Seeking Excellence in All We Do
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Performing Arts Center, Buffalo State College
Good afternoon! We started another great semester in late August that combined the excitement of the new with the energy of restarting another semester. But before I launch into remarks for the current year, I’d like to recap some of the many measures of excellence from last year. We forged ahead in many areas, made many changes to further benefit our campus, and were recognized for the many things we do so very well.
We are SUNY’s urban-engaged campus, and our collective goal is to strive for excellence in all we do as we deepen our work as a campus known regionally, nationally, and internationally for our urban engagement. Our collective work moved us toward excellence in many areas. We engaged within and outside our campus in ways that advanced individual work and our collective campus effort, and we strove to uplift the communities that we touch. Last year, we continued to engage our students and ourselves in collaborations and partnerships to advance our commitment to an excellent education. While we worked to forge excellence and engagement in everything we did, we held near to our hearts our commitment to social responsibility. My focus and our collective work allowed Buffalo State to continue to strengthen the transformational education we provide—while standing for equity, justice, and social responsibility in all of our efforts.
There are many things we did last year to demonstrate our commitment to our overall goals. We dived deep into our divisions, schools, departments, units, and offices and asked the question: How do we deepen our work as an anchor institution with an urban-engaged focus?
This reflection was done in large and small groups, within formal committees, within division meetings and cabinet discussions, over coffee and during walks across campus. What resulted was a close look at our strategic plan and a fearless determination that would define when we needed to deepen our work and press forward to make the needed changes.
Last year we studied, conceptualized, and renewed our efforts to advance the success of our students. One example was our thorough discussion of advisement on campus and the reconceptualization and reorganization of student advisement. The academic leadership forged a plan that would elevate academic advisement and student support. They worked closely with the leadership of Finance and Management to re-envision the library as a space to consolidate many of these combined support efforts. These discussions and consideration launched a clear vision of the importance of advisement for our students and how to require and structure this important element on our campus. Our discussion included the important role that advisement plays in the success of our students and the necessity to have advisement models that fit our varied major programs. The required advisement across campus this fall realizes the importance of advisement.
Last year we also continued to vet and discuss best practices for student success within our President’s Committee on Undergraduate Retention. Through recommendations from this group and many others, we continued to implement new retention strategies and ways to move students successfully toward degree completion. Each school saw new retention efforts emerge, and departments implemented or increased the scale of activities that are best practice for student retention, persistence, and completion. When the fall semester began this year, we saw we had nudged the needle and had surpassed our projected retention number. We have much more work to do, but these efforts are showing promising results, and we will continue these efforts.
We also know that engagement of students enhances student success. LEAP—Liberal Education and America’s Promise—at the Association of American Colleges and Universities has articulated and encouraged these results across many campuses, and we know that these guidelines are best practice for student success. The tenets of this program support high-impact practices, encourage the development and implementation of learning outcomes, and encourage the provision of authentic and excellent academic programs. We support all of these factors.
During 2016–2017, we increased our focus on these important aspects and more that serve to advance the success and degree completion of our students. We enhanced our undergraduate research opportunities and created EURO—Early Undergraduate Research Opportunities—to provide early opportunities for students to be involved in research. We lifted our community service and service-learning efforts following the recommendations of a campus committee on civic engagement and developed a five-year plan that will provide a roadmap for the campus to deepen our civic and community engagement work. This plan, now approved, institutes our efforts structurally in a Civic and Community Engagement Office that is already elevating and showcasing our work within our community and throughout Western New York.
To recruit and support even more high-performing students, the academic deans implemented a Dean’s Honors Program. You may have read about it last month in my presidential blog. This program was initiated last year, and we enrolled 163 students in the inaugural class this fall. This provides a significant increase in our honors population and adds another honors group along with the current Muriel A. Howard Honors students.
Within the area of Student Affairs, we saw significant discussion and attention to programs that benefit our students outside of the classroom experience. The total revamp of our New Student and Family Orientation program was a clear and visible manifestation of the advancement of our work. Students received an enhanced program of orientation based on best existing practices and participated in orientation earlier in the summer. This allowed for greater preparation of students, a clearer and earlier bonding to our campus, and an increased predictability for the incoming class. Due to multiple efforts, we also saw an increase in our yield, and students committed and registered earlier than ever before. We believe our increased focus on family certainly contributed to this gain.
Assisted by the attention to a college education created by the buzz around the Excelsior Scholarship, we also saw an increase in our application pool, seeing the largest increase of applicants of any SUNY comprehensive campus. These were all great strides ahead for our campus and allowed for a smoother transition into the academic year.
We also had the opportunity to evaluate our conduct system and to implement new changes to improve the process. As these get fully implemented this year, we will assess the changes that have been instituted. We also were able to access the best model to deliver health and counseling services to our student population and modified our organizational structure to advance these efforts as well.
There were many behind-the-scenes improvements within Finance and Management during the 2016–2017 year, but some changes were highly visible across campus. Caudell Hall opened after a two-year $21.2 million renovation of the building. This extensively renovated building houses the Hospitality and Tourism; Health, Nutrition, and Dietetics; Social Work, and Speech-Language Pathology departments. If you have not been in the building, I encourage you to visit it if you don’t have the pleasure to work or teach in it every day. Caudell Hall is complete with state-of-the-art and contemporary equipment, laboratories, and spaces that simply are a wonderful place to teach and learn. Every guest that has visited the building comes away with great compliments for the renovation of this amazing building. The students who study in Caudell have expressed their gratitude to be learning in such a contemporary and engaging space.
Another slightly visible building project was Buckham Hall B Wing that has been fully renovated to house the departments moving out of Bishop Hall. The spaces provided have been well received by students and those occupying the new areas. B Wing is now home to Communication, Philosophy, Modern and Classical Languages, and Sponsored Program Operations, and Math has temporarily moved to A Wing. Bishop Hall, currently under renovation, is being returned to a residence hall to meet student housing needs.
There have also been several upgrades in lighting across campus to address safety concerns. The changes have been completed with careful attention to sustainability and safety. The new lights provide more illumination while reducing electrical consumption by 75 percent, and they decrease maintenance while creating a brighter campus. Additionally, an evaluation of surveillance cameras occurred last year, and new cameras will be installed as renovated areas and new construction are completed.
We also saw the largest single gift to support Buffalo State last year. Patricia and Richard Garman donated $4 million to support our internationally known Art Conservation Program, and in recognition of this significant gift, the department is now the Patricia H. and Richard E. Garman Art Conservation Department. This gift elevates the department and the college and will benefit hundreds of students, faculty, and staff as they continue to provide an outstanding program and prepare leaders to preserve and conserve our national and international artistic treasures. Overall, the total giving to campus was the second largest seen in a year. Yes, it was a great year for advancement efforts at Buffalo State.
If you haven’t noticed, the corner of Grant and Rockwell has drastically changed this summer. Campus Walk, owned and developed by a private company, opened this summer for student housing. Adjacent you will see that we have started construction on the Jacqueline Vito LoRusso Alumni and Visitor Center. So we are seeing changes on campus and in the neighborhood that add to the overall revitalization of the city of Buffalo and address important campus needs.
This year the College Relations team developed the “You Are Welcome Here” video. A message that is so needed during this divisive time, this video touched a chord and portrayed a fundamental tenet of Buffalo State. No matter where you live, or where you were born, or what you look like, or what language you spoke at home, or what religion you believe in, or whom you choose to love, you are welcome here. It was viewed across the state, country, and world, and we proudly stand by every word in the video.
We were once again recipients of the HEED Award—Higher Education Excellence in Diversity—from Insight into Diversity magazine. This is the fifth time we have received the award, and it is an affirmation of our commitment and dedication to infusing diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our campus.
We also saw the women’s soccer team win the SUNYAC championship, and we launched the new Urban Teacher Academy.
We were reaffirmed for our excellence in many ways and across many units during the last academic year including the following:
- The Buffalo State Child Care Center was reaccredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The center scored 100 percent on most standards. Fewer than 10 child-care centers in Western New York have been recognized with this rigorous accreditation.
- Our campus University Police Department earned reaccreditation from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Accreditation Council. Only 25 percent of all police departments in New York State are accredited. Consistent with our reaccreditation, we are fortunate to be led by Chief Pete Carey, who was named Campus Safety Director of the Year by Campus Safety magazine.
- We also received accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), reviewing positively for our B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology – Electronics and
B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology – Smart Grid.
So it is important to recognize the many and varied accomplishments that occurred during our last academic year. We even had a recent graduate, Lazarus Lynch, win the Food Network’s Chopped Star Power Tournament, and this news hit the wires in Western New York, across the country, and in many national markets. So let’s pause to appreciate the work of last year, the successes we accomplished, and the celebrations that happened to Bengals here and afar.
And because pictures speak louder than words, let’s see a bit of a reminder of special moments in a video recap of the 2016–2017 year.
Excellence in All We Do as SUNY’s Urban-Engaged Campus
Excuse me for saying yet again that my singular overriding goal is to advance excellence, engagement, and social responsibility as SUNY’s urban-engaged campus.
In this regard, I have been giving a great deal of thought to the power of place. Where we find ourselves and the ways our location shapes us are very powerful. We are impacted and influenced by the location, environment, and cultures that touch us. Additionally we, as an anchor institution, shape our surrounding environment.
Yet place is often taken for granted. It is like the air around us that is absolutely necessary to breathe and thus to live, yet we often don’t give it even a passing thought. Each place and location that touches us has multiple and intersecting influences. Our location hosts those things that nourish our bodies and minds; provides the backdrop for us to learn, teach, and practice what is important to us; and creates the cultural context that opens a possibility for us to enlarge our understanding of the world. The place we inhabit shields us from the elements, provides a sense of safety, and furnishes the nest where we can meet and greet others.
Our location, 1300 Elmwood, provides an opportunity that we have embraced and codified in our strategic plan and in our goal to advance our urban-engaged focus. We are Buffalo State, we are Buffalo’s college, and Buffalo is a central part of all we do at Buffalo State.
The Buffalo of today embodies a sense of growth and expansion. The new construction, new jobs, and renewed hope for a great future seem to saturate every discussion I have. There is a secondary theme that is also often articulated in Buffalo—how can we make the growth and possibility be for all citizens and not just a privileged few?
The spirit of Buffalo permeates the culture of Buffalo State. The deliberations of the city also touch the considerations of Buffalo State.
When I first arrived in Buffalo in 2014, Buffalo, the city, was described to me in many ways. A common theme was the resourcefulness and resilience of the city. Buffalonians shared the history of Buffalo with me, including the changes that had occurred during the last 100 years. They described how the city of Buffalo had been down but was currently reinventing itself. Behind these stories was always the hint of Buffalo the resourceful, and Buffalo the resilient, and then came the new element. Buffalo is on the rise. I joined Buffalo State as the Buffalo Billion had taken shape, and there was this new sense of itself. Buffalonians have a clear identity, and everyone expressed this new dimension of who the city was and what it could be.
You have often heard me talk about how we are Buffalo’s college. I also want to remind us that we have demonstrated the same traits as our city. Buffalo State College is resourceful and resilient. Our work during the last few years is evidence that we have the capabilities and skills to reflect on past accomplishments and struggles and move toward a future where we truly soar. We have shown that we are willing to look into the storm and see how to navigate through the wind and waves to arrive in a better place.
We are not only located in Buffalo; we have the resilience—the can-do spirit—of Buffalo.
I have asked you to reflect on what we do well and to do more of it. I have asked you to change, redirect, or revise what can be more efficient, what can better serve our students, and what can move our individual and collective work to true excellence. The Buffalo State community responded by reflecting on the ways to enhance our work and efficiencies and incorporating changes. We have the additional motivation that we need to shrink dollars spent to rebalance our budget, while still maintaining and enhancing excellence.
Last year demonstrates that the Buffalo State community moved ahead our mission as SUNY’s urban-engaged campus in many ways. This year we will keep up the momentum.
It is important for all to understand that as we move forward, we will need to continue to address challenges to our campus budget. These challenges are not unique to Buffalo State. We share this issue across the system and across public higher education. This discussion is not new here at Buffalo State, but this year we will spend more time together understanding the budgetary challenges that we face and delineating ways to address and realign our resources with our priorities.
This year we will plan together the rebalancing of the budget so that we can meet or exceed our goals. As you know, we have seen our expenses increase, but we have not seen a comparable increase in revenue. In fact, additional expenses hit the campus without the state funding following to keep us whole. Keeping tuition affordable is extremely important, so although modest tuition increases will occur for non-Excelsior Scholarship recipients, dollars generated will have a small impact on our overall budgetary status. Thus as we move forward, we will need to rebalance our expenses to existing all-funds revenues. This will allow us to mobilize our resources to best meet the campus priorities.
As we tackle our structural budget deficit, I ask you to continue to embrace the change that is occurring at Buffalo State and throughout Buffalo.
Shortly, I will announce our new campus budget committee. This committee will establish opportunities for members of the campus community to become more fully apprised of our current budget situation and to discuss our plans to rebalance our budget to meet strategic priorities. The plan will include selective budget adjustments based on our analyses of peer campuses and the implementation of ways to grow new resources. The creation of new, unique, creative, and market-driven programs will be welcomed as a part of this discussion.
This rebalancing of our resources will allow us to continue forward toward our campuswide strategic goals and priorities.
We will become nationally recognized as an urban-engaged campus. We are well on our way with the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, our partnership with other anchor institutions, our expansion of support for student success, our elevation of high-impact practices, and other ways that our work, creative and scholarly efforts, teaching, and service bring us distinction.
We will develop and refine our curriculum offerings to support our focus on urban engagement.
We will continue to expand our newly developed Civic and Community Engagement Office to connect our community to the broader Buffalo community.
We will enhance our use of high-impact practices in ways that expose more students to these components. We understand these high-impact practices, like study-abroad, undergraduate research, and community engagement, are ways to advance student success now and after they graduate. We are dedicated to providing these experiences to a larger number of students.
We will expand honors education in ways that embrace our urban-engaged message.
We will further use our commitment to urban engagement as a magnet to attract outstanding students who seek these kinds of exceptional experiences.
We will seek to increase our student national recognition for academic excellence, including increasing student recognition and accolades in such competitive programs as Fulbright, Rhodes, Washington Center, Goldwater, and Congressional Hunger Center fellowships.
We will support faculty and staff as they compete for national and international recognition for their teaching, research, and service as it connects to our mission and our focus on urban engagement.
We will continue to seek excellence, engagement, and social responsibility the Buffalo way by being resourceful and resilient.
At a meeting of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities earlier this month, I was joined by John Siskar, Jevon Hunter, and Kathy Doody to share one way Buffalo State manifests our commitment to our urban environment. We discussed leveraging our work to enhance the success of students along the pipeline. The pipeline focuses on our effort with the very young to those preparing to come to Buffalo State. This presentation showcased how our work deeply represents our city and the diverse students that come to Buffalo State and sometimes have families that live near, around, and adjacent to our boundaries. We understand the amazing education we can afford students, but only if they get to our doors and can enter with a reasonable possibility of success. We know what success feels like when students move through the pipeline and come to us. We know the exhilaration of feeling and witnessing student success. We know that being a part of Buffalo and being Buffalo’s College means we embrace the transformative nature of students who rise to success.
Already this year, I have had conversations with first-year students and upperclass members. I have heard from student-athletes, members of student organizations, and student leaders. They all have perceptions that allow me to understand what is important to our students and how we can take all perspectives into consideration as we move ahead.
This year I visited with honors students and recipients of some of our competitive scholarships. They shared why they came to Buffalo State College and how their experiences are shaping their development. Keeping students at the center of our discussions allows us all to best advance an excellent and engaged education.
At Buffalo’s College, we have an urban imperative to provide the education that our citizens need and deserve, to deepen our connections to the partners around us, and to be a good steward of place. As an anchor institution of higher education, we deeply care about every aspect of our connection to Buffalo and its people. We care about the quality of our environment. We care about the sustainability of our resources. We care about the employment opportunities of our citizens. We care about lifting our students, staff, and faculty to excellence. And we care about sharing our good practices with the broader community.
I believe in the mission of Buffalo State and our ability to be the very best urban-engaged campus in this country. Our work is not and will not always be easy, but we will be rewarded as we become the magnet for students who seek a truly outstanding education situated on the foundation of urban engagement.
I look forward to continuing this journey with you and reaching and exceeding our goals. No one ever said transforming student lives was easy, but it is truly rewarding. Thank you for your Buffalonian resourcefulness and resilience, and may our collective work move us all forward together.