It is hard to believe it is already past the midpoint of March, and we’re in Week Six of the semester. I know it will be challenging this year because we don’t have a Spring Break, and that we’re all still adjusting to our COVID-19 protocols, including weekly testing for those of us on campus. I am so pleased that vaccine eligibility has been extended to all student-facing employees, and that as supply increases, more and more individuals, if they wish to do so, are taking advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated. As a result of these actions, every indication is that our Fall 2021 semester will be much closer to Fall 2019 than Fall 2020, and I know we’re all looking forward to the opportunity to gather on campus in larger numbers.
There is much we have missed over the last 12 months, but our college community remains committed to student success, to engagement with our wider community, to sustaining our college, and to creating the best campus climate we can achieve. While these are a slight rewording of our college goals, they all hold true, and will do so again post-pandemic.
In relation to student success, I was pleased that there was a virtual celebration of the Residential Life-Academic Success Center “Collaborative Excellence” award from the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) that colleagues could attend. I am grateful to Monique Rew-Bigelow, Devon Smith, and Thomas Chew for their leadership and commitment to student success.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
In relation to campus climate, I am happy to report that our Presidential Campus Climate Committee (PCCC) is making great progress in the plans for a new climate survey. The PCCC is composed of faculty, staff, and student representatives and has been tasked with assessing the climate of SUNY Brockport. Last fall the group began meeting and exploring options regarding how to assess the campus climate appropriately both in Brockport and Rochester. The group continues to work this spring on the rollout of a survey and series of panels to occur during the 2021-22 school year. Not only will they assess the results of the climate survey, but they will make recommendations for how to proceed once the survey is complete.
Second, I’d like to thank Gena Willis and Jie Zhang for their leadership in a project on equity, diversity and inclusion. Earlier this year, as a result of a discussion at the Community Advisory Board, I began a conversation with Dale Carnegie representatives around external training on equity, diversity and inclusion leadership. I asked Gena Willis, as chair of the Faculty and Staff of Color Interest Group, and Jie Zhang, as leader of the Faculty International Group, to meet with the Dale Carnegie representatives, and it was on their recommendation that the curriculum was developed. All of cabinet—including, I’m thrilled to note, our incoming CDO—are taking part in this curriculum alongside members of both affinity groups, for the remainder of the semester.
Finally, I wanted to note that SUNY has put forward a 25 point Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, and our initial mapping of progress against their aims shows that Brockport has made progress on or completed virtually all of the recommendations that relate to individual campuses. Two prime areas we will focus on initially include reviewing our Prior Learning Assessment practices as well as our HR practices around diverse candidate pools. For more information on SUNY’s plan, please go to the SUNY web page.
In relation to the third goal of our strategic plan, to be a sustainable institution for the 21st century, we have been working hard on budget and process issues on campus. There is welcome news regarding The American Rescue Plan and the federal stimulus dollars that may flow to the campus this year. However, as SUNY reminds us in its summary of the plan, “these federal funds are limited in time, and longer-term strategies and thinking will need to continue to be paramount in our thinking.” We are also eagerly awaiting the final New York State budget. Negotiations and advocacy have been continuing for some time, and Dave Mihalyov and I recently finished a second round of calls to our representatives. The one-house bills are now out, and we expect that New York State will again attempt and potentially even enact an on-time budget. Current predictions are that the budget may rectify some of the previous year’s cuts, which again is welcome news.
But not all of the budget news is good. We are still facing declining enrollment, and the vast majority of our budget comes directly from student tuition and fees. You will have heard me say before that a loss of 100 students equals a million dollars in funding. Even if we have our state budget fully restored, we are still expecting to be 7 million dollars short of what we need, year on year. To put this in perspective: that’s twice the amount we needed to find to close our budget gap in 2015-16. We were able to close that gap, and I have every confidence we will be able to close this gap, too. But there is no magic money, and we will still need to ensure that we scrutinize every expenditure carefully. Cabinet has been meeting weekly, and each division, bar Academic Affairs, has put forward proposals to save funds and has done so in consultation with leaders across all departments within each division. Academic Affairs budget plans await further input from departments, in our commitment to shared governance, but I am meeting with the deans and the Academic Affairs Leadership Team regularly in the provost’s absence.
The President’s office has taken a significant amount of money out of our Other than Personal Service (OTPS) funds, and Cabinet has worked on new shared office support in order to make important and necessary savings. Across all divisions, most vacant lines will remain unfilled. These decisions are not easy, and each has an implication beyond immediate savings. It may mean that we use different standards for the maintenance of our campus grounds, buildings, and vehicles; that we cut back on some of the extra-curricular opportunities we offer to students; that we look at creative ways to reformulate workloads to accomplish tasks, especially in relation to vacancies. We are also still following up on several JPBC projects through the task force which will lead to other savings. These are necessary tasks, and not easy ones. I am very appreciative of the time and energy that JPBC members, Cabinet, and others are putting into finding solutions, including revenue generation. I will continue to keep our community updated as we move through this difficult time.
Please note: there’s no solution that doesn’t have pain attached to it. This is a real budget issue, and it requires real solutions. The reality of declining demographics is affecting virtually every campus across the country. The University at Albany is facing a $58 million deficit (a deficit that apparently quadrupled in two years, according to recent newspaper reports); they announced earlier this month that $44 million of it is entirely unrelated to COVID 19. As a result, they are reducing all expenses by 15% across the board. Ithaca College has been much in the news for their proposed cuts of more than 100 faculty positions. And these are just a few of the colleges that have been facing difficult fiscal times. We do so here at Brockport through shared governance and frequent communication, and I am grateful to all who are thinking creatively about the ways we can be a sustainable institution for the 21st century.
GROSS Project Update
One of those ways of being sustainable is related to our Get Rid Of Silly Stuff (GROSS) Project. As you may recollect, a committee was formed to:
Review materials gathered at the College Leadership Summit to see if any improvements can be implemented to save resources, including the most important resource: Time
Identify any additional opportunities for improvement
Recommend changes to the appropriate bodies: JPBC, College Senate, or others
A total of 106 ideas were submitted, which were then grouped into 28 categories. Various people across all divisions were identified to provide a response, or work on a recommendation. All of the ideas have been addressed, and corrective actions have been implemented or are in process. Some will be ongoing, as in the case of the category of Digital Workflow, where a project team has been formed to review some continuing issues identified in this category. Many thanks to the project team and the subject matter experts who assisted in closing these items.
Did You Know?
Our Enrollment Management Committee and the Subcommittee on Retention & Persistence has been putting together a Persistence Roadmap, which focuses on bold and aspirational goals for first year retention, ongoing persistence, and graduation. I wanted to share with you the foundational principles for the work of the committee, as well as the whole Brockport community:
Student Success Foundational Principles
Access & Equity: Admitted students are capable of being successful at our institution. We have a responsibility to focus on closing opportunity gaps. The student experience and outcomes are at the core of our plan.
Collaboration: Student success is the responsibility of all stakeholders of the institution (students, faculty, staff and administration). We strive to come together to achieve the roadmap goals.
Quality: Persistence efforts mean engaging students developmentally while maintaining academic rigor and high expectations.
Engagement: Student persistence is integrally connected to their feeling of connection to the institution and campus community. Persistence and programming efforts must take this into consideration and strive to holistically engage students.
As we move forward with our plans to support our students, these goals should be firmly in our minds. More information on the Persistence Roadmap will be shared with our college community throughout the semester.
I want to thank everyone for all that they are doing to support our students, and our colleagues, during a difficult year. Not every academic community has come together the way that we have, and I am proud of the work that is being undertaken. Thank you for your own persistence in the face of what can sometimes seem overwhelming. Together, we will continue to have a successful semester.