State of the University Address, February 3, 2022

President Richard J. Helldobler

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Spring 2022 State of the University address. I hope everyone’s semester is off to a strong start! What a fantastic video we just saw highlighting some of the many wonderful things that happened at William Paterson in the fall. And what a great semester it was! Thanks to all of you, we were able to give our students a meaningful, comprehensive on-campus experience while keeping our community healthy and safe—something that was far from certain at the time. Think about what this meant for our students, when we are hearing that pandemic-related isolation is creating serious mental health problems for young people. Think especially about our first-year students, who were able to connect with each other, with faculty, and with college life in ways that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

So, yes, thanks to the vaccines, thanks to the good work of our unions, and thanks to our decision to require immunization for our University community, we were able to have:

  • a fall semester complete with performances right here in Shea;
  • a fantastic Homecoming and Family Day;
  • fans at athletic competitions;
  • in-person student activities;
  • a research night where our Honors students presented their senior projects;
  • and many more of the kinds of things that define the William Paterson experience.

Most of all, it was possible thanks to the dedication and mutual support of all of you. So, please, everyone give yourselves and each other a big round of applause.

And a special thanks to our IRT team for producing that great video celebration and to them, the team here in the Shea Center, and everyone in Marketing and Public Relations who are working to bring you today’s event. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

So, here we are at the start of a new semester. We may still be deep in winter, but by mid-semester, in just eight short weeks, the daffodils and the crocuses will be pushing up through the soil, and our seniors will be fully focused on Commencement and what comes next. So it’s not too early for us to begin thinking about the promise of renewal and growth that comes with the spring season. And, of course, all the while, we are mindful that this has been another tough period for the world and our nation, as well as for our state, and our University community.

Those challenges are why last semester’s return to campus and the resumption of the many in-person events on which this community thrives was so extra special. We celebrated our rich diversity at the opening of the Center for Latinidad. Old friends and colleagues returned to campus for a big dose of Pioneer spirit at Homecoming. We bestowed new names on buildings and athletics facilities to remember, honor, and thank some of the stalwart members of our community who have supported William Paterson for decades. And, of course, we celebrated the less visible but no less important victories that were won, day after day, in the classroom and out—students learning from faculty, staff, and each other, solving problems, participating in research, creating and performing art. Faculty transforming student lives, opening up worlds of discovery, and winning grants and distinctions for their important work. Staff going the extra mile to support our students and create and maintain a great campus environment in which all Pioneers can live, learn, and work.    

You know, it was this time last year that the first COVID vaccines were being released and we felt the weight of the pandemic lifting. Now, it may feel like we’re sliding backward. But it’s important to remember that we’re not. We now have widely available vaccines AND boosters, as well as effective treatments. Public health experts tell us that, in a pandemic, things may go from bad to good to bad again before improving. But they seldom go backward. For better or worse, they keep evolving. And our ability to deal with them also evolves. That’s an important lesson for our University. It’s one we teach our students every day. And it’s one that they teach us. Resiliency. Grit. In other words, Will. Power.

And sadly, as we move forward, we are of course also mindful of the fact that we do so as a changed University. The valued members of the William Paterson community who have left and who will be leaving us this year have made important and lasting contributions to this institution. And they will be missed.

While this hard, hard, hard, and difficult process is about better aligning staffing with enrollment and resources, the loss of talented colleagues is never easy. I appreciate the good work we are doing with our unions to advocate in Trenton for a budgetary solution that will bridge us until the pandemic allows us to see what our new normal will look like going forward. And while we have no assurances yet, I remain committed to rescinding all or some of the layoffs and recalling employees should a viable solution emerge. So, while this process won’t be easy, it WILL ultimately be worth it, as we work together to build a stronger, more dynamic University for everyone who studies, teaches, and works here.

Now, as we continue to adapt to those things which we CAN’T control, we must put even greater effort into those things that are within our power. With that in mind, I want to talk to you today about two very closely connected topics:

  • The first one is our branding and identity strategy—now that we have settled on the “HOW” as our umbrella strategy, it’s time to drill down into what this new direction will mean for us.
  • And the second one is the Strategic Plan—our current plan, which concludes this year, has served us well. But as the past couple of years make clear, our new one will need to be more flexible, more focused, and better at forecasting change.

It’s been almost five months since I stood before you and introduced our plans for a substantial update to the University’s branding and identity. I want to thank everyone who engaged in that process by sharing your thoughts and feedback, including clicking on your preferences in the web polling we conducted in various venues. We met with many groups of faculty, staff, and students. Thanks to you, we were able to come to a decision—which has since been endorsed by the Board of Trustees—which is to pursue a “HOW” strategy.

The urgency of this work was highlighted again by the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which showed what it called an “unprecedented” 5.7 percent decline in the rate of college enrollment by the high school Class of 2020. As is too often the case, this negative trend is disproportionately impacting students from the kind of low-income and minority-serving schools that we draw heavily from.  So, brand and identity will become critical in a shrinking market, made even smaller by the pandemic. 

So, now comes the hard but very important and exciting work of expanding on just what the “HOW” approach means for William Paterson and how we will communicate it to prospective and current students, parents, and guidance counselors, as well as to other stakeholders and the broader marketplace. We will work to ensure that our approach and its resulting success become a fundamental part of our institutional reputation.

Just what does it mean to really serve students consistently in high-touch ways that are truly meaningful to THEM? How do we balance the need for human interaction at critical times with the convenience of technology in a 24/7 world?  We’ve done a lot of really great work already. For example: Will. Power. 101; more professional staff advisors who now service students with 0-60 credits; more fully online graduate programs; and the launch of online undergraduate programs for adult learners.

We will build on this good progress as we look at taking other, bolder steps. For example, what will it take to really build the best “Cocoon of Care?” Should we use a case management approach to help our students succeed? Should we have a pass/no credit option? What about 7- and 15-week semesters? How can we build on the idea of career communities, or meta majors, where career development coaching and resources are built around interests, rather than majors? What kinds of new technologies should we employ to help students succeed and complete tasks that sometimes require several trips to offices all over campus?  How do we make informed choices about what services we deliver remotely and which ones remain “in person,” so that we provide our students with the right balance of engagement and convenience? 

I look forward to your innovative new ideas and insights, which will help shape how we teach and support our students. Our work together in creating this new branding and identity plan will distinguish and differentiate us in a crowded marketplace. Ultimately, it will distinguish our students’ experience as we guide them toward successful careers and meaningful lives.

We are not standing still on any of this, and much is already being done that will tie in nicely with the “HOW” strategy that we’ll continue to develop together over the course of this semester. One example is the transition from Starfish to Navigate. Navigate will provide the kind of student-focused/app-centered approach to early alerts and support tools that should be a model for the entire student experience here at William Paterson. Starfish was purchased by EAB, which owns Navigate. It became clear to us that EAB was not going to invest in improving or maintaining Starfish, so we made the decision to move to Navigate which, unlike Starfish, has a mobile app that makes it more student-friendly. 

These are also the types of priorities that are informing our search for a new enterprise resource planning tool. Currently, this is what Banner is for us. In addition to making sure that this new tool supports administrative operations, it will also need to be student-friendly, easing their interactions and making for a better overall experience with financial aid, the registrar, student employment, and every other office they come in contact with. We’re asking questions like, Can it automate paper-based processes, which would relieve staff of paperwork and allow them to focus on the kind of “high-touch” interactions that best serve our students? Can it provide better financial data more frequently and bring greater insight to financial decisions? Can it ease our hiring, payroll, and evaluation processes?

I want to take a moment and share with you an example of some of the great work that’s already being done in line with the “HOW” brand and identity strategy. Vice President Stuart Goldstein and his Marketing and Public Relations team are working with Provost Josh Powers, the deans, department chairs, and Interim Director of Career Development Mary Alice Barrows to refresh department web pages. They are also upgrading pages for school counselors and parents and families of prospective students. This is really much more than just a redesign. The academic department web pages have been subject to a complete rethinking to shift the emphasis from inputs to outputs and the other kinds of career outcomes that prospective and current students, families, and guidance counselors care about most.

The result, we believe, will be pages that better help them make more informed decisions about why William Paterson is right for them and what majors here will lead to good career opportunities. This work puts the value proposition of a William Paterson degree at the forefront of our marketing and communications and recruitment strategy. And it focuses on post-graduation prospects from the very beginning of the college search, instead of putting those considerations off until senior year of college, which is too often the case.

Using the Department of Communication, I want to show just what I’m talking about. Communication is a great place to start, because it’s a popular major and our students grow up immersed in television, the internet, apps, and all sorts of digital media. So while they certainly know the field as consumers, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a firm sense of what it means to work in the area. And I would argue the same is true for families. Unless a parent or someone close works in the field, as can often be the case with majors like nursing and education, they may not know enough to help guide their student toward the right major at the right institution.

So while the old page focused almost exclusively on inputs and included lots of words, the curriculum, and the faculty, the new web page has language and graphics that are focused on outcomes. They will help families and their students better understand what’s involved in studying a particular major. More importantly, from their perspective, the new pages will also provide answers to the kinds of questions that we know are on their minds as they consider this major investment of time and money: What kinds of jobs and careers will this degree lead to with what kinds of organizations, and what do they pay? We’re providing national career and salary data from reputable sources like the National Association of Colleges and Employers and PayScale, as well as WP-specific outcomes data. This includes a range of starting salaries for students in that department’s majors, along with several examples of mid-career jobs and salaries that graduates may eventually attain. They also feature examples of companies and other organizations where our alumni work, along with places where our students have held internships. They highlight key skills that students will learn, and job titles they can attain. But because those job titles might not mean much to a lot of people outside the field, we’re also including examples of the kinds of specific things they might do after graduating, such as write news, conduct research, produce shows, and more.

And finally, we’ve strengthened the calls to action, which encourage visitors to these pages to contact our Admissions team for more information and to click on links for additional details. The first of these pages went live just last week, and we’ll continue launching the rest of them in the coming weeks with the aim of completing the rollout by early March.

This was truly a team effort. It draws on what Vice President Reg Ross and his Enrollment Management team know about the kinds of information students, families, and school counselors are looking for. It also takes advantage of the online marketing expertise of Vice President Goldstein and his team, and the Career Development insights of Vice President Miki Cammarata and Interim Director Barrows, and their respective teams.

And, of course, our deans, department chairs, and faculty are playing a critical role in providing specific information and customizing these pages to ensure that they accurately reflect the best of what they have to offer as a department and what we all offer as a University. So thanks to everyone who is contributing to this important project. We have a lot more work to do in developing our “HOW” brand and identity strategy, but this is the kind of proactive, straightforward approach to anticipating students’ and families’ needs that will be fundamental to this effort.

Further to that point, we know that 98 percent of our students and families are highly focused on the bachelor’s degree as the ticket to a good job. So, Career Development and others are responding with initiatives like Career Communities, which I mentioned earlier. These communities allow students to explore their interests and guide them along the path that will get them to a job in their desired field. Instead of having students who are “undeclared” and without a real home in terms of a department or major, they can belong to Career Communities, which will help them explore an area of interest early in their academic experience. These communities will provide students with the right combination of courses, internships, civic engagement, and other work, which will help them end up where they want to be. And—should they change their minds—it won’t have to impact the time to degree. We know that 77 percent of our graduates finish with more that 120 credits. Think about that—77 percent of students, who we know struggle to pay for college are— in most cases—paying for more credits than they need to earn their degree.

Much of what I’m talking about here will, of course, require curricular and other discussions with the Faculty Senate. I know that faculty and staff will continue to bring lots of other great ideas to the table over the course of developing this plan. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee and I have been discussing elements of the “We Promise You” branding proposal that was put forth in the Senate and how we might incorporate elements of it into our “HOW” strategy.  It promotes a cross-divisional approach in which faculty are at the center as mentors from day one. We will continue to explore this idea through the Advisement Council of the Senate, with recommendations coming to the full Senate by mid-spring semester.  Of course, this change would require a conversation with the AFT, as well.

Also, in terms of Career Development goals, last fall saw the launch of a retooled Career and Professional Services (CAPS) digital badge. Composed of four modules—Discover You, Brand You, Promote You, and career events—CAPS has already engaged with more than 1,000 students. That’s 1,000-plus students who are now more focused on thinking about what they want to do, career-wise, and linking that with what they’re doing here at William Paterson. And, soon, we’re going to launch a refreshed Career Development website. These initiatives are great examples of the kind of collaboration on which our future depends—in this case between the Colleges, Academic Affairs, Student Development, and Marketing and Public Relations. So thanks and congratulations to everyone who has had a hand in this work.

Now that we’ve picked our branding and identity lane, let’s really own it. Here are some ideas that will allow us do that, some of which I’ve already mentioned:

  • Faculty as mentor versus advisor—What I mean by this is putting faculty in the role of mentoring students, while supporting that work with professional staff advisors. We know that students get frustrated when they can’t reach faculty advisors during contractual breaks. That’s one reason that students change advisors three times, on average. And, yet, we know advisors won’t have the depth of knowledge of our faculty. So how, then, do we take the best of both faculty and professional advisors and develop a model that will best serve students? We also know that of the 2,500 students we lose each year through attrition, 80 percent are advised by faculty. We’ve got to change that model. This idea will require conversations with both the Senate and the AFT, as it changes the rights and responsibilities of faculty.
  • 7- and 15-week courses—Many of our students work part-time or full-time jobs and have other obligations that can make it tough for them to endure through a full semester. But many of them could more easily handle 7-week courses, and/or 15-week courses.
  • What about Open Educational Resources? I have been here for almost four years now, and we’ve been talking about this for all that time. While we’ve done some things in this area, we haven’t taken the bold approach that I think we should—specifically, OERs for all 1000-level courses. If we care about the cost of college—and we say we do—let’s make a bold choice and do something about it.
  • A Pass/No credit option—We saw during the worst of the pandemic how providing this option helped students who were struggling the most. What about allowing it for up to two non-major courses per semester for the first year?
  • And what about doing away with undeclared and moving students into Career Communities, as I just discussed?
  • And what if we stop talking about developing a Cocoon of Care—that includes a Professional Staff Advisor, Financial Aid Advisor, Career Development Professional, Tutor Support Specialist, and a Faculty Mentor/Advisor, and possibly even a club advisor or coach—and actually do it? And what if we put the names and photos of everyone in this support system where it’s easy for students to find them? And what if we used a case management approach to the cocoon, where these folks meet together as a group to discuss their students’ progress and needs?
  • How about more app-based student services support for things like campus employment, internships, scheduling of advising, and counseling services?
  • There’s also workflow efficiency, so that we can all be surrounded by less paper.
  • And, finally, we talk a lot about students facing housing and food insecurity, so what about the idea of 12-month residence halls?

I am sure there will be others as we engage in this conversation. And I hope everyone WILL participate. Much of the great work that goes on at William Paterson is the product of collaboration. Between student and professor. Between classmates. And between teammates. Now, some projects require teamwork on a greater scale. The branding and identity work is one such example. And the more input we have from the entire campus community, the better the results will be.

The same is true for our new Strategic Plan, which we will also be working on this semester in parallel with the branding and identity work. Before winter break, I sent out to the campus community the Year Nine report on our existing plan, and I want to again thank everyone who has worked toward achieving the plan’s goals—especially the Strategic Plan Committee members who worked on that useful report. Their insights, along with those of everyone through the years who has contributed to the original plan and the annual updates, will be invaluable as we forge our NEW plan. Our success here will also require the participation of many new people from across the community who can bring their fresh and unique perspectives to this work. So I encourage everyone to participate in some way, including attending some of the campus-wide meetings that will be fundamental to this process.

The new plan will have to account for long-term challenges like our structural imbalance and a pandemic that will turn two years old in just a few weeks. Good strategic planning is built on a clear-eyed understanding of an institution’s challenges. Its true promise, however, comes from the recognition that the greater the challenges, the greater the scale of opportunity they bring. Absent these challenges, we might be content with just making incremental changes in the coming years. But when we confront them head-on, we can pursue the kinds of bold transformations that a rapidly changing market will likely require most colleges and universities to make, sooner or later. Let’s get there sooner. One basic way we’ll do that is by reducing the plan’s length from 10 years, like the current one, to three.

Through various surveys and discussion groups, we have identified the plan’s five pillars, but the hard work—the exciting work—lies ahead in determining what we want to get out of these efforts, what we need to invest in them, and how we will measure our success. Our work together will re-set William Paterson for new growth and position us for the future, ensuring that our students are prepared to thrive in the complex world they inhabit. For now, though, let’s review the five main areas, and then look at a couple of them in greater detail:

  • Exploring alternate credentials and certificates;
  • Revising the Mission Statement;
  • Developing robust policies, programs and delivery modalities for adult learners;
  • Developing and implementing strategies to reduce the attrition of the 2,500 continuing students; and
  • Decolonizing the University.

All of these areas are here because they are important, and because you told us they were important. And they will all get their due attention throughout this process. I’ll quickly say something about the first three, but today I really want to focus on numbers 4 and 5—“the 2,500” and “Decolonizing the University.” 

So, starting at the top with Number 1:
Exploring alternate credentials and certificates—These include things like stackable credentials, non-credit training, and micro-credentials. Just as consumers expect flexible, custom products and services throughout the economy—and the pandemic really proved that—students, especially adult learners, increasingly want the same thing from colleges, creating opportunities to expand beyond our traditional degree and certificate offerings. More importantly, how can we build them into our traditional degree programs to make them more attractive to students?

Moving on to Number 2:

Revising the Mission Statement—There are elements of the mission statement that are fundamental to what we do. But as we evolve HOW we do those things, our mission statement needs to evolve, as well, so that both internal and external audiences understand and appreciate our purpose and who we serve. Middle States told us that they thought our mission statement was generic and did not mention whom we serve. They are right, so now let’s get to work on a more focused and specific statement demonstrating our uniqueness in the market.

Next up, Number 3:

Developing robust policies, programs and delivery modalities for adult learners—We know that adult completers and other learners will be increasingly important in the regional higher education marketplace as the number of New Jersey high school graduates continues to decline and many continue to migrate out of state. Attracting and serving this unique population will require building a thorough understanding of their needs and goals—THEIRS, NOT ours—in the same way that we understand traditional undergraduates. It will mean a systemic difference from the way we deliver our traditional undergraduate experience.  We will have to be flexible about things like prior work experience for academic credit, hybrid classes on the weekends, 7-week courses, partnerships with organizations and corporations, and delivering curriculum on site. 

Which brings us to Number 4:

Developing and implementing strategies to reduce the attrition of the 2,500 continuing students—We’ve talked a lot about “the 2,500,” and we’ll continue to do so until 2,500 becomes 2,200, then becomes 2,000, and lower and lower, until we get as close to zero as realistically possible in a world where our students live complicated lives and things change. For now, though, I want to take a few minutes to peel back that number, and talk about some of the specific types of students who we are losing and why. And, most importantly, consider what additional things we can do to keep them enrolled and on track through the “HOW” strategy and through elements of the next Strategic Plan.

When I spoke to you on this same occasion two years ago, I used this slide  to illustrate obstacles to student retention and success. Just weeks later, of course, one of the biggest obstacles of our lifetime fell in our students’ path. The results nationally are reflected in the Student Clearinghouse data I referenced earlier and additional research on student mental health and other adverse impacts. Here on our campus, we know it has created even greater challenges for many of our students. So, who are we currently losing?:

  • 52 percent are male, even though men make up just 44 percent of students.
  • 35 percent are Hispanic and 27 percent are African American, both of which are disproportionate to the size of these populations (33 percent and 19 percent, respectively).
  • 38 percent are not making satisfactory academic progress, which of course means that more than 6 in 10 are, although 45 percent had GPAs below 2.0.
  • In terms of majors—or lack thereof—Africana world studies, chemistry, global business studies, and undeclared have the highest fall-to-fall attrition rates.

And why are we losing them? The top reasons they give are these:

  • 64 percent say, essentially, “It’s not you, it’s me.” In other words, a variety of personal reasons including COVID and family issues that prevent them from returning.
  • 43 percent—and there is some overlap—say it’s most definitely us, and that includes issues like affordability, not wanting online classes, not finding a support system, general education classes that are boring, and others.

Given this data, what are we doing, and what more should we be doing? How can we continue to create effective new strategies and stay ahead of trends? We’ve done some good work, such as launching innovative programs like the Black and Latinx Male Initiative to address disparities, including attrition, in this population, in addition to a range of outreach efforts. But it has not gotten its legs yet. This initiative has faltered year after year after year. And we have been talking about this for almost FOUR years! It was the subject of one of the first meetings I had here on campus. That’s not about students. That’s about us.

There are further opportunities to increase retention through tools like a Financial Aid counselor dashboard for greater accountability and adjusting the policy on outstanding balance threshold. We know that financial aid problems lead to registration problems, so how do we help students resolve them prior to the registration period? And what about expanding the use of Campus Logic—which helps students manage financial aid—and the new chatbot? How about further promoting Pledge 4 Success and the Garden State Guarantee for eligible students? Can we help students who want to go to college but believe they can’t afford it to see that they can by expanding awareness of these opportunities?

Recently, our “Back on Track” campaign had good success in targeted outreach to students who had stopped out to remove whatever barriers may have been in the way of their return. Removing barriers will always be one of our most important jobs. This year, we’ll do so by finding ways to combine the personal touch of direct outreach with the scale of technology that allows us to reach the right students at the right times and provide them with the right information and support.

And last, but certainly not least, Number 5:

Decolonizing the University—This is when an institution fully invests in a process of reconciling with and addressing colonized practices, policies, programs, curriculum, and procedures. When we ultimately complete this process, our students, faculty, and staff will be better served and we will create a more just and equitable environment in which our historically disenfranchised groups can thrive.

I want to expand on and finish with this last pillar. “Decolonizing the University” is something that I’ve been talking about for a while now, and I appreciate that there have been some robust discussions of the topic of decolonizing the curriculum in the Faculty Senate, the Council for Equity and Justice, and elsewhere. But now it is time for action. You know, what I often hear from students of color is this: “I don’t see myself in the curriculum.”  Or, worse: “And when I do, it is often in a negative light.”  

So I’m glad that it will be a central pillar of the next Strategic Plan and focus on the entire University, not just the curriculum. I know that Provost Powers, the deans and chairs, along with some of our faculty, shared great examples of equitable teaching strategies at the recent What Works Conference, which would go a long way toward helping us reach this critical goal. I look forward to seeing examples of how our faculty choose to implement these and other ideas from the conference and elsewhere into their classes.

Speaking of Provost Powers, he and the deans will host “Charting the Academic Affairs Future” for faculty and staff on February 11 on Zoom, in which they’ll go into greater depth on what some of what I’ve talked about today will mean for Academic Affairs. Check your email for an invitation with all the details.

I also want to mention the good work that has been done by the HSI and LGBTQIA+ task forces—and we are implementing many of their recommendations. So I am pleased to announce the formation of three new task forces to extend these types of focused, result-oriented efforts to other groups. These will be: the Task Force for Black Students, Faculty, and Staff; the Task Force for Women Students, Faculty, and Staff; and the Task Force for Asian Students, Faculty, and Staff.

These are the kinds of efforts that can, have—and WILL—create real, positive change for our community.

I look forward to working with all of you to reimagine the future of this great University. When I consider the collective wisdom, expertise, passion, and dedication of the William Paterson community, I have every confidence that it will be a bright one. It will require us all to play a part, so I ask that you find a way to engage as we work to develop a new branding and identity plan and a new Strategic Plan. In the coming days, I’ll be announcing the members of the central committee for the Branding and Identity Plan as well as of the new Strategic Plan committee, so please watch for that and for opportunities to participate in their work.

Now, we have enough time for a few of your questions. I know some of you may have questions about layoffs, and I understand. But there’s really nothing more I can say on the subject at this time. And I really want to give people an opportunity to ask questions about the themes I addressed today. There are mics on up front on either side of the stage, and we’ll try and take some questions from Zoom, as well. Please tell us your first and last name and your department.

Now, you know, as a theatre guy, I can’t let you go without a Broadway reference, because the beauty of theatre, as Aristotle points out, is that it is a reflection of life. And so it therefore reflects a world full of both challenges and great things through drama, comedy, and, yes, even musical theatre. The theatre has humanized and humorized every strand of humanity. As we work to build and maintain community in these difficult times, I continue to believe that the arts provide one of the few places left, where we can sit together quietly and collectively experience a performance as a community. We can also take inspiration from Broadway’s own show of resiliency over the past two years.

As many of you know, we recently lost one of the greats of musical theatre, Stephen Sondheim—here he is on this very stage during his 2008 visit to William Paterson as part of the Distinguished Lecturer Series. This was well before my time, but I am told that it was a magical evening and a great example of what the DLS is all about.

It seems appropriate to turn to Sondheim, who was known for his complex melodies, lyrics, and subject matter, as we work this semester on the complex and timely matters of branding and identity and our new strategic plan. His Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning musical, Sunday in the Park with George, focuses on the creative process and genius of Georges Seurat. As our art faculty and students and many others know, Seurat pioneered the use of pointillism in his paintings, most famously A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, from which Sondheim’s play takes its name. With pointillism, Seurat recognized that you didn’t need to combine different colors and shapes to create an image on the canvas. Rather, by arranging small, distinct dots of varying colors next to each other—pixels, long before digital technology—the eye will combine them and create a unified image in the mind. I like to think of each one of us—student, faculty, staff, alumni, friend—as one of those points that, together, make up the beautiful mosaic that is William Paterson University.  

And so, in closing, I would like us to think about these lyrics from Sondheim’s opening from that wonderful show, and embrace the fact that we will struggle with:

Symmetry. And finally achieve

And that if we work together to create our new branding and identity plan, along with our new Strategic Plan, while embracing, as well, the complications that will surely arise along the way, we will find ourselves feeling much like the song from Sunday in the Park, “Putting it Together,” which aptly articulates the complexities and joys of making art.

Thank you. Have a great day, and a great semester!