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The Enduring Power of a Liberal Arts Education

2020 Opening Convocation Address by President Denise A. Battles, August 28, 2020

This is my sixth such presentation to you, my Geneseo colleagues, and as per our tradition, it marks the beginning of our academic year. Accordingly, one might think I’d find this address routine. Of course, there is nothing usual about this particular event or this academic year’s start. The descriptors of our world’s condition have now become cliché. Suffice it to say, we are living in times few of us could have imagined. 

I would have far preferred to celebrate the opening of the 2021 academic year with you in person. But as with everything else, we have adjusted to align with our changing and challenging reality, with health and safety at the forefront. We demonstrated incredible resilience when we pivoted swiftly to remote instruction in spring, and I thank our faculty and staff for that Herculean effort. Whatever role you play at our College, I know you have been working hard to adapt and ensure we continue to deliver the highest quality liberal-arts-focused educational experience, and I am sincerely grateful for your efforts. 

My aim today is to summarize the state of our College, highlighting recent accomplishments, outlining our foremost challenges, and identifying actions that will sustain our success, in alignment with Geneseo’s mission, vision, values, and strategic plan. I’ll start with a sampling of achievements from the prior year which - while selective - document our continued progress on our Geneseo 2021 Strategic Plan. 

Successes

Our dedication to exemplary teaching is unwavering, and external recognition of this commitment was achieved again this year, as we were ranked second on the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Undergraduate Teaching list among regional northern universities. That same publication acknowledged our overall educational excellence, placing us third among our region’s “Top Public Schools” and 14th overall among 179 public and private institutions. Our mission statement articulates our aim of inspiring socially responsible and globally aware citizens, and in this regard too we continue to excel. For example, Washington Monthly magazine affirmed our College’s outstanding contributions to the public good, placing us second among 606 U.S. master’s universities. In 2020, Geneseo was recognized yet again on the Peace Corps’ Top-Volunteer Producing Colleges and Universities list, ranking 8th among medium-sized schools, our highest appearance ever. Our student voter participation rates were also honored, earning Geneseo a Silver Seal in the national ALL In Campus Democracy Challenge. The pandemic provided unexpected opportunities for our students’ commitment to social responsibility to shine. For example, members of Geneseo First Response, our student-run emergency medical services organization, volunteered as first responders in Rockland County during the height of that area’s COVID-19 crisis.  

We are fortunate to attract a highly talented student body with whom we work to achieve exceptional outcomes. Those of the past year were especially meritorious. A Geneseo student was among the recipients of the inaugural Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for Student Excellence, a distinction that recognizes academic accomplishments by outstanding EOP students. National honors earned in the past year by our students or recent graduates included:  eight U.S. Student Fulbright awards, a Geneseo record; three National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships; one Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals award; two German Academic Exchange Service Research Internships in Science and Engineering awards; two Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships; and one Freeman Award for Study in Asia, the first in Geneseo history. For the third consecutive year, in recognition of last year’s awards, Geneseo was named a 2019-20 Top Producer of U.S. Student Fulbright awards, placing third among 742 Carnegie Master’s institutions. 

We are proud of the fact that our students’ stellar academic achievements are complemented by equally strong athletic success. Before the pandemic brought intercollegiate competition to a premature close, the 2019-2020 year was one of our most promising. Our accomplishments included eight SUNYAC championships among the fourteen fall and winter sports that were able to compete for the championship in the postseason. The Learfield Sport Director’s Cup standings rank collective excellence among the country’s approximately 450 NCAA Division III intercollegiate athletic programs, and while the interruption of NCAA play disallowed a ranking for the entire year, as of the latest ranking, Geneseo stood at 15th overall and 1st among public institutions.  

Diversity, equity and inclusion rightly represent a priority for the College and while there remains much to do, the past year saw progress in important areas, including several that garnered significant extramural funding. Geneseo submitted a successful grant application to the SUNY System’s Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth or PRODi-G program, which seeks to increase the representation of historically underrepresented faculty. As a result, four Geneseo faculty are being supported through that program. We were similarly successful in securing our first SUNY PRODi-G Fellow, a recent doctoral recipient who will serve here as a visiting scholar. 

Support for STEM women faculty at Geneseo and other members of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges is being bolstered by the award of an $884,000 grant through the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program. We are proud that Geneseo faculty are providing project leadership for this consortial initiative. 

No less essential to our College mission is ensuring access to a Geneseo education by a well-qualified student body that is reflective of the demographics of the state we serve. Recognizing the ways in which standardized testing can be a barrier to underserved and minoritized individuals, a College team that included faculty, staff, and student representation, worked to develop a plan for test-optional admissions, which we have now implemented. We have requested permission to extend this approach beyond the spring 2022 semester for which it is currently approved. 

Of course, fostering the success of students once they join our community is crucial. Just days ago, we learned of the award of a Student Support Services grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO programs that aims to do just that. The award, expected to be more than $1.3 million over a five-year period, will provide valuable support to students who are first generation and low income and/or have a documented disability. We also received notice of our receipt of a $1 million award through the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Program, which will support low-income, academically-talented STEM majors. 

The quality of our programs also received external validation in the past year. Among the accomplishments was the reaffirmation of accreditation of our education programs by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP, the outcome of a great deal of hard and good work by many of our colleagues.

Challenges and Opportunities for Improvement

Our achievements of the past year are impressive, especially given the highly atypical nature of that year. We’re right to celebrate them, even as we acknowledge that an understanding of our opportunities for improvement is a prerequisite to advancing our success. Therefore, let’s turn to a review of our challenges, and in particular those that are most timely and important. One is undeniable, as it’s the reason for today’s virtual Opening Convocation, and I’ll return to the pandemic momentarily, especially as it exacerbates a number of preexisting issues.  

Each year I have taken this opportunity to highlight demographic changes that are broadly impactful for all of higher education, but which are particularly difficult for Geneseo. Years of growth in New York State’s production of high school graduates provided our College with an expanding pipeline of prospective students, allowing us to become ever more selective. The past decade, however, has seen a sizeable decrease in that population, dramatically increasing competition among higher education institutions. Several of Geneseo’s attributes amplify the impact, including our heavy reliance on traditional-age, in-state students, and our strong student academic profile. 

Our choice to maintain that profile has come at the expense of undergraduate headcount, which dropped nearly 350 students, or 6%, from fall 2015 to 2019. Contributing significantly to this decline has been our diminished enrollment of transfer students, whose representation has dropped over the past decade from 42% of our entering class to just under 20%, a loss of 390 individuals. The reduction in transfer students is worrisome for multiple reasons, especially when viewed from a lens of equity and access. It’s also worth noting that, in order to achieve a stable undergraduate enrollment, the drop in transfer students must be balanced by a commensurate increase in first-time full-time students, which in turn challenges our efforts to maintain our student profile. Thus, there are multiple reasons to reverse our downward trend of transfer student enrollment. 

Undoubtedly, our ability to recruit transfer students has been affected by reduced community college enrollments, particularly among SUNY schools, which tend to be our top source of transfers. But as I have stated in the past, we have adopted some Geneseo practices that are not transfer-friendly, deterring well-qualified prospective students from our community. The good news is that we have the ability to address that issue, and with our Curricular Design Working Group striving to have our GLOBE-aligned curriculum in place by fall 2021, we have a prime opportunity for doing so. 

Student retention is a key indicator of our overarching aim of fostering student success and is also vital to maintaining enrollment. This too represents an opportunity for improvement. Despite our best efforts, our retention of first-time, full-time students has declined, emphasizing the importance of our continued work in this area, such as through our implementation of the Navigate early alert system.  

National events over the summer shone a light on another area in which we have struggled. The senseless killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, amidst the unjustified slayings of so many others, triggered a visceral response across our country, including marches and rallies and highlighting the prevalence of systemic racism. Implicit in that phrase is the pervasive nature of racial injustice throughout our society’s systems and institutions, including our own College. We know we have been challenged with regard to our campus climate – we see it in our persistent underrepresentation of BIPOC students and personnel, we hear it directly from our students of color, and we feel it through actions inconsistent with our values by members of our own community. Integral to our identity as a premier public liberal arts college is serving and supporting the success of a 21st century demographic, and unless we confront our own failings in this key area, we won’t achieve that end. Thus, deliberate and timely action to address our campus climate is essential. 

Our work to prevent and respond to allegations of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, is similarly critical to our ability to nurture and sustain a healthy campus climate. Here too we have heard heartrending expressions of concern from our students and other campus community members. Perceptions of inequitable, unsupportive, or otherwise inadequate processes are deeply worrisome and merit our prompt attention.  

The events of the past year highlighted another College challenge, this one associated with our physical plant. While deferred maintenance is a SUNY-wide issue, by any measure, Geneseo has particularly suffered from under-investment. Indeed, shortly after my arrival I was shocked to learn that Geneseo, often called the jewel of the System’s crown, placed last among the state-operated institutions on SUNY’s Facilities Condition Index, which measures the state of the campuses’ buildings. That reality spurred our focused advocacy to address the College’s infrastructure needs, resulting in SUNY-supported program studies for renovations of Sturges and Fraser Halls as well as Milne Library, over the past three years. The accumulation of deferred maintenance was painfully evidenced this past year by the emergency closure of Milne, well before we could initiate the envisioned renovation of that facility nor the planned renovations of Sturges and Fraser. We are deeply grateful to the SUNY Capital Program and the State of New York for agreeing to fund a $35 million expedited Milne renovation and retrofitting of the former Fraser library, which will provide us with much-needed replacement space for our library services. However, concerns about Milne being offline is another factor that has negatively affected enrollment, no surprise given the strong academic orientation of our student body. 

Our enrollment challenges have obvious - and very serious - implications for the College’s revenues and thus our financial health and sustainability. That’s because the vast majority of Geneseo’s operating revenues are derived from tuition and other enrollment-dependent sources. I have previously reviewed the multiple factors that led to our $5.5 million pre-pandemic structural budget gap, which we have been working hard to address, and in the interests of time, I will not revisit that complex subject today. Suffice it to say that the issues are broadly shared by our SUNY counterparts and are exacerbated by diminished enrollment and the extraordinary financial impacts of the pandemic on our State and College. 

Indeed, we have already felt those impacts, having distributed over $9.3M in spring semester refunds for room, board, and other fees. The combination of the aforementioned factors, overlain by the COVID-19 pandemic, have presented a profound enrollment challenge this year, and we will fall substantially short of our goal for our incoming class, even as we have maintained our student academic profile. We’re still several weeks from the census date at which we will ascertain our official fall enrollment. However, there is little doubt that our fall headcount will be under 5,000 students when just two years ago, it exceeded 5,600. In that a drop of 100 students equates to a $2.2 million loss in revenue, the financial impact is alarming. While our College has established reserves, simply put, our financial challenges now exceed what our reserves can handle. The sizable budget gap requires our collective and urgent attention to and action on our financial difficulties, including aggressive cost reduction and revenue generation.  

Ongoing COVID-19 Response

And now let me return to the topic that is never far from our minds – the COVID-19 pandemic. That public health crisis has affected society in myriad ways and presents a special challenge for Geneseo, given our primarily residential nature, face-to-face instructional model, and highly relational culture. In short, the pandemic assaults nearly everything that Geneseo treasures. With the goal of continuing to deliver on our educational mission at a high level and doing so in the safest possible way, we have had to rethink nearly every aspect of what we do. Throughout the spring and summer, individuals and entities across the College have worked incredibly hard to adapt their courses; modify their office operations and environments; create new policies, documents and practices; and otherwise develop and implement plans in support of a safe, healthy, and functional fall restart. I recognize how impactful and stressful the pandemic has been on each of you, and I can’t thank you enough for all you have done to enable that outcome. Let me express my special gratitude to the College Senate, Student Association, and union leadership for being such willing partners in this work. I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of other College’s leaders and in particular my Cabinet colleagues. I am deeply grateful at the opportunity to work alongside such talented and dedicated individuals. 

In sum, Geneseo has made impressive progress over the past year, with many achievements that rightly make us proud. With an eye toward extending that success, we must be ever mindful of and responsive to our challenges and areas for improvement. Doing so amidst the complications of a public health crisis represents no small feat but I have full confidence in our capacity and willingness to embrace the opportunity. I’d now like to share a personal experience that bolsters that conviction. 

There was a moment in June when the impact of the pandemic - which had become for all of us a steady drumbeat in a new and unknowable musical score - jolted me. For many weeks, our campus community - faculty, staff, and administrators alike - had been planning how we would restart this fall. We had been doing our utmost to develop plans to enable us to reopen safely. We undertook this work with neither a solid sense of the pandemic conditions in August nor knowledge of the state’s reopening guidelines that we’d been told were forthcoming. Then, suddenly, those guidelines were released and - for a few days over a holiday weekend - colleagues across the College were activated. We labored throughout that long weekend to align our plans with the state’s requirements and craft a responsive document in the hopes of receiving reopening certification. 

When I submitted our completed proposal that Tuesday, I felt a sense of shared accomplishment. The outstanding work by our dedicated campus community was embodied in that document, which felt like our ticket back to some manner of normalcy. That moment of satisfaction became fleeting as I considered the contents of our plan. It detailed how we proposed to reduce the number of students in face-to-face classes and co-curricular activities and limit their physical proximity and interactions among themselves and our faculty and staff. On a campus that takes great pride in our high level of participation in study abroad and our greater community, the plan explained how we would discourage students, faculty, and staff from all unnecessary travel and engagement. It described our approach to curtailing public events and deterring visitors from our campus. In short, the proposal outlined a Geneseo experience that was previously unimaginable and - under normal circumstances - highly undesirable. How could I in good conscience derive anything approaching satisfaction from submitting such a plan? And just as quickly my mind flashed back to a moment, earlier in the spring. It was early in the pandemic, when little about COVID-19 was known, and our campus’s focus was on concluding the spring semester safely.

As is my habit, I started my day early, reading work documents and half-listening to the news as I undertook my morning exercise routine. My ears perked up at a news story about a drug that was showing promise in expediting the recovery time for COVID-19 patients. The reporter referenced the identity of the drug’s maker, a name that struck a chord. Among the great privileges of serving as Geneseo’s president is the opportunity to meet alumni and other friends of the College. In this case, the name of the drug manufacturer was familiar as the company for which a Geneseo alumnus had served as Vice President for Research, playing a significant role in the research and development of antiviral drugs to cure and/or treat hepatitis, HIV infection, and other devastating human diseases. Dr. Gerry Rhodes’ contributions were so impressive that Geneseo had recently conferred on him the honorary doctorate in science. It had been a while since I had spoken to our honoree, and the news story prompted me to reach out to him. 

A call was arranged, and - donning my scientist’s hat - we spent the better part of an hour talking. As I’m a geologist rather than a virologist, Dr. Rhodes provided me with a kind of antiviral science primer.

We spoke about the manner in which medications are designed to combat specific viruses; the stages through which a drug must progress in order to establish its efficacy; and the laborious process of bringing a drug to the public. Throughout our conversation, I was struck by his unbridled zeal for this vitally important work. Dr. Rhodes’ life’s work has been committed to improving public health and the human condition. As he shared with me, he credits Geneseo as the place (and I quote) “where I developed my motivation and passion.” And thinking back to that conversation, I realized that it epitomized why so many of us across the College had worked so very hard to develop our restart plan. We at Geneseo provide an outstanding, transformational education that inspires our graduates to be socially responsible and globally aware citizens – people like Gerry Rhodes, who exemplify the enduring power of a liberal arts education. And it is this quality that affirms why we must and will succeed in ensuring the continued access to an exceptional Geneseo education, even if our learning environment in fall 2020 is a necessarily altered one. 

Our Response

We have reflected today on our continued achievements and acknowledged our considerable challenges and opportunities for improvement. How then shall we move ahead productively?

Our path forward must center on our strategic plan, and the mission, vision and values on which it is based. This is the culminating year of our Geneseo 2021 Strategic Plan, and we enter it having made substantial progress toward our goals and with clarity on the work that remains. I look forward to engaging with you on that important work. 

Even as we advance existing initiatives, we need to position ourselves for what comes next. Our current plan brings us to Geneseo’s 2021 sesquicentennial and thus presents a singular opportunity – to craft its successor, the plan that will take us into our next 150 years. As I have outlined today, this is an unprecedentedly dynamic and challenging time for our College and indeed, all of higher education. It is essential that we embrace this chance, starting with the most fundamental of questions – going forward, what do we want Geneseo to be? What is our vision for the College we treasure? We are resolutely student-centered and committed to educational excellence. We have affirmed the liberal arts, and liberal education, as central to our nature, and by any measure we are among the premier public liberal arts institutions in the country. What does it look like for Geneseo to advance its status as a leading public liberal arts college that serves a 21st century demographic? What a humbling and powerful opportunity! 

In the coming days, I will charge the College’s Strategic Planning Group, led as per our Faculty Constitution by our Provost and with a representative membership that includes teaching faculty, professional staff, and student members, with initiating this vital work. Acknowledging the profound dynamism I have referenced, the work of the coming year will focus on revisiting and - as appropriate - refining our College’s mission statement, vision, and values, laying the essential framework for the development of our next strategic plan. Please know in advance that an element of the charge will be for the SPG to develop and implement a planning methodology that includes substantive engagement with College stakeholders. Thus, please consider this an advance invitation for your active participation in the planning process. 

While it is important that our strategic planning work unfold through that collaborative process, some overarching questions or issues we must consider to establish our vision for Geneseo are clear. As I have outlined today, our development into a highly selective institution of roughly 5,500 traditional-aged undergraduates was enabled by factors that have changed, such as the decades of growth in the state’s production of 18-year-old high school graduates. For the past few years, we have prioritized the maintenance of our student academic profile, which came at the expense of headcount. We saw the significant impact of that choice last year and will feel it far more sharply this fall. To develop a shared vision for Geneseo, we must wrestle with key questions. Do we recommit to our familiar 18-to-22 year old student demographic and academic profile and thereby become an intentionally smaller institution, both in our number of students and personnel? Do we seek to preserve our size through broadening the population we serve, perhaps by recommitting to transfer students, embracing adult learners, expanding our graduate programs, offering micro-credentials and certificates, adjusting our student academic profile, and/or extending our non-residential programming? Or, do we pursue some combination of strategies, establishing a corresponding goal for our institutional size? What pathways are realistic and achievable, given the parameters and expedited timeframe within which we must work? I pose these questions with full appreciation for how very weighty they are. But the fact of the matter is, we cannot delay in addressing them. We owe it to this great institution to have clarity of purpose, and the answers are essential to restoring the financial sustainability on which our existence depends. 

While we wrestle with such fundamental questions, we will continue our progress in the coming year by building on efforts underway. In addition to those I have already referenced, I’d like to highlight several of particular importance. 

In the coming year, we will redouble our commitment to achieving a truly inclusive campus community that is welcoming and supportive of all. A powerful tool to advance that work will be the implementation of a comprehensive campus climate study in which all campus community members will be encouraged to participate. The results will help us understand the experiences of all students, faculty, and staff and in particular minoritized members, establishing a baseline that will help inform our efforts and measure progress.

We will build on our work to ensure equitable access to a Geneseo education through continued refinements of our college admissions review and financial aid awarding processes and seeking donor support for scholarships for low-income students. 

Knowing that a diverse faculty is important to achieving our goals, we will design a recruitment action plan based on recommendations emerging from our year-long Learning Community on Diversity in Faculty Hiring. Additionally, we will seek and have recently submitted our application for a second round of funding through SUNY’s PRODi-G program to hire, support, and mentor historically underrepresented faculty. 

Acknowledging the national discourse around racial inequity and its relevance to Geneseo, and informed by several Racial Justice Conversations held this summer between campus leaders and students, the Cabinet has agreed to embrace the theme of “Becoming an Antiracist College” for this academic year.

As antiracism scholar Dr. Ibram Kendi has noted in his book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” “being…antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.” Our theme year will allow us to do just that and is expected to include educational opportunities as well as action-planning sessions for departments and students. As part of this work, we expect to explore the possible expansion of our Diversity Summit, which has been a full-day event, across some or all of an entire week. And as the strategic plan establishes our roadmap for all campus action, the work to develop our next strategic plan provides an outstanding opportunity to codify our diversity, equity and inclusion action steps. Specifically, we will seek to unify the successor plan with what is now a distinct Strategic Diversity Plan. Ensuring that our diversity-minded aims are embodied within a single plan will promote our progress on substantive, specific, and measurable actions in support of a more equitable and inclusive learning environment. I anticipate that the President’s Commission on Diversity and Community will be a central participant in several of the aforementioned efforts, and I want to thank them for all they have done and continue to do in support of our community. 

I have highlighted today the need for focused attention to our Title IX processes. With the recent recruitment of an experienced Title IX professional, we are well-positioned to undertake that important work. As I recently announced to campus when we welcomed Marcus Foster to his role as Title IX Coordinator, I have charged my colleagues in Diversity & Equity and Student & Campus Life with a wholesale review and reimagining of our College’s sexual misconduct investigation and adjudication processes, with the goal of ensuring the highest standards of practice and compliance are met. This effort will be undertaken with the assistance of an advisory committee that will include student, faculty, and staff representation and with engagement of our broader campus community. I greatly appreciate my colleagues’ willingness to pursue this critical work, which is expected to conclude within this academic year. 

Another priority for action in the coming year is our work in support of our reaffirmation of institutional accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Indeed, we have been steadily working toward this outcome, and our self-study design was accepted in June. Our focus this academic year will be the development of our self-study document in anticipation of a spring 2022 team site visit. A successful process should result in a reaffirmation of Geneseo’s accreditation for the following eight years. I appreciate the contributions of our Self-Study Co-Chairs, Melanie Blood, Kurt Fletcher, and Julie Rao, to that end. 

The coming year will also be an important one for addressing our physical plant needs. The state’s agreement to fund the $35 million renovation of Milne Library concurrent with that of Sturges Hall – and the persistence of that commitment in spite of the pandemic’s devastating financial impacts – is noteworthy, signaling strong confidence in Geneseo. We look forward to pursuing these much-needed renovation projects and will thank you in advance for tolerating the associated disruptions. 

Finally, I’ll return to our vital work to restore our College’s financial health. Prior to the pandemic, we had made progress in our cost containment efforts. In that our investment in people represents the large majority of the College’s operating budget, cost containment has necessarily focused on personnel. We implemented our strategic hiring protocol in which we have frozen recruitment of positions other than those directly related to health, safety, revenue generation, and maintaining core operations. This past spring, we offered the Voluntary Incentivized Separation Program, allowing us to honor the careers of more than two dozen long-serving colleagues while creating significant salary savings. We also implemented a revamped Phased Retirement Program and extended it to include professional staff in addition to faculty, providing another means of recognizing valued colleagues while realizing savings. 

In the area of revenue generation, we built on the success of the recently reintroduced intersession, offering in winter 2020 a remarkable 41 online course sections and three study abroad courses that met student interest and supported their timely degree progress while helping our bottom line through the generation of a healthy six-figure net revenue. 

While our pre-pandemic efforts to regain financial health are laudable, the deleterious impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the College’s finances cannot be overstated. To be clear, we are now in serious distress, and returning to financial health will require far more – and far more painful – work. As part of our response to the public health crisis, we stood up a Revenue Generation Committee, led by School of Business Dean Mary Ellen Zuckerman, which engaged in ideation around our best options for mission-aligned, significant revenue enhancement. Not surprisingly, given Geneseo’s talented and creative people, our challenge in the revenue generation domain has never been ideation, but rather implementation resulting from our lean staffing model. Thus, we’ll need to make targeted, data-informed, and strategic investments to support our pursuit of the most promising revenue enhancement efforts emerging from this committee and from prior entities like our Expanded Budget Priorities Committee. 

Another avenue for revenue growth is through philanthropy, and our work toward a public launch of a comprehensive fundraising campaign continues apace. After a challenging period of personnel transition in our Advancement division, the recruitment of new leadership is already bearing fruit. For example, within two weeks of launching the One Knight Student Aid Fund to garner financial aid for students facing hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our incredibly passionate alumni contributed over $60,000, enabling us to secure a $50,000 SUNY match. More broadly, the 2020 fiscal year saw us achieve nearly $3.4 million in new gifts and pledges, over $2.7 million of that in cash. As we prepare to move into a comprehensive fundraising campaign, I look to you, my colleagues, to help us build and nurture alumni relationships that will support our efforts in continuing the Geneseo tradition of excellence. 

As appealing as it is to focus on revenue growth to solve our budget problems, the simple fact is that we cannot achieve financial sustainability without an accompanying and sizeable reduction in expenses, particularly given our reduced enrollment. Therefore, we will need to redouble our efforts in this regard and do so with urgency. 

In addition to establishing the aforementioned Revenue Generation Committee as part of our pandemic response, we stood up two expense control committees, one focused on Human Resources and the other on Procurement. A specific initiative I’ll announce today that emerged through the committees' work seeks to increase our efficiency in staffing through creation of Administrative Assistant Service Centers. This concept organizes administrative support in centralized offices. We will work with a set of academic departments to pilot such a staffing model this fall. The Cabinet has also committed to pilot a shared services approach among administrative offices in Doty Hall. This is just one expense reduction initiative on which we will need to build.

The College has offered recent opportunities for learning about our finances; I will task our Budget Priorities Committee with organizing additional such events in the coming months. I encourage you to participate in those sessions and use them to generate and then share your best ideas. 

Our financial situation will require us to think creatively and work in different ways. It will require compromise and serious sacrifice.Most of all, it will require us to work together and with the good of Geneseo always first in mind. I’ll thank you in advance for your willingness to engage in this difficult but necessary work. 

In closing, I’m grateful for your participation in this virtual Opening Convocation. I appreciate the opportunity to share the many successes we have achieved over the past year as well as the daunting challenges we must face. And it’s important that we all understand just how formidable those challenges are. Addressing them is going to be hard, and it will be painful. Our timeline is short but I have no doubt we will rise to the occasion. That conviction has everything to do with my confidence in us as a community and our collective commitment to our College’s mission.  The Association of American Colleges and Universities, of which Geneseo is a proud member, is the country’s premier champion of liberal education. On its website, AAC&U cites former Xerox CEO and Rochesterian David Kearns, and I quote:

“The only education that prepares us for change is a liberal education.  In periods of change, narrow specialization condemns us to inflexibility—precisely what we do not need.  We need the flexible intellectual tools to be problem solvers, to be able to continue learning over time.”

Our College has used those intellectual capacities to weather many a storm throughout our history. We demonstrated that ability again this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Working together, we rallied quickly, pivoting to remote instruction, and doing so exceptionally well, despite the odds. The challenges we now face are as serious as any our College has ever seen and a successful response will require the participation of every member of our community. But with boldness, bravery, creativity, and a commitment to the greater good, we will prevail. I look forward to working with you as we continue to demonstrate the enduring power of a liberal arts education.