2021 Opening Convocation Address by President Denise A. Battles, August 27, 2021
As I contemplated this Opening Convocation address – my seventh such presentation, which I view as the annual State of the College address – the significance of this moment in Geneseo’s history was striking. To start with the obvious, the year just completed was unlike anything we - individually and collectively - have experienced in our lifetimes. The COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts have been profound and pervasive, affecting nearly every aspect of our College operations, testing our mettle, and allowing us to demonstrate our resilience and creativity in innumerable ways.
This fall also kicks off our College’s sesquicentennial year, as the Geneseo Normal and Training School welcomed 354 students on its first day of classes in September 1871. Our 150th anniversary is a notable occasion that merits both celebration and reflection, particularly as we look forward. And as we chart our course into the next 150 years, our work to develop the College’s next strategic plan seems fortuitously timed, having seen its predecessor through to conclusion.
Truly, this is a watershed moment for Geneseo in so many ways: a time to reflect on our accomplishments, acknowledge our opportunities and challenges, and determine our path forward. Let’s start by reviewing our achievements during what was assuredly a highly unusual year.
A Year of Impressive Successes
Despite the demands associated with pandemic conditions, our accomplishments during the 2020-21 academic year were remarkable. Geneseo is renowned for its commitment to delivering a high-quality educational experience, a dedication that is gratifyingly acknowledged by others. U.S. News and World Report again this year ranked our College third among the “Top Public Regional Universities” in the north and in the top four for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Notably, that same publication placed us fifth in regard to “Most Innovative School,” our first appearance in that category and a wonderful acknowledgement of our creativity in pursuing our mission.
The College mission articulates our intention to inspire socially responsible citizens, and our efficacy in doing so is reflected in Washington Monthly’s 2020 ranking of master’s universities, placing us fourth overall among 614 such institutions across the nation. That ranking was based on institutions’ contribution to the public good in terms of social mobility, research, and promoting public service, and our 2020 appearance marks our 8th consecutive year among the top five. Our capacity for producing engaged citizens is also reflected in Washington Monthly’s inclusion of Geneseo in its Best Colleges for Student Voting honor roll and NASPA’s designation of us as a Voter Friendly Campus.
The Princeton Review included Geneseo in its 2021 edition of The Best 386 Colleges, a compilation in which only 14 percent of the nation’s baccalaureate institutions are featured. That same entity recognized the College in its listing of 200 Best Value Colleges for 2021. Also, to our credit, the Fiske Guide to Colleges again chose to include us in its 2022 edition, acknowledging the serious academic environment and affordable price and taking into account our students’ social and quality-of-life ratings.
No doubt the accolades for educational value acknowledge our efficacy in seeing our students through to timely degree completion. In that regard, it’s notable that the Chronicle of Higher Education identified Geneseo as ninth in the country for four-year graduation rates at highly residential public institutions. Appearing alongside The College of William and Mary, UNC – Chapel Hill, and UCLA, we are in outstanding company.
Our students’ success in securing nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships was once again recognized through Geneseo’s designation as a Top Producer of U.S. Student Fulbright Awards, an honor we have now achieved for four consecutive years. That distinction resulted from eight Geneseo alumni who won 2020-21 awards, placing the College second among more than 740 U.S. master’s institutions.
Although last year’s intercollegiate athletic competition was necessarily curtailed, we had great success in our abbreviated spring sports season. Three of our six competing sports - softball and men’s and women’s outdoor track and field - secured SUNYAC titles. Women’s outdoor track and field also competed strongly at the national level, finishing third in the NCAA National Championships and producing three National Champion designations. One of those National Champions went on to be named the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches’ Association’s National Track Athlete of the Year, making her just the second in Geneseo history to achieve that distinction.
The strength and vibrancy of the College’s student life programs are well-known, and this year our student organizations earned several SUNY-wide honors. Specifically, the SUNY Student Assembly recognized our Student Association with awards for Student Government Association of the Year as well as Best COVID-19 Leadership and Advocacy. Notably, it also honored our Black Student Union with its Club of the Year Award, citing the Union’s dedication to bringing awareness to the struggles and triumphs of the Black community and its heightened visibility and leadership. We are particularly proud of BSU’s recognition, given the College’s ongoing work in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. Among our associated DEI strides was a marked increase in participation in the Advancing Cultural Competency Certificate Program, which now has 141 program alumni.
The College has had continued success in our engagement with the SUNY System’s Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth or PRODiG program, which fosters campus efforts to diversify through supporting historically underrepresented faculty. Through this program, we have now received support for six faculty members and two PRODiG Fellows, scholars who are ABDs or recent PhDs and join our faculty in a visiting capacity. As well, in partnership with College Senate and in response to student advocacy, we offered our first class-free Diversity Summit and effected changes to our academic calendar to ensure that practice continues. We declared our intention to become an antiracist college, and accordingly, many departments, offices, and divisions across the College developed and began implementing specific action plans, a heartening indicator of our widespread commitment.
Commendably, after years of hard work, we endorsed a GLOBE-based framework for our new general education curriculum, one that ensures all students will complete coursework in diversity, pluralism, and power. And given the significance of that achievement, let me take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to all who made that possible, key among them the leaders and members of the Curriculum Design Working Group and College Senate.
We continued to refine our holistic, test-optional admissions process to support our aim of providing broad access to a well-qualified and diverse student body. Acknowledging the need to improve our Title IX practices and programming, under new leadership we established a Title IX Advisory Committee, created a new Title IX Grievance Policy, assessed and made changes to the Title IX website content to enhance clarity and transparency, and expanded our organizational structure to include five Deputy Title IX Coordinators.
These efforts, combined with Senate-endorsed actions to enhance our transfer student friendliness, represent exceptional accomplishments that advance our standing as an accessible, inclusive, and excellent public liberal arts college, and I applaud the many of you who contributed to them.
We had a productive year with regard to our curriculum development efforts, amply displaying our capacity for innovation. In addition to the aforementioned approval of the new general education framework, we secured approval for our new Sustainability Studies major and laid the groundwork to offer our first set of 11 microcredential and two new professional programs, the BPS in Musical Theatre and MS in Special Education. Moreover, we expanded our institutional accreditation to include distance education, beginning with a low residency MS program in Accounting. And speaking of accreditation, many across campus worked to draft our Middle States Self-Study, in preparation for hosting the site visit team later this year as we pursue reaffirmation of our institutional accreditation.
The past year was a banner one for grants and contracts with awards totaling just over $3.5 million, our third highest ever. Among them are projects that foster the success of a diverse student body: the TRIO Student Support Services award and G-STEMS, which serves STEM majors. And just this summer we received notice of Dr. Suann Yang’s half-million dollar NSF award that seeks to bolster support for underrepresented students in the biological sciences.
The passion of our alumni and other Geneseo well-wishers is remarkable, and despite the obvious limitations on in-person interactions last year, we made laudable strides in the areas of fundraising and engagement. Commendably, the College secured more gifts of $10,000 or above than ever before, an increase of more than 75%. This generosity contributed to our overall success in fundraising, with $4.7 million raised over the past fiscal year. Another expression of our graduates’ enthusiasm for the College was the more than 1,500 alumni who signed on to support our students’ career explorations via the recently launched Alumni Career Advisor Network.
Perhaps our most noteworthy accomplishment of the past year was navigating the vagaries of the COVID-19 pandemic. While a number of our students and colleagues fell ill with the virus, the fact that we suffered no known hospitalizations among members of our on-campus community is a source of relief. Through the hard work of our talented faculty and staff, we continued to offer the exceptional educational experience for which Geneseo is known. Our effective response to the public health crisis was only possible through your dedication, creativity, and resilience, and for that I am deeply grateful.
I’ll offer a special note of appreciation to those who found themselves on the front lines of that response in a variety of ways, ranging from colleagues and students who: staffed our testing centers; supported those who quarantined or became ill; or performed essential services, such as our cleaners, dining hall staff, and residential life and other student-facing personnel. Our colleagues who served on the Coronavirus Incident Leadership Team and whose planning and implementation guided our response also deserve particular praise. I invite you to find ways to indicate your own gratitude to these special individuals. As we return to our re-centered normal, those indications of empathy and thankfulness are well-deserved and will be welcomed.
In sum, the Geneseo community continued to achieve at an amazing level despite a most difficult year. I hope you will join me in celebrating those impressive accomplishments, even as we identify and respond to our College’s challenges in our quest for continuous improvement. And so, let’s now turn attention to our foremost challenges.
Challenges and Opportunities for Improvement
An ongoing issue for our College and indeed much of U.S. higher education is the demographic dynamism that affects our ability to recruit students. It won’t be news to those of you who have heard my prior convocation addresses that the steady growth in high school graduates that New York State experienced in the nineties and aughts has long since ceased. Until 2014, that expanding pipeline of prospective students allowed Geneseo to become ever more selective in our recruitment efforts. Projections now available through the 2037 academic year indicate the state will not regain those record highs but instead fall by some 15%. While the pandemic clearly exacerbated recruitment challenges across higher education, Geneseo’s enrollment decline, like many of our peers, predated the health crisis. Our institutional decision to focus on maintenance of academic profile rather than headcount contributed to a fall 2020 headcount that was about 700 students or 12.5% lower than just two years prior. As a tuition-dependent institution, a drop of that magnitude is highly impactful and concerning.
Our decreasing number of transfer students has contributed significantly to our enrollment struggles. As recently as 2010, transfer students made up 42% of our entering class; that percentage has plunged by about half. That translates to a loss of about 450 students, most of them from community colleges. When viewed from an equity-minded lens, the decline presents concerns about access to a Geneseo education. The drop in transfer students also heightens the pressure to enroll a diminishing pool of first-time full-time students as we seek to stabilize enrollment, which in turn challenges our ability to maintain our academic profile. These intersecting considerations make me all the more grateful for our College’s actions to embrace seamless transfer and otherwise welcome and support this valued student population as we seek to reverse what has been a worrisome and sustained trend.
Student recruitment is vitally important, but it marks the start of what we hope will be a successful journey to a Geneseo degree. We must be as successful in retaining students as we are in attracting them. Student retention is a key indicator of student satisfaction and success. It’s both a moral imperative and vital to maintaining our enrollment. We have rightly prioritized student retention through efforts such as our Wildly Important Goal and the implementation of the Navigate-based early alert system. While returning to our prior retention levels represents a stretch goal, I’m pleased to report that last year saw the first increase in fall-to-fall retention among first-time full-time students in a decade. That increase is all the more remarkable as it defied the national trend, and I want to express my gratitude to all who have fostered that turn-around.
Our declining enrollment presents multiple concerns, including impacts on our financial health and sustainability. As a public institution, the College benefits from direct state support; however, those funds represent a fraction of our operating revenues, which are strongly enrollment dependent. Fewer students translate directly to lower revenue from tuition, fees, room rentals, and other sources. My Cabinet colleagues and I have been direct in highlighting our College’s persistent structural budget gap. Simply stated, our annual expenses exceed our revenues by multiple millions of dollars, a situation that predated the pandemic. And while the campus benefitted from and is grateful for significant Federal relief funds, our pandemic costs well surpassed the allocated amounts, which in any event are one-time funds and therefore not a solution to our ongoing budget gap.
With strong cross-campus participation, we have been aggressive in working to address that gap, through efforts such as our Voluntary Incentivized Separation Program, hiring freeze, expense controls, shared services, revenue generation activities and funding advocacy. During the past year, we also initiated the Program Analysis and Alignment process, reviewing all of our administrative and academic programs, one goal of which is to identify opportunities for efficiencies and savings. I am deeply appreciative of the work by many across campus in support of that ongoing process, which has already yielded programmatic and organizational changes that will maintain or improve quality while moderating costs. It’s clear, however, that improving our financial standing will need to be a continuing top priority, particularly given our worsening enrollment challenges.
And to that point, while we are several weeks away from the official fall enrollment census date, it’s clear that our headcount will be substantially reduced from its levels just three years ago, once again falling well below 5,000 as we graduate larger classes and welcome smaller ones. Given that a reduction of 100 students represents an approximate loss of $2.2 million in revenue, the financial implications are serious, particularly when we have limited reserves available to address budget gaps. Thus, we need to redouble our efforts to generate new revenues and contain costs.
As a campus, we have embraced inclusivity as a core value and – in the aftermath of last year’s national awakening to the pervasive issues of racial injustice – we articulated our intention to become an antiracist college. That intention acknowledges our own challenges in ensuring a campus climate that is diverse and fully welcoming, supportive, and affirming to all. Our shortcomings are evident, not only in the continued underrepresentation of BIPOC students, faculty, and staff, but in the painful experiences they share and the hurtful words and actions we at times observe from members of our own community. Our dedication to providing an exemplary liberal arts education is unwavering, but we cannot claim to be a premier public liberal arts college until we reflect and serve well a 21st century demographic. It’s therefore imperative that we continue our hard but important work toward that end.
The state of the College’s physical plant is another continuing challenge. Our campus’s level of deferred maintenance is an outlier among SUNY System schools, and for that reason has been the focus of strong advocacy by my team and me. Our deferred maintenance issues were palpably evidenced in 2020, with the emergency closure of Milne Library and the acceleration of its renovation, in advance of projects that had been planned for Sturges and Fraser. We greatly appreciate our partnership with the State University Construction Fund, which has supported the $35 million Milne Library project and the completed retrofitting of Fraser Hall as our temporary base of library operations. I’m also pleased to report progress on other badly needed efforts, including upgrades underway on our MacVittie College Union Ballroom and the Ira S. Wilson Arena. Given the extent of our facilities’ needs, however, it’s clear that addressing them merits our continuing attention.
In sum, as a College we face a number of challenges, among them stabilizing our enrollment as we strive to recruit and retain high ability students; enhancing our campus climate to ensure all feel welcomed and supported; improving our physical plant such that we have the facilities commensurate with an effective learning and living environment; and assuring our institution’s financial sustainability. These issues weren’t caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s undeniable that they have been exacerbated by that event. While the intersection of these issues may appear daunting and singularly challenging, it’s useful to take a step back and consider our situation with a longer view.
A Vignette – Geneseo at Its 50th Anniversary
Over winter break, when the College was working hard to prepare for a spring return to campus amidst a deeply worrisome pandemic surge, I received a package in the mail from the son of a Geneseo alumna of the Class of 1922, Mary Frances Kittredge. Mary’s son Charles wrote to share with the College his mother’s copy of the 1921 Normalian, the school’s yearbook. It was a special 50th Anniversary Edition, which had been retained in his family. In his letter of transmittal, Charles shared that following her Geneseo education, his mother went on to a career as a kindergarten teacher in White Plains, NY. He also noted the yearbook contained pictures of Ruth, a member of Geneseo’s Class of 1921, who also went on to be a teacher at the same school and became Mary’s lifelong friend. With Geneseo approaching our sesquicentennial, I was delighted to receive the unexpected artifact, returning to the campus one century later.
As I perused the yearbook, I took note of familiar names – among them, the Normal School’s Principal, James Sturges, and faculty members Guy Bailey and Anne Blake, for whom campus buildings were named.
Among the things that struck me was a write-up of what was called the Nursing Home, a piece of College history previously unknown to me. It turns out that the Nursing Home was a 1915 gift to the Normal School from Elizabeth Wadsworth who – in the absence of a campus infirmary – made available this North Street property along with an administrative matron and trained nurse for the care of “weary and sick students” without charge. The article credited the Nursing Home for moderating the impacts of the diphtheria epidemic, “especially in the large rooming houses where so many girls are together.” That reference to the public health perils of congregate living struck a familiar chord, as did the reference to an epidemic, although the prevalence of diphtheria at that time was unknown to me.
It turns out that, as the school approached its semicentennial, in addition to having just weathered the 1918-19 influenza pandemic which sadly claimed a faculty member’s life, Geneseo and in fact the U.S. were combating the worst diphtheria outbreak on record. And, of course, Geneseo and the world were still reeling in the aftermath of the Great War, which had concluded just two years earlier. As I thumbed through the 100-year-old images of the graduating class, I couldn’t help but notice a single man pictured among the dozens who composed the class and wondered if the gender imbalance was in part an artifact of that global conflict. In fact, the Normal School contributed to the war 117 students and alumni as well as four faculty members, resulting in the loss of eight of those lives. Enrollment plummeted some 46% subsequent to the war, and it took more than a decade to recover the former student numbers.
In short, our College celebrated its 50th anniversary in the immediate aftermath of one public health crisis and in the grips of another, recovering from “the war to end all wars,” and struggling with a severe enrollment decline. The challenges facing the school at that moment serve as a poignant reality check relative to our current circumstances. Over its 150 years, our campus has experienced some deeply difficult times. And it’s gratifying to know that the Normal School ultimately prevailed, going on to remarkable achievements to become the College we treasure today. Indeed, it is useful as we face our current circumstances to take that long view.
Nevertheless, we recognize the COVID-19 pandemic as a singular challenge in our lifetimes.
While the health crisis has been trying in a myriad of ways, our pandemic response demonstrates indisputably the enduring power of a liberal arts education. How so? It’s well-established that a liberal arts education cultivates creativity and critical-thinking, inquiry and analysis skills, problem-solving, teamwork, communication, and community-mindedness. What greater demonstration of those skills could there be than our experience of the past 18 months? It is with that firm appreciation for the enduring power of a liberal arts education that we pursue the development of our next strategic plan, starting, naturally enough with its essential foundation – our College mission statement.
Over the past year, under the leadership of the Strategic Planning Group and with the heartening participation of more than 1,100 Geneseo constituents, we have collaboratively revisited our mission statement, and I’m delighted to announce the results of that deliberation today. Our refreshed mission statement affirms our identity as a public liberal arts institution and intention to produce graduates who will shape a better world. It highlights our commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive community of engaged scholars. And it celebrates the powerful outcomes inherent in a liberal arts education.
I thank all who contributed to the refinement of our mission statement, and hope that you find it as compelling and motivating as I do. Our strategic plan development will be grounded in our core values, and many of you participated in our revisiting of them as well. That exercise largely affirmed our five extant values; we refined their descriptors to reflect better our current perspectives.
Over the course of the coming year, we will collectively work, again under the SPG’s guidance, to develop our next five-year strategic plan, the compass that will guide us into our next 150 years. Central to that work will be the refinement of our institutional vision, which identifies our desired destination by the culmination of that plan. It is essential that we resolve key questions, such as the appropriate balance between maintaining student academic profile and headcount, with an understanding that prioritizing the former absent significant accompanying changes means we will be a smaller and leaner institution. We have engaged in online education at a level none of us could have foreseen just two years ago, and have modified our accreditation status to enable deeper engagement. How will we broaden our participation in low-residency and/or online education as we go forward? With the expansion of our pedagogical modalities and transfer-friendly policy changes, we are poised to lessen our dependence on a traditional-aged, largely undergraduate and residential student body. Demographic and our student trend data highlight the desirability of broadening our enrollment portfolio. What student populations will we serve as we move forward? Further, our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, evidenced by our new general education framework among many other actions, offers strong potential to diversify our campus community. How might we build on these efforts to fulfill our promise as a truly public liberal arts college?
I invite and indeed urge your active participation in these critically important processes of developing our vision statement and strategic plan, as our success depends on broad engagement by our campus community. And as we do, I encourage you to take the long view, thinking creatively and boldly about our mission-aligned opportunities to shape our beloved College’s future.
Our Work Ahead
Even as we collectively undertake the creation of our next five-year strategic plan, we must ensure our steady progress in advancing our institution, building on the admirable successes and confronting the considerable challenges that we have reviewed today. Those efforts are embedded in the strategic planning goals for the current year that were developed in partnership with the SPG and Cabinet. In addition to the forthcoming initiatives I have already mentioned, I’d like to highlight selected others today.
Student success and well-being are central to a Geneseo education and foremost among our plans for the coming year. With the exciting progress we have made in developing and endorsing our GLOBE-aligned general education framework, we’ll undertake critical work in the coming months such that we may implement our new curriculum, “A Geneseo Education for a Connected World,” by fall 2022.
Over the coming year, we’ll also advance our curriculum development efforts in mission-aligned and market-responsive ways, seeking to add new programs and/or modalities that address demand and draw students to Geneseo who otherwise might look elsewhere. We’ll focus on developing new majors and microcredentials as well as graduate programs. A planful expansion of our engagement in high-quality online education is a priority, and to that end, we’ll pilot the delivery and assessment of 20 online courses through our Center for Digital Learning.
We will build on our work to become more transfer-friendly and enhance access to a Geneseo education, seeking to ensure that transfer students compose at least 15% of next year’s class. As I have noted, our efforts to reverse our slide in student retention rates have gained traction. We’ll build on that progress through continuing our emphasis on the first-year experience and expanding utilization of the Navigate Student Success system.
Consistent with our longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and our stated intention to become an antiracist college, we will advance our efforts to recruit, retain, and support the success of underserved students, including BIPOC, low-income and first-generation individuals. Our efforts will span the range of the Geneseo student experience, starting with recruitment. Building on our work to implement test-optional admissions based on holistic review, we will develop and implement a student recruitment and yield model that attracts and supports students through our admissions and financial aid processes. We’ll expand residential options through the launch of Umoja House, our new living-learning community that will allow students of racially-diverse backgrounds to come together in a supportive environment that will celebrate their identities while nurturing their leadership skills.
We will work to address the interest in expanded multicultural space, seeking to implement temporary solutions this fall and incorporating this need into our long-term Campus Master Plan. In partnership with Campus Auxiliary Services, we’ll support continued responsiveness to students’ desire for expanded meal options and other services. We’ll foster our students’ academic and co-curricular achievement by expanding our professional development programs focused on antiracism, inclusive pedagogies, and student wellbeing offered through our Teaching and Learning Center. To ensure our faculty performance and rewards systems align with our aims, we will begin the collaborative process of reviewing our faculty evaluation guidelines with an equity lens.
With the goal of better supporting the success of all students, I’m excited to announce that we will augment the current part-time position of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services Coordinator to become a full-time Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs for LGBTQ+ Life in what will now be called the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
The Assistant Director will have an expanded portfolio, with a primary responsibility for serving LGBTQ+ students while supporting multicultural students more broadly.
Following the thoughtful work completed last spring by a presidentially-appointed committee that included student representation, we will pilot a new reservation-based procedure for Sturges quad’s Painted Tree, and offer a distinct process for campus community members to create memorials that may be displayed for a fixed period of time. Responding to student advocacy for a campus artwork that will commemorate lives lost due to racial violence, we’ll utilize our new Public Art policy to facilitate that aim. And acknowledging that a deep understanding of our current context is essential to improvement, in the coming weeks we will initiate the campus climate study that was deferred last year due to the pandemic.
I have outlined the seriousness of our financial challenges and our continuing need to address them through creative and aggressive expense reduction and revenue generation efforts. The ongoing pandemic adds to the complexity of this work. In partnership with the campus community and in particular our Budget Priorities Committee, we will adapt our extant budget and related processes to align with our present circumstances, and position ourselves for post-pandemic financial sustainability by pursuing the most promising mission-aligned cost containment and revenue generation opportunities. These efforts will be informed by our ongoing Program Analysis and Alignment work, through which we will continue to identify and pursue mission-aligned improvements and efficiencies. Among the actions already taken are the reorganization of the Offices of Sustainability and Career Development, bringing both entities under Academic Affairs where they will be well-positioned for synergistic activities.
We have moved ahead with the sharing of administrative support services, which has been implemented in multiple Cabinet-level offices, including between Enrollment Management and Student & Campus Life, and between College Advancement and Communications & Marketing. We are also sharing administrative support on the academic side of the house, including between the History and Anthropology departments, and between the Philosophy and Languages & Literatures departments. This shared services initiative is expected to generate over $500,000 in savings over the next three years. I thank my colleagues for their leadership in this regard.
Fundraising can be a powerful means of expanding our resources. Tapping the incredible passion of our alumni and friends for our College, we will continue our progress toward the public phase of a comprehensive fundraising campaign, aiming to secure at least $5 million in new gifts and pledges this year.
In support of this work, we will revisit our fundraising priorities to ensure their continued alignment with the College’s strategic directions.
Geneseo has made real progress through our engagement in thoughtful planning and assessment, which will be important areas of focus in the coming months. Our work to reaffirm our institutional accreditation through Middle States reflects those advancements. By mid-fall, our hardworking colleagues on the Middle States team will share with the campus community a full draft of our Self-Study report and solicit feedback and suggestions. I encourage your participation in this endeavor, as the Self-Study document will play a key role leading up to the April 2022 site visit by the evaluation team.
Strong advocacy by campus leaders has led to the State University Construction Fund’s support for a much-needed refresh of our Campus Master Plan, through which we will lay out a comprehensive plan for our physical plant. This process will incorporate our current and anticipated projects and formalize our long-term needs. Of course, our College’s Strategic Plan is our compass for all campus action, and we will develop our next five-year plan during the coming year. In undertaking this work, we will unify what has previously been two distinct plans, the other being the Strategic Diversity Plan. We expect this project will take place over the course of the academic year, yielding a final, approved strategic plan in May 2022. The Strategic Planning Group, an entity that includes student, faculty and staff members, will oversee this work, ensuring a transparent and collaborative process in which I urge you all to engage.
As we prepare for the important work of developing our next strategic plan and thereby charting our course for the years ahead, it’s appropriate to consider the propitiousness of its timing, on the eve of our sesquicentennial. That our College was founded at all in 1871 is remarkable. Those 19th century villagers who envisioned and advocated for the establishment of a normal school in Geneseo did so in sheer defiance of their circumstances. Their efforts commenced in earnest in 1866, just one year after the Civil War’s conclusion. That conflict, along with construction of a local bridge, left the area burdened by substantial financial obligations. Two fires, in 1864 and 1866, devastated the downtown, adding to the losses. Despite it all, those villagers looked past their daunting circumstances and pursued the vision to establish a higher education institution in Geneseo. They - like their Normal School successors some 50 years hence - had the temerity to see past their current circumstances and take the long view.
As I have outlined today, over the past year we have made remarkable strides, despite the daunting nature of the COVID-19 pandemic layered atop the many other challenges we - and higher education more broadly - face. While much of our attention was necessarily on the near term as we planned and responded to the demands imposed by the public health crisis, it’s to our great credit that we made impressive strides that will benefit us in the long term: adopting an innovative new curriculum, endorsing transfer-friendly policies, and articulating and acting on our intention to become an antiracist college.
My invitation, and indeed, my challenge to us all, is to embrace and extend that capacity for long-term thinking as we plan our College’s future, and in doing so, honor those visionaries who did similarly in establishing and advancing our College. Let us be bold, fearless, and innovative.
Geneseo deserves no less.