State of the University Address, February 11, 2021

Board of Trustees Chair Michael Seeve

Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Michael Seeve, chair of the William Paterson University Board of Trustees. On behalf of myself and my fellow trustees, I want to take a few minutes to speak with you about the challenging environment in which the institution is operating and—more importantly—what is being done to ensure that William Paterson emerges from it stronger and better equipped to serve our students.

As trustees, the long-term fiscal health of the University is of paramount concern. We have long recognized a need to better align University resources with enrollment and revenue trends, and we have worked closely with President Helldobler and senior administrators on just how to do that. We are encouraged that there has been success in improving enrollment and retention, moving into the online environment to grow revenues and containing costs, and we know that you—the faculty and staff of William Paterson—deserve much of the credit. But now, as we gather today, nearly a year into the COVID pandemic, the need for greater action is more urgent than ever.

Sadly, as you know, this means layoffs of both faculty and staff. I want to assure you that, like President Helldobler and everyone at William Paterson, the Board recognizes that this University’s greatest strength is its people. So, every effort is being made to preserve as many jobs as possible, through the Voluntary Separation Program and other cost-saving measures. The Board also recognizes that this time of uncertainty is a difficult one. As painful as the coming layoffs will be for those affected as well as for their colleagues and students, these steps are absolutely necessary to the future viability of this University. 

As many of you are aware, the pandemic and resulting budget challenges are not the sole source of our fiscal challenges. Rather, they have exacerbated existing structural imbalances and accelerated the need to fix them. Rates of growth in the number of people we employ and the number of students we educate diverged years ago, and the resulting gap can only be closed—and William Paterson put on a long-term path to fiscal strength—through a reduction in staff. 

The pandemic will end, hopefully sooner than later. But higher education was an increasingly volatile place before COVID, and it will continue to be long after it. Taking these unfortunate, but necessary, steps now will better position the University to control its future, rather than being continuously tossed about by external forces. They will allow us to invest more in our people and launch new strategic initiatives and programs. They will help ensure that this great institution, with its long and distinguished history of growth and change and its record of successfully and affordably educating students, will be around to do so far into the future.

We are certainly not the only university in New Jersey or anywhere, for that matter, that has seen their fiscal circumstances made worse by the pandemic. All have, to one degree or another. But the Board is confident that William Paterson is among those moving both quickly and wisely to directly confront these challenges directly, and that we will emerge stronger for it. I want to thank President Helldobler for his sound leadership during these difficult times, and we stand with him and the Cabinet as they guide us through this difficult time. And I want to thank all of you, every member of the faculty and staff, for everything you’ve done and continue to do to serve our students.

I look forward to speaking with you again, when I am confident that there will be better news to discuss. Until then, thank you for your time, and take care. And now President Helldobler will deliver his address. President Helldobler.