Address to Faculty and Staff - January 26, 2017

Good afternoon and welcome! Our spring semester is well underway and I thank everyone for attending this meeting of the University community.

We begin each semester by acknowledging our newest staff members, and saying farewell to those who have retired.

This list represents those who have joined our ranks since September 2016:

Charles Lowe, Director of Public Safety and University Police
AnnaMarie Klose Hrubes, Librarian 3, Cheng Library
Michelle Zimmerman, Senior Administrative Assistant to the President
Sarah Keenan, Assistant Director of Institutional Research and Assessment
Caitlin Giordano, Assistant Director, Career Development Center
Kristen Couce, Counselor, Counseling, Health and Wellness Center
Elizabeth Amaya-Fernandez, Wellness Coordinator, Counseling, Health and Wellness Center
Krista-Kay James, Academic Learning Specialist, Academic Success Center, and
David Jones, Head Equipment Manager, Athletics

And those of our colleagues who have retired:

Richard Bartone, Communication Department
Ming Fay, Art Department
Frank Pavese, Music Department
Donald Vardiman, Psychology Department
Diana Krohnert, Institutional Advancement
Clyde Roberts, Physical Plant Operations
Sandra Miller, IRT
John Polding, Human Resources
Cathy Cestra-Nadzan, Arts and Communication
Naomi Lynyak, Human Resources
Gloria Mondelli, EOF
Nicholas Labruna, Grounds, and
Edward Wojcik, Residence Life Maintenance.

Congratulations to our colleagues on a job well done, and we wish them well for a long and productive retirement.

I’d also like to announce that Kevin Lenahan, senior vice president, chief financial officer, and chief administrative officer for Atlantic Health System, Inc., one of the largest health care companies in the state, has joined the Board of Trustees. Kevin, who is a 1990 graduate of the University with a degree in accounting, brings us a unique perspective on a major industry that impacts our state, as well as his valuable fiscal expertise.

We are in the midst of several key administrative searches.  As just mentioned, John Polding retired as associate vice president for human resources in December, and we are midway through the search process for his replacement. Steve Hahn will leave his position as associate provost in July and return to the faculty, and a search is underway. Ken Wolf is retiring as dean of the College of Science and Health, as is Jeff Floyd as the University’s internal auditor. 

Barbara Andrew has ably served as interim executive director of the Honors College for the last year and a half, and we are searching for a permanent executive director. And Nina Trelisky intends to retire as University registrar on July 1. We will begin the search soon so that Nina and the new registrar will overlap so that the important registration services continue without interruption.

I want to acknowledge that we still do not yet have contracts settled for the AFT and CWA, which is deeply regrettable. These contracts expired in the summer of 2015. As you all know, the contract negotiations are done by the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, which since 2015 has met with the AFT collective bargaining negotiation team 13 times. This spring, I believe there are another 4 meetings already scheduled for February and March.  I am encouraged that more  meetings are scheduled and hopefully an agreement will be reached.  

As the semester gets underway, we already have several faculty accomplishments to celebrate.  Professor Kathleen Malu, Secondary and Middle School Education, has been awarded a Fulbright to study the shift to English in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  She will conduct research at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London for three months later this spring.  This is Professor Malu’s second Fulbright award.

English professor Brad Gooch’s new book, Rumi’s Secret, a biography of the 13th century Sufi poet, released last week, has already garnered national and international attention, including reviews in the Washington Post and the New York Times Book Review, an interview on NPR with Leonard Lopate, and inclusion on the BBC’s list of 10 books to read in 2017. 

Also, English professor Marina Budhos’s recently published young adult novel, Watched, has been named a Walter Honor Book for 2017.  This award is administered by the We Need Diverse Books Foundation. Her timely book examines what it is like to grow up under surveillance.

On a sad note, we recently received word of the death of Joseph Brandes, professor emeritus of history.  Professor Brandes taught at the University for 34 years, retiring in 1992.  His expertise ranged from immigration to the labor movement to Herbert Hoover, and he was the author of several acclaimed books.  We extend our condolences to his family.

I want to congratulate our newest Pioneer Pride awardees—Peter Cannarozzi in IRT for winning the Pioneer Spirit award, and to Dayana Nunez, Elizabeth Arango, and Dorothy Hewitt in Financial Aid and Neil Liggitt in Enterprise Information Systems on their Pioneer Cares Award. We started this program several years ago to recognize staff members who exemplify the characteristics of excellent service, based on nominations from colleagues.  Congratulations to all of the staff who have been recognized by this program—you are making William Paterson a better place for all of us.

I hope you have walked passed Preakness Hall and seen the extensive work done on that building. It is hardly recognizable as the old Hunziker Wing. We should be on schedule to open the building and start moving in this summer, so that we can quickly begin the renovation of Hunziker Hall. I want to thank Steve Bolyai, Rick Stomber, and the staff in Capital Planning for their leadership on these projects, and the deans and faculty who helped with the design.

I’d also like to call your attention to an important event this semester.  Anita Hill, the civil and women’s rights activist, will speak on campus on Friday, February 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Shea Center as part of the Distinguished Lecturer Series.  She will be talking about how to address questions of equity, including sexual harassment and assault, gender and racial economic gaps, and leadership disparities. I hope that you will attend and encourage your students to do so as well.

The national election has occupied a big part of our collective attention for many months but this year, perhaps more so than in recent memory, higher education and its affordability was moved center stage by two of the presidential candidates.  These two candidates did not prevail, but the spotlight on student debt has not dimmed. First discussed by Senator Bernie Sanders, who championed the notion of free tuition at public colleges and universities, then debated and supported by Secretary Hillary Clinton, college affordability and student debt has put the academy, in general, and institutions in New Jersey, in particular, in the public light.   Estimates of student debt across the country are reaching $1 trillion dollars…and although we are pleased that the average student debt at William Paterson University has decreased in recent years, it averages about $26,000 per student, which still is too high and is too much of a financial burden on our graduates.

Just a few weeks ago, Senator Sanders joined New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce a proposal to provide free college tuition for New York students whose families earn up to $125,000 annually. The program, to be phased in over three years, would be the first in the country to offer free tuition at four-year colleges to middle- and low-income families, with an estimated price tag of $163 million dollars.  This program would apply to about 200,000 New York families with college-aged students. If New York passes this into law, we will inevitably feel pressure from New Jersey parents and students to do the same. New York has enjoyed a healthy recovery from the economic downturn of 2008 and finds itself in the enviable position of a financial surplus.

You may recall that the New Jersey College Affordability Study Commission issued a report last year with a list of recommendations on how we might change the model by which two- and four-year institutions in the state operate.  These recommendations have prompted legislators in the State Assembly to pass a series of bills, each aimed at reducing college costs through a variety of methods. We will have to wait to see if these bills actually become law, but we cannot be complacent about proposed changes in higher education in the state.

We should not expect state support for public higher education to increase in the coming years. In the economic environment of New Jersey, we should be grateful to the voters in New Jersey for passing the $1.2 billion general obligation in 2012 that allowed funding of facilities at colleges and universities throughout the State. That bond allowed us to build University Hall and renovate Preakness Hall and Hunziker Hall. We are still advocating to our legislators for a permanent capital improvement budget for New Jersey public colleges; New Jersey is one of five states that does not have a regular funding mechanism for maintaining and updating its university facilities.  

And the competition for students in New Jersey continues to stiffen, as our neighboring public institutions have joined us in keeping attendance costs as low as possible, and private institutions are offering deep tuition discounts. Recent census data suggests that northern New Jersey will enjoy a relatively stable college-age population for the next few years, but the demographics of our surrounding counties is changing and will continue to diversify. At William Paterson, we have taken concrete steps to meet the needs of a diverse student body:

  • Many of our recruitment and financial aid documents now are provided in English and Spanish, and we have staff in key business offices who are multilingual.
  • We have kept increases in tuition over the last six years to historically low levels, usually under two percent…and we will continue this pattern.
  • We have intensified our fundraising efforts on student scholarships, increasing scholarship dollars from private fundraising from $600,000 to over $1.1 million. Add this to University scholarships, and our total support for students amounts to over $12 million.
  • Our annual Legacy Award Gala, which supports student scholarships, will be held April 20, 2017 at The Grove in Cedar Grove. We will honor John Galandak, president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey and a member of our Board of Trustees, and the corporation Toys R Us.
  • We have kept a sharp eye on expenses, and whenever possible, implemented efficiencies throughout the campus to maintain and often decrease costs of operation. From our solar panels to the high-efficiency lighting that is used throughout our buildings to consortium agreements for the purchase of electricity and gas, we are capitalizing on cost savings, while remaining committed to reducing our carbon footprint. Building on ideas discussed at meetings on campus for ways to enhance revenue, we have entered into an agreement with Verizon to allow them to place cell phone transmission equipment on our water tower. Not only are we receiving revenue from this agreement but it also is providing us with improved service on campus.
  • We have taken advantage of the favorable bond market to refinance existing loans to a much lower rate over the past two years, thus saving us about $700,000 in interest payments each year.
  • And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we have focused our collective energies on increasing our graduation rates and helping our students graduate in a timely fashion. Our four-year graduation rate has risen dramatically over the last six years, from a low of 14 percent to 29 percent. This is really impressive, and I thank you for your willingness to make the changes needed to help students stay on course and focused on their studies. But we still have more work to do. Our six-year graduation rate has stayed essentially flat for many years, near the national average for institutions like us but below our peers in New Jersey. We expect to see increases there as well this year, but there are obstacles that remain that interfere with students’ retention and persistence that we need to address.

I am often asked, after one of these presentations, what can I do to help? Here are some suggestions that all faculty can use to help our students persist and be successful in their studies:

  • Use Early Alert. Getting the students the tutoring and help they need is critical early in the semester. And consider structuring your courses so that there is early and regular grading and feedback to students. The more students know about how they are performing academically in your class, the more likely they will seek out academic support from you and other areas to improve their performance.
  • Take a look at your department’s academic programs to ensure that the course sequence and scheduling allow a student to complete the required courses and graduate in four years. It is important for students to know the path that will guide them through their major.
  • All students should declare a major no later than completion of 45 credits. Check with your students to make sure they have officially chosen a major at 45 earned credits.
  • If you are an advisor, we know that developmental advising with your advisees is very effective and gives students the extra help and direction they may need. Some helpful suggestions are described on the Advisor Resource page on the University’s Advisement Center webpage.

We can anticipate that there will be new pressures from the federal level, as a new administration is seated in Washington, and at the state level, as we prepare for a new governor in 2018. The newly nominated U.S. Secretary of Education will likely bring a very different perspective on our nation’s schools. The president’s nominee is noted for her support of charter schools and school vouchers, which could alter the landscape of K-12 education.  These changes will have implications for our teacher education and certification programs, which are already undergoing changes to comply with recent changes in New Jersey law. The College of Education has done an admirable job in constantly adjusting to changing requirements.

We must be mindful and deliberate about where we position William Paterson University to meet some of the challenges ahead of us. We make an impact—on our students and on our community.  A college degree still has significant value, personally and economically. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s report in 2015, college graduates earn 56 percent more than high school graduates, and the gap seems to be widening. Since the economic downturn ended in 2009, college-educated workers have captured most of the newly created jobs.

But more importantly, we must continue to make an impact on the academy and our understanding of the world we inhabit. In addition to our support for students is our commitment to maintaining support for faculty research, scholarship, and creative activities. Again this year, we have increased the number of credit hours awarded to sabbaticals, which we believe is an important resource for faculty to maintain and expand their expertise in their fields.  We have increased awards for ART—another important resource for scholarship—and we have maintained funding for faculty research and conference travel. And we are delighted that our faculty are receiving funding through external grants,  including two awards just announced, to Michele Cascardi in the Department of Psychology from the National Institute of Justice for her study on the measurement of adolescent relationship abuse, and to Emily Monroe in the Department of Biology from the National Institutes of Health on her project of biomedical science education postdoctoral training.  We will make a concerted effort going forward, in addition to the materials posted by the Office of Sponsored Programs, to publicize to our community and beyond the important research being done on campus.  Your hard work deserves to be acknowledged by your colleagues and by the external community.

And the research you are conducting with our students continues to grow. Explorations 2016 was a great success, as we recognized the research collaborations between faculty and students, and we look forward to another weeklong Explorations 2017 this April.

For the second year in a row, we are sending 12 Honors College students to make presentations at the Northeast Regional Honors Council Conference in Pittsburgh—twice as many students as in previous years. And these are not the only students being supported this year for their research endeavors. Their success is your success and you should feel a great sense of pride.

Talking about pride, have you seen the new video of the campus shot from a drone and edited by our marketing staff?  We’ve posted it on our full range of social media platforms and the impact has been incredible.  In case you haven’t seen it, here it goes:  PLAY VIDEO

The video is our best-performing social media post ever.  It has already been seen by more than 150,000 people and has been shared by more than 600 people on their own personal pages and more than 400 comments have been posted.

What I find most impressive about the comments is not just the references to campus beauty, but the references to the campus experience.  The video has prompted comments that go to the heart of the William Paterson experience.  For example:

  • Chris Holle: These are just buildings. It’s the wonderful students that make me love working here!
  • Lester Harris: The best years of my life.
  • Lois Van Hoene: Made me homesick. Best years of my life.
  • Mick Nannix: Watching this made me really excited to start school again.
  • John Bynum: The Memories! Wish I could go back to this for a week. All I need is a week.
  • Scott Cumberbatch: Always proud to be an alumnus of this great educational institution!
  • Michael Harris: You lack…if you ain’t orange and black!

These are comments that reflect the impact that you and your predecessors have had on the students of William Paterson University.  I am proud of all that you do day after day, and proud to be part of this great University.  Have a wonderful semester.