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 youre 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:
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 todays 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:
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!