A Profile in Leadership, Speech to ICREW-NJ, April 14, 2011

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today about my career and about William Paterson University, which I was proud to join as the institution’s seventh president last August. In many ways, this has been my freshman year at William Paterson, as I have joined with the new students on campus to explore all that the University has to offer. It has been a busy and exciting eight months as I have spent time on the campus and in the broader community meeting with many wonderful educators, students, alumni, and community leaders.

As a leading public university, William Paterson University has a crucial role in preparing students to become successful professionals and citizens. While we are all aware of the economic challenges that face public universities throughout the country, we must all recognize and protect the essential role public higher education plays in New Jersey and the United States.

Over the past two decades, state support for the nine state colleges and universities in New Jersey has decreased from an average of nearly 80 percent of the operating budget in 1988 to approximately 36 percent in 2010, leading to higher tuition rates. As an article in the New York Times noted earlier this week, two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients nationally graduated with student loan debt in 2008, which last year averaged $24,000. According to Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for Student Access and Success, students leaving college with significant debt may be forced to make different life choices, and things such as buying a home might not be an option.

I take my responsibilities as the president of William Paterson University very personally because I too am the product of an education provided by public universities. I was born in Brooklyn and I grew up on Long Island. My father was in the Navy in World War II and then went to Fordham on the G.I. Bill, so education made a real difference in my family’s life. I enrolled at Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York system, and I had a full tuition scholarship but I worked a number of jobs—in the cafeteria, as a resident assistant, and in the history department as a research assistant—to pay for room and board.

I decided to major in history, and the faculty there were very encouraging of me. In fact they insisted that I go to graduate school to work toward a doctorate, and so I applied to Indiana University where I also received a full scholarship to study Latin American history.

When I received my doctorate in 1977, there were very few positions available for history professors and even fewer for Latin American historians. So I took a position as an assistant professor at Bowdoin College in Maine, a small, elite liberal arts college. And I very much enjoyed the teaching experience there. But Bowdoin was located in a small town with only ten thousand people, and I missed the hustle and bustle of New York so after three years I decided to move on.

Unfortunately, there were still no teaching positions available so I reluctantly decided to switch careers. I enrolled at New York University in a program that converted humanities Ph.D.s into business people in six weeks. At the end of the program they brought in Fortune 500 companies to recruit and everyone received five or six job offers in a week—it was an amazing transformation. I was hired as an assistant vice president with Chemical Bank in its division on Latin America and began an eighteen-month training program.

It was a real learning experience. I learned I had more ability in mathematics then I would have thought. I did okay with finance and budgeting once I figured out what accounting was all about. I met interesting people and I was involved in a different kind of Latin American culture—more on financing and economic development—and I found that interesting.

The result was that I now had this second career in business. After a few years I moved to Citibank, where I held a number of management positions, including president of Citibank International in Miami.

But I always thought someday I’d return to university life. In fact, I promised myself that by my fiftieth birthday I’d return, and by luck and unconscious thinking it happened. I was asked by Citibank to create a university within the corporation for professional development for its senior bankers. I had never done anything like that before, so I sought advice from universities in the United States and Europe on how to proceed. And some of the people I talked to suggested that I should go into higher education administration. I was offered the position of dean of the School of Business, Public Administration and Information Science at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and I jumped at it. And after six years at LIU, I was recruited to serve as president of Baruch College, a public institution that is part of the City University of New York system and one of the most ethnically diverse colleges in the country.

So I think I bring a unique blend of experiences to my role as president of William Paterson. At heart I am an academic. I care deeply about the liberal arts and the meaning and purpose of liberal arts in everyone’s college education. But I do bring a business approach. It requires you to take a longer-term view, and adopt goals and a strategy.

Since its founding in 1855 as a normal school to train teachers for the city of Paterson, William Paterson University has educated more than 70,000 people from New Jersey and beyond. Today, we provide a challenging, supportive, intellectual environment for more than 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 33 states and 38 countries. Our students are taught by nearly 400 full- and part-time faculty and an additional 600 professionals in their fields.

Our faculty is nationally known for their scholarship, research, and creative works, including 37 faculty who have received prestigious Fulbright awards.

We offer more than 250 undergraduate and graduate academic programs, ranging from liberal arts and sciences to pre-professional and professional programs, that give students the opportunity to experiment with new interests while preparing for careers, advanced graduate education, and lifelong learning. At the same time, we provide learning experiences and leadership development opportunities—and fun—for both our commuter students and approximately 2,600 resident students.

Our many clubs and organizations range from Division III intercollegiate sports clubs connected to academic disciplines, campus media outlets club sports such as our nationally ranked ice hockey team, and even a fishing club, and I’m proud to say I joined them for a fishing event and caught a few fish!

Our mission—to foster student success, academic excellence, diversity, and community outreach—lives and breathes at William Paterson. The commitment to our students can be witnessed daily: in the mentoring relationships students have with faculty, the learning communities that enhance the academic experiences, the internships and extracurricular activities that support education outside the classroom, and the service our students provide to the community.

Inside and beyond our classrooms, labs and studios, we help students reach their full potential and help prepare them for successful careers and lives.

Our suburban Wayne campus offers the best of all worlds. It borders on High Mountain Preserve, nearly 1,200 acres of wetlands and woodlands, yet we are just three miles from the historic Great Falls in Paterson and 20 miles from the rich cultural, artistic and commercial life of New York City.

We are also the most northwestern public university in the state, and this region is expected to have continuing demographic growth. Our job as a public institution is to make sure we’re able to house and provide more seats and to grow the university. This year alone, we had a seven percent increase in our student body, and we anticipate continued enrollment growth both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. As has been the case throughout our history, many of these students will be the first in their families to go to college.

We also expect the demand for graduate programs to grow –professions are more complex today and institutions and businesses are seeking more individuals with post baccalaureate degrees. Affordable graduate education is a promise we make to the people of New Jersey and beyond.

To meet some of these needs, we are continuing recruit and retain outstanding faculty. Last fall 22 new professors joined the university and we expect to add 25 new faculty this coming fall, which presents exciting possibilities for our students.

Our current faculty members are involved in many wonderful projects. For example, Djanna Hill, a professor of secondary and middle school education, and Sreevidya Kalaramadam, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies, have just received a very competitive U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Group Study Abroad grant that will enable them to take University student teachers, as well as teachers from the Paterson School District, to India for a four-week immersion experience that will enrich the pedagogy and content in teaching about South Asia in United States schools. You may have read about Jim Tsiamtsiouris, an assistant professor of communication disorders and a specialist in the treatment of stuttering disorders, who was widely quoted about the topic in articles on the Academy Award-winning movie The King’s Speech. And just this past weekend we honored communication professor Tina Lesher for distinguished faculty service. Among her other accomplishments, she has just written a novel based on interviews she conducted as a Fulbright Scholar in the United Arab Emirates.

We also plan to develop new and creative academic programs that fit the 21st century. While believing firmly in the values of a liberal arts education and the need to embrace critical education for the preservation of our democracy, we recognize the changing social and economic nature of our society and must remain agile and ready to change too. We are critically evaluating our curriculum to ensure that it is vibrant, creative and technologically adapted to the 21st century.

A new general education curriculum, which provides a streamlined path to graduation without sacrificing academic rigor, will be in place for freshmen and transfer students entering the University this fall. Known as the University Core Curriculum (UCC), the program has been designed to provide students with the foundational skills and knowledge necessary for students to succeed in an increasingly diverse and interdependent global environment, while also integrating student choice and flexibility and reducing the required number of credits.

We are also excited to be offering our first doctoral degree program, the doctor of nursing practice, beginning this fall. This degree will provide advanced practice nurses with opportunities for the further education needed as nursing takes on a more significant role due to health care reform.

We continue to place a priority on expanding and enhancing the facilities on our 370-acre campus. Last fall, we opened Science Hall West – a 67,000-square-foot science facility with state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories designed to support undergraduate studies and research in biology, biotechnology, physics, chemistry, and environmental science and ecology. The spaces are designed to allow for collaboration between faculty and students. We are currently continuing a renovation of our existing science building that will be ready for students this coming fall.

A significant point of pride is our recently completed solar panel installation, which is currently the largest solar panel project at any university in the country and the third largest installation in the Northeast. With our commitment to the environment, we will produce 15 percent of our own energy needs while substantially cutting fossil based energy costs. This was produced as a public-private partnership with no upfront costs by the university and it will save us millions of dollars in energy costs. We are also in the process of developing academic programs tied to sustainability.

We are also seeking to expand our international connections. Last fall, we signed a new strategic agreement of cooperation with Zhejiang University of Technology in Hangzhou, China, that continues faculty and student exchanges and established William Paterson University as the Chinese university’s Students Overseas Training Center for North America. We also hosted a visit by the president of the Dominican Republic, Dr. Leonel Fernandez Reyna, who signed an agreement with the University to create an exchange program for students and faculty. And just last week we signed an agreement with Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland that will pave the way for a relationship with our Russ Berrie Institute for Professional Sales and our Cotsakos College of Business.

William Paterson University is home to faculty and students with vast and diverse talents. Our Center for Chinese Art, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, has introduced our students and the community to China’s beautiful artistic traditions of painting and printmaking, as well as its music and food.

We offer a wealth of cultural programs for our campus and the community, including lectures, concerts, art exhibits, and theatre performances.

I’m incredibly proud of all that our students, faculty and staff accomplish on a daily basis. We are committed to preparing our students for successful careers and lives by providing outstanding programs – such as through our financial learning center and our Russ Berrie Institute for Professional Sales -- that are closely tied to the working world that awaits them. Our students learn from faculty who are excellent teachers, mentors and scholars.

But I am always especially proud of student achievements. You may have read about three of our high-achieving students in the Cotsakos College of Business. They are involved in our program in financial planning, which is just a few years old, and one of our faculty members encouraged them to enter the National Financial Planning Challenge. They were accepted to compete against students from across the country at the association’s annual conference in Denver – and they won. But that’s not the best part of the story. They won some money as part of their award, and now they have decided to donate $1,000 to create a scholarship to give to another William Paterson student.

When people ask me why I returned to academia, it’s because of students like those three. I love when young people become young adults, when they start venturing out intellectually, and exploring topics. They’re very enthusiastic and opportunistic about the world and I just love working with them. They motivate me.

So I thank you for letting me talk to you today about the success of William Paterson University. I believe we stand for what is best about public universities. We are a home for research and innovation, a place for learning and scholarship, a pathway for social mobility for diverse students, and a partner with our communities. I am truly excited to be an advocate for public higher education in New Jersey, and I am committed to forging the partnerships that can help take this great institution to the next level.