Tuesday, September 29, 2015
President's Fall Forum
Performing Arts Center, Buffalo State College
Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you today and to officially welcome you to our new academic year. By now, I am sure you have all settled back into the normal pace of fall. The semester seems to already be flying by at a rapid pace.
As we begin our new academic year, it is important to take stock of last year and to spend a few moments reviewing and celebrating the accomplishments of 2014-15. Last year was a period of transitions, beginnings, endings, and many successes.
Last year, my first year at Buffalo State, was fast paced and full of many exciting and memorable moments. The year included the sea of orange at Convocation, the spectacular inaugural week activities, and many conversations completed, projects developed, and programs executed. It was also filled with lobbying events as I joined colleagues across the SUNY system to appeal for additional state funds to support our college community. It was a memorable and significant year. The normal year’s events were punctuated in mid-May with Commencement ceremonies that brimmed with joy, laughter, and tears as our 2,500 graduating students transitioned to become the newest members of our Buffalo State alumni body of over 100,000.
Last year, we also saw 45 faculty and staff members retire from Buffalo State. Together, these members of our campus community have contributed hundreds of years of service. Many of these individuals were well known within the Buffalo State community. Consequently, as they have transitioned to retirement, I have heard that some are enjoying the activities, projects, time with family members and friends, and travel that some had put off before retirement.
Several 2014-15 retirees had contributed nearly 50 years of service to Buffalo State before they retired. For example, Professor Paul DeWald taught students for 46 years in the Communication Department; Professor Charles Bachman served the college as a faculty member in English for 48 years; Professor George Hole served the college as a faculty member in the Philosophy and Humanities Department for 48 years; Ms. Constance Hsu served the college library for 48 years; and Professor Leslie Krims served as a faculty member in Fine Arts for 46 years. These longest-serving retirees, and all the others who retired last year, made significant contributions to the successes of Buffalo State. Some of these retirees committed their skills and knowledge to Buffalo State for nearly five decades. Some of our retired faculty members will still be seen in the academic hallways as they continue to teach part-time even after they’ve made their formal transition to a retired role.
The 2014-15 academic year was also a year to add new people throughout the campus, and I encourage you to get to know all the new members of our faculty and staff over the next weeks and months. Today I would like to acknowledge three new people who have joined us over the summer or have changed significant hats. Dr. Melanie Perreault joined us in mid-July as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. She is joining us from Salisbury University, where she most recently held the position of Associate Provost. Also joining us in early July was Dr. David Demers, our Chief Information Officer. Dr. Demers is coming to us from Bay Path University, where he was Chief Operating Officer. Dr. Jim Mayrose is a familiar member of the Buffalo State community, and he assumed his duties as Dean of the School of the Professions on July 1. Previously Dr. Mayrose chaired the Engineering Technology Department at Buffalo State within the School of the Professions. These individuals have all assumed new senior leadership roles at the college.
However, many other faculty and staff members are new to the Buffalo State community this fall. Would all new faculty and staff in the room please stand so we can recognize you and welcome you to our Buffalo State community?
During the last academic year, there were major accomplishments within every division of the college. We developed and revised new curriculum; conceived and hosted the most popular MOOC within SUNY, “Ignite Your Everyday Creativity”; and opened our portable planetarium. In addition, here are a few other highlights from last year:
- We saw the college’s largest number of applications to a first-year class last fall. That record did not last long though, as Enrollment Management’s Admissions team set a new record this year, receiving more than 13,500 applications for fall 2015—the largest percentage increase in applications of any SUNY campus. This is evidence that Buffalo State College has a strong reputation across the state of New York;
- Nine athletic teams advanced to conference playoffs last year—the most ever seen in one year;
- Jazmin Dunham (class of 2015) became the most decorated student athlete in Buffalo State’s history with 11 career all American certificates;
- For the second time, we received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award in 2014. And just a few weeks ago, we received the award for the third year in a row;
- We launched the “I love Consent” campaign, which will likely be a model for other SUNY campuses;
- We expanded our Master Plan by initiating and concluding a Student Housing Plan;
- We began significant campuswide discussions through advisory committees focusing on community policing, student retention, enrollment planning, and marketing communication;
- We closed out our Transforming Lives campaign with $27 million dollars, exceeding our $20 million dollar goal; and
- We expanded our outreach and programming to our alumni body.
We accomplished all this and more while teaching, publishing, performing, advising, supporting, and nurturing our nearly 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students and facilitating their ability to reach for the stars. We had a wonderful year!
Since pictures speak louder than words, we will now see a short video produced by Instructional Resources in collaboration with College Relations that highlights some of the brightest moments of last year.
I want to frame my remaining comments around the theme of daring to be distinct. As we begin a new academic year, we will build on our successes of the past to guide us toward a bright future. As a community, we understand the importance of continuing to advance our work to maintain or attain true excellence.
Today and moving forward, our plans must firmly address the current and future needs of all students. Our commitment demands that we fully consider the needs of commuter and residential students, students who join us as first-time students and those who transfer to our campus, those who are part time and full time, students engaging in undergraduate and graduate studies, and all others who make up our vibrant student body.
We are dedicated to transforming the lives and enhancing the possibilities of students who join our community. We know that an individual or group path toward greatness always has bumps along the way. Many of our current students and dozens of our alumni have shared their personal stories with me. Each story is individual. Many stories include aspects of financial hardships, discrimination, or lack of full preparation before joining Buffalo State. Even those students who on the surface seem to be sailing through campus on deeper reflection voice obstacles that were traversed to become successful. Can anyone in this audience attest to a life without obstacles? Whether a student comes to us with many resources or few, each must find his or her way to accomplishment. Many of us are aware of current battles that must be won for a Buffalo State student to succeed. These battles take many forms and sometimes occur when a student is least prepared to fight them.
As I reflected on the barriers placed in the path of achievement, I thought of Wilma Rudolph. Some of you know her story. She was born in the 1940s, when discrimination against blacks was the law of the land. She did not just face prejudice because of the color of her skin; she felt the prejudice of poverty and the poor health of a prematurely born child. She was not physically strong, and as a child, she had polio. Doctors thought she’d never walk normally, and she wore metal braces on her legs for years. However, she overcame so much! She attended Tennessee State and not only walked but became an Olympic athlete. She was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field in the 1960 Olympics. She completed a degree in elementary education, taught children, and coached throughout her life. The spirt of Wilma Rudolph walks through the doors of Buffalo State every day, and with our support, these students rise to levels of greatness.
How do we educate the students who come to Buffalo State to reach for their stars today? I believe that in order to provide an outstanding, relevant, and engaged education, we must keep pace with the ever-changing world around us. The disciplinary, technological, and societal shifts press us to expand and evolve our work. We are situated in a fiscal reality that presses us to be more efficient, strategic, and creative in all aspects and within each division. All members of our campus community must continue to sharpen our skills and engage in professional development and growth activities that prepare us to provide the academic programs, educational experiences, and campuswide support structures that are required in today’s climate. Embracing and fulfilling our individual paths for professional growth will best allow us to collectively serve our students.
As I reflect on the work ahead, I realize that the time is now for us to lay down a clear plan to guide us as we move forward. We will develop this path together; we will openly debate, discuss, and develop a road map that builds on our successes and our current foundation while encouraging us to stretch toward true excellence. This path will be our new strategic plan. You read in the Daily in late July that I would appoint a College Planning Council to guide us in the development of our next strategic plan. The membership of this council was announced last week in the Daily. Our planning council represents the voices and constituents that make up our campus. The College Planning Council will be chaired by Provost Perreault, and it will craft and create a process where each member of our community will have the opportunity to share their unique perspectives.
I ask you to think strategically as you provide thoughts on our carefully considered and intentional directions for the next five years. I ask all members of our campus community to think boldly. I ask you to reflect on who we are and what we can accomplish when we put our minds, hearts, and hands together. An important aspect of strategic planning is creating a process that provides an open and honest sharing of each unique perspective. Our deliberations will be grounded by data that provide a realistic view of who we are and where we can go. Do not shy away from adding your voice or providing what you feel is a bold consideration. It is from the mix of perspectives and creative thoughts that we will develop a strategic path that will move us ahead. It is only through this careful and inclusive reflection that we can dare to be distinct.
As we engage in strategic planning, we must keep several important tenets in mind:
- Buffalo State College is student centered. We know that our institution exists to teach, support, and graduate the future leaders of our state and beyond. As we craft our strategic plan, we must ask ourselves at every turn how this direction serves our fundamental mission to educate our students. By our students, I mean the students of 2015 and beyond. The students who flock to us because we represent a college that transforms lives and cares about the future of the world around us. Our students are talented, bright, and passionate, and they are fueled by the urge to elevate themselves and the world around them. Our strategic plan will rest on the firm foundation that our undergraduate and graduate students are at the center of all we do.
- We support the development of students strong in the liberal arts tradition. At Buffalo State, we know that critical thinkers who communicate effectively and understand the application of scientific methods become flexible, nuanced, and formidable citizens. Students grounded within the liberal arts traditions can understand and articulate the past in ways that enhance the future. These liberally educated students understand the importance of preserving our cultural heritage for future generations. We will stretch our liberal arts foundation to inform an understanding of the world today and the world of tomorrow. We will dare to lead our peers in a curriculum that prepares students for the complexity of the world they inhabit and the flexibility they will need for our ever-changing world. How often do we hear that many of the jobs of the future are not conceived today? We must create flexible learners who will be ready for our changing future.
- We are a comprehensive college. We will embrace that we are Buffalo State College. We have a large footprint of academic programs that span the arts, the sciences, and professional programs. But as a college, we shape the preparation of students to fulfill their personal and professional destinies, prepare those who wish to go on for further graduate work here or at other institutions, and ready students who will launch immediately into careers as practitioners or in other selected professional careers. We must dare to universally guide, mentor, and cajole our students toward success in the tradition of great colleges.
- We sit on a foundation and a commitment to excellence in teaching. We know that the work that is done by our committed faculty within classrooms every day shapes the intellectual life, career aspirations, and preparation for the next-step experiences of our students. We believe in the power of education to transform, empower, and launch the personal and professional contribution of every part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate student on our campus. We believe that the scholarship and creative work completed by our faculty (and the students who work alongside them) lift learning to higher levels.
- We are a college that believes in engaged learning in and outside the classroom. One of our many hallmarks is providing the paths that students can take to enrich their education from undergraduate research, internships, robust classroom discussions, threaded online dialogs, and much more. We know that applied learning and engagement enhance the learning that occurs in the classrooms at Buffalo State and allows students to truly be successful in their studies as well as when they leave here for the next part of their journey. We must lead our peers in demonstrating and advocating the benefits of applied and engaged learning.
- We are Buffalo’s college. We don’t just sit within the city of Buffalo; it is our everyday laboratory. We are committed to connecting our students to businesses, laboratories, nonprofit organizations, schools, and communities in need. We partner with industries old, established, new, and emerging. There is no other campus that is as integrated into the city of Buffalo in all spheres of the old Buffalo or the new developing city of Buffalo as our college. We are not just situated in an urban location; we are an urban institution with tentacles throughout the city. We wrestle with what it means to be an urban campus in our classrooms, in our citywide connections, and in our everyday lives. We must dare to embrace what it means to be an anchor institution within the city of Buffalo.
- We are diverse, and it is one of our strengths. We represent the domestic diversity of our state and country, and the international diversity of the world. This diversity allows us to have nuanced discussions in class and to ask questions that homogeneous campuses cannot fully consider. In a world where homogenization of higher education is seen, where every mission and strategic plan begins to looks like every other, we will dare to understand that because we have diverse thinkers from diverse backgrounds, we will allow this diversity to inform our deliberations. We will resist the pressure to be like everyone else. We will hone and codify what it means to be a campus that represents the multiple and interconnected diversity of our world. We will dare to exalt diversity as a strength and continue to rise to leadership among our peers.
- We are a campus that has a passion for social justice. We embrace our goal to be a socially responsible campus. We are not named to the President’s Honor Roll for Community Service because we want to add the sticker to our accomplishments. We did not seek and receive the Carnegie recognition as a Community Engaged Campus because we wanted to check it off our list as something good to do. Community engagement is what we have always done and what we will continue to do. We passionately fight injustices wherever we see them. We want to participate in finding solutions to issues of poverty, pain, environmental misuses, and irresponsible behavior wherever we see it. We fight for cures to diseases that ravage our communities, we seek to understand and prevent pollution in our streams, we want to eradicate hunger wherever it exists, we want to create businesses that not only serve our personal needs but also serve the communities we live in and see around us. In all ways, we seek to engage in behaviors that cultivate a just world. We are dedicated to preserving and conserving our cultural heritage for future generations. We are Buffalo State.
That is who we are, and we must remember our foundation as we carve the path and directions to be articulated in our strategic plan.
As we do this work this year, we also must remember that we can lead. We have such greatness waiting to burst out. We must dare to be great. We must dare to be bold. We must dare to be distinct. Whether it is the strategies we will develop to enhance our advisement, the pedagogies that we develop to teach our disciplines, the mechanisms we incorporate to advance the success of our students, the strategies we will use to motivate our student-athletes, or the efficiencies we will institute that advance our support systems, we will dare to lead with excellence. We can lead in so many ways. We can be leaders in so many corners of our campus.
We are a campus devoted to engagement, excellence, and social responsibility, but we can also dare to be great. We will plan for our next five years boldly. We will call on each member of our campus community to lend his or her voice to the development of plans that we will use to guide our steps. We will embrace systems to help us interpret our data to guide us, we will grasp technology that advances and expedites our work, and we will incorporate creative ideas to help us move forward.
When we stand at the edge and ponder whether good is good enough, I ask us all to find the courage to dare to be more than good. I ask us to be distinct. I ask us all to realize our current strengths and articulate our future promise.
Let our next strategic plan elevate Buffalo State College to be the college of choice for undergraduate and graduate students who want to be challenged, who want to strive for excellence, who want to be engaged inside their classrooms, outside their classes, and in the community, and who want to demonstrate ethical and responsible leadership.
Within our strategic plan, we will embrace our core mission as an instrument to elevate the public good by providing an excellent and engaging educational experience to prepare our students to lead with strength and social responsibility.
Our strategic plan will:
- Advance our retention efforts to elevate completion for every student seeking his or her degree or certificate;
- Forge a curriculum that addresses the competencies required today and in the future;
- Raise our commitment to applied learning and true leadership;
- Elevate our dedication to engagement within our communities to levels that allow us to partner with Buffalo and enhance our commitment to strengthen our community;
- Ponder, articulate, and propagate the significance and strength of our diverse campus;
- Stimulate and encourage creativity within all aspects of our campus;
- Develop and articulate what it means to be a graduate of Buffalo State.
- Cultivate and deepen partnerships with businesses, donors, alumni, friends, and foundations to support our mission.
We will do all this within the context of SUNY goals and statewide initiatives. This strategic plan will take us through 2021. In that year, we as a college will celebrate our 150th anniversary. We will not only celebrate our magnificent history but also stop and fully assess the goals articulated in our upcoming strategic plan.
As we proceed through our campuswide strategic planning process, I ask you to reject the comfort of sameness and instead reach for a path that advances our campus and defines Buffalo State as distinct and ready to be a leader among our peers, across the country, and around the world.
I challenge us all to reach for the stars and dare to be distinct.
Please join me for a reception in the lobby to rekindle our acquaintances, welcome the new members of our community, and begin to think of the strategic work ahead of us this year.