General Campus Meeting Remarks

Dennis L. Hefner, Ph.D.
SUNY Potsdam
January 16, 2014

Welcome back for the start of Spring semester 2014! I hope all of you had an opportunity to visit with family, get plenty of rest, and stay warm over the break. Staying warm was important, especially when the Arctic Vortex hit. During the fall semester I'd been saying the temperatures in the North Country weren't so bad, but after the last six weeks which include a temperature of -27, I want to apologize for the folly of my words. My hope is for an early spring.

The Winterim session allowed a number of students to complete some needed coursework and provided a unique block of time to allow a faculty member to take a group of students on an international study-abroad program to Jamaica. The winter break provides a great concentrated time block to have a study-abroad program, and is especially popular when you travel to a warmer climate .I hope next year that more of you will consider offering a Winterim study-abroad course.

Recent snow falls meant our facilities people, especially the grounds crew, were very busy over the break. And didn't they do a great job of snow removal despite the bitter cold weather?

Two days ago Chancellor Zimpher gave her State of the University address. Several highlights included: promoting system initiatives to ensure seamless transfer within SUNY, wanting every SUNY student to have an applied learning experience, and announcing the beginning of the new online education program called OPEN SUNY, which begins this month with six SUNY campuses offering a total of eight complete degree programs. The goal with OPEN SUNY is to develop a system-wide set of services to eventually assist all SUNY campuses. Having access to those centralized services should eventually allow us to offer more, and better, online courses and degrees. While all of these topics were important, I must admit the real highlight of the State of the University occurred when Chancellor Zimpher completed a report on recent capital projects by showing a time lapse video of the construction of Potsdam's new Performing Arts Center.

Regarding next year's budget, the SUNY Board of Trustees requested the dollars necessary to cover the already negotiated collective bargaining increases and submitted a formal request for a new 5-year capital construction plan. The Governor will be releasing the Executive Budget next Tuesday, but rumors suggest both good and bad news for Potsdam: likely inclusion of a new 5-year capital plan is the good news; unfortunately, the salary increases are likely to again be overlooked, which means next year's tuition increase will be fully used just covering the salary increases. Once the Executive Budget is released next Tuesday, I'll send a campus-wide email detailing how the proposed budget impacts Potsdam.

Since the only unknown with next year's budget is the status of the collective bargaining dollars, we have begun the initial process of closing the structural deficit and at the same time developing the campus budget for the 2014-15 academic year. Reducing personnel to lower costs and expanding enrollment to increase revenue are the two main approaches. Currently, too much of our operating budget is devoted to personnel, so over time there will be a reduction through attrition involving approximately 30 state positions. The plan is to compare our budgets with those of other SUNY campuses and identify up to 20 vacant positions that should be eliminated by next summer, and designate another 10 for eventual non-filling. 30 positions translates into roughly $1.5 million in savings. We're still awaiting some additional detailed comparative data from several other SUNY campuses, but even without this data have started to review the Administration Division and have identified 4 ½ positions that will be fully eliminated by next fall. I would remind everyone that for all of the projected positions, we will use attrition and some possible reassignments to obtain savings, and will not be engaging in any layoffs. And one final budget item, we will continue with the "soft" freeze, where filling of staff vacancies are delayed at least 6 months and faculty vacancies delayed for one year, until the structural deficit has been fully eliminated.

On the enrollment front, it's likely that both undergraduate and graduate enrollment will be higher next year, and that's very good news. The hard work of our Admissions team and so many of you is showing positive results. The latest statistics from SUNY have Potsdam leading all University Colleges in percentage improvement in applications from last year. For nearly two months we have been in this top position, and now are nearly 70% of the way through the freshman application process. This consistent strong showing in applications, coupled with the fact that our deposits are running ahead of last year, bodes well for next year's incoming undergraduate class.Additionally, the newly implemented Canadian Graduate Student Initiative, involving free room and board, should help strengthen graduate numbers.

The formation of a larger Enrollment Management Committee has allow the campus to better mobilize our resources. Enrollments are expanding in part because of the reinstatement of the Potsdam Promise, a 4-year graduation guarantee for undergraduate students; a full review and revision of all printed and electronic campus recruiting materials; approval of the new MS in Community Health; the extra involvement by academic departments in the recruiting process; and the work occurring on five new undergraduate degree programs (Arts Administration, Graphic Design, International Studies, Musical Theatre, and Exercise Science), which hopefully will be completed this spring to assist with next year's recruiting effort. A spring priority for the Enrollment Management Committee will be to expand our student retention efforts.

We will be having a change in leadership for the Enrollment Management and Institutional Research area as Rick Miller completes his multi-year assignment at SUNY system and returns to campus on January 30. I also want to publically express my sincere appreciation to Bruce Brydges, who did a wonderful job serving in the Interim role these past few years.

Earlier this fall I asked the Senate's General Education Committee to develop a revised General Education program for our campus that would fit within 30 credits. I am pleased to report that the Senate Committee worked diligently throughout the fall semester and has put forward a 30-credit plan that will form the basis for campus-wide discussions that will occur in February. We need to continue to offer a strong General Education program, but also need one that will assist us in our efforts to recruit students. I thank the committee for their Herculean effort, and look forward to the discussions and to the eventual adoption of a streamlined General Education program.

As previously mentioned, the Governor's plan for economic development, called Start-Up New York, impacts SUNY campuses. Potsdam's direct involvement will involve six vacant campus offices located on the 3rd floor of Carson Hall that will be designated as tax-incentive locations for any faculty, staff, or alumnus who wants to start a new business that fits the criteria for Start-Up New York eligibility. We also have entered into an agreement with the county IDA to have a portion of our 200,000 square feet of official off-campus sites cover several of their commercial buildings. And further, if Clarkson University does not receive a separate Start-Up New York designation for its Incubator, we will include that facility under our 200,000 square foot umbrella. Other than providing some offices and a portion of John Wicke's time—John is our Director of Strategic Alliances—no other campus resources will be utilized for this program. However, I suspect that if successful, new businesses will be seeking consulting assistance from some of our faculty, and that's a very good thing.

Fund-raising is an important aspect of our budget because even small dollar amounts help add that margin of excellence our programs and students deserve.However, we're not talking about small amounts. On August 23 I announced the campus had raised $18.4 million towards its $27 million "Take the Lead" campaign goal. Today, thanks to several large gifts that soon will be announced, the campaign has reached $22.3 million, growing by nearly $4 million in the past five months. Congratulations to our University Advancement Team and thanks to everyone involved in making this campaign a reality. Team Challenge 2014 is gearing up and I appreciate all of you who will be continuing your giving or giving for the first time. Every one of those dollars makes a difference.

I also am very pleased for both the campus and myself to report that the Presidential Search Committee has been making great progress. The total number of applications for the position has reached 66, which is a very sizeable pool, and the committee has begun the process of reviewing submitted applications. Airport interviews are being scheduled for early February, and at this pace, campus visits by finalists could begin as soon as February 20, just five weeks from now. Names of finalists will be released prior to the campus visits.

This past fall was very busy and very productive. Members of the President's Council were asked to provide lists of some of the most important achievements, so here's a partial list of some of the submitted items:

  • The stunning new Performing Arts Center's ribbon-cutting ceremony occurred on December 4, with the first ever dance performance being a well-choreographed "flash mob" that delighted the 300 people in attendance.
  • Our newly renovated ice arena was dedicated in early November, and the first competitive goal on that ice was scored by a member of our Women's Hockey team, which went on to secure the first Potsdam hockey win in the new arena.
  • SUNY Potsdam was designated a "Military Friendly" campus, and just recently our Business Administration Department was awarded the Defense Department's Patriot Award.
  • Applications are now being accepted for our first MS degree, in Community Health, and for our newly approved Advanced Graduate Certificate program in Special Education.
  • Our women's soccer team was one of only two SUNYAC teams to earn the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's Gold Level Ethics Award for Sportsmanship.
  • A one-stop shop for graduate students, which will be called the Center for Graduate Studies, is nearly ready for unveiling.
  • Lockheed Martin was so pleased with the results from our STEAM grant, which involved putting the creativity from the Arts into our STEM programs, they have promised additional funding for a follow-up grant.
  • Although we cannot submit for our next Title III grant until 2015, a group of faculty has already begun work on the next grant which will focus on advancing the notion of SPICE (SUNY Potsdam Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship). I should add this program dovetails nicely with the Chancellor's goal for every student to have at least one experiential opportunity.
  • Budget functions are now shared with Canton and our new shared Budget Director is Shawn Miller.
  • Human Resources successfully upgraded the online applicant process for campus hiring.
  • Compliance training, which we share with Canton, will have our campus completing the "catch-up" phase by May of this year. Recently SUNY Plattsburgh and Clinton Community College joined with this shared program, and ESF has just approached us about also joining this consortium.
  • Admissions has been busy implementing and designing revised work flows for the new document imaging system.
  • Our Office of Institutional Effectiveness has been asked to make a special presentation at the upcoming Assessment Network of New York conference because of its reputation for effective use of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data.
  • Two junior CSTEP students submitted their research proposals and were chosen to present at the recently held 2013 STEP Statewide Conference.
  • The Center for Diversity, in conjunction with EOP, has started providing students with monthly transportation to go downtown and/or visit other local shopping venues.
  • The Student Health Center recently implemented 24/7 online scheduling of appointments.
  • The Grad School Fair was the most successful ever, with 342 Potsdam students visiting tables to talk with representatives from 83 different universities.
  • The Counselling Center reached a significant milestone having now trained 1,500 faculty, staff and students on suicide prevention.
  • Seven Potsdam student-athletes were selected to all-conference teams in their respective sports (Eduardo Figueroa, Alessio Vitale, and Alex Minsker in Men's Soccer; Hailey Hollenbeck and Chloe Hay in Women's Soccer; and Jenna Blujus and Sara Anderson in Volleyball).
  • And Crane and the Theatre and Dance Department collaborated to mount a stunning production of the musical Ragtime.

Progress was made on the six Biennial Goals developed jointly this summer with the campus Senate.Two of the goals, budget and enrollment, have already been addressed earlier in these remarks. Here's an update on the other four goals:

  • Campus Climate. The Diversity in Action Committee has prepared a survey on campus climate to be sent campus-wide in the next few weeks. Results from this survey will be used to develop an action plan to be implemented over the next 18 months.I hope everyone will complete and promptly return this important survey. Also, the Task Force on Women's Issues has met several times as a whole and is using three subgroups (Classified Staff, non-Teaching Professional Staff, and Teaching Faculty) to better inform its analysis. The final report from this task force is due by the end of the spring semester.
  • Technology. Progress continues to be made on standardizing some of our computerized business processes in collaboration with Canton to allow for further technology efficiencies. The campus plan for routinely upgrading technology is being reviewed, and a revised plan is expected by July 2014.
  • Communication. The Reporter has been revised to make it more readable. A full review of all campus publications (both hard copy and electronic) has been made to identify how we can better deliver a uniform message and project a consistent brand. In September, Public Affairs launched a new online system called MERIT to digitally distribute news releases about student achievements. To date 26 announcements, from scholarship recipients to the cast of Ragtime, have resulted in 2,702 press releases in 811 media outlets across the country.
  • Innovation and Creativity. Start-Up New York activities will allow for more student involvement with entrepreneurial activities. Yesterday the Task Force on Entrepreneurship submitted their report, which includes recommendations on student internships, entrepreneurial activities, a proposed student entrepreneurship contest, and the formation of an Entrepreneurship Advisory Board.Additionally, a proposal for SUNY Potsdam's Innovation, Creativity & Entrepreneurship Center, aka the "SPICE" Center, should be helpful in securing additional dollars to help launch this initiative.

For this coming spring semester, the most immediate priorities we need to accomplish include:

  • Approve a new, more compact General Education program.
  • Approve the five new undergraduate degree programs that build upon areas where we already have strengths.
  • Complete the budget evaluation process and install a new budget approval process that results in an April approval for the next year's budget.
  • Secure approval for our Start-Up New York proposal.
  • Complete and submit our report describing the progress our campus has made on the two issues cited by the recent Middle States visiting team.
  • And, of course, successfully find the next permanent president for this exceptional higher education institution.

Before concluding, I have one more item. For the holiday season, University Advancement put together a brief holiday video that was sent electronically to alumni and friends of Potsdam. So that the video came directly from the campus President, my email address was used, which meant any responses came back to me. The responses were fascinating, and I read every one. A few contained suggestions for future videos, but most had praise for the campus, frequently describing the time they spent here as students. Some commented on the wonderful music on the video that had been performed by the Crane Choir, and most wrote a sentence or two about what they are doing now, and how this video reminded them of how important their Potsdam experience and/or someone at Potsdam, usually a campus employee, had been to their life.

One graduate, Booker T. Gibson from the class of 1952, even had a special request.He and his wife, Frances, are both Crane graduates. He taught for 30 years in Valley Stream on Long Island, where they continue to live.Listening to the music on the video reminded them of how much they both enjoyed their time at Potsdam, and especially how much they like the Potsdam alma mater song. In fact, they like it so much, Booker asked if it would be possible to obtain a copy of the sheet music for that song. I forwarded the email to Dean Sitton, and am pleased to report that Booker and Frances, two Potsdam Golden alums, have probably already sat at their piano playing and singing their alma mater.

All of these responses to the video reminded me again that what you do, both individually and collectively, makes a difference in the lives of our students. And whether it's a current student or an alum who graduated 61 years ago, your actions are remembered and appreciated.

Thank you for what you do on a daily basis, stay warm, and have a great semester!