Spring Address, February 6, 2020

Provost Joshua Powers
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Greetings colleagues and welcome to the President’s Annual Spring State of the University Address. As has been recent custom, as provost, I am going to lead off with news and updates.

However, before I do, I wanted to share two points of context. First, a personal one. Today represents the start of my seventh month here at WP. Wow, time has flown; in fact, three seasons worth! It seems like just yesterday I was figuring out why a gaggle of geese lived in my parking spot, what a bear alert is, who has the best views of New York City from their office window, how to pass safely on Hamburg Turnpike, and what extraordinary jazz sounds like.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out, especially the letting of someone else pump my gas. However, one thing I have found, it continues to be great to be here, and what’s made it great is the people. Here are just a few of the faculty, staff, trustees, community members, alumni, and of course students that have helped me to feel welcomed and energized to contribute my part to this special place.

A second point of context is an auspicious anniversary. As I mentioned in my January message to the campus, the landscape of higher education is changing, right down to what it even means to be a college. One of the forces that has been driving the change, the cost of attendance, had an accelerant 35 years ago this month. The year 1985 marked a big moment in my life, graduating from the University of Vermont, but it also marked the start of William Bennett’s tenure as Secretary of Education.

This proved a watershed moment in the reduction in federal student aid, ostensibly for the reason captured in his quote from the time. Unfortunately, he commanded the narrative then, and I would argue ever since we have seen the erosion of college as a public good, and thus not worthy of strong public investment. After all, colleges have an outlet valve; they can raise tuition.

Obviously, a decades-long underfunding now places college costs much more on the backs of students, many of whom simply can’t afford it. That unfortunate anniversary motivates me, as I hope it will you, to do all we can to ensure that students not only receive a strong return on their investment but also have an efficient one—frankly, reducing the average of 129 credits earned by a WP graduate when college is ostensibly a 120 credit-hour experience for most degrees. That translates to approximately $3,800 of additional cost.

OK, enough of that. A few updates for sharing. First, WP Online has been progressing well. This as you hopefully all know, is the major William Paterson University initiative to better position key high-demand graduate degree programs in the marketspace. These programs in educational leadership, business, and nursing will launch Summer II. Forty faculty have been actively involved in course development and numerous offices working behind the scenes to ensure that when we launch national marketing in March, we are ready and quickly responsive to inquiries. I have appreciated the hard work of so many on this initiative and the helpful insights provided to address challenges and needs as their arise.

Second, Murli Natrajan, chair of the Faculty Senate, and I are co-chairing a faculty committee that has begun its work to examine promotion and tenure standards and processes with the intent of its benefit for the community. Information will be going out soon on ways faculty input will be sought to help inform this important effort. A formal proposal for Faculty Senate consideration will be presented at the April 28 meeting. Once this work is completed, next year colleges and departments will do their important work to align with it.

Third, we are seeking faculty and student help with an important admissions-yield effort. From approximately mid-February to mid-April, new admits are considering their array of college admission choices. Hearing from a professor or a student in one’s college or program can be a gamechanger. We are seeking interested faculty and student upperclassmen who would be willing to participate in this pilot program. The effort is not onerous—phone or electronic communication outreach from one’s office following a script, maybe an hour or so per week from a list of names provided. Please just email the Provost’s Office if you are willing to help, or names of students you think would be excellent for this. Insights on activities like this that you may already be doing, as well as advice on doing it well, is also welcomed.

Fourth, we invite academic department feedback on the draft course evaluation questions by February 20 to Sandy Hill in the Provost’s Office. These questions as well as background context for this initiative can be found on the Faculty Senate website for the December 10, 2019 meeting.

Finally, I wanted to thank the many who have been actively involved in preparation efforts for our Middle States Self-Study. A draft for community review and comment is anticipated in the first half of March. Let me also say how important it is that program assessment coordinators complete the requisite training on Campus Labs and that materials are uploaded.

In closing, and as I also have been saying, institutional distinction is key to our future and achieved in two ways: through what one offers, and how one offers it. Here are just three news headlines in recent months that I think capture one or both of those forms of distinction. Now I would like to share some headlines we are aiming to see. There’s much work and focused energy needed to realize these outcomes, but I have sensed community energy, and see opportunity in these as worthy efforts. I look forward to working with you to bring them about.

Now it is my pleasure to welcome President Helldobler to the stage to share his State of the University Address.