Address to Faculty and Staff - January 16, 2014

I want to welcome back our faculty and staff as we start the Spring 2014 semester. I hope everyone had a restful and productive winter break. I eagerly look forward to the collective progress we will make on important issues for the University this semester.

We have weathered several snow storms and a deep freeze since returning on January 2 but we have been fortunate with a relatively mild opening week of classes. I am hoping that the really bad weather is behind us now…but this is probably wishful thinking! I want to thank our staff in Facilities who worked long hours throughout the snowstorms to get the campus ready for classes.  

Let me begin with some announcements about new appointments to our Board of Trustees, Foundation Board, and administration.  We are delighted that Lourdes Cortez has joined the Board of Trustees. Lourdes is the CEO of North Jersey Federal Credit Union, one of the largest credit unions in the state that enrolls over 30,100 members with total assets of $172 million. Lourdes brings a wealth of knowledge and experience about management and finance as well as the Hispanic community of our region and she has worked with various groups on campus over the last several years. 

I am also delighted that Aaron Van Duyne, an alumnus of William Paterson – both bachelor’s and master’s degrees – has assumed the chairmanship of the William Paterson University Foundation Board.  The Foundation Board guides the fundraising arm of the University and oversees the management of the Foundation’s assets. Aaron is an enthusiastic and loyal alum who has served on the Foundation Board for thirteen years, and was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award at the University’s Legacy Gala in 2004.  Aaron succeeds Michael Seeve as chair, whose term expired.  Mike has been a wonderful supporter of the University since joining the Foundation Board in 2000, and we are happy that he will remain on the Foundation Board going forward.  Under Mike’s leadership, the Foundation assets grew, fund raising increased, the annual golf outing was started and new board members joined. We thank him for working so diligently to move the Foundation to new heights.

And we will welcome Dr. Miki Cammarata as our new vice president for student development on February 17 succeeding John Martone who retired December 31.  I want to thank the entire University community for participating in the intensive day-long interviews that were held in early December as part of the national search for a new vice president.  Dr. Cammarata is a 28-year veteran in student development at Ramapo College where she is currently the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs. At Ramapo, Miki is the co-leader of the division and has oversight of many of the functions within student development.  I want to give a special thank you to the search committee which found four excellent candidates and who did their work in record time.  Thanks to Kris Cohen who chaired the committee, and Cindy Cohen, Rohan Howell, Evelyn Gonzalez, Gordon Schmidt, and students Marty Novak and Richard Vail.

Our campus improvement projects continue to move forward. We celebrated the opening of the newly upgraded television studio in Hobart Hall right before the break and will shortly have a ribbon cutting for two completely transformed music recital rooms in Shea as well as the inauguration of new music practice rooms in Gaedes Hall. And for those of you who have encountered the broken and springy seating in Shea Auditorium, I invite you to attend an upcoming performance and admire the new seats that have been installed there.  Construction on the new academic building is expected to commence this summer, and progress on the parking garage continues with an estimated completion this summer.  Look for monthly updates about all our facilities improvement projects on the University’s website. 

Unfortunately, we must pause for a moment as a community to mourn the loss of those of our family who died at the end of last semester.  Chernoh Sesay passed away in December. He had served as Provost and Executive Vice President from 1996-2005 and then as professor of political science. Chernoh was Provost when we gained University status and he made a significant impact on William Paterson during his time leading the Provost’s Office.  We also lost Brenda Harris who was the Associate Director of Student Enrollment Services and a 31-year employee of the University.  Joining the campus in 1977 as assistant registrar, Brenda was well known and admired for her support of students and her commitment to the University.  We are deeply saddened by the passing of our colleagues and friends, and we send our deepest sympathies to their families and loved ones.  Plans are underway for memorial services on campus for both individuals.

We also remember Nancy Norris-Bauer in our thoughts, as she recently lost her husband Fritz, who was a big supporter of the University.

Last fall, in my opening day address, I spoke about President Obama’s proposed plan to make higher education more affordable and how post-graduate student outcomes are gaining support as valid tools in assessing the quality of the institution. We also spoke about how some states are basing funding on these same outcomes which include retention and graduation rates, student debt, and the starting salaries of recent graduates. The plan ignited a national debate and caused many college presidents, including me, to write to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan arguing for a broader and more nuanced measure of educational quality and making a plea for continued support at the federal and state levels. 

As I have said before, I believe we need to be concerned about our students’ ability to afford the education we offer and to graduate more quickly than they have done in the past.  We have spoken a great deal over the last two years about our comparatively low retention and four-year graduation rates.  And we know that the longer our students take to finish, the more it costs them to pay for their education.  Staying for a fifth year costs an additional $11,000 and increases students’ debt by 26 percent.  Staying a sixth year costs an extra $22,000 on average.

We started focusing on this issue two years ago and we have made progress…the average number of credits at graduation has dropped from 145 to 135 credits and our four-year graduation rate rose by about 25 percent in two years.

We have kept tuition and fee increases to 2 percent or less for the last three years and we hope to do so again for next year.  

And we have graduated 41 percent more students since 2011 which means that our overall enrollment has not grown partially because we have increased the number of students who finish.

We started offering free summer basic skills courses to all incoming freshmen and this fall we provided advisement during orientation and reduced the number of students admitted late in the summer as these students often perform poorly.

We adopted a revised financial aid strategy to support students after their first year, thus rewarding students who do well and want to continue. We also began a grant program for students who are just a little short of being able to pay their bills. We should see the effects of that effort next fall as it is rolling out as I speak. Our new provost and associate provost are expanding and coordinating the delivery of academic support programs; amplifying the activities of the tutoring centers around campus and undertaking a serious revision of the first year experience program at William Paterson University. We are seeing an upswing in the number of faculty using the Early Alert System, which is designed to get students the help they need, based on faculty referrals. Last year, we put additional resources into the Early Alert program, and it is heartening to hear that more faculty are using it. I am grateful to you who have used the Early Alert System, and I hope you will encourage your colleagues to do the same.

 You will hear more about all of these retention efforts this spring from the Provost who could not be here today as he is attending a conference on student success.

Finally, we are going to implement many of the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Advising and have authorized the acquisition of Degree Works, which is a new system that should enable students to more easily review their transcripts and plan their courses of study. That system, at a cost of about $300,000, will take 18 months to implement, but when employed should enable students to participate more actively and accurately in planning their studies. More on the Task Force recommendations in a couple of weeks.

William Paterson University is a founding member of New Jersey Campus Compact, which is a state affiliate of the national Campus Contact initiative.  The goal of New Jersey Campus Compact is to enhance and encourage our students’ civic engagement during their college careers.  I am delighted that Dr. Saul Petersen, the state executive director of Campus Compact, will maintain a satellite office here on campus, and he will be here two days each week.  Campus Compact melds quite well with Area 5 of the University Core Curriculum—Community and Civic Engagement—and I think this is a great opportunity to move forward both our curricular and co-curricular engagement activities. We are grateful to Christine Kelly for her continued leadership of the American Democracy Project, and we look forward to Maggie Williams’ leadership of the UCC. Maggie will introduce herself at the end of my comments.

Let me remind everyone to keep focused on the data and feedback that has been generated, particularly through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). We now have trend data over an eight-year period that shows that we are making progress on several key engagement variables, but we still lag behind our comparison group, particularly on questions related to the quality of the enriching experiences we are providing.

Our data confirms what we know anecdotally, that our students work more hours in off-campus jobs and have more competing demands on their time than students in our comparison groups. This data is particularly important as we make budgeting decisions on dollars for on-campus employment opportunities, and decisions on how we allocate financial aid dollars across the student body.

We also score below our comparison group on overall general satisfaction with the University.  We will continue to study this variable, as it most likely impacts our retention rate.  General satisfaction, along with financial and familial obligations, are formidable pressures that may cause our students to drop out or delay their education.

But if we keep our students’ retention and graduation at the center of our discussions, we will see positive results.  We will be surveying our students again this spring, which will hopefully reflect improvements in key areas.  The current NSSE results are posted on the webpage of Institutional Research and Assessment, if you want to review.

I am proud of the strides we continue to make regarding diversity at the University. Our faculty and students are among the most diverse in New Jersey; in fact, we rank third among our sister public institutions in this category. In fall 2013, more than 45 percent of enrolled students were members of minority groups. We have also increased the diversity of our faculty.  Overall, as of fall 2012, approximately 37 percent of our faculty are members of minority groups, and since 2009 the number of female faculty members has increased 17 percent, resulting in almost equal numbers of male and female full-time faculty members.

Of particular note is the fact that we are close to being officially designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which requires that 25 percent of your student population identify themselves as Hispanic.  As of fall 2013, 23.2 percent of our enrolled students were Hispanic. Such a designation would permit us to become a full member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and be eligible for additional federal funding. As always, we are pleased that our campus community reflects the rich diversity of our region and state.

Our gains in diversity have been noticed on the national level. Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education has placed the University on its list of Top 100 Colleges and Universities for 4-Year, Full-time Undergraduate and Graduate Enrollment.  Also this past year, the magazine Diverse Issues in Higher Education named William Paterson University one of its Top 100 Degree Producers for conferring the most undergraduate degrees on minority students.  In addition, the University’s College of Education received a Best Practices Award in Support of Global Diversity from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in recognition of the integration of diversity awareness into its teacher education programs.  These are important recognitions and we are proud of them!

Our number one priority is to engage our students— in the classroom and in the life of this University.  I challenge each of you, in your capacity as teacher, staff member, researcher, mentor, advisor, or friend, to reach out and engage a student and to help him or her achieve success at William Paterson University.  I challenge all of us to keep our students at the center of our deliberations and debates, so that they may fully develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to think analytically and creatively in their chosen fields. We are all contributors to their success.

Thank you for attending today, and I wish everyone a productive semester.

I now invite Professor Maggie Williams to say a few words on her new role as director of the UCC.

[Professor Williams speaks]

Thank you Maggie.  We thank you for taking on the job as UCC director, and look forward to your leadership going forward.

Again, thank you for attending today. Have a great semester.