as only one of two charter members of a similar program for transfer students!
  • Yet, we must do better “Closing the Gap” with other retention initiatives, a two-year residency requirement, our self-study for our upcoming Middle States re-accreditation in 2011-12, and research on best practices through the resources of Eduventures, cited earlier.  We’ll also revisit our Enrollment Management Task Force—all topics discussed at our Cabinet Retreat just last Friday.
  • We’ll implement plans to improve graduation rates with interventions that cross divisions and involve multiple staff and departments in Enrollment Management & Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and beyond.
  • However, this is part of a bigger strategy (remember, I like big ideas—as does our Chancellor—and big picture thinking) so stay tuned to what James Collins calls “BHAG’s” (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) to elevate us to the aspired level of a nationally recognized comprehensive master’s institution.
  • This will require establishing benchmarks that will move us toward this overarching goal and provide opportunities for broad input.  If we are successful in addressing five areas identified at our Cabinet Retreat—Student Success/“Closing the Gap”, College Reputation, Academic Quality, Recruitment, and Alumni—our entire College will strategically move to the next level of quality.
  • And to monitor our success, we’ll also establish a College-wide Committee on Institutional Effectiveness—also strengthening our position for Middle States re-accreditation in 2011-2012.
  • But let’s not forget the need to reinforce graduate education as a distinguishing feature of our College by implementing the recommendations of the Graduate Education and Vision Action Plan.

Thus, we’re on the verge of some great initiatives to continue to advance the College: Balancing the demands of the present while positioning the College for the future.

But “why great?” you might ask.  Jim Collins has an answer for that, too, in his book Good to Great (2001).  “First, it’s no harder to build something great than to build something good…and it does not require more suffering than perpetuating mediocrity”…Second is “…the search for meaning, or for meaningful work”.

You may recall that I touched on this notion last year talking about the meaning of faculty work in early and latter stages of one’s career.  Yes, admittedly it takes more energy to become great, such as our “BHAG” or aspiration to be nationally recognized, but it’s worthwhile!

According to the President of my own alma mater—now the President of Swarthmore, Rebecca Chopp, Alfred North Whitehead identified one primary task of the university, “The creation of the future”.  That’s why we’re here today:  To create the future. But why not do it in my spirit of “hope and optimism”?  Doesn’t that go nicely with our new signature of Aspire . Engage . Excel.?

In closing, last November 25, I heard Tom Brokaw address the AASCU annual meeting of public college presidents.  He put it succinctly as a news anchor would.  Said Brokaw, “We’re at an intersection labeled hope and fear, and it depends on all of us which road we take.  But hope is a condition, not a policy.  And for the best of hope to be realized, it’s going to require a personal commitment from all of us…”

I hope and trust that I can count on all of us for that!


Last Updated 2/28/12