State of the University Address, September 3, 2020

President Richard J. Helldobler


Good afternoon, everyone.  Just as our wonderful William Paterson vocal students sang to us—it is indeed a Brand New World. Thanks to our talented students and Dr. Christopher Herbert for sharing their work with us. I hope that your year is off to a great start, while at the same time I recognize that it may be hard to know what that looks like this semester, which is unlike any other in the history of William Paterson or, really, anywhere in American higher education.

On February 28 of this year, we sent out our first COVID-19-related message to the William Paterson community. At that time, there were 60 confirmed cases in the U.S. – none of them in New Jersey. Two weeks later, we announced the shift to remote instruction, and a week after that, to remote working for all but essential employees. We hoped it would last for two weeks. Nearly six months later, the pandemic has upended our whole world. There have been over 6 million cases and more than 180,000 deaths nationally, with our home state of New Jersey among those bearing the greatest hardship – more than 190,000 cases and the loss of more than 14,000. They were our family and friends. They were our colleagues and classmates. They were our neighbors. And they will be greatly missed and let’s continue to honor their lives with our work here at William Paterson.

I also want to thank our own frontline workers right here on campus, including Dr. Jill Guzman, Director of the Counseling, Health and Wellness Center, and Charles Lowe, Director of Police and Public Safety, and all the members of the Reopening Committee. They have been working tirelessly since February to manage our initial response to the pandemic and then over the summer to prepare for our return to campus. Thanks also to Associate Vice President for Administration and Finance Kevin Garvey, Director of Physical Plant Operations James Shelley, and all the folks in the Physical Plant, Police and Public Safety, and Residence Life teams, who have been on-campus throughout the pandemic and who did great work preparing the campus for a safe reopening. And thanks to ALL OF YOU for continuing your good work and maintaining your commitment to our students whether working on-campus or remotely.

I am coming to you this afternoon from the Martini studio in Hamilton Hall. Joining me in the audience are several Cabinet members – of course, all of them socially distanced and wearing masks (over their noses and mouths). I appreciate them being here, and I thank them for all their good work. As always, thanks to the entire IRT team producing today’s event. The shift to remote and now hybrid and HyFlex has been possible thanks in large part to the hard work and support of everyone in IT and IRT, so thanks to Chief Information Officer Eric Rosenberg, Director of Instructional and Research Technology Gamin Bartle, and everyone in their areas. While we can’t all be in the same room, there will nonetheless be plenty of opportunity to ask questions using the chat function in YouTube. And to everyone who submitted questions in advance, thank you! I look forward to getting to those soon.

First, though, I want you all to know how heavily the decision to return to campus weighed on me as I deliberated a path forward for us, balancing the very real public health risks along with the financial impact that an in-person versus a remote semester would have on our ability to save jobs. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have made in more than 30 years in higher education. I want to take a brief moment to explain my thinking, which is grounded in my own experience.  

One of my favorite lines from musical theatre is from the musical Chicago. The character of Roxy Hart quips “I’m older than I ever intended to be.” You see, this is the second pandemic I’ve experienced. When I was in my 20’s HIV/AIDS erupted in the gay community.  We didn’t know what it was, or why it took some of us and left others alone.  I lost many friends, and I empathize with those of you who have lost family and friends in this pandemic.  Health care professionals figured out with HIV/AIDS that, barring other health issues, there were ways of avoiding the virus. And that’s what saved my life:  I followed the rules. I followed the guidelines. And I believe that’s what true with this pandemic:  we can greatly reduce risk if we follow the rules, wear a mask, wash our hands, and maintain social distance.

I get it.  It’s hard. The beginning of the HIV/AIDS pandemic was hard too. But, in the end, I felt that we owed it to our students and to our University’s mission to learn how to manage this pandemic and not run from it.  It can be anywhere, and it can be everywhere:  in stores, in our homes, in the streets. Anyone not wearing a mask endangers our lives when social distancing is not possible.  We know that if we wear a facial covering that covers our nose and mouth, we reduce our risk. And this means everyone, we must protect each other.  It can’t be up to some of us, it is up to all of us. I am pleading with you to take responsibility for yourselves… and, just as importantly, to take responsibility for each other.  

The pandemic has been challenging on so many fronts. The most obvious one here on a college campus is that the necessary response of social distancing strikes at the very core of who we are as a University. Who we are as a community. We bring people together on this beautiful campus, in its classrooms, residence halls, athletic venues and performance spaces, for teaching, learning, and research. We gather in the Student Center or at Einstein’s Bagels to catch up over coffee. We crowd around tables for meetings and study groups. We rub elbows. We shake hands. We hug.

Those of you who have come to know me well know that I thrive in interpersonal settings. I’ll take a good old-fashioned chat over a cup of coffee before a lengthy report any day of the week. It’s not easy giving that all up – even temporarily. And just as during the HIV/AIDS pandemic, gay men found caregivers in the lesbian community, created pet care services, meal preparations, and a host of other changes, that is what we must do now –  change and grow. As a very social person, it was tough being isolated at home for so long, but I never lost sight of the fact that it was infinitely tougher for the doctors and nurses who are fighting the virus and the people suffering from it. As individuals, we adapt. Some of us used our time at home to bake a lot of bread, read, or take on repair projects. I know that I got a lot more exercise than I typically do, taking long walks with my dog, Sophie.

As an academic community, we also adapt. We teach our students to respond to new information and new circumstances. We must do the same thing as an institution. The good news is, we’ve done it before, with the launch of Will. Power. 101 and WP Online as examples. Now, we need to do it again. 

Enrollment and Retention

First, though, this is a good time to check in on how we are doing in terms of enrollment and retention. There has been so much uncertainty and economic suffering in the lives of our current and prospective students. So, the spring and summer were, to a large extent, about minimizing enrollment declines and trying to maximize retention. The past few months have been a bit of a roller coaster ride as the numbers fell and rose and fell and rose again. Thanks to the hard work of the Enrollment Management, Academic Development, Student Enrollment Services, and the Residence Life teams, who adapted to create online open houses and other recruitment and informational events to help minimize the overall enrollment drop and – in some areas – produce a gain, under very difficult conditions. Because of the work they and many others did, we have landed in a better place than we might have imagined just a few months ago. As Vice President of Enrollment Management Reginald Ross told me during an update just last week, the most recent enrollment report had a lot more green than we’ve seen in quite some time.

So, where exactly did the roller coaster end up? We can’t say for certain until census on September 4th, when the numbers are locked in. So I am not going to go into great detail, but ask that you virtually attend the annual Budget and Finance Forum on September 24th. Here the numbers as of yesterday though, overall enrollment stands at 9,742, down 4.1% from last year. New enrollment stands at 3195, down 7.69%. There are bright spots. Graduate enrollment stands at 1672, up 10.3%. And the newly-launched WP Online is off to a strong start, with an enrollment of 446, 78% above the goal we set for it. Given the pandemic the successful launch of WP Online and much of the good work IRT and faculty did over the summer, we are well positioned to take advantage of the growth in the online market while remaining a predominately face-to-face institution.

As for retention, the rate at which last year’s freshmen came back as this year’s sophomores stands at 72.8%, an improvement of 4.1% and a testament to the fact that Will. Power. 101. is having the desired effect. Getting first year students  off to a strong start in a well-structured and well-supported cohort is making a difference even in the midst of the pandemic. Its success was one of the driving forces in my decision to bring 1000-level courses back to campus first. So, congratulations to all the success coaches, and the Academic Development group who has a hand in that good work.

I want to recognize and thank the Board of Trustees for their leadership, as well as the unions, the Faculty Senate, and all of you for pulling together and sacrificing in ways that allowed us to end last year with a balanced budget and to start off this year minimizing our losses, which under the circumstances is actually quite an achievement.

Financial Outlook

We all know that the financial health of this institution is tied directly to enrollment and retention. Other factors can move the needle. But enrollment and retention ARE the needle. With the spring shift to remote instruction, we had to refund $5 million in housing and dining payments and fees. The current 4.1% overall decline in enrollment represents a $5 million hit to the budget. On the day I announced a remote start for 2000+-level classes, residence hall occupancy was at 70%. It has since dropped to approximately 50%, which is causing an additional $5 million shortfall. We have budgeted conservatively and are cautiously optimistic that we have a handle on the extent of the deficit. But the fiscal year is young, the State’s delayed budget cycle just got underway last week with the Governor’s budget address, and we remain in a pandemic.

I want to thank Senior Vice President of Administration and Finance, Steven Bolyai and his Administration and Finance team for tracking the ever-shifting financial landscape, ensuring William Paterson and our students gets a fair share of State and federal aid, and keeping our financial health as sound as possible under very trying conditions. Again you can get more detailed information on all of this when Steve and Reg host the annual Budget and Finance Forum on September 24.

One of the ways we have responded pro-actively to our fiscal situation as a community is through the establishment of the Student Emergency Fund.

The Fund has been supported by gifts totaling nearly $100,000 from alumni, friends, and members of the William Paterson community. The Foundation’s scholarship fund provided their annual $40,000. Additionally they provided another allocation of $182,000 of direct aid to our students.  To date, 681 students have received a total of $206,744.  Awards range from $50 to $500, with the average about $304.  I want to thank everyone who contributed to the fund for helping provide critical relief to our students with the greatest need. The student appeals for support that the review committee is reading are heartbreaking, and the need outstrips what we can ultimately provide. Part of the Foundation’s $182,000 has been earmarked for our new Pioneer Incentive Grants. These grants will aid students with at least 90 credits who have a combination of emergency needs and an INABILITY to pay their full bill.  These awards range between $500 and $1,000. Thanks to Vice President of Institutional Advancement Pam Ferguson and her team, and others who served on the application review committee, for their good work on behalf of our students with the greatest financial need.

Academic Affairs Progress

Of course, while not the only, but certainly the most consequential measure of student success, is progress toward earning their degree. So, I want to acknowledge and thank all the faculty, as well as Provost Powers and his team for all their good work in making the most of our spring pivot to online instruction. It came out of the blue. No one was really ready for it. But when compelled to make the move, they handled it with a great cooperative spirit and an obvious dedication to our students. I saw so many great examples of faculty members with more online teaching experience sharing tips with colleagues who may have had less. And there have been so many faculty members, chairs, deans, and Provost Office staff, along with IRT, supporting each other in inspiring ways. I know that work continued over the summer so that the online experience will be even more positive this fall.  

I also want to thank Local AFT President Sue Tardi and Faculty Senate Chair Murli Natrajan and their AFT and Faculty Senate colleagues for helping advance some critical initiatives that have helped us succeed in surviving the pandemic.

President Tardi was instrumental in state wide negotiations that allowed us to remain financially sound, and led other initiatives to moved us from face to face into virtual formats to advance faculty success. I want to thank the other unions in implementing the furloughs, which inclusive of all furloughs are providing 7M in financial relief, all of which helped to preserve jobs.

Chair Natrajan and members of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee worked hard with the Provost to develop the instructional plan that allowed for some faculty flexibility leading to a good blend of online instruction with critical face to face instruction to make the plan work for both our students and our faculty.

You should be proud of your unions and the Faculty Senate for their advocacy on the behalf of faculty and staff. I am grateful for their partnership in these tough times.    

As much as it helps to be proactive, sometimes you don’t have any choice but to react. The pandemic is one of those rare times when every person, every college and university, every business and organization has to respond quickly and in the midst of so much change and uncertainty. And even though the world was almost universally caught off guard on this one, that doesn’t mean some weren’t better prepared than others.

A critical way we prepare ourselves for what’s to come, both the known and the unknown, is by planning and identifying key strategies each year that will help us advance our mission whatever the world has in store. This year, we are going to focus on three key initiatives that will help us be future-ready as a university.

  • First, we will focus on Diversity & Inclusion through a broad and deep series of programs that will help us all better deliver on our promise to be a University for all.
  • Second, we will continue our focus on the growth mindset and further extend it to our students, so they can overcome obstacles and through Growth Mindset strategies, use those obstacles to their advantage.
  • Third, and finally, we will focus on our Career Development outcomes to see how we can continue to increase recent success rate in getting our students placed in desirable internships, jobs and graduate school admissions.

Even in a pandemic, of course, life goes on. In good ways and bad. Over the Memorial Day weekend, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police, after one officer kept a knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes as he cried, “I can’t breathe” and called out for his mother. What followed was a tremendous outpouring of grief and anger in mostly peaceful protests in nearly every community across the country and around the world. As I wrote in my message to our community at the time, These events lend ever-greater urgency to our ongoing efforts at William Paterson to combat bias and advance the causes of social justice, equity, and inclusion.

The energy borne of anger released through those protests must now fuel the hard work of ending systemic racism, inequity, and injustice at every level of society, including here at William Paterson. I also wrote to you in that same communication that we are not immune to racism, sexism, inequity and injustice, nor our discomfort in confronting them. I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. Shaun Harper, Executive Director of the USC Race and Equity Center, speak at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges and Universities. In his address, he asserted that the last great bastion of White supremacy in Universities is the curriculum. Yes, the curriculum. I’m sure many of us have had our own moments of clarity, when our intellectual light bulbs fired up. When we realized that what we’ve been taught was to a great extent incomplete, inaccurate, or intentionally exclusionary. Maybe it was getting to college and reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” or a similar work that made us realize that our high school history classes weren’t just simplified, ‘kid friendly’ versions of history, but, in many instances, promoting a false narrative that purposefully excluded or minimized the stories of people of color, women, the LGBTQA+ community and the indigenous.

It can take a lifetime to unlearn and relearn a lot of this. I am a university president, and I am still relearning much of what I learned as a young person in the 60s. One example: like many of us, I was taught that Rosa Parks was the first to refuse to give up her seat on public transportation to white people. Parks was certainly a hero, but most of us never learned that a century earlier, Elizabeth Jennings Graham refused to yield her seat on a New York City streetcar. Her subsequent legal fight, in which her lawyer was future president Chester A. Arthur, led to the eventual desegregation of New York City’s public transit system. Education scholars think we generally don’t know of Graham’s fight – that we weren’t taught about it – because it didn’t advance the desired narrative that Blacks were enslaved in the South but free and equal in the North. It was, like so many things, a function of White people telling – or failing to tell – Black people’s history. Here in New Jersey, slavery didn’t fully end until the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.

So yes, today’s curriculum is still often a byproduct of racism, sexism, and exclusion. And it goes well beyond whether or not the canon is sufficiently diverse. And- It’s not!

We must look at ourselves, what we teach, and how we teach it if we are truly going to be the diverse and inclusive University that we claim to be. I have called on the Faculty Senate to lead these discussions on what it means to have a diverse and inclusive curriculum, not just in certain majors but in all majors across the University. Where are we having discussions with our students about contributions of minorities, along with the struggles they face in certain disciplines after graduation? How do we teach them to be advocates and allies for their communities and to advocate for themselves? This is not to suggest this is the only area where we have work to do, but it is a start, and I will present others soon. 

Since I first arrived here more than two years ago, I have been talking about the need to change systems – those that no longer serve our students and our University and those that have actively disadvantaged marginalized populations. We have made some good progress thanks to the work of Chief Diversity Officer David Jones, and the Director of The Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Black Cultural Center Yolany Gonnell, along with many others. We all have to be involved in this work. In the words of the great civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, who we lost over the summer, we must answer the highest calling of our hearts and stand up for what we truly believe. Now it is our turn to let freedom ring!

To advance this work on the part of all of us, we have a rich agenda for the coming year as part of the first key initiative, Diversity & Inclusion. Back in July, David and I shared with you some of the key diversity and inclusion initiatives that we will undertake as a community over the course of the 2020-21 academic year. These efforts will be critical if we are to be true to our mission of providing the same great education and access to opportunity for our entire community. So these initiatives deserve some more attention than a mid-summer email can hope to provide.

First, we will establish a Diversity Council composed of selected faculty, staff, and students to understand, address, and respond to diversity and inclusion concerns at the University and work in partnership with University stakeholders to create a more inclusive campus environment. The Diversity Council will drive key University projects, such as creating a Diversity Statement and Diversity Strategic Plan with benchmarks to measure our success. And it will monitor the progress of the LGBTQIA+ Needs Assessment Taskforce and Hispanic Serving Institution Taskforce.

We will also launch a Community Dialogue Series in which faculty and staff will be encouraged to engage in meaningful conversations on race, racism, and other forms of oppression. This series will aim to increase consciousness of self to better understand others and work toward a more inclusive community. This initiative for faculty and staff will align with pre-existing student programs, such as the Courageous Conversations Series, which is led by The Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and The BRIDGE Support Group, which is led by The Center for Counseling, Health, and Wellness. 

Next, we will implement a President’s Diversity Lecture. This will be an annual event sponsored by my office where we will bring faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members together for a lecture program featuring a leading diversity scholar.

William Paterson will also participate in the nationally recognized University of Southern California Equity Institute that I spoke about earlier, which is geared toward selected senior University administration and faculty members. These participants will complete an intensive, eight-module program that prepares and positions them to include an equity lens in their decision making, policy development, and organizational practices. 

And finally – for now, because there really is no “finally” when it comes to these efforts – we will produce a Campus Climate Report, which will highlight key findings and recommendations from the Campus Climate Survey.

For some of us the conversations that we will have around this work will be challenging. But for others much has gone unsaid for too long, or we have talked a great deal but done little. May they lead us to a better place through thought and action, something academics and scholars do better than most.   

The past six months have made abundantly clear that the work we do here is more important than ever. Our students come from communities of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to the educational and economic inequalities which made them most vulnerable to it. And yet through your good hard work, they become future nurses, teachers, business owners, and civic leaders who we will all ultimately depend upon to rebuild what Governor Murphy calls a more fair and just New Jersey.

Now for the second initiative, Growth Mindset, which I introduced in this very forum just weeks before the pandemic hit, when we were still all together, and which underpinned much of the summer’s Professional Development Program. Thanks to Project Specialist Annette Baron, Personnel Assistant Myrna Torres, Department of English Secretary Sandy DeJesus, and everyone who developed and hosted these valuable sessions. We must continue to foster a Growth Mindset institutionally while also instilling it in our students, who can benefit greatly from it. Conceptionally, of course, the Growth Mindset distinguishes between people with fixed mindsets, who see adversity as marking the limits of their abilities versus those with a Growth Mindset, who see adversity as an opportunity to learn, adjust, and grow. What better time to test the Growth Mindset than in our current climate!  How will we adjust and adapt to our new circumstances so that the year ahead is about growing, improving, and better serving our students than merely limiting loss?

I truly believe that the Summit of Summits held in February was an example of the Growth Mindset beginning here at William Paterson. We had those kinds of frank exchanges, offered and accepted constructive criticism. We reflected on how we could do our work better as individuals, as teams, and as an institution. As a result, we were able to make real progress in streamlining and improving many of our systems to make them more student-centered. At times our systems don't always align with a focus on student success that we know must be our fundamental purpose. This is a powerful realization, and I know it will yield many great changes that will benefit our students in the months and years ahead.

Our ultimate success on this front – as on every other – will be defined by our ability to continue to adapt, be flexible, and make the most of our circumstances, no matter the constraints presented by the pandemic, State guidelines, or anything else. As an institution, we are sending a strong signal that we will overcome our challenges with a Growth Mindset, because the only organizations that use obstacles to learn and change are ones that are growing. So, while we have had to make tough sacrifices, like furloughs, hiring freezes, and more, we must and will continue to invest and act in a way that serves to get us to where we want to be. 

A couple of examples: we talked in the Summits about the importance to student success of a strong, comprehensive support network – a “Cocoon of Care.” Participants identified a critical gap in serving students with particular concerns outside of the classroom and, indeed, away from campus. So a proposal was made to hire a full-time social worker. This individual will assess student needs and connect them with other campus and community resources to help whatever immediate issue or crisis might inhibit their ability to remain in school and be academically successful.

In the same vein, when the Summits revealed a pressing need for more advisors, we responded by adding seven new positions in that area, five of which have already been filled. Another Summit success –You may remember me talking about how the course schedule automatically rolled over from semester to semester, without regard to changing conditions. Thanks to University Registrar Susan Astarita and Associate Provost Jonathan Lincoln, as well as the Enrollment Management and Provost Office teams, this is no longer the case. Now, it is right-sized before going live, which makes for a better experience for our students, meaning courses published are more likely to run as they build their course schedules, and instructors are more secure in their employment. We also committed to Courseleaf which is an effective course management software tool, and we will be rolling that out soon.

Now, a fixed mindset might look at the current economic climate and balk at any new costs. Those with a fixed mindset will think “We are taking furloughs, cutting budgets, have declining enrollments and retention but if we just keep doing what we are doing the tide will change”.   But it won’t.  A Growth Mindset recognizes that, while this will cost money up front, down the road, it will increase retention, improve our financial health, and, most importantly, advance our mission over time by making sure that students get the help they need and can remain at William Paterson. For students most at risk due to home or food insecurity, a William Paterson degree is truly life changing and one might argue life- saving. As I said during a recent conversation with some of our Trustees, you can’t cut your way to excellence. No matter the economic challenges, we have to continue making strategic investments if we are to grow.

Which brings me to the third and final key initiative for the coming year – Career Development. This is one of four major priorities that the Board of Trustees identified in the first year of my presidency. We know that walking across the stage and receiving that hard-earned degree is an important rite-of-passage. The degree represents a fundamental belief in the value of education for its own sake. And, of course, it’s also a critical tool to getting students employed or onto graduate school so they can raise themselves and their families up. And by getting more degrees into the hands of our students we help close New Jersey’s shameful racial wealth gap, and make our State a more fair and equitable place. Sharon Rosengart, Director of the Career Development Center and her team have been doing some great work.

William Paterson’s job placement outcomes have been at or above those reported by NACE, which is the National Association of Colleges and Employers. We will work to increase our job placement over time, but it’s a good start. It’s also positive that the number going on to graduate school has risen about three percent over the past five years. 

Most of our students are thinking seriously about what they want to do with their degrees almost as soon as they start working toward them. In one year since transitioning to Handshake, the nations’ leading career management system, which used by 500,000 employers nationwide, there has been an almost 400% increase in the number of jobs posted and a 300% increase in the number of internships posted for our students to consider. Through Handshake, we are also using the NACE First Destination Survey to collect data on student outcomes, which will tell us more about career outcomes for our graduates and allow us to benchmark regionally and nationally in the near term. These will become part of our KPI’s for Career Development.

Beginning this fall, we will replace major job fairs with industry specific virtual events, so students and alumni can connect with more potential employers in their fields.

Last spring, back when we could go places and do things (yes, I get crabby too about the restraints of COVID) I attended a seminar with other University Presidents at the headquarters of LinkedIn in California. We spent time with the Executive Chairman Jeff Weiner who made a couple of observations that have stuck with me and made me question our current systems. He asserts that universities do a really good job of teaching students content but they do not do as well teaching students how to talk about what they have learned, especially in the humanities, social sciences and the arts. His point was that many skills that are needed in high growth areas are not taught in business, health sciences or technology but in the traditional liberal arts. However, students are unable to articulate those skills to employers. He asserted that in tech start-ups only 30% of the workforce is in IT, the rest come from disciplines not associated with Silicon Valley.  We can get at this through curriculum assessment which is part of our Middle States visitation occurring this spring, mapping skills sets listed in job ads on LinkedIn, and use LinkedIn learning to fill in any noted gaps.

Here is the big one, LinkedIn is PROUD to report that if you have a profile on their site and have endorsements from other members you are nine times more likely to land a job over those that do not. Here is what they are NOT PROUD of, and yet honest about, students who come from more affluent high schools and colleges are more likely to have a profile with endorsements than urban high school or regional public graduates. So LinkedIN accurately acknowledges that they contribute to the national net worth gap in the country because people who come from money are hiring those that come from money. We will be exploring how we can use our alumni network and have our students create an early LinkedIn presence to develop their endorsement networks and up our game in this area. The Pesce Family Mentoring Institute plays a critical role here in helping students develop a network, leading to endorsements.

Ultimately, our success is not measured solely at Commencement, as important as that is, but in the years and decades afterward, when our graduates have made the most of their lives and changed their lives with their William Paterson degree.

So, now I am going to stop and take a few questions.  I’ll start with those submitted in advance, and if you have a question please put it in the chat function on YouTube.  Greg Cannon will be our moderator for the Q & A.  Greg.


Early in my presidency, the Cabinet members and I talked about our goals.  We kept coming back to how we can better serve our students.  That is the University's primary goal.  That is my primary goal. If you remember my January address, well…I won’t ask you to stand up and point again, since we’re all in different locations, but student success remains…my True North. I know it’s yours, too.

The past several months have taught us many important lessons. One that comes to mind when we discuss serving our students is the importance of trust in maintaining a strong, cohesive community. Whether our society is debating politics, racism or the proper response to the pandemic, we often fail to get anywhere because there is a pervasive lack of trust in each other’s motives. Please know that I, while I can’t be with you in the classroom or the registrar’s office or anywhere else on campus where our faculty and staff are working directly with students, I completely trust that serving and supporting them is your guiding principal. In return, I ask that you, trust me. Trust that what keeps me up at night and what wakes me up in the morning is concern for our students. Trust that their success is the primary focus of my days. Whether I am working with the vice presidents, conferring with other presidents, dealing with the NCAA, advocating for William Paterson by writing letters to the Governor and Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, talking with potential or current donors, or working with the Board. So, now, more than ever, let’s foster trust and mutual understanding in our community. I hope we take a moment to reflect on two big moments of trust, that we had in each other in the first two years of my presidency, where we changed systems and tried something new. Will. Power.101 and WP Online changed the norms of how we educate incoming first year students and graduate students. Both have shown early successes.

Finally, the past several months have taught us the folly of making predictions, but they have highlighted the importance of science and facts. They have also emphasized the importance of what we do and the students we educate. I don’t know when the pandemic will cease to be a factor determining how we operate, but I do know that, together, we will rise to the occasion. Our students are depending on us. And soon we, and the rest of society, will be depending on them.

I am not going to tell you that these are not difficult times, and that we do not face challenges. But with trust together, they are surmountable if we keep focused. Together with trust we can change old norms and systems that do not meet student needs. And with trust together, there is important work ahead. Please know, through thick and through thin, all out or all in, where ever we go, it’s together—so I leave you with that tune from the musical Gypsy