Academic Year Opening Remarks 2007

As with other native communities in the Americas, the Aztecs held their elders in very high regard. Of the Great-Grandmother they wrote:

The good great-grandmother is worthy of praise, deserving of gratitude.  She is accorded glory, acclaim by her descendents.  She is the founder, the beginner of her lineage.[1]

When one graduates from college, one can call that institution one’s alma mater.  For those of you who haven’t given this Latin phrase much thought, it roughly translates as “bounteous mother,” and was used by the Romans as an epithet for the agricultural goddesses Ceres and Cybele.  It also has an alternate meaning in Latin of “foster mother or adoptive mother.”  Consequently, the image of the university as the mother, nurturing her children, worthy of praise and gratitude, brings it very much in line with the Aztec image of the benevolent great-grandmother. 

We here are not necessarily alumni of this college, although some are.  Nevertheless, for most of us the school occupies a very special place in our hearts.  Our relationship to one another and to the college is very much like a family.  We may not always get along, but we do honor and respect one another for the skills and talents that each brings to the common enterprise: the education and nurturing of students who go forth from these walls to occupy their place in the world.  We hope that they continue to fondly remember their alma mater, their bounteous and adoptive mother.

As a fellow member of this family, I’d like to take this opportunity to report to you on the accomplishments of the last year and look towards the challenges of the coming year.  Last year, I outlined a fairly concise but ambitious program.  I am happy to report that several of the items were successfully accomplished, while nearly all of the others are on the road to completion.  There were five major themes last year: Enhancing Student Experiences, Faculty and Staff Worklife, Communications, the Budget, and Enrollment Management, each with various action steps.  Of these fifteen action steps, four have been completed. 

  • We have finalized the mission statement.  It was approved by the campus governance bodies and the College Council and submitted to the Chancellor.  

  • We have developed a budget calendar that will begin with requests for new budget items in the fall. Deans and directors will collect that information in their units and make recommendations to the appropriate Vice President.  Final decisions will be made by the full Cabinet in late spring.  

  • We also have devised a new fiscal management system.  Under this each Vice President has a greater degree of control over their divisional budget.  Many financial decisions will consequently be made at that level and not by the Cabinet as a whole.  Vice President Lewis and I will be meeting with the Faculty Business Affairs Committee to discuss both the budget calendar and fiscal management system.  

  • We have analyzed the need for a single person supervising retention and enrollment management.  We had two failed searches for such a person.  We will continue to consider the need for the position and what other options might serve that need.

All of the other items from last year’s plan are in progress, and will continue to be high priorities.  We are working to enhance support for facilities and equipment for student learning.  The Cabinet has allocated funds for this purpose, and it will be a key part of our request for capital maintenance funds from the Governor and Legislature.  We have begun the implementation of the recommendations of the Diversity Task Force, by creating the Diversity in Action Committee, under the leadership of Dr, Michael Schaaf, along with the various subcommittees.  I expect to see some innovative proposals coming from those groups. 

As you all can witness, we have made campus beautification a high priority, and have invested a great deal in improving the quadrangle over the summer, along with renovations in Flagg, and new roofs on nearly all the buildings around the Quad. 

The task force on faculty instructional workload has made some preliminary recommendations to me regarding the instructional component of teaching faculty workload.  I will be responding in greater depth to them now that the academic year has begun.  We will continue to work diligently with deans and department chairs with the goal of beginning to readjust instructional workloads for next year. We are studying the workload balance of non-teaching faculty as well as their levels of compensation, relative to our peers.  I expect a report on that this year along with suggestions for further action. 

We allocated money last year to improving the level of teaching faculty compensation, and we have budgeted additional funds this year.  I will continue to work with Vice President Lewis and with the SUNY staff to further improve in this area.  The Provost has been working on issues regarding professional development for all faculty, and I believe that progress has been made in this area, but more work needs to be done.  Also as a result of our improved financial standing we were able to grant a record number of sabbaticals for faculty to engage in creative activity during this academic year.

In the area of Communications and Marketing, the Director of Marketing, Deb Dudley, is actively working with external alumni consultants who are experts in the field on creating a marketing plan for the college.  I anticipate receiving a full proposal for that this academic year.  Many of you have probably noticed a new and colorful Potsdam People alumni magazine.  I anticipate that you will also see changes in our web site as we focus more on the image and distinction of the college.  Along with this, we have been working hard to improve internal communications.  I regularly send out updates on topics of interest, I regularly meet with departments, and continue to try to learn as much as I can about this wonderful college. 

Lastly, our plan called upon us to meet the enrollment targets outlined in the MOU, and as many of you know last year we encountered some difficulty.  While last year we met out targets for new freshmen, new transfers, and for continuing students, our graduate enrollments did not reach the targets that had been established.  Consequently, although our total enrollment grew slightly last year, it was structured differently than we had planned.  We then had to provide SUNY central with adjusted enrollment goals upon which this year’s budget was built.

Before I outline the strategic plan for the academic year that we inaugurate today, I’d like to take a look at some of the major accomplishments of the last year.  In the area of budget and finance, we began the year in the black; were able to increase various budgets that had either been stagnant or reduced in years past; and were able to lift all hiring freezes.  In short after many years of restraint, there were no external constraints on the budget.  Beyond that we had a record year in terms of external fund raising.  While I cannot take credit for most of this, I should note that an important part of my time is spent in working with external constituencies to improve the fiscal state of the college.  Last year we raised a total of $3.3 million in charitable giving.  Our annual fund accounted for $1.2 million of that total.  These are both records for the College.  We are ranked fourteenth among comprehensive universities nationally for the percentage of our alumni who give to the college.  At this juncture, everything indicates that we are on track for another record breaking year in fund raising. Let me offer my thanks and congratulations to everyone in the Advancement Office who worked so hard on these accomplishments and to everyone who has helped in small and large ways to raise funds for the college.

In the legislative arena, we are very hopeful that the State Legislature will approve our request for funding a new Performing Arts and Technology building.  At the official close of the Legislature a few months ago, that project had been included in proposals in both houses.  At the national level, I am pleased to report that our proposal for a Science and Math teaching laboratory has been included in the appropriations bill passed by the House.  A similar provision must be passed in the Senate and then survive a conference committee, but it does indicate the level of success that we are having working with our legislative delegations at both the state and federal level.

Closely related to our success in fund raising, I am happy to report that we are moving towards the inauguration of a new comprehensive campaign.  Over the next year or two, we will be conducting feasibility studies with outside firms to see what level of support we might expect from the campaign.  We will also be thinking in very broad terms about the goals of the campaign.  It is clear from all the planning done on campus in the past years and from all that I have heard that the central theme of the campaign should focus on the student experience here at Potsdam.  I have characterized that as the handcrafted education.  An earlier generation called it the “tradition of excellence.”  We will be working diligently to develop the most effective manner of communicating our goals and expectations for the campaign.Our challenge now is to translate this into a major gifts campaign that is infectious and moves others to invest in the College in new and innovative ways. 

In other good news, this fall we are expecting a near record freshman class.  Depending on what happens in the next few days we might be seeing the largest freshman class ever to enroll at the college.  Unequivocally it will be the largest in over a decade.  Thanks to all the faculty and staff who worked so hard over the summer to see that we would be able to accommodate this large freshman class, especially faculty advisors and department chairs who worked during our orientation sessions and who saw to it that we had sufficient sections of freshman classes.  It also looks like we will make our targets for new transfer students.  Our Admissions Office is second to none as far as I am concerned.  Congratulations to Tom Nesbitt for his great leadership there. 

On another positive note, our graduate enrollments have recovered slightly.  While we are still below the level we had hoped a few years ago, we have made our new revised targets and anticipate continued slow growth, provided we continue to give this area the attention it needs.  Congratulations to all the people who have worked so hard to bring this about.  I also would like to congratulate Dean Bill Amoriell and Associate Vice President Miller for all of the work they have done in analyzing the problems in this area and on the beginning of implementation of new policies and procedures.  Also in the area of graduate education, I am pleased to announce that the Canadian government has given us approval to offer the MST in Ottawa.  We are one of a very few foreign universities to be so recognized in Canada, and the first in SUNY.  We will begin accepting students into the program for the Fall of 2008. 

Preliminary data, however, indicate that our retention efforts have not produced as many continuing students as we anticipated at the undergraduate level.  I want to thank everyone in the Student Success Center who worked so hard to ensure that as many students returned as have done so.  I also want to thank Joe Sarnoff and the Admissions staff for calling students who had not yet registered.  They helped to increase the number of returning students.  This year we will redouble our efforts to retain students, and the Admissions Office will be implementing new policies to attract more high quality transfer students.  On the whole we anticipate a small increase in our total enrollment, but still short of the growth curve we would want in order to reach our goal of 5,000 students in four years, and lower than we had projected when we built this year’s budget. 

Among other important accomplishments last year, we hosted our Academic Festival.  Dozens of scholars came to campus from around the country and throughout the world to participate.  Congratulations to Prof. Liliana Trevizan and her committee for organizing such a successful conference.  As well, Prof. Trevizan was honored by the Research Foundation of State University of New York as one of 30 innovative scholars and scientists at 19 SUNY campuses for her outstanding research and scholarship.  Among other award winners, Professor of Geology Dr. Robert Badger received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Service, Professor of Chemistry Dr. Maria Hepel received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities and Associate Professor of Modern Languages Dr. Lora Lunt received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for Professional Service.  As well, the SUNY Board of Trustees named Professor of Philosophy Dr. Joseph DiGiovanna Distinguished Teaching Professor.  

Thanks to an allocation to SUNY from the Governor’s Budget Office a few years ago, we were finally able to replace our fleet of pianos with 141 new Steinways.  This purchase is the largest single sale in Steinway history.  It also makes us one of a few All Steinway Schools in the United States.  Last year also saw the world premiere of the opera “The Sailor Boy and the Falcon” with score and libretto written by two of our faculty members, Paul Siskind and Alan Steinberg, and starring our own alumna Stephanie Blythe ’93, while at the same time raising over $200,000. 

We have also sent our students literally around the world.  Theatre students appeared in Hong Kong, while two groups of Crane students performed in Mexico and China.  Four SUNY Potsdam students had their artwork selected for The 2007 Best of SUNY Student Art Exhibition that is now on display at the New York State Museum in Albany.  Another Potsdam student was accepted as one of 20 students into the Greenpeace Organizing Term this summer from more than 600 applicants.  Four SUNY Potsdam seniors were recently awarded the very prestigious Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, for demonstrating outstanding achievement as a student in the State University of New York System.

In the area of Student Affairs, our Leadership Conference Series and our "First Saturday: Passport to Potsdam" programs were recognized as best practices by the Office of University Life at SUNY System Administration.  The leadership conference series allows our student leaders to hear from nationally recognized experts to help them develop into skilled leaders both for our campus and, ultimately, for the nation and world.  As we all recall, the first complex of townhouses opened and were fully occupied.  Students report very high satisfaction with the living environment and the facilities.  The townhouses have proven so popular that we have begun construction on another set which are scheduled to be open in exactly one year.  We began student readership programs in the residence halls that offer the USA Today at no cost to residential students, and we will add the New York Times to the offerings this year.  This readership program provides students with copies of the papers to encourage them to stay abreast of current affairs and to integrate what they read with what they are learning, in and out of the classroom.  I encourage faculty to consider how they might incorporate this into their courses, cognizant of the fact that at present the papers are only offered to students in the residence halls.  We have one of the best Students Affairs divisions in SUNY and I am terribly proud of all they do for our students.

Last year we also made some great strides in intercollegiate athletics.  Perhaps the most important event was the decision to begin a women’s hockey program.  In the 1980s the college had a very successful program, but due to fiscal constraints and lack of young women coming up from the high school level, the program was abandoned.  Now that women’s hockey has become nearly universal in high schools, particularly in our region, we have a large pool of highly qualified students who are interested in playing.  I am very excited about this program and know that it will attract many strong students who also have an interest in the sport.  We will play at the club level this year, and advance to NCAA Division III next year, that is 2008-2009.  Additionally, we received an A-, with regard to our compliance with Title IX, by the Women’s Sports Foundation.  This was the highest grade in our conference, and higher than nearly all SUNY schools.  In other major accomplishment in Athletics, our Women’s Basketball team qualified for an appearance in the SUNYAC tournament, our best showing in 11 years.  Also our Men’s Lacrosse team qualified for post-season play in the SUNYAC tournament and our coach, Rick Berkman was chosen as the SUNYAC Lacrosse Coach of the Year.  Congratulations to all our athletes and their coaches.

Now to begin our look at the plan for the coming year: in the middle of the summer the Leadership Council met with representatives of the Faculty Senate for our annual strategic planning retreat.  Out of that meeting emerged the themes for this year’s strategic plan.  That meeting developed seven major topics: Marketing, Facilities, Resource Development, Enrollment Management – Retention, Enrollment Management – New Students, Faculty and Staff Worklife, Student Experience, Faculty Salary, Faculty Teaching Load, Technology, and Assessment.  Many of the specific points included under these topics differ little from last year.  The two new categories, added as a result of the report of the Goals and Planning Committee, are Technology and Assessment.  Last year’s goal of Communication has transformed into Marketing.  Building upon these strategic directions, the Cabinet has then analyzed various requests and suggestions for additional funding.  As I reported in my President’s Notes over the summer, these are the areas in which we will be investing this year for the future. 

  •      Faculty salary increases  

  •    Replacement furniture and accessories for classrooms, labs, and studios

  •    Overhaul of the campus web site  

  •    New CTS programmers to implement degree audit and other integral programs  

  •      Operating budget for graduate student recruitment and marketing  

  •      Admissions expenses (recruitment travel, campus hosting, postage, telephone, etc)  

  •      Cost increases in expendables for Physical Plant (toilet paper, salt, sand, etc.)  

  •      Activities programming in Student Union  

  •      Career Placement Assistant Director  

  •      NCATE accreditation visit (one time only)  

The campus budget, while again beginning in the black this year, does not provide much room for new initiatives.  Those initiatives that were funded rose to the top of the list because each had an impact on several of our strategic priorities.  Our budget is extremely sensitive to enrollments, as they drive our tuition collections and level of state support.  We project our revenue based on enrollment, so that when we exceed enrollment targets, we generate more revenue than we anticipated.  On the other hand, if we fail to meet specific enrollment targets, for example in full-time undergraduate students, it can have a serious impact on the budget.

The coming academic year will be an exceedingly busy one for me.  Breaking with tradition here at Potsdam, I will be teaching a course on Wednesday afternoons, Hist. 311, Indians and Iberians.  I have arranged my schedule to assure that this happens.  I continue to look forward to meeting with individual departments across campus.  I need to know your hopes and aspirations, frustrations and concerns, in order to continue the transformation of the College into something that will make us even more proud.  I will continue my open office hours so that people with ideas or concerns will have an opportunity to come and chat with me.  I plan to just be present on campus as much as possible to talk to you all, watch our athletes compete, our students perform, and listen to lectures by our outstanding faculty.  Yet I will also be called away from campus with great regularity.  As we move towards the start of our new comprehensive campaign it is extremely important for me to meet with alumni and friends of the college all across the nation.  Similarly, I must spend time in Albany and Washington to insure that our various legislative goals come to fruition.

In the last few years we have begun a new tradition called the First-Year Funnel.  The funnel is a corridor of faculty and staff stretching from the Barrington Student Union to Hosmer Hall greeting our new students as they move to their first convocation.  I participated last year, and it was a truly rewarding occasion to see all of our first-year students.  It also is a good symbolic link to the corridor of faculty and staff through which they will pass when they graduate.  I’d like to cordially invite all of you to join me tomorrow at 4 PM between the Union and Hosmer to welcome our students.

This college is a nurturing mother to its students.  My conversations with our current students and with alumni from all generations reaffirm this.  Working together we all can provide future generations of students with the same handcrafted education, with the same bounteous harvest of knowledge, that our alumni received.   It is probably too much to ask, but I also hope that each of us can think of this college as a foster mother to us as well.  Yes it is a job, but I am firmly convinced that it is also a vocation, a calling.  We are called to be here in the college right now to accomplish great things.  I ask your help in making our strategic plans a reality.  Each of us can be what the Aztecs called the Tlamatini, a “person who knows things” or a “Wise One:”

The person who knows things is exemplary.  That person possesses writings, owns books.  The wise one is the tradition, the road; a leader of people, a rower, a companion, a bearer of responsibility, a guide.[2]


Let us all be guides for our students.  Let us all bear responsibility for our particular area within the college.  Let us simply be exemplary.


       [1] Bernardino de Sahagun, Dibble and Anderson translators, The Florentine Codex, vol. 11, p. 5.    


       [2] Sahagun, Florentine Codex, vol. 11, p. 29.