Where has the semester gone? It’s hard to believe that next week is Thanksgiving, and then there’s only three more weeks remaining in the semester until the holiday break. There are so many things going on that it’s been hard to keep up. I imagine it’s the same for many of you, wondering how you’re going to deliver the remaining content in your course in the limited time left. Or for those working on the many committees and task forces underway wondering how you’re going to achieve the end of semester targets so that we can bring projects to closure. It’s a lot!
Since many of these efforts are ongoing, I have little new to report regarding specific outcomes. We are studying data, reviewing prior reports, collecting input, developing proposals, and beginning to move them through the review and approval process, all while also completing the daily work of educating students. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wish to offer a hearty THANK YOU to every one of you who is engaged in these important activities.
There are a few additional information items that I wish to share.
Student Success Equity Initiative
SUNY Brockport has been selected to participate in the third cohort of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) Student Success Equity Intensive (SSEI), funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The purpose of SSEI is to help universities close the equity gap for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income students. There are several benefits that we get through our participation, including access to substantial institutional and national data and subject matter experts. One of the features of this program that I especially appreciate is the emphasis on a holistic approach to supporting student success through transformation of institutional operations. In short, the goals of this program are to modify how we do things, rather than creating new add-on activities for selected populations. I have stated many times that I am deeply committed to embedding our efforts into our curriculum, as this is the only way we can ensure that we will reach all our students. As I have said previously, students who need the greatest level of support are those who are least likely to seek it out, as they are often unaware of the resources that are available to them. Immediately after the Thanksgiving break, some of you will be asked to participate in a survey prepared through AASCU to help assess our current status. If you receive this request, please respond promptly, as the survey needs to be completed no later than December 15. I am excited to be serving as the campus team lead for this initiative and looking forward to seeing how we can implement new opportunities to support our Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and low-income students.
Departments on the move
Two departmental changes will be forthcoming in summer 2024. These are being developed independent of the Task Force focused on organizational efficiency in the academic division. Instead, these are being arranged through the lead of the individual units, albeit at my request for consideration.
Our Modern Languages Department will be merging with Education and Human Development. Most of the current Modern Language majors are enrolled in Spanish Education, an area of great need among the K-12 teaching community. We believe that a direct connection between content and pedagogy will provide a unique environment for prospective students that will build on our historical excellence in teacher education, creating an attractive opportunity and growing enrollment in this regionally important field. I am pleased to share that all faculty positions are being retained, as we recognize the importance of modern languages to general education at Brockport and the long-term success of our graduates.
As you may have also heard, our Recreation, Therapeutic Recreation, and Tourism major has been discontinued. Again, no faculty lines are being eliminated as a result of this action. Instead, faculty expertise will be used in other ways. One of the most exciting of these realignments is the proposal to develop a Tourism minor within the Management program, with the potential new opportunity that this can create for future students and for the economic growth in our region. This provides an opportunity to rebrand tourism management as a standalone minor that will provide students with the skills to support a growing industry need. We are finalizing teach out plans for all enrolled RTRT students to ensure that they will be able to graduate from their major.
I’d like to thank those individuals who have been directly involved in these changes for their ability to think creatively in considering the long-term needs of the university. Change can be difficult, and we will work through those challenges together. But change can also be invigorating. I anticipate that will be the case as we work through the changes described above and the ongoing work of the Academic Organizational Effectiveness Task Force. Thank you all for your partnership.
During the summer, I worked with our Facilities Planning & Construction team to identify several classrooms that could be upgraded with new technology and new furniture. While I thought this could happen fairly quickly, I was still a bit naïve about the time it takes to work through some of New York State’s processes and procedures. These upgrades are still happening, now likely during summer of 2024. I am glad that we will be able to bring these resources to enhance the educational experience for our students.
The facilities master plan was also finalized during the summer. This plan calls for an expansion of space to support our burgeoning nursing program, including the space needed for our Doctorate in Nursing Practice. This program is unique in SUNY, as Brockport is the only comprehensive institution approved to offer a doctoral program. To support the nursing expansion, we are planning a renovation of a portion of the second floor of Hartwell Hall, which will not be completed until 2026. Currently this space is used by the Dance department. As you all know, our Dance program is a nationally recognized program providing world-class opportunities for our students. As I expressed to the faculty during our meeting a few weeks ago, I am committed to ensuring that they have adequate space to meet their needs. We are working together to determine precisely what those needs will be.
As I’ve reported previously, Brockport is fortunate to receive additional funding from SUNY to promote internship opportunities for students. Internships will be coordinated through our career services office, and consistent with the message that I’ve been sharing about embedded activities, will be supported by faculty who effectively prepare their students in the classroom. This week, we had our first meeting with our consultant who will help us determine the infrastructure needed to support this effort. As I expressed to the focus group, we cannot expect faculty to engage in these efforts without a University-level support structure that will help them prepare and deliver content and guide students to the required resources. We will be reaching out between now and the end of the year to get more input as we determine how best to support this need. During the Spring, we expect to begin professional development led through CELT to aid interested faculty, as well as hiring a Director for the Career Services office to lead this initiative. Stay tuned for more information.
A part of my job as Provost is to remain aware of what is going on across higher education so that I can better prepare us for future trends. What I see is not encouraging. There are multiple small private liberal arts institutions struggling financially, losing enrollment, and closing their doors. In Wisconsin, my colleagues are closing multiple programs and laying off faculty. Florida is constraining academic freedom. Pennsylvania and Vermont merged universities into larger units hoping to decrease costs and improve the enrollment profile. Even some of our SUNY colleagues are challenged.
But that’s not us. We are adding programs and hiring faculty. Enrollment is growing. We have a decreasing budget deficit and strong reserves. There is no doubt that we have our challenges; however, in comparison to the higher education landscape across the nation, SUNY Brockport is doing extremely well. That is thanks to the hard work of our faculty and staff, a group of dedicated individuals who are committed to our success. How many other institutions can count on the many faculty and staff that came out on a Saturday morning and gave of their time to talk with prospective students and their parents about the great value that we offer? This was evident in the student comments after the event, many of which identified the specific individual that made a difference for them.
As we approach the Thanksgiving break, I just want to say again, as I did last year, that I am truly thankful to have found my way to Brockport. Every day, I more fully appreciate my excellent colleagues who are working hard to make us a great institution. Thank you for all you do.