President's Opening Day Address, September 6, 2018


Good morning, and welcome to the fall semester of the 2018-2019 academic year at William Paterson University.  Thank you to Provost DeYoung for that kind introduction and update. 

Today is the start of my first semester here and I feel honored to help lead this great New Jersey institution of higher education. Thank you to the Board of Trustees, members of the search committee, and the entire community for this privilege and thank you all for being here.

I am pleased to see so many members of our community here today. Welcome to each and every one of you. Would Dr. Arlene Scala, chair of the Faculty Senate, and Dr. Sue Tardi, Local AFT president, please stand and be recognized. I look forward to working with you and your colleagues as we move forward. We have had good, productive discussions to date and I truly appreciate your valuable time over the summer. 

I would also like to publicly welcome Dr. Amy Ginsberg, the new dean of the College of Education, and wish her the best, and continued success for the College which is grounded in our institutional founding in preparing the teachers and education administrators of the future.

In fact, during my early days on campus, I was at an event in Paterson where several folks remarked on the great work of our College of Education faculty in the Paterson schools. Many credit the return of the school district from state oversight, in part, to the work of our faculty. So, thank you.

Also, please join me in congratulating Dr. Barbara Andrew whose title was recently changed from Executive Director to Dean of the Honors College. This title change better aligns with an Honors College and will provide increased opportunities for growth over time. Dean Andrew, we look forward to your continued leadership of the Honors College.

This year we will be undertaking a nationwide search for a new provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. I cannot overstate the importance of this process and hire. We have launched the search with an excellent campus-wide committee. The firm Greenwood/Asher and Associates that conducted the president’s search will coordinate the provost search.

As the provost mentioned, a faculty and staff forum will be held today from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Library Auditorium, and tomorrow from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the Valley Road cafeteria. These faculty and staff forums will provide an opportunity to discuss the attributes and experiences that are necessary for our next provost. I hope that you will attend.

The Provost Search Committee will work to present the best candidates that will support and expand the quality of programs and services offered by the University.  I thank the search committee members who will each have a voice in this important process. 

And, let us all thank Sandy DeYoung for her leadership and willingness to provide a bridge to the next provost. Sandy has meant so much to this University through the years and I am grateful that she is back again. I have found her to be a great thinker and an astute historian. She has been very helpful to me as the new president—thank you.

Along with the provost search we will also start a search for a new general counsel. As the provost noted, Glenn Jones will be retiring and we wish him well in his next chapter.  On behalf of the University, I thank you Glenn for your service.  Best wishes. Please refrain from sending us selfies of you by the fire when we are in the throes of a Jersey winter.

Let me add, as a personal aside, my thanks to the members of the Cabinet for their thorough briefings and patient explanations. It is clear to me that we have a number of dedicated professionals heading the various divisions, and I look forward to continuing to work and build with you. 

Also, let me tell you the staff in the President’s Office, Rachel Rodriguez, Joanne Murad, and Amanda Oleski, along with Chief of Staff Bob Seal, all have welcomed me with grace and kindness. Their dedication to William Paterson University’s students, faculty, and staff inspire me every day. Thank you for your hard work and your good humor.

The beginning of the fall semester is always an exciting time for a university campus, as new and returning students weave their own tapestry of collegiate experiences. The first-year students and I will both be taking “William Paterson 101” in the days ahead as we meet and talk about our new living and learning community that we call William Paterson University. 

My initial impression from my interview and early days on campus is that William Paterson is indeed a very special place. Many of our students are cut from a socio-economic cloth such that they would have led very different lives had it not been for the work we do at William Paterson. What excites me the most is that our work here is critically important, and it is critical that we do it together.

I was drawn to William Paterson University because I am committed to public higher education and to the academic and personal achievements of students. My career is proof of this commitment. As a first-generation college student like so many William Paterson students, I know how transformational this experience will be. 

And what I have been particularly struck by is the significant role the University plays in adding to the patchwork of the region. And now, Now, NOW our students, the region, our country, and the world need us more than ever. 

I have already begun to interweave myself into every aspect of William Paterson University and I can see that the work you all do together affects our students in positive ways. I have visited our classrooms, labs, studios, athletic facilities, performing and visual arts venues, and other spaces on campus, and with the return of students I am sure they will buzz with activity.

In addition to getting to know the campus I have enjoyed getting to know “Jersey.” Coming from the Midwest I will say I am already enjoying all the wonderful cuisines of this region. New Jersey clearly knows good food. I have visited the Falls, made my way into New York City, and have taken some great walks in New Jersey’s glorious state parks. 

Now, your roads are a whole different story—there are times that I long for the “grid” of the Midwest. When you look at these roads on a GPS they remind one of a zigzag stitch often found on blankets known as crazy quilts. I have joked that the Garden State should really be called New “you can’t get there from here” Jersey. 

You might say that I have immersed myself in all things orange and black. I’m not just talking about clothing, but also the way that I crisscross the state (and these roads)!

A new academic year and a new University president offer some special events that I would like to share with you.

On September 28, we will conduct a ceremony to mark the rededication of Hunziker Hall, continuing the enhancement of the heart of our campus. The reopening of Hunziker Hall marks the completion of the two-building total renovation and repurposing of the former Hunziker Hall/Wing building.

Thank you to Steve Bolyai and the staff in Administration and Finance for your leadership on this important project and other improvements around campus. The project resulted in two separately identified buildings with many state-of-the-art general purpose classrooms, new small and large group study spaces, open areas for informal gatherings, and new student labs for music and kinesiology. There are new faculty and departmental offices and a completely rebuilt Black Box Theater. You are all invited to participate in the ribbon-cutting on September 28.

On October 5, I hope that you and the entire University community will join me in a ceremony to celebrate my Investiture as the eighth president of William Paterson University. This is a time-honored milestone event rich with traditions. It is a celebration of our community with a strong sense of history and a focused look ahead. These events will include a large procession across campus followed by a formal ceremony.  The investiture will dovetail with Pioneer Pride week, including Homecoming and Family Day, and will conclude with a concert celebrating the arts on October 6.

In the course of the academic year there will be many events that honor and celebrate our diversity, all of which add to the fiber of William Paterson. Just a few to note are upcoming LGBTQA and LatinX celebrations, Black History Month and Women’s History events, Asian cultural celebrations, Greek Week, Unity Day, Spring Fest, and more.

As requested by students, I have charged the vice president for student development with leading a University-wide dialogue to discuss the creation of a multicultural center.  This dialogue will include what the center might look like, functions and programming that might be included, and other questions or ideas as they arise during this initial phase of envisioning the center. I have asked that this dialogue be completed by the end of the fall semester, and that we begin to implement the plan during the spring semester. We will aim for a projected opening in the fall of 2019. I met with student leaders and informed them of my commitment to a multicultural center, and asked that our channels of communication remain open as we move forward. 

You see, it is important that we do more than just note our diversity. We are fortunate to belong to a community made up of people from diverse groups. That is the first step.  The second is to continue to create opportunities for us to learn with and from one another. These opportunities happen in the classroom and through student organizations. 

And our students learn about others through their community engagement, while playing an important part in the communities in which we live. There are many ways students can make a difference in civic life while sewing together a combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. When we promote civic engagement, we are promoting a better quality of life for all.  

As a demonstration of this civic commitment, over the summer students and faculty from our Communication Department and University staff members returned to Puerto Rico to continue the volunteer work started there in January. They assisted in the recovery of the community radio station there destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Their incredible work and commitment are a great source of pride for all of us.

On September 8, Pioneer Service Ventures takes part in the National Day of Service.  This will be an extended orientation program that provides new students the opportunity to volunteer with local organizations. Students will participate in a day of service with a keynote speaker presentation, and reflect on their experience serving the community.

Students can also participate in volunteer activities and civic engagement opportunities that are facilitated by Campus Activities as part of the University’s #DoGoodWP initiative.

Like the silk factories that were the economic driver in the early days of our namesake Paterson, William Paterson University operates as a powerful force in the lives of our students and, the life of our region and state. Continuing our momentum requires a collaborative effort built on expertise, commitment, and creative ideas. For me to be effective as president, I must gain knowledge and insights from you. 

To that end, I have planned a series of campus meetings with various groups and individuals and I will likely add to this list as we move forward. These meetings will help shape strategy and planning. I look forward to these upcoming conversations and I hope you will choose to participate.  

The schedule for these meetings will be listed in the daily announcements that are emailed to the campus community. These conversations will help inform the work we do together moving forward. 

I would like to also like to invite faculty, staff, and students to Hobart Manor for the President’s Office Hours which will take place once a month during the semester. Feel free to come ask me questions or to discuss issues. These are open office hours and you don’t need to make an appointment or confirm reservations.  I look forward to seeing you at the Manor.

As we embark on this journey together it will be helpful to have an outside set of eyes and ears that can assist us as we move through listening, hearing and being heard, and questioning. I have asked Dr. Shelley Bannister to serve as senior advisor to the president for strategic initiatives. She will join us for a short time as we move through this process to help facilitate many of the dialogues and provide an “outsider’s view.”   Dr. Bannister, please stand and wave to the people. 

Dr. Bannister and I worked together at Northeastern where she served as my chief of staff. She is a distinguished teaching professor emerita of justice studies and women’s and gender studies. She holds a doctorate in sociology, a juris doctorate, and was an American Council on Education Fellow. 

I am confident you will find her a careful steward of this process, a good listener, an inquisitive questioner, and a good caretaker as we chart our path forward. This work will contribute to and support the ongoing initiatives of the Strategic Plan 2012-2022 as our progress continues.

In addition to holding meetings with the University community, I have already begun to meet with external stakeholders such as elected officials, alumni, business leaders, colleagues in the state colleges and university system, and members of Governor Murphy’s administration.

I had a very constructive telephone conversation with Governor Murphy last spring and we spoke about the importance of continuing our conversation in person. We noted that neither of our fathers graduated high school and yet through the power of education we both moved into positions of which our own fathers could have never dreamed. The fact that he called me the day of my appointment demonstrates the high value that he places on the role of higher education in our state.

As you know, and as I am finding out, politics in New Jersey is complex and complicated. Moving forward, there will be much discussion about changes in the roles of community colleges and what those changes mean to us.

There are also major implications to be discussed concerning TAG funding for lower income students and contracting laws that affect our ability to conduct business as efficiently and economically as possible.

It will be my priority to ensure that William Paterson University’s voice is heard in these conversations on higher education policy, and I will keep you updated as events unfold.

With regard to the business of the University, the financial health and outlook of the University is also a priority for this new administration.

In the coming months, our philanthropic efforts will continue to focus on scholarship support and I look forward to reaching our goal of $10 million. We have already raised $7.5 million toward the goal, including $1.8 million during the past year. Our recent 19th annual scholarship dinner brought together 400 attendees and led to a robust outreach effort ensuring that students are aware of the donor scholarship opportunities. These efforts resulted in 943 applications, a 25 percent increase over last year. Thank you to Pamela Ferguson and the Office of Institutional Advancement for your efforts.

We must plan for increased alternative revenue opportunities at William Paterson. We can no longer ask students to bear the costs of public higher education through ever-increasing tuition and fees. We cannot rely on continued enrollment growth. 

As we diversify our revenue sources we must reduce our reliance on funds that are not sustainable in the long term. Instead, increasing grant opportunities, contracts, continuing education, fundraising, and local economic development are all areas that can help in the diversification.

Important discussions are taking place nationwide about the future of higher education, including the anticipated dramatic change in demographics that will have a major impact on us and other similar institutions throughout the United States. This issue and its impact on William Paterson will be the subject of conversations over the coming semesters. 

Diversifying graduate offerings and modes of content delivery, focusing our efforts on returning adults and on competency-based education, among others, are all important subjects to consider as we prepare together for this demographic shift. 

But for now, I do have exciting news to share regarding our current enrollment. I am pleased to report that today we welcome our largest incoming class of first-year students—the current count is 1,791 new students. The previous record was 1,513 incoming students in 2010. This is a major achievement and I commend Reginald Ross, Admissions, and our orientation staff.

We have also exceeded our residence life goal of students living on campus and I thank Miki Cammarata, the Residence Life staff, and the Office of Student Development for their efforts. Thank you.

While this is a reason for pride, we also face the continued challenge of retaining first-year students. This is everyone’s challenge, and by everyone, I mean all of us, whatever our role at the University. If you’re new like me, you were reminded of this important role in the new staff and faculty orientation video. 

As a faculty member myself, I learned that I had a role in encouraging and supporting my students. As faculty, we can make the difference between a student staying or leaving. Some of our students spend their money or use up some of their financial aid here in their first year and then leave without a degree or a credential. It is a wasted opportunity and has life-long implications. 

Based on research by Noel-Levitz and a number of other researchers, we know that there are small steps we all can take to help students persist in their courses. For example, faculty can take attendance; require students to attend the Academic Success Center; require students to come to your office hours; and hand back some assessment of their work in the first three weeks of the semester. These are tactics proven to be successful, and you can make the choice to use them. Staff members can take greater care in guiding students to the correct office for help. Call that office first, send the student second.    

We are currently working with the colleges and academic advisors on reaching out to the 2017 cohort to assist them in resolving any barriers to their re-enrollment. Moving forward, the University will need to do more work in retention and graduation rates if we are going to restore the public’s confidence in higher education. 

Student success is our primary priority as we work to improve the retention of students and do our best to ensure those students that start at William Paterson can ultimately earn their degree from William Paterson.

As we focus on the retention of our first-year students, I ask you to remember that the only difference between a high school senior and a college first-year student is two months. 

As a result, many of our students have to make big adjustments as they become young adults. And, many of our students lack a support system at home to understand higher education systems. The term in loco parentis, or local parent, means something for the population of students we serve. The reality that nearly a quarter of our students leave us after the first year, and that nationally graduation rates have continued to stall, are facts that, among others, have changed the general public’s perception of the value of public higher education.

My own undergraduate experience was typical of that of many first-generation students in many ways. I often tell the story that it was dumb luck that I got a work study job in the College of Business. I mean I do not even remember filling out the FAFSA or applying for a work-study job. As a first-generation student, when I encountered obstacles or problems, my parents, while well-intentioned, had no knowledge to provide guidance. It was the women in the office who took me by the hand and helped me resolve the issues that were preventing me from persisting. And I just do not think it should be about dumb luck. If we are committed to these students, and we are, it takes an extra investment of time. 

I hope you will join me in taking the extra time required to help our students succeed.  Who knows: the next student you direct to an office, help resolve a problem, remove an obstacle for, or just sit and listen to, might become a university president.  

As we look to change the public narrative about the value of public higher education in the state and nation, it cannot be lost on us that public institutions of higher education graduate the largest demographic of eligible voters who do not show up to the polls. In fact, if “Did Not Vote” was a candidate, they would currently be the president of the United States. Therefore, we will continue to stress the importance of voting in local, state, and national elections.

Students will be encouraged to register and vote when eligible, so they become active participants in our democracy. On campus, we can look to the American Democracy Project initiative for resources on this issue.

Voting continues to be one of most effective ways to amplify our voices and advocate for funded public higher education to shape government and change policy. While doing this we must be mindful that the academy is a convergence of ideas and differing points of view, and politics is no exception. It is this convergence of ideas and differing points of view that drives knowledge forward. 

Please, let us be guardians of thoughtful civil discourse in the hopes that through our intellect, empathy, and ability to listen, we can in fact change a few hearts and minds or at the very least find a path forward together. 

For my part, I will continue to listen to the students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, elected officials, and community leaders and work to find ways to collaborate toward achieving the goal of excellence in education.

Together as a community we can continue to strengthen the legacy of William Paterson University by educating the next generation of leaders in New Jersey, the region, and the nation. 

Our graduates’ faces have been absent from the leadership table for far too long. As I have spoken with alumni of all ages and from all eras, as well as current students, I have heard many similar and wonderful stories that start with something like, “William Paterson University changed my life.” These stories reflect the impact that you, and your predecessors, have had on our students historically. 

The fact that you nationally recognized scholars and teachers have dedicated your lives to William Paterson means a great deal to me and our students. 

Through the years, demographics, academic programs, technology, and teaching techniques have changed and yet our mission has been remarkably consistent. Think back on the University’s founding in 1855: a normal school that prepared teachers who taught children to read, write, think, and provide a previously unavailable public education. A University that in preparing new teachers opened the professional world to women. This University has been changing and improving lives during its entire history.   

Today, we are a comprehensive university with extensive program offerings that have an important impact on lives and the economy. We prepare diverse students for high-demand jobs at an affordable cost. We prepare leaders for the future.

As a comprehensive university we continue to make an impact on the future by helping students gain successful careers and contribute to the greater society. Our commitment to student success is demonstrated through our:

  • Hard-working professors who are excellent teachers and scholars;
  • Compassionate and caring staff and administrators who engage in best practices;
  • Vast opportunities for students to get involved with faculty on research projects, scholarship, and creative expression, and
  • A growing number of undergraduate and graduate programs that are relevant to students’ goals for careers and advanced study.

Your innovation, dedication, creativity, and overall excellence serve our students every day. Again, our work to be done here is critically important, and it is critical that we do it together. 

The public value of William Paterson University is that we do in fact change the social fabric of our region. We know that education is a way up and a way out for many of our students. I ask you, can there be better work? I am proud to be part of an institution with such a rich history of success. And I am excited to be part of an institution with such great promise for the future. 

As we graduate more first-generation and underrepresented students and move them into advanced study or meaningful careers, we will add more depth, color, and dimension to the rich social fabric of our region. And the more successful we are, the more colorful and multi-dimensional that fabric will be, AND the more the connective thread of that fabric will be orange and black. That is the Will. Powe. of William Paterson University.  

In closing, as you get to know me better you will know that I have a close personal and professional relationship with music. In fact, there is usually a musical score running through my head that will underscore a meeting, campus event, or my current mood.  Therefore, I always end my remarks with a musical “thought,” if you will. A small glimpse into the mind of the president. Some of you may find that odd and others might conclude, “I’ve always wondered what was going on in the heads of administrators.” 

And since William Paterson has a long history of excellence in music education and performance it seems even more appropriate to end with a musical thought. You may have heard that the incredible Bill Charlap, our director of jazz studies, has collaborated with Tony Bennett and Diana Krall on a new collection of Gershwin tunes that will have a major album release in a few days. The arrival of a new president, a new incoming class, returning students, staff, and faculty, all create a fascinating rhythm, if you will, at the University. I will close today with Fascinating Rhythm, from Bill’s new album.

Thank you again for the warm welcome.  And now let’s get to work!