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

Faculty/Staff Opening of School Convocation

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
President John R. Halstead
The College at Brockport, State University of New York

"Living the Mission of Our College: Our Enduring Nature —
Our Promising Future"

Thanks, Sam. I look forward to working with you, Madam President (now there's a long over-due change having our BSG President being a woman for the first time since 1992-93—that's twenty years!).

 Yet a point of constancy is always focusing on our core mission of student success and our national aspirations. You already epitomize strong leadership and collaboration working as a team on the SERC grand opening festivities and from my early meetings with you and your officers. Sam also exemplifies solid academics with a dual major in communications and history with a minor in anthropology. She hails from Brooktondale, NY.

In the past, I've used this occasion to focus on a theme such as "Transitions" or "Hope and Optimism" or "Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Call to Action"...or last year's "Thinking and Acting Strategically." I'm sure you all remember them, right?

Today's theme is: "Living the Mission of Our College: Our Enduring Nature—Our Promising Future."

Let's face it: The College at Brockport—by whatever name—has a history of transforming itself—of meeting head-on the considerable challenges and changes of its environment. And done so over 177 years.

But can we do so in the future? Starting with the year ahead? In the mixed milieu of an economic depression and uncertainty?

I say: Unequivocally YES!

And I say so amidst the chorus of naysayers within the current literature about higher education.

Witness a MYTH by the President of Northeastern University as voiced in the latest edition of ACE's The Presidency entitled: "Colleges and Universities Are Incapable of Change"—a keynote address before the College Board Colloquium this past January 7, 2012...here are excerpts: "Public and private institutions are facing significant challenges. On the federal level these challenges are stark {I can attest to that having been at a White House roundtable of higher education leaders last March}—less funding and more regulation. At the state level {I can attest to this, too, serving as the SUNY NY State Rep to AASCU's Council of State Representatives} the picture is even worse. States are disinvesting in public systems at a time when 80% of U.S. students attend public universities".

In this landscape, we have to take a hard look at our model of higher education—our goals and future aspirations—within the context of Brockport's mission.

Yet, in a recent feature in the Chronicle Review entitled "Innovation in Higher Education? HAH" Ann Kirchner cautions: "College leaders need to move beyond talking about transformation before it's too late {we're doing that here at Brockport}...Admittedly, ideas are everywhere, and innovation, technology, and, yes, accountability are their critical components. But they require tough choices and thick skins to survive the attack of antibodies against change".

Likewise, Hilary Pennington of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, compels us—this is close to home with our constant commitment to student success—to: "Stop Debating and Start Improving for Student Success" {CHE Commentary, 4/13/12}.

So let's do that!

Let's start with our mission. It's clear. It's achievable. It's enduring. It flows nicely to our ongoing vision—yes, our very ambitious goal—to become a nationally recognized comprehensive master's institution focused on student success.

Our actions—and actions do speak louder than words—to continue to transform the College—are also inextricably linked to the latest evolution of our Strategic Plan, 2012-2016, released at this very venue last year and distributed at Faculty/Staff Convocation.

Our planning efforts will continue to be based upon these four Constructs (you should know them all by heart) starting with: Academic Quality and Engagement; Co-curricular Programming and Support Services; Learning Environment and Quality of Place; and A Culture of Philanthropy and Alumni Connectedness.

Further, it's through the connectedness of these four constructs to intentional initiatives and actions of our College community that will help us to realize our goals.

By our constant efforts to engage a broad cross-section of the campus through cross- divisional planning retreats and ongoing conversations with Senate leadership, Mark, we have the framework in place to guide the institution to a new level of overall quality. And to the overarching goal of achieving national recognition as a comprehensive college...plus working collaboratively with SUNY to benchmark our success against a mutually agreed upon group of 20 peer institutions.

Colleagues, let's all pause for a moment to celebrate our recent success stories: starting with our remarkable, transparent Middle States Self-Study and visit leading to reaffirmation of our ACCREDITATION!

And to take pride in our Facilities Master Plan (FaMP)—which along with our Strategic Plan will continue to guide our institution.

Admittedly, we've looked a bit like a prison yard lately with chain link fences: $46M in construction projects this summer alone.

You can feel the sense of pride as we rightfully should—for taking ownership of these three critical, self-examinations: our Strategic Plan, FaMP and Middle States. It's palpable, but we still have work to do given the Middle States outcome. My message: Institutional effectiveness is everyone's business! We need to be intentional as we tie our efforts to our mission. As we refine our goals which will drive our investments in our College.

We've turned the corner! Buoyed by Gov. Cuomo's and Chancellor Zimpher's Five-Year Rational Tuition Plan we were able through a very disciplined approach to meet SUNY's Friday deadline and submit our own Campus Investment Plan continuing to not only protect, but also to invest in our academic core as well as directing increased resources to both instruction and student services.

Our new VP, Beau Willis, likes to call it moving from fiscal stability to fiscal sustainability!

Let me now return for a moment, to our four integrated CONSTRUCTS focusing always on our mission of student success:

1) Academic Quality and Engagement: Focuses our community on ensuring academic excellence through rigorous academic programs and highly engaged faculty/student interactions. The following concrete examples during the 2011-2012 academic year further advance us toward our goal of national recognition:

  • Middle States re-affirmation following a two-year process of self-reflection.
  • The first master's level graduate research conference, with more than 300 students from the northeast and Canada participating.
  • The largest honors class ever (80) will enter Brockport this fall; next goal: 100.
  • Successful recruitment of 25 faculty from prestigious institutions nationally.
  • Earning the Distinguished Faculty Rank for Service: Lauren Lieberman.
  • Through faculty-led task forces charged by Provost Anne Huot to take an in-depth look at our advising practices as well as what student engagement means in their academic studies here.

2) Co-curricular and Support Programs: Focuses our community on building co-curricular programs that have as their goal the personal development of our students through enriching opportunities that augment their academic course of study. The following accomplishments during the past academic year advance us to the goal of national recognition:

  • Significant expansion (60%) of our Residential Living-Learning Communities from 290 first-year students in fall 2011 to 464 this fall.
  • Systematic strengthenig of our Community Development Team providing venues for students to experience the communities in which they live while they're at Brockport—e.g.:
  • Saturday-of-Service for first-year students, now entering its 3rd year.
  • The Interfaith Initiative—VP Wilson, championed by the White House— helping to keep food pantries stocked in Brockport and Rochester.
  • Established the Institute for Engaged Learning with a generous gift from a key member of our Foundation Board.

3) Learning Environment and Quality of Place: The Facilities Master Plan (FaMP) provides a guiding document to create and maintain transformational environments for our students to live and learn. {Look soon for a more integrated "Planning Board" to be even more intentional}. These noteworthy accomplishments last year advance us closer to our national recognition goal:

  • $16M Smith renovation to provide state-of-the art science facilities.
  • Ongoing rehabilitation of our classrooms – focused on improving technology, acoustics and furnishings.
  • Design of the Liberal Arts Building – {more on that later} a transformational learning environment featuring collaborative learning spaces, state-of-the-art technology and interactive opportunities between faculty and students both inside and outside of the classroom.
  • On Sept. 14th we'll have the grand opening for SERC {have you seen the YouTube video on our web?}. SERC's a game-changer that will enrich the lives of our students by helping them to be even more fit, healthy and provide a space to socialize and engage in recreational activities. SERC already provides a venue for the community to become engaged with the College.
  • We continue to emphasize the importance of diversity through recruitment of students, faculty, and staff. Importantly, this past year we also focused on inclusiveness in teaching and the classroom environment through CELT workshops for faculty. Now look for our climate survey—again, long overdue as I've said.

4) A Culture of Philanthropy and Alumni Connectedness: Provides a vehicle to sustain the quality and competitiveness of our programs and the overall student experience through philanthropic giving and the engagement of our alumni in the vibrant life of the College. The following accomplishments this past year advance us to the goal of national recognition:

  • We are nearing the completion of the "quiet phase" of our comprehensive campaign. Over $4.4 million was raised this past year alone, including the largest gift in the College's history.
  • In fact, let me do one better with this stunning announcement just in from VP Roxanne Johnston—and it comes from the extreme generosity of a faculty emeritus and his wife. Get this: an extraordinary bequest in excess of $2M giving back, paying forward for student scholarships!
  • This brings our campaign total to date during the leadership phase to: $12M.
  • Further, we're leveraging the grand opening of SERC during Homecoming as a "soft launch" for our Campaign, given its enormous potential to encourage a culture of philanthropy and alumni connectedness by engaging alumni...by inspiring donors. Included in the celebration will be the naming of the so-called "Wow Room"...heretofore to be called The Eagle's Lookout in honor of Rosie and George Rich; and the Multipurpose Room with an $80K gift from young alum, Brian Brady '03 {and a past BSG president, Sam...}
  • The establishment of Boards of Ambassadors for each of our schools has successfully engaged prominent and accomplished alumni in both friend and fund-raising for the College.
  • A significant step towards continued strengthening of alumni engagement, traditions and networks was the hiring of Kerry Gotham as an experienced Director of Alumni Relations.
  • All of these accomplishments add up to advancing us closer to our ambitious goal of not only achieving national recognition as a comprehensive master's institution, but also one that prepares students to be successful in a cultural diverse society and in globally independent communities.
  • Our recent TV ad and media blitz—thanks to Dave Mihalyov and his team—proclaims: "Pursue Something Greater" depicting high achieving students in the arts, athletics, classrooms and learning labs.
  • I respectfully submit to you all that we are, in fact, doing that right now—all of us together.

Because this kind of transformation could not be possible without the tremendous individual and collective accomplishments of our faculty—and staff—and the prestige you all bring to our College by your work.

Keep it up, friends!

Now: A confession to make.

Earlier in this talk, I almost slipped and said "four constructions" instead of "four constructs." Maybe it was a Freudian slip, but the size and scope were all wrong.

Earlier I also mentioned a total: $150M in construction. But that's just a number. Embedded in that number is a truly transformational building. And this time I'm not talking about SERC. Instead: Our new Liberal Arts Building totaling almost $30M and 61,000 square feet.

It symbolizes an important part of our mission: where we've been and where we're going. Continuing to enhance the learning environment for generations of Brockport students.

I thought it only appropriate to do our ground-breaking when our faculty were back on campus preparing for the academic year. Yet, some premature work by the contractor's given new meaning to "shovel ready project".

Alas, I do believe the ground's been thoroughly broken! Yet, it took three astute faculty colleagues (I think that constitutes a quorum!) almost a month ago (July 24th to be exact) when I was walking to lunch at Seymour to point out a rather large hole.

By unanimous vote of Roger Kurtz and two other faculty members, WE all concurred that this big hole was, indeed, a good thing as it, too, signified not only the continued transformation of the College, but also a reaffirmation of our commitment to the liberal arts and our student success mission.

 Here's evidence: When we open this new Liberal Arts Building in 2014 it will be the very first new academic building to be opened in 40 years!—the last being the former Faculty Office Building—later renamed the Albert W. Brown Building.

Won't you all follow me now to toss some dirt on the ground; to proclaim the official groundbreaking of our Liberal Arts Building?

This concludes our annual Faculty/Staff Convocation! 

Last Updated 8/27/12

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