Address to Faculty and Staff - September 4, 2013

It is good to see so many of you here today. I hope you had a productive summer and are ready for the semester ahead as we welcome nearly 3,000 new students to campus.

There are some significant changes on campus since we were last together at Commencement in May. Our new Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Warren Sandmann, joined us July 1 and took the summer months to familiarize himself with William Paterson University and northern New Jersey. Warren, I personally look forward to our collaboration as we move forward with many important initiatives at the University. You have joined us at such an exciting time, with the University Core Curriculum coming into full implementation, new academic programs underway, and a brand new academic building being built on the center of campus. Please join me in welcoming Warren. We are cohosting with the Faculty Senate a welcome event for faculty for Warren on Wednesday, September 11, from 3 to 5 p.m. in this ballroom.  I hope you will join us.

We also welcome Daryl Moore as Dean of the College of the Arts and Communication. Daryl joined us last April, but some of you may not have had the chance to meet him yet.  Daryl, we look forward to the leadership you will bring to the College.

Our colleague Professor Susan Godar has accepted the position of interim dean of the Cotsakos College of Business.  Sue will serve in that position as we search for a permanent dean, beginning in the next few weeks. Thank you, Sue, for your willingness to take on this assignment, as well as preparing for our upcoming AACSB reaccreditation visit next year.

Our tradition at the beginning of each fall semester is to welcome all of the new faculty and staff to William Paterson.  Eighteen new full-time faculty have joined the ranks, and I ask that they stand as I read their names:

  • In the Department of Music – David Philp;
  • in the Department of Economics, Finance, and Global Business – Priya Nagaraj;
  • and in the Department of Professional Sales – Sudha Mani.
  • In the Department of Educational Leadership and Professional Studies – Anthony Bundy;
  • in the Department of Secondary and Middle School Education – Kabba Colley;
  • and in the Department of Special Education and Counseling, three people –Pamela Brilliante, LaShauna Dean, and Irene Van Riper.
  • In the Department of Political Science – Ryan Rebe;
  • in the Department of Psychology – So Yon Rim and Carrie Masia Warner;
  • and in the Department of Sociology – Michael Schlossman and Julie Siddique.
  • And in the Department of Environmental Science – Nicole Davi;
  • In the Department of Kinesiology – Michael Hodges and Toni LaSala;
  • In the Department of Mathematics – Valentina Vega Veglio;
  • And, last but not least, in the Department of Nursing – Benjamin Evans.

We welcome you to this community, and look forward to your intellectual and personal contributions to the lives of our students, to your colleagues, and to the University as a whole.

I want to pay special notice to three of our senior faculty who are not here today. We are so proud that Payton Macdonald, Emmanuel Onaivi, and Mahmoud Watad were selected as Fulbright Fellows this year.  Musician Payton MacDonald is spending the academic year in Bhopal, India, where he will continue his vocal lessons with the Gundecha Brothers, who specialize in the most ancient style of Hindustani classical music.

Biologist Emmanuel Onaivi will lecture and conduct research on the pharmacological and neural basis of behavior at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, where he will study the effects of locally used, abused, and addictive substances in the East African region. 

Business Professor Mahmoud Watad will conduct research on organizational innovation in Morocco, which currently suffers from high unemployment rates, especially among university graduates.  We congratulate these three faculty as they join the ranks of our other 41 Fulbright Scholars.

We also welcome twelve new staff members and I ask them to stand:

  1. Alfred Clarke, Manager of the Television Studio
  2. Michael Corso, Director of Financial Aid
  3. Richard Fields, Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Employment Equity and Diversity
  4. Kevin Garvey, Director of Physical Plant Operations
  5. Bill Golubinski, Director of Capital Planning, Design, and Construction
  6. Rohan Howell, Director of Undergraduate Admissions
  7. Christine Natale, Manager of the Speech and Hearing Clinic
  8. LaChish Riggs, Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions
  9.  Mary Thomas, Director of Business Services

10. Johanna Torres, Associate Director of Student Enrollment Services

11. Judy Tsang, Assistant Director of Student Accounts

12. Jennifer Tumlin, Director of Judicial Affairs and Dispute Resolution

We welcome you to this community and look forward to your contributions and good counsel.

Unfortunately, I ask that we reflect for a moment on several members of our community that we lost over the summer. Professor Orlando Saa was a classicist in the Department of Languages and Cultures who served the University for 39 years and for whom the annual Poetry Recitation is named.  Professor Mulgrew Miller led our jazz studies program for six years with distinction and with a legendary personal style. And Roland Watts, who was a valued member of our student development division for 27 years, serving most recently as Associate Vice President for Campus Life.  We treasure their time with us and send our deepest condolences to their families and friends.

The summer brought us some very good news, as we were selected to host one of the New Jersey Gubernatorial Debates in early October.  We are partnering with CBS television and radio along with The Record and Gannett New Jersey newspapers to produce the event.  You may recall that we have hosted the debates in 2009, and we benefit from both the publicity and prestige the debate brings.  Pat DeDeo and Stuart Goldstein put together our proposal, and we look forward to a rousing debate in the Shea Center.

Also in June, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the University and the newly created Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson.  We are the first University to make such an agreement to generate greater use of the Park’s historical, cultural, and natural resources for educational purposes. This is a great opportunity for us to be an active partner in the early development of the new national park. Thanks to Associate Provost Steve Hahn for all his work.

In other good news, the University received national attention last week when four of our students—all new freshmen and members of the football team—were seen on a surveillance system leaving money to pay for their purchases at an unattended local store, Buddy’s Small Lots here in Wayne.  The four students entered the store, thinking it was open because the door was unlocked, and when they couldn’t find anyone to pay for their purchases, they left the money on the counter, including the tax!  Their simple, anonymous act of honesty became a media sensation, leading to a live appearance for our four students on NBC’s Today Show on August 28, as well as interviews with New York television and radio stations and our local print and broadcast outlets, many of which were reposted on media outlets across the country as well as social media sites.  Here’s a brief clip from The Today Show:

(Show short clip of interview from the Today Show)

We have received emails from people throughout New Jersey and from all over the country and world (including an email from a teacher in New Zealand), as well as donations from strangers from as far away as Oklahoma and Florida.  We are so proud of these four young men who are just joining our community and already have played such a positive role.  Would Anthony Biondi, Jelani Bruce, Kell’E Gallimore, and Thomas James, who are here with us today, please stand and I’d ask you all to join me in recognizing them.

I mentioned earlier that the campus is buzzing with new construction.  The parking garage is progressing on schedule and should be completed next summer.  And the first tangible signs of the new academic building are visible. The demolition of the Coach House is underway.  We finalized the architectural plans for the building this summer, and I want to thank the faculty from the three departments that will be housed there—Communication Disorders, Nursing, and Public Health—for their input on space needs, and to Dean Wolf and Dean Rabbitt who advocated for additional faculty and student learning spaces.  This new building, when completed, will give us the swing space that we need in order to renovate the other buildings in the academic zone. These projects are several years away but will be part of a large-scale renovation and restoration of the academic core of campus.

In the Strategic Plan, we made a commitment to becoming a model of affordable higher education, and we are making progress on that commitment.

Again this year, the Board voted to keep tuition and fee increases to historically low rates for the third year in a row, this year at 1.9 percent.  Residence hall rates remain unchanged from last year, and board costs increased on average 1.4 percent.

We are also reviewing how we distribute student scholarship support.  Kris Cohen, vice president for enrollment management, worked with a scholarship committee of faculty and staff to draft a proposal to maximize the benefit of our scholarship dollars and provide more support to more students with financial need. We gave this proposal to the Board of Trustees and to the Faculty Senate, and we look forward to the Senate’s review of the proposal early this fall.

Two other proposals will come before our community this fall: the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan, which has been crafted over the last 18 months by the Strategic Enrollment Committee, and the report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Advisement.  The Task Force completed its deliberations in early May and made a formal presentation to the Cabinet and Academic Deans. The report now comes to the campus community for review and discussion.  I have asked Glen Sherman, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, to gather feedback on the Advising Plan. Glen is stepping in to help out with the plan, replacing Claudia Schrader, who left us in July to become provost at Bronx Community College.  Danielle Liautaud will be serving as interim Associate Provost for Academic Development.  I want to thank Glen and Danielle for keeping us focused and moving forward.

On August 22, President Obama delivered his plan to improve higher education, entitled The President’s Plan to Make College More Affordable: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class.  The president outlined an aggressive agenda to “drive a better, more affordable education for all students.”

The first goal is to pay colleges and students for performance, which includes:

  • Tying financial aid to college performance, starting with a new college rating system. Ratings will be based on access, such as the percentage of students receiving Pell grants; affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and outcomes, such as graduation rates, graduate earnings, and number of graduates pursuing advanced degrees.  Students attending “high-performing” colleges could receive larger Pell grants and more affordable student loans.
  • The president’s plan will also challenge states to fund public colleges based on performance, and to hold students and colleges receiving student aid responsible for making progress toward a degree.

Another goal is to help students manage their debt, by making all student borrowers eligible for a Pay As You Earn Program. This program would allow students to cap their federal loan payments at 10 percent of their monthly income.

This is certainly an aggressive agenda, and one that has already garnered mixed reviews, but it raises the level of discussion to a new level.

The growing national debate about the lack of affordability of a college education and the seeming lack of accountability as to quality have attracted the attention of legislators in New Jersey.  Earlier this year a bill was introduced to the State Assembly Higher Education Committee to develop a system for allocating state funding based upon degree and credit completion. The bill called for the Secretary of Higher Education to establish a schedule that would gradually phase in the percentage of each public institution’s state operating aid, predicated on a performance-based funding plan, beginning in fiscal year 2015.  The bill directed the Secretary of Higher Education to work with presidents and legislators to develop this system of performance-based funding for New Jersey, but allowed for other measures of quality to be considered.  Given the new emphasis placed on performance-based funding from the president, we can expect this bill or a similar one to be brought up for discussion next year.

I believe that we need to be concerned about the financial burden that comes with a college education and how it will impact our students’ future. Sinking state appropriations and rising interest rates on student loans remind us that the notion of higher education as a public good may be quickly eroding.  We must make smart choices about how we use the funds we receive, and make the tough choice to minimize increases in tuition and fees. And we have taken steps to do this…but we can do more.

I believe we need to be concerned about our students’ ability to graduate on time. We have spoken a great deal over the last three years about our comparatively low retention and graduation rates. It is eye opening to see how many credits our students have upon graduation—an average of 135, above the 120-credit requirement. 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; we have kept tuition and fee increases to 2 percent or less for the last three years; and we have graduated 41 percent more students since 2011.

We started offering free summer basic skills remediation, provided advisement during orientation, and reduced late summer admits.

And we wrote a Completion Report on our efforts and defined what still needs to be done. The Completion Report may be viewed online on our strategy pages and we have circulated it around campus. Further initiatives include revising the way we distribute financial aid to our students; expanding and coordinating the delivery of academic support programs; considering the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Advising; initiating a grant program for students who are just short of being able to pay their bill; focusing on a “finish in four” initiative  and a review of when and how often our students change majors; and the uneven number of credits required for various majors.

And if we collectively focus on the data and feedback that has been generated, particularly through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), and keep our students’ retention and graduation at the center of those discussions, we will see positive results.  The NSSE results are posted on the website, on the webpage of Institutional Research and Assessment, if you want to review.

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, 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, to achieve their best potential. We are all contributors to their success.

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