Address to Faculty and Staff - January 2015

Welcome back to all of you after what I hope was a restful and peaceful time away from campus. As we start the spring term, we look forward to reuniting with our students, resuming our regular activities and welcoming over 800 new students to campus.

As we start the new term and, this weekend, watched events in Paris that threaten free speech everywhere, we express our support for journalists, writers, cartoonists and others who believe the pen is more powerful than the sword. As an institution of higher education, one of our basic values is freedom of expression and respect for all points of view. We express our support for the people of Paris and acknowledge the demonstration that brought over a million people of all ethnicities and religions into the streets in an overwhelming show of solidarity.   

I am delighted to report that in February, the Board of Trustees will add two new members:  Michael Seeve, president of Mountain Development Corporation, and John Galandak, president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey. Mike Seeve has been a longstanding friend of the University, serving as president of our Foundation Board for six years before stepping down as president this past fall. Mike is an expert in real estate development and business management.  John Galandak is president of the Commerce and Industry Association, a membership organization of 800 businesses and not for profits in New Jersey working to promote business development  in the State. John has served on numerous state-wide committees, most recently on the “Red Tape Elimination Committee” and has sponsored various events at William Paterson University for many years.  In his early years, John pursued the academic life, and is ABD in Zoology. I hope you will welcome Mike and John to the Board of Trustees.

In June of this year, Dr. Jonathan Lincoln will join the University as Associate Provost for Curriculum and International Education. Dr. Lincoln is currently serving as Acting Dean, College of Science and Technology at Bloomsburg University, Pennsylvania.  He has extensive experience in curriculum development and international education.  At William Paterson, Dr. Lincoln will play a key role in working with faculty on curriculum development, at both the undergraduate and graduate level.  He will be the main point of contact for graduate education issues in the Office of the Provost; he will work closely with accreditation, assessment and student success; and he will oversee International Education activities.  Dr. Lincoln received his Ph.D. in Geology from Northwestern University, and his M.A. in Geology from Boston University. 

I also am pleased to announce that Professor Loretta McLaughlin-Vignier has agreed to serve as  Interim Associate Dean of Arts and Communication. We thank Associate Dean Imafidon Olaye for his service.


We welcome eleven new faculty and professional staff who have joined us since September. They are:

Lawrence Verzani, Assistant Professor, Economics, Finance & Global Business

Archie Porter, Assistant Professor, English

James Mellis, Visiting Assistant Professor, English

Anton Vishio, Assistant Professor, Music

Parminder Kaur,  Assistant Professor, Chemistry 

Xinbo Lau, Assistant Professor, Chemistry

Nisha Nair, Visiting Assistant Professor, Marketing and Management

Jonathan Langowski, Professional Academic Advisor, College of Science and Health

Shannon Evans, Counselor, Counseling, Health and Wellness

Maxwell Seeland, Associate Director of Annual Giving, Institutional Advancement

Donna Minnich Spuhler, Director, Campus Activities and Student Leadership

We congratulate our faculty and staff who have recently retired, or will retire in January or February, and wish them well:

Richard Blonna, Public Health

Gary Gerardi, Chemistry

Gurdial Sharma, Chemistry

Frank Grippo, Accounting and Law

James Manning, Kinesiology

JoAnn Cunningham. Anthropology

Joanna Hayden, Public Health

Tina Lesher, Communication

Helene Nemeth, Registrar's Office

I ask for a moment of silence for the loss of three members of our community. Student, Philip Ayoub, died in late December. Philip was a junior majoring in criminal justice and was well known to his professors. We also lost Tom Norton in our IT Department. Tom, well-known throughout the campus succumbed to illness and will be greatly missed. And Walter Pettke, Senior Building Maintenance worker.  Please let us pause for a moment of silence.

The end of last semester we struggled with the reality of an alleged sexual assault on our campus in late November and unprecedented media coverage. I want to thank you for your many emails of support. As many of you are aware, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office has asked that we refrain from making comments to the press and others until the case goes to the grand jury – which explains why I issued only two statements regarding the matter early in the investigation. We have cooperated fully with the Prosecutor’s Office, and anticipate that the case will go forward shortly.  Our State’s judicial process now will decide the outcome of the alleged sexual assault on our campus. 

At William Paterson University, sexual assault and sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable.  We must continue to send a clear message to all members of this community that sexual violence is illegal and intolerable.

In the fall, I devoted much of my September opening address to explaining our efforts to improve student success and I asked the question – Do we have high expectations for our students?

I am happy to report that our efforts are yielding results. When the final census data for fall enrollments occurred in early October, we reported to the Federal and State governments that:

  1. Our six year graduation rate for the 2014 academic year reached 50.9%, an increase for the third year in a row. This increase is a 3.4 percentage point improvement in three years and we now meet national norms for institutions in our Carnegie classification. We still want to do better but progress is visible.
  2. Our four year graduation rate for the 2014 academic year reached 21.2%, an increase for the third year in a row. This rate, while improving by 3.3 percentage points over the past three years, is still not where we need it to be. The national norm for peer institutions is 38% so we still have work to do.
  3. Our freshmen retention efforts also improved to 76.6% but we need to retain well over 83% of freshmen each year in order to be level with peer institutions.

I want to thank all of you who have joined the effort to make these results occur. We strive to improve student success at WPU and we work to make sure that students learn what we say they are learning and succeed at what they hope to accomplish. As you may recall, in Fall 2014, we began five new initiatives as part of Student Success:

  • First, we registered about 50 percent of our incoming freshmen in linked courses where two courses held the same group of students. According to national research, linked courses stimulate friendships and partnerships which help keep students engaged and on track.
  • Second, we expanded supplemental instruction to provide more academic support in high-risk courses. This year, 19 student assistants were placed in a dozen courses to provide tutoring and academic support, working with course instructors.  
  • Third, the Peer Leader program was expanded so that the majority of First-Year Seminar sections had a successful and trained upper level student Peer Leader to help students make the adjustment to William Paterson University. 
  • Fourth, this fall, we awarded a $1,000 scholarship to over 400 sophomores who entered the University in fall 2013 and a year later had completed 30 credits with a GPA of 3.0 or above.
  • Fifth, we began implementing the new on-line student degree audit system called Degree Works. This project is directed by VP Reginald Ross in Enrollment Management and the Degree Works Team. We expect to go live with the system over the next 12 months and hopefully will have some part of it ready for fall 2015 freshmen.

My special thanks to The Student Success Team which hosted its second campus-wide forum in early December to faculty and staff. About 70 people attended the three-hour program to provide feedback to the Team on how best to operationalize some of the student success initiatives. I want to thank Provost Sandmann, Vice President Cammarata and Vice President Ross and the Faculty Senate for their leadership, and Danielle Liautaud, Glen Sherman, and Ken Schneider for their daily oversight of the initiatives. The Team, which consists of over 30 people, continues its good work and later this term will provide an update report and perhaps additional recommendations to our community for further discussion.

So back to my question from the fall, Do we have high expectations of our students?

Well, many of you wrote to me after my fall speech. You gave me examples of your high expectations. You gave me examples of your students doing some amazing work. You gave me examples of your students achieving national recognition. You gave me examples of your students obtaining full fellowships for doctoral work at major research universities in this country. So you have answered my question – YES, we have high expectations of our students.

Let me give you some examples.

Adonis Rivie, a senior majoring in biology at William Paterson University, won a first place award for his poster presentation among 1,500 competitors at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) held in San Antonio, Texas. Rivie was cited in the conference’s physiology research category for his research project, “Plasma Treatment Accelerates Tail Regeneration in Tadpole, Xenopus laevis.”  Rivie’s poster presentation grew out of his work as part of an interdisciplinary research project conducted by Professor Jaishri Menon and Professor Kevin Martus. Now in its 14th year, ABRCMS is one of the largest, professional conferences for minority students and students with disabilities to pursue advanced training in STEM disciplines.

Let me give you another example of two music students and a professor.

“Keep on Keepin’ On,” is a movie that was cited as a potential Oscar nominee for best documentary. It was made by Alan Hicks, a drummer from Australia who graduated from William Paterson in 2007 with a degree in Jazz Studies, and it is about the friendship between the legendary jazz trumpeter and retired WPU professor, Clark Terry, and the rising pianist Justin Kauflin, WPU Class of 2008.  The two students and professor met in the jazz performance program at William Paterson University. After graduation, Alan decided to make a film – his first - which originally was a tribute to Clark Terry, who played with Count Basie and Duke Ellington and mentored Quincy Jones and Miles Davis. But Alan Hicks soon focused on the relationship between the William Paterson teacher and student as they both navigated a world of blindness. Justin has been blind since he was 11 years old; Mr. Terry’s vision was failing from diabetes.  This is a very moving movie about the teacher-student relationship.

Alan’s movie has won numerous awards already, including best new director at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. We are trying to bring this film to campus but I can play a clip of it right now.

Now another example.

Matthew Orso, journalism major, is publishing his second book about baseball entitled "Baseball Card Generations." It is a children's book about "a grandfather teaching twin grandchildren life lessons through baseball cards." Orso’s published his first book, “Bonded at the Seams: Baseball in our Lives," when he was a senior in high school and he has great promise as an author.

Denzel Bland and Austen Mahoney, professional sales majors in the Cotsakos College of Business, won first place overall in the Russ Berrie Institute for Professional Sales 8th Annual National Sales Challenge. The team competed against the best sales students from 39 other schools across the nation and abroad. This is the first time a William Paterson team has won the overall competition. The Russ Berrie Institute for Professional Sales was recognized in 2014 as one of the top sales programs in the nation by the Sales Education Foundation .

Professor Ron Verdicchio and six anthropology/education students took their ethnographic field study of the cultural changes in Prospect Park and turned it into a new 128-page book published by Arcadia Publishing. The students investigated the degree of cultural change the town has experienced as immigration and migration changed the population. The six students who co-authored the book are Eman Al-Jayeh, Bria Barnes, Kelly Ginart, Amani Kattaya, Megan Perry, and Paige Rainville.  All royalties and net proceeds from book sales will be donated to a scholarship set up in the authors’ names through the William Paterson University Foundation.

I now ask the question – do we have high expectations of ourselves – staff and faculty?

You may recall that in fall 2014, we began a new employee recognition program – P.R.I.D.E. designed for peers to recognize outstanding acts of WPU employees above and beyond what is normally expected. To date, 38 employees have earned recognition and you can read about why they were selected on-line.

The P.R.I.D.E. (Praising Results Innovation Dedication and Excellence) Awards Program is in full operation. I am pleased to congratulate all the winners to date:

PIONEER Winners:

Michael Gatlin, The Russ Berrie Institute for Professional Sales 

Emily Plaskow, Registrar's Office

Damion Barnett, Student Enrollment Services

Theresa Bivaletz, Women’s Center

Librada Sanchez, Women's Center

Jill Guzman, Counseling, Health and Wellness Center

Katherine Rizman, Counseling, Health and Wellness Center

As a group from Payroll and IT:

    Brian Publik

    Garcelle Hill

    Noreen Chua-Kasak

    Debbie Lago

    Debbie Anderson

    Lou Szucs

CARES Winners:

Carlos Cano, Undergraduate Admissions

Khalid Sanders, Custodial Services

Daniella Micciche, Residence Life

Carrie Harris, Purchasing Department

Christine Smith, Residence Life 

William Choi , Information Technology

Rose Green,  Counseling Health and Wellness Center 

Laura Milo,  Enrollment Management 

the entire Financial Aid Office Team:

Elizabeth Arango

Stacy-Ann Brown

Michael Corso

Erick Gonzales

Joyce Heavey

Stella James

Susan Rienstra 

Susan Rupple

Nunzio “Maurice” Vacca, Library

Carola Gremlich, Counseling, Health and Wellness

Anise Philip,  Counseling, Health and Wellness

Tracy Gilmore, Payroll

Student Development, Counseling, Health and Wellness, and Residence Life Group:

Molly Boylan

Rose Green

Kimberly Snyder

Mathew Liguori

Maribel Rodriguez

Katherine Rizman

Shannon Evans 

So YES, we have high expectations for ourselves and we notice high performance from among our colleagues.

Again, do we have high expectations for ourselves?

I believe our faculty has very high expectations of themselves in their capacities as teachers, researchers, creative artists, and service providers to our students and their professions. Faculty need to be supported by the institution and in another week, Provost Sandman will be communicating to  the faculty to discuss issues of particular importance to them. But let me take this moment to note that the University continues to invest and support  the faculties.

For the year 2015-16, the University awarded 384 credit hours of sabbatical awards to 26 people which represents a significant increase over levels from previous years when the State limited WPU.  It is true that not everyone who applied for a sabbatical received one but nevertheless, more sabbaticals are being awarded for the 2015-16 year than ever before.

Promotional and Range Adjustment  opportunities for faculty, library faculty, and professional staff have also increased, here  for a fifth year in a row. Next year, there are 44 opportunities to be awarded, an increase of 12 or a 37% increase from 2011. Again, not all people who apply for promotions receive them but overall, additional opportunities have been forthcoming. Decisions for next year will be made soon. And the Academic Release Time for scholarly activity continues to be a critical support for many faculty.

With this support, comes extraordinary achievement and while it would be impossible for me to recognize all the faculty of distinction today, let me note some areas of high expectations met by high achievement.

Pete McGuinness, assistant professor of music and an acclaimed jazz composer/arranger, trombonist and vocalist, has been nominated for two 2015 Grammy Awards. Professor McGuinness was nominated for Best Arrangement: Instrumental or A Cappella for "Beautiful Dreamer" and Best Arrangement: Instrumental And Vocals for "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?" Both tunes are from his latest CD, Strength in Numbers. The awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, February 8, 2015.

Rufus Reid, former director of our Jazz Studies Program, has received two Grammy nominations: Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for "Quiet Pride: The Elizabeth Catlett Project" and Best Instrumental Composition for "Recognition," a track from the same album.

And our grant activity continues to increase. Professor Amy Learmonth in psychology received a grant for $128,899 from the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence (NJ ACE) Clinical Research Program for her project, Can Video Speak the Language of Autism.

Dr. Glen Sherman, AVP and Dean of Student Development and Sherrine Schuldt, CHES Prevention Specialist received a $96,288 grant from the NJ Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for their project, Strategic Prevention Framework Partnership for Success, Year 2.

And finally, Professor Michael Griffiths, Professor in the Department of  Environmental Science received a $54,956 grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund for his project, Late Phanerozoic Evolution of Seawater Temperature and Sr/Ca: New Insights from “Clumped Isotope” Thermometry in Biogenic Apatite.

So yes we are achieving excellence. And in further recognition of excellence, I am pleased to announce the receipt of a new $1 million dollar donation to increase our scholarship support for students. Although I cannot yet announce the name of the donor, this gift to be awarded over four years is a testimony that people believe in us, they believe in our students, and they believe in the good work you are doing.