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Brockport / President's Office / Presidential Speeches and Public Statements / Convocation 2010

Faculty/Staff Opening of School Convocation

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 – 9:00 AM – Seymour Ballroom
Address by President John R. Halstead
The College at Brockport, State University of New York

“Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Call to Action"

Last year—as you mightrecall—I had a theme of “Hope and Optimism” while quoting national literature calling the recession “an economic tsunami” and some sages saying that “a recession is a terrible thing to waste.”

Well, so much for that, as a majority of states nationally continue to cut public higher education budgets. And our own Empire State continued to “distinguish itself” by prolonging the signing of the state budget until August 3rd—the second longest delay in New York State’s history. Worse yet—and this is how I paraphrased William Shakespeare in my introduction to this year’s Accomplishments piece—this “summer of discontent” included a full $210M cut to SUNY and no provisions of the PHEEIA. The Empowerment Act championed by Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, Governor Paterson, and the majority of NY taxpayers was a conspicuous exclusion in the budget after coming so close in the 11th hour. The Act would have allowed SUNY the ability to better follow through on its strategic plan, what the Chancellor and all of us are calling The Power of SUNY.

Chancellor Zimpher will work with SUNY presidents and stakeholders to hold the Senate and Assembly accountable to take up with renewed vigor the kind of regulatory reform needed for SUNY to reach its full promise. It’s critical that our elected officials recognize SUNY as an economic driver to help revive our state.

A little more national context before I primarily turn my attention to the challenges and opportunities at Brockport. In the latest AASCU listing of “Top 10 Higher Education Policy Issues for 2010” guess what tops the list? Number one continues to be states’ fiscal crises—namely, a quarter trillion dollar collective deficit that has devastated states’ budgets in the past 24 months.

Yet, in Stephen Pelletier’s Summer 2010 AASCU Public Purpose publication, he calls for “rethinking the academy”…the enterprise…as he ponders what constitutes “the new normal” and trumpets my friend George Mehaffy’s call for “more adaptive strategies” saying “the current economic crisis is here to stay, yet colleges and universities are being asked to do more with less.” In short, Mehaffy proposes that the time is right to advance the goal of “educating more students and providing better learning outcomes through a combination of systemic change, effective student engagement and bold leadership.”

That’s where we come in with bold leadership: the collective leadership of all of us working together! The kind of Positive Leadership that Kim Cameron calls for in his book of the same title. He advocates for “an abundance of positivity” even in the face of difficulty to cultivate extraordinary performance, enhanced decision-making, productivity, creativity, and a positive work climate. That’s essential for us!

Now back to reality with that national backdrop and bit of a pep talk to approach our challenges positively.

While our strategic goals mesh nicely with SUNY’s, the continued deep cuts to our budget coupled with declining population trends in western NY mean we must—and there is a sense of urgency here—make some tough decisions pertaining to the future direction of The College at Brockport. It’s absolutely imperative that we focus our investments on attaining what we see as the best strategic path forward.

As I have outlined in past addresses, including these very convocations as well as Town Hall meetings last spring, this strategic plan is not a new path, but rather the continuation of an effective strategy and vision.

As we enter this academic year—concurrently our 175th birthday and our Middle States self-study—the College is on a trajectory to become a nationally recognized comprehensive master’s institution.

I expect no less in this clarion call for action on the part of us all. In order to realize this goal, again it’s absolutely imperative that we focus our investments on a select number of initiatives that will continue to advance our primary mission: student success.

At the same time, despite excellent rankings by U.S. News, Kiplinger’s Best Colleges and The Princeton Review, we must also improve our reputation within the region, New York State and well beyond. This will require clearly focused, consistent communication that makes a compelling case for change and generates much enthusiasm across the College.

We mustaggressively make cultural changes and resource allocation changes necessary to transform Brockport in a very challenging fiscal environment.

Today, commencing with Faculty/Staff Convocation and following-up within each Division, the collective leadership of the College must make this case in a clear manner that permeates the entire institution and makes us nationally recognizable. Sandy Miller’s honor by SUNY appointed as only one of six to the rank of Distinguished Professor is just one prime example!

The goal of becoming nationally recognized is both ambitious and timely. To get there we’ll pursue a limited number of strategies that will drive improvement in the following benchmarks: better than predicted retention rates; better than predicted graduation rates; and better than predicted outcomes on the NSSE in advisement, student life and faculty/staff-student engagement

Simultaneously, we must pursue strategies within and across all Divisions that will drive excellence in the four constructs that support the mission of the College:

  • Academic excellence and engagement
  • Co-curricular and support services
  • Learning environment and quality of place
  • Alumni connectedness and a culture of philanthropy

It should be noted that last Spring I delineated these four constructs, tying them to past strategic planning efforts and our Matrix as well as illustrations of how our plan can align with “The Power of SUNY.”

I have tasked the Provost and Vice Presidents with leading a planning process within and across their respective Divisions to set the path the College will pursue to achieve its goal using the framework I just outlined. Success will be contingent upon gaining buy in, staying focused, and providing consistent messaging through a thoughtful internal and external communication strategy. Coincidentally, these same constructs are mirrored quite nicely in a recent whitepapergenerated by Dan Hurley who oversees AASCU’s government relations. His four “considerations” in light of economic realities:

  1. Drive a student-centered change agenda through the student experience using institutional core values.
  2. Engage in strategic prioritization and mission-driven realignment as well as advancement opportunities.
  3. Decreased state support should not diminish state colleges’ responsibility as “stewards of place”; rather strengthen public purpose and engagement roles.
  4. Be productive and proactive in terms of public accountability (noting key examples of graduation rates & educational attainment goals).

Thus, we're apparently right on the mark. What do you think? And you’ll be pleased to know that I’m on the homestretch of my remarks...but please do continue to listen carefully!

The College has already invested in a comprehensive re-branding effort. “The Brockport Promise” (which, in essence, captures the “Brockport Experience”) needs to be brought to life in our external messaging giving a clearer, more distinctive identity to the College.

Internally, investments made in the student life cycle, engagement and learning, and our valued people (albeit fewer with recent attractive retirement options) should directly impact improvement in the areas that define our planning framework. These should follow our College-wide planning process that will take place this fall. Again, this is a logical continuation and refinement of our past strategic planning efforts with an eye on establishing us as a nationally recognized comprehensive college focusing on student success.

Wemust provide the best possible “Brockport Experience”. In turn, this shoulddrive each and every decision we make. We all must protect the integrity of this experience and make wise decisions.

That should give you a good idea of the road we will travel together in the years ahead. Admittedly, we are at a critical fork in the road as the landscape of public higher education has changed—perhaps, permanently, and certainly dramatically!

By why the rush? The sense of urgency you ask? First, we’re ready. This is our time to control our own destiny. Secondly, our fiscal health and our reputation depend upon our achieving our goals.

Getting back to the proverbial fork in the road…We cannot take the path in the road that leads to simply being a regional institution andmaintain both our quality and size. We must control our own destiny and enhance our own reputation within the region, the state and beyond.

Please join me on this exciting journey! Thank you.

JRH
8-24-10

Last Updated 2/28/12