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Brockport / President's Office / Presidential Speeches and Public Statements / Convocation 2008

Faculty/Staff Opening of School Convocation

Tuesday, August 19, 2008
President John R. Halstead
The College at Brockport, State University of New York

Let me begin with a reminder of why we are all here: student success. What we call The Brockport Promise:

"To reveal to each student each day his or her capacity for intellectual, physical and creative accomplishment."

Photo: President Halstead gives the Convocation address to faculty and staffThere's a great enthusiasm and "joy for this journey" (with thanks to Rich Pattenaude, former President of the University of Southern Maine and now Chancellor of the University of Maine System, for his recent AASCU publication) as underscored in the Brand Book and the working title of my talk this year with a sub-theme of uncertainty.

Even in this time of uncertainty we will manage through yet another New York State budget crisis and challenges to the State University of New York when the only things predictable are Olympic Gold for Michael Phelps. Even the pennant races are upside down and unpredictable with the prospects of a Chicago vs. Chicago World Series and the Rays battling the Red Sox; plus other surprises such as the Brewers, Twins and Phillies. The LA Angels of Anaheim being the best team, not only in LA, but in all of baseball. And "Manny being Manny" in Dodger blue!

Last year I talked about stability in leadership, yet predicted the uncertainty of what the Commission on Higher Education would mean for SUNY. The final Commission report has been submitted, and the only recommendation which we are certain the Governor will support is low-interest student loans. Little did we know thenabout the fall of Governor Eliot Spitzer, the changes under Governor Paterson, two out of three new "men in the room" (as they say in Albany) and that we still would not have a permanent Chancellor for the State University of New York as the national search goes on — now under new Board of Trustees Chair Carl Hayden whom I met with a week ago in Albany when the SUNY presidents convened. Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees is looking at tuition plans, deregulation, entrepreneurial and collaborative ideas to generate new funds and save money.

When I was in Pennsylvania, we used to refer to it as the "Harrisburg Headache". Now I refer to it — with attribution to Lou Spiro — as "Albany Ambiguity"! I can assure you there's lots of ambiguity! I fully understand that this ambiguity is troubling for you — as it is for me — and our leadership as well. But let's not forget these things go in cycles in New York and all of the good things we've accomplished together in our last three years!

As for ambiguity — for example — here are some questions:

  • Are we a state agency or not? The SUNY Board of Trustees Chair says no —i.e., we are independent in our fiduciary responsibility — but the Division of Budget sometimes issues executive orders as though we are…although negotiations continue through SUNY and the Board.
  • Did SUNY really receive three rounds of budget cuts ($38 million; $109 million; and $96 million)? — the last "seven percent" announced by Governor Paterson during his July 29 television budget address — with more recent budget challenges and proposals announced by the Governor last Monday while SUNY was still negotiating our position with the Division of Budget.
  • What will the legislature do this very day as they've been called back into special session by Governor Paterson to tackle the state budget crisis brought on by Wall Street? Property tax caps? Health care? City University of New York (CUNY)?
  • Will "another shoe drop" even though the Governor has said that SUNY has already endured more than our fair share in previous budget cuts. He's also said that the State of New York's budget problem exceeds $26.2 billion over the next three years. Thus, we must act now.
  • Or out of this crisis will there come an opportunity — after all this is the year of the Olympics in China and it is the  "lucky" '08 year — to finally get a rational tuition policy? SUNY has only had one increase in 13 years while other systems have tuition authorityplus regulatory relief from the burdens and costs outlined by the Commission — in Article VII — that would save SUNY and New York millions.

Is this a broader opportunity for creativity for us all? Thus, a good reason to read Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind, a New York Times best seller that was one of the required readings for our Cabinet Planning Retreat last Friday. The book provides a profound, yet compassionate analysis of change in what Pink calls "the Conceptual Age" and "making meaning" out of our world.

At our SUNY presidents' dinner last Monday, some of us were focusing on the upcoming year and how we'd welcome you all back. We all have our own styles and traditions, such as this convocation marking the beginning of another year. One colleague said he did not dare address the budget at his convocation. Another said he didn't dare not to do so.

I firmly believe it's my responsibility to do so with some illustrations of what we might expect in the year ahead. Yet, at the same time, not to dwell on the budget and to maintain my focus "on the big picture"— as Rita Bornstein, President Emeritus of Rollins College, says we must in what she calls "integral leadership" (Chronicle of Higher Education, June 13, 2008). That is, looking at the college as a "coherent whole" as introduced by the Association of Governing Boards a couple years ago; inspiring a sense of common institutional purpose. After all, this is a celebration of our academy and the year ahead. Let's all remember that today!

What we can do best is to continue to manage our own destiny and draw on our core values of shared governance and student success — with a strong sense of ourselves. To work with Chair Dawn Jones and the Budget and Resource Committee — as we have all summer — to develop our plans for the next several fiscal years — even with almost daily changes being put forth by Governor Paterson and by SUNY.

Again, these are just illustrations of our campus strategies we may use to manage potential state budget reductions that may still be forthcoming this fall. This is in addition to the proactive approach being adopted by the SUNY System and Board of Trustees (which is scheduled to meet September 16).

Recommendations to be considered (Cabinet also has developed a set of Guiding Principles also as we plan future budgets. See sidebar.):

  • "Soft Hiring Freeze"— With a process developed to review vacant lines and determine criteria. The lines left vacant would not be eliminated in the short term, but some might ultimately have to be used ifpermanent budget reductions are imposed.
  • Implement Additional Energy Conservation — Creative approaches to offset the anticipated significant increases in utilities at the same time that the utilities budget has been reduced.
  • Extraordinary Scholarship Program — a study has just been completed which will soon be reported to the Enrollment Management Task Force to consider further options to reduce both the cash and residential portions of the various scholarship programs without diminishing academic quality. We can now be more strategic attracting top-notch students.
  • Modify our Memorandum of Understanding to Reflect Further Enrollment Increases — consider a plan to enroll 100-150 student FTEs above our planned enrollment level to provide additional tuition revenue to offset reductions in state support. In most states, this is a strategy deployed.
  • Additional Revenue Increases — Increase support from the Brockport Auxiliary Service Corporation (BASC) and the Brockport Foundation while investing in fund-raising — spending some money to raise more money.
  • Divisional Management Approach — Each division should plan to be as financially self-sufficient as possible and should minimize funding requests from Priority Needs. Translation: Tougher Cabinet scrutiny.

I said I would not dwell on the budget, so let's move on to some other exciting news — again, simply some examples.

  • Brockport is pleased to be a charter member of SUNY's "China 150 Initiative" —in keeping with the University's long history of reaching out to China and other nations. This compassionate gesture will bring four Chinese students to our campus — four students displaced by the earthquake last spring in Chengdu. In another connection to our campus, Professor Juanita Saurez was in the same area on sabbatical and communicated with Provost Huot and me on her humanitarian efforts — an amazing saga!
  • This initiative is also in keeping with our initiative to launch two new residential learning communities: the Brockport Global Village in McLean Hall, and the Math and Science Learning Community in McFarlane Hall. I'd like to thank both the many faculty and our Residential Life staff who have invested their time, experience and enthusiasm in this exciting venture which has attracted 80 freshmen. What a great example of collaboration between the Divisions of Academic Affairs, and Enrollment Management and Student Affairs!
  • Another example of maximizing student learning is our success in obtaining nearly $30 million for a new academic building from SUNY and the state. Remember the separate "buckets" at the All Faculty Meeting in May? In one of the great ironies in the Empire State, the money for capital facilities in New York State continues to flow to assist us with facilities. But these funds must be used for buildings. We'll be surveying faculty on how to best configure this new facility to be optimal space for teaching, learning, and research consistent with academic planning and a survey developed by Professor Joan Spade's research methods class. But nothing has yet been determined.
  • Other priorities for capital facilities continue on track with the Special Events Recreation Center (SERC) approaching 45 percent in design as well as a recent Memorandum of Understanding I signed with Mayor Duffy to proceed with plans for our Lake Ontario Natural Resource Center (LONRC)as we seek funds — both state and federal — for this top priority. Joe Makarewicz — this must make you very happy!
  • On the Advancement front, we're gearing up for a campaign by doing our feasibility study. You're to be congratulated for exceeding our goal last year for the Faculty/Staff campaign giving a total of $179,172, exceeding the goal by $19,000 or 12 percent. Thanks to tri-chairs Colleen Donaldson, Jeff Lashbrook and Adam Standish.
  • Here's more good news: In a recent survey conducted by Education Benchmarking, Inc. and facilitated by the National Association of Housing Officers (ACUHO) it ranked our housing program in the top three among allcolleges and universities participating — for quality and student satisfaction. The ranking is weighted and compared against six peer or aspirational institutions, a larger Carnegie class of institutions, and then all institutions involved in the national survey. Our overall Residential Life program effectiveness has increased over the past five years and our resident assistants characterized their work environment as one of collaboration, respect, and a place where differing ideas are accepted and encouraged. I really enjoyed addressing our talented resident assistants yesterday!
  • And speaking of differing ideas — diversity — let's never forget our sustained efforts to support a more inclusive community. Namely, the Diversity Awareness Training by consultant Tom Brown this past summer and again September 15-19. Plus I invite all of you to join me for the Cultural Diversity Conference September 25.

Finally, let me turn to our own "academic workplace" and put it in a national context. In a very intriguing article in the Chronicle of Higher Education one month ago (July 18) Jeffrey Selingo reported on an extensive survey conducted by the Chronicle: 15,000 respondents from 89 colleges labeled "great colleges to work for." I hope we'll be on the list — we should be!

But there are "double-edge sword" results: Generally academics are most upbeat at the beginning and end of their careers. Those who have been in their roles for less than two years gave some of the highest marks to their career development programs. But the most satisfied group of employees by age was composed of those 65 and older. Those in mid-career "blues" seemed the most "dispirited" — a kind of mid-life crisis. The Chronicle noted that faculty members, especially at the mid-career point were fraught with questions of "what next." Yet, even that group 45-49 years of age, 69 percent said their colleges treated them fairly and a healthy 86 percent said they were satisfied with their jobs.

Why do I report such findings to you? For several reasons:

  1. That we should respect the great careers of our senior faculty and staff in their latter years and always express our gratitude to them. I had occasion to do that personally to my predecessor, Dr. Paul Yu, who just submitted his retirement as Philosophy Professor. Let me publicly acknowledge Paul's contributions in raising the academic profile of our College and for his leadership as President.
  2. For those in mid-career, let's continue to advance one of the six initiatives I announced at my inaugural: Career Span Faculty Development. I know that Chris Price and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) are working on implementing creative programs for those of you in the three distinct phases of your careers.
  3. As Executive Vice Provost Barry Glassner at USC proclaimed: "It says to me that the most recent arrivals in academe come with great enthusiasm, despite what can seem like a difficult environment." I say let's capture that enthusiasm as epitomized today by the introduction of the outstanding new members of our staff and faculty — 28 new faculty at tomorrow's reception.

And even in this "difficult environment" let's not forget the positive psychology advocated by the new President of APA 10 years ago. Martin Seligman captured a spirit of optimism which would serve us well. He found that among the things contributing to happiness are engaging in satisfying work, avoiding negative emotions and events, and having a rich social network. Or "to see meaning in our lives" as Viktor Frankl espoused.

I sincerely hope that we'll all find meaning in our lives here at The College at Brockport and maintain a spirit of optimism, despite the most recent economic throes of New York State. I came back to New York and I'm glad I did! I think we can make a difference in the lives of our studentsand "make meaning" for our College. I hope we can "find joy in the journey" along the way and will take great pride in wearing the new shield of The College at Brockport. I invite you all to take a lapel pin and wear it proudly as you exit this theatre. Thank you!

Last Updated 2/28/12