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High Expectations; Exceptional Outcomes

2019 Opening Convocation Address by President Denise A. Battles, August 23, 2019

This is my fifth such presentation, and it comes, per our tradition, on the same day that we greet our incoming first-year students. As I welcomed those eager individuals at move-in this morning, I reflected that—in addition to being a momentous occasion for them—today marks a kind of milestone for me as well.

In May, I presided over the graduation of the Class of 2019, the first students that I had the pleasure of seeing through the entirety of their Geneseo careers. In that context, it was with great joy that I greeted our Class of 2023, in effect the second generation of students whose journeys I will share. And I am every bit as excited for that opportunity as I was four years ago, when I presented my first Convocation Address as your new president.

What was clear to me then—as it is today—is that ours is a college that sets high expectations and achieves exceptional outcomes. What a privilege it is to be part of this fine institution! 

My goal in today’s address, as it is every year, is to summarize the state of our College, sharing recent achievements, outlining our foremost challenges, and identifying actions to sustain our success, always in keeping with Geneseo’s mission, vision, values, and strategic plan. I’ll begin by reviewing some accomplishments from the past year. While necessarily selective, in aggregate they evidence our progress on the four focus areas of our Geneseo 2021 Strategic Plan: learning, access and success, advancing the public good, and resilience and sustainability.

Successes

Quality teaching is at the forefront of a Geneseo education, and again this year, our excellence has been externally validated. Specifically, for the eighth time in the nine years that U.S. News and World Report has issued its “Best Undergraduate Teaching” list, we are ranked first among northern regional universities.

Our mission statement establishes our intent to inspire socially responsible and globally aware citizens, and our accomplishments in these areas are exemplary. For example, this year’s Relay For Life raised over $150,000 for the American Cancer Society, an amount that we expect will once again land Geneseo among the country’s top 25 college Relay events. Washington Monthly magazine continued to recognize Geneseo’s leadership with regard to our contributions to the public good, placing us second among 695 U.S. master’s universities. Our College was also named—for the seventh consecutive year—as a Lead Institution in Civic Engagement by NASPA, the country’s foremost student affairs professionals association, an acknowledgment of our curricular and co-curricular programs. In 2019, Geneseo was again recognized among medium-sized institutions on the Peace Corps’ “Top-Volunteer Producing Colleges and Universities” list, ranking 13th among medium-sized schools.  

Our culture of high expectations fosters exceptional student outcomes, and those of the past year were particularly notable. Among the national honors earned in 2018–19 by our students or recent graduates were seven U.S. Student Fulbright awards, a Geneseo record; three Gilman International Scholarships; two German Academic Exchange Service Research Internships in Science and Engineering awards; one Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Congressional Internship Program award; one U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship; and one Institute of International Education Generation Study Abroad Travel Grant award.

For the second consecutive year, in recognition of last year’s awards, Geneseo was named a 2018–19 Top Producer of U.S. Student Fulbright awards, placing second among 742 Carnegie Master’s institutions. Notably, our College was the first SUNY institution ever to be named a Fulbright Top Producer in any category, inclusive of bachelor’s, master’s, research, and special-focus four-year schools.

Geneseo’s students achieve not just academically, but also in their athletic pursuits. Precious few higher education institutions can tout equally exemplary academic and athletic programs; Geneseo is a leader among them. Of our college’s 19 sports that compete in the SUNY Athletic Conference, or SUNYAC, 10 brought home 2018–19 SUNYAC championships. And for the fifth consecutive year, Geneseo was awarded the SUNYAC Commissioner’s Cup.

Our athletic successes were reflected in the 2018–19 Learfield Sport Director’s Cup standings, which rank collective excellence among the country’s 450 NCAA Division III intercollegiate athletic programs, as Geneseo finished 20th overall and fourth among public institutions. 

We also saw multiple Geneseo programs garner national accolades. For example, our Department of Physics and Astronomy was one of just three U.S. undergraduate programs to receive the American Physical Society’s 2019 Award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education. Our college’s sustainability efforts, supported so well by our Sustainability Commission, again earned national attention, being included in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 399 Green Colleges. And we just learned that Geneseo has been chosen to receive INSIGHT into Diversity magazine’s 2019 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award, in recognition of our GROW-STEM initiative that seeks to support women and underrepresented individuals in the sciences. 

These achievements help illustrate why Geneseo has once more secured honors for overall educational excellence. For example, US News and World Report ranked us second of the “Top Public Schools” in the northern regional university category. We also appeared among Princeton Review’s “The Best 385 Colleges” and its “Best Northeastern Colleges.” And once again, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and Forbes magazines named Geneseo a best value college.

Challenges

As I have shared, our accomplishments over the past year are numerous, notable, and worth celebrating. Sustaining this level of success, however, requires mindfulness of and responsiveness to the challenging environment faced by higher education, one of singular dynamism. And so I will now outline several of those challenges, emphasizing those most relevant to our College.

Demographic changes pose a significant challenge for higher education generally but are particularly salient for a campus that has focused so strongly on serving a traditional-aged student body in a primarily residential context. As I have shared in prior presentations, for decades New York State enjoyed—and our College benefited from—sustained growth in the production of high school graduates, our primary audience for recruitment. The sizeable and steady growth provided us with an ample source of new student applications. However, that pipeline has dropped significantly since its 2009–10 peak, increasing the competition for fewer traditional-age in-state students.

Geneseo experiences this demographic challenge even more keenly than many sister institutions because of our strong student academic profile. The fact that some 96% of our students are New York State residents exacerbates the issue. In this context, we have struggled to both secure our student headcount and maintain our student profile, last fall achieving the latter but falling short of our intended headcount by 47 students. While the census date that will establish our official fall enrollment is a few weeks away, it’s clear that we are experiencing this challenge more acutely this year, falling considerably short of our new student headcount goal albeit maintaining our profile. As a highly tuition-dependent institution, this is a concerning development.

The transfer student pipeline compounds our challenge in attaining our incoming class. As recently as nine years ago, more than 40% of Geneseo’s entering class, which includes fall and spring admits, were transfer students. After I displayed a similar graph last year, some long-serving colleagues gently told me that I was misinformed about this statistic. Let me assure you that these data have been verified and are accurate.

No doubt one contributing factor is the downturn in community college enrollments in an improving economy. Geneseo’s top five sources for transfer students are SUNY community colleges, which have experienced a sustained enrollment decrease. But our College has also made some institutional choices that—we have been told—may deter well-qualified students from transferring to Geneseo.

Whatever the cause, the drop in transfer student enrollees adds to the pressure to increase our first-time, full-time student cohort, which in turn challenges our ability to maintain our student profile. For many reasons, including those of access and equity, it is imperative that we ensure the transfer-friendliness of our College and reverse the marked trend of decreasing transfer students. Our long-pursued work to revise our core curriculum presents a fundamental opportunity in that regard.

Maintaining our status as a leading public liberal arts college implies serving a 21st-century demographic. For years, demographic prognosticators have signaled a rapid shift in the diversity of the college-bound population. New York State’s populace is reflective of those trends, with the percentage of non-white public high school graduates now surpassing that of their white counterparts. While the diversity of Geneseo’s student body—as well as that among our faculty and staff—has shifted, it continues to lag that of the state we serve. The increasing diversity of our incoming students, who may seek different kinds of student support (such as English as a second language), challenges us to modify long-standing practices to ensure we are serving their needs.

These trends also highlight the importance of ensuring our campus and greater community are welcoming and inclusive. Regrettably, Geneseo has had multiple recent events that have demonstrated just how far we have to go in this regard. It’s not sufficient to espouse our value of inclusivity; we must ensure that we live it and do our utmost to advance it.

Another of our challenges relates to our record of student success. While Geneseo’s student success indicators, such as retention and graduation rates, continue to be well above average, they have moderated in recent years. A key metric is the retention of our first-time, full-time students.

The trend here—down from about 92% in 2009 to 85% in 2018, representing about 94 students—is concerning, particularly as the vast majority of students who enroll at Geneseo generally expect to receive their degree from us. Together, the aforementioned student recruitment and retention issues impede our ability to meet and maintain our desired student enrollment.

Our enrollment shortfall presents a serious challenge for many reasons, not least of which is the impact on the college’s revenues and thus our financial health and sustainability. That’s because Geneseo derives about 45% of our operating revenues from tuition, with other sources (such as room charges and student fees) that are also enrollment-dependent. Thus, the shortfall of incoming and returning students exacerbates an already difficult financial situation that Geneseo—and in fact, SUNY system schools—all face. You may have read about these challenges in the press.

In addition to enrollment, there are multiple financial stressors, including increasing operational costs, such as for personnel, compliance, and inflation; generally flat state tax-dollar support; centralized tuition-setting, currently capped at a $200 increase per year; and the need to cover the so-called TAP Gap, the difference in the maximum Tuition Assistance Program award and the actual cost of tuition.

The impact of personnel costs and, in particular, centrally negotiated salary increases, bears special mention. That’s because—unlike past practice—funding sufficient to cover those salary increases was not provided. And so, while salary adjustments for our highly deserving personnel are most welcome and indeed necessary to ensure competitive and equitable compensation, the lack of full funding presents a profound dilemma for Geneseo and SUNY institutions more broadly. Our legislative advocacy efforts have highlighted that impact. The upshot is that new revenues associated with a $200 tuition increase are dwarfed by other costs, salary increases key among them. This funding gap represents one of our most serious challenges to achieving the financial sustainability called for in our strategic plan. 

To summarize, Geneseo has many accomplishments of which we should be proud. Yet we must be responsive to the multiple challenges we face if we are to maintain and extend our success and ultimately achieve our stated vision. That prospect may seem daunting. However, the potential rewards of addressing those challenges—and the benefits gained by those we serve—are compelling, providing ample reason to rise to the occasion.

I’d like to share a story to help illustrate what inspires my own passion in that regard. This past January, I had the privilege of traveling to the city of Holguín in eastern Cuba. My purpose was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with my counterpart, the Rectora of the Universidad de Holguín. The MOU formalizes a partnership that developed over several years between our college’s faculty and staff and their peers at the Cuban university.

While the MOU signing was both symbolically and administratively important, detailing the educational, research, and service opportunities for Geneseo students and personnel at the Cuban university, my four-day visit to Cuba presented a singular opportunity: to join the students enrolled in Assistant Professor Melanie Medeiros’s Anthropology 216 class on Race, Racism, and the Black Experience in the Americas. For me, the course was significant in a multitude of ways:

  • As a study-abroad class, it advanced Geneseo’s aim, as codified in our mission statement, of inspiring globally aware citizens.
  • Also important was its status as one of five study-abroad or study-away classes offered through our recently revitalized January intersession term, expanding our students’ learning opportunities, particularly in parts of the world that are less easily visited during the summer months.
  • The course’s focus on race, racism, and the Black experience aligned with our value of inclusivity, bringing visibility and awareness to a critical issue of social justice.
  • Additionally, while the course served primarily Geneseo students, it also attracted three students from other SUNY schools, thereby expanding our partnership with sister institutions, enhancing their students’ learning opportunities, and even adding to Geneseo’s revenue streams.
  • Moreover, the participation of Universidad de Holguín faculty in delivering course content and that institution’s English translation students in translating that content enabled valuable interactions between the two institutions’ students and personnel, enriching the opportunities for cross-cultural exchange.
  • Also compelling was the fact that the course supported our Latin American cluster hire.

But beyond those appealing qualities, the course provided an incredibly rich learning environment by supporting an immersion, albeit brief, into Cuban society. One of my own powerful learning moments came through an interaction with a local driver whom I’ll call Rafael. 

Prior to my Cuban travels, I had been briefed about the country and understood that education is highly prized, and it’s not uncommon to discover that one’s taxi driver possesses a graduate degree. Indeed, such was the case with Rafael, an individual with great curiosity about the U.S. and with whom I struck up a conversation.

At the time of my visit, Cuba was actively debating the content of its constitution, in preparation for a revision. Leaflets about the initiative were widely available throughout the area, and roadside billboards urged the citizenry to participate actively in the deliberations about desired refinements to the constitution. I was informed that several iterations of the constitution had emerged through the ongoing conversations. I entered Cuba with some preconceptions about the country, and this high level of engagement in a constitutional revision was unexpected, as was the element that was garnering the most vigorous discussion among Cuban society: whether to acknowledge same-sex marriage in the new document.

Curious as to what prompted a revision of something as fundamental as the country’s constitution, I asked if a periodic revision was mandated by the document. No, I was informed, the existing constitution was simply old and in need of an update. “How old?” I asked. “Very old,” was the response—dating to 1976!

In turn, my companion posed a question of me. You’ll recall that, in early January 2019, our country experienced a partial governmental shutdown. Rafael’s question to me was “Why are 800,000 Americans either being prevented from working or being required to work without pay?” I could offer him no truly satisfactory explanation. Indeed, I was struck by the juxtaposition of this Communist government vigorously engaging its citizenry in a constitutional revision while our own—the “Leader of the Free World”—was mired in dysfunction.

That cultural exchange is emblematic of the kind of powerful learning opportunities that a Geneseo education affords. We set high expectations and achieve exceptional outcomes. We embody excellence in high-impact practices in a diverse, engaged community. And we provide transformational experiences that serve students for a lifetime. All of which compels me—and I know I am not alone—to work relentlessly to assure that the opportunity for an outstanding Geneseo education is accessible to well-qualified individuals who seek it and to foster the success of all who enroll. 

Our Response

So, having acknowledged multiple challenges, how shall we proceed? As in all things, our Geneseo 2021 Strategic Plan, and the mission, vision, and values on which it is based, are our guide.

Last year I charged the Strategic Planning Group to refresh the plan to address new circumstances and opportunities and assure alignment with the timeline for its completion in 2021. I’m pleased to note that the SPG has completed that work, resulting in a more focused document that articulates our top priorities and ensures they are associated with measurable and time-based outcomes and identified responsible parties.

As well, we have completed the selection of a user-friendly software solution to support our planning and assessment work and enhance its transparency, allowing us to move from our well-intended but limited Wiki. Importantly, this new platform will support our institutional accreditation activities through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

For these and many other reasons, I encourage you to review and become familiar with our refreshed plan. The plan continues to be organized around our four focus areas of learning, access and success, advancing the public good, and resilience and sustainability, with diversity, equity, and inclusion infused throughout. In fact, as I highlight selected campus initiatives, you’ll note that many support multiple foci, in keeping with our plan’s integrative nature. 

Focus Area: Learning

Ensuring the currency, relevance, and excellence of a Geneseo education is central to quality learning and fosters student recruitment and success. Thus, our ongoing work to revise our general education and broader undergraduate curriculum, guided by our approved Geneseo Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education, or GLOBE, is paramount.

Over the past two years, our Curricular Design Working Group, under the leadership of outgoing chair Beth McCoy, distinguished teaching professor of English, has engaged in important preparatory conversations that will ground our new curriculum in a knowledge of highly effective practices. The CDWG is now exploring models for this curriculum and—in partnership with senate leadership and the provost—a pathway is being outlined for the working group to propose its recommended curricular structure by the end of this academic year. Please know that the College Senate will be a key venue for communications, engagement, and decision-making on this effort. I cannot overstate the importance and urgency of this much-needed curricular reform, and I look forward to our collaborative work to facilitate its successful conclusion.    

As you’ll recall, GLOBE features several integrative and applied learning outcomes, and our development of the Center for Integrative Learning continues apace. Key achievements in the past year include new cross-disciplinary courses; increased connectivity between our curriculum and co-curriculum, including enhancements to our living and learning communities; and securing SUNY funding to support community engagement. Also exciting is our development of new academic programs in the form of both majors and micro-credentials, which relates strongly to our student recruitment goals.

The College is doing our utmost to advance that work. For example, our investment in a faculty line to bolster our existing School of Business expertise supports the ongoing development of an envisioned minor and future major in data analytics. Our development of multiple other programs, including envisioned undergraduate majors in sustainability studies, which is in early development, and sociomedical sciences, now nearing final approval, is likewise exciting.

Our refreshed strategic plan articulates our aim to develop new graduate programs. Equipped with a recent study of opportunities for expanded graduate programming in the Rochester area, we are well-positioned to undertake this work. We have also invested in our capacity to develop and deliver high-quality online courses, having twice offered well-received and strongly attended summer professional development workshops to that end.   

Our re-establishment of a robust winter intersession represents the culmination of collaborative work that expands our students’ learning opportunities and supports their access and success, including timely completion. It is remarkable that—in the span of just 22 months—we went from initial exploration of the concept to delivering an intersession featuring 21 sections of 18 different courses in addition to five study-abroad or study-away classes. Further, we enrolled 429 online and 79 study-abroad or study-away students, including eight external to Geneseo.

It’s important to note that assessment of our inaugural intersession, which had a 97% student persistence rate, indicates strong student, faculty, and staff satisfaction and perceptions of quality. I want to express my sincere appreciation to all who contributed to that outcome, including our faculty, staff, and students and, in particular, the College Senate, who supported the academic calendar change that enabled an enhanced intersession.   

Focus Area: Access and Success

Access and success feature prominently within our strategic plan, and we have done much good work to advance this focus area. Retention is, of course, a fundamental prerequisite to student success, and I appreciate the provost’s leadership of Geneseo’s Wildly Important Goal to increase retention of our first-time, first-year students to 88% by October 2019. This initiative has benefited from strong cross-campus collaboration as we strive to meet that goal. Our refreshed strategic plan articulates our desire to continue to build on our efforts by returning retention to 90% by 2021.    

Among the action steps toward that end is selecting and procuring an early alert system, Navigate. We are in the early stages of implementing that data analytics-based system, which research indicates should do much to foster student achievement, providing our faculty and staff the tools to provide timely support to our students. Like any such system, the maximum positive impact is only possible through strong participation by our personnel. Given our faculty and staff’s dedication to student achievement, I have little doubt that our implementation of Navigate will be very impactful for our students and their educational outcomes.   

Among the student success challenges we seek to address are six-year graduation rate gaps between our students of color and their white peers. Our refreshed strategic plan articulates our aim to reduce those gaps by 10 percentage points for Black and Latinx students by 2021. And while the continuing presence of these gaps may be dispiriting, I’ll note that we have made much progress, moving from a 31 percentage point gap among white and underrepresented minority students 14 years ago to a 10 percentage point gap among the 2012 cohort.    

Ensuring our faculty demographics are reflective of the students we serve is essential. That said, marked differences in the turnover timelines for faculty and students challenge us to attain that end. Our strategic plan identifies the goal of diversifying our faculty through our hiring process. These efforts will be advanced through our new Learning Community on Diverse Faculty Hiring, which is exploring best practices and empowering faculty champions, as well as through our recently submitted PRODi-G proposal, through which we are requesting SUNY system support for faculty recruitment. Our ongoing implementation of our Equity-Minded Search Practices program, which now requires participation by each search committee chair and at least 50% of committee members, also supports that end. It is impressive and gratifying that more than 260 individuals have already completed that program.    

Attaining demographic representation among our personnel is necessary but not sufficient to achieving an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of all, however. That’s among the reasons why the success of our Advancing Cultural Competency Certificate program, which we piloted last year with a 20-person cohort of faculty and staff, is so exciting. I am grateful to the team of colleagues who designed that program and all who participated in it.

Also key was our approval of our Community Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which was developed through a consultative process undertaken by the Commission on Diversity and Community and endorsed by College Senate. That statement sends a strong message about our vision for a campus environment that is truly inclusive and supportive of all.  

Focus Area: Advancing the Public Good

Our commitment to the public good is articulated through our mission and strategic plan and evidenced in the rankings I mentioned earlier.

Our recent implementation of Engage Geneseo—a service that matches our college’s students, faculty, and staff with local area businesses and organizations in search of volunteers, interns, and experts—promotes those valued community connections.

While there is inherent reward in such work, we recognize the value of formally documenting our students’ efforts in this important area. For that reason, our strategic plan calls for us to develop a system that will measure and report student involvement in volunteerism, service-learning, and student-faculty research that advances the public good. Also anticipated is the development of a campus plan for community arts engagement. Stakeholder participation in that effort will be facilitated by the Center for Integrative Learning.  

Focus Area: Resilience and Sustainability

Resilience and sustainability figure prominently in our strategic plan, with our campus’s financial health being a foremost consideration. Concerns regarding the college’s finances led me to launch, in early February, a Financial Health and Sustainability initiative, tapping an Expanded Budget Priorities Committee to solicit from the campus community, analyze, and recommend strategies to align college revenues with expenditures.

Regrettably, the anticipated enrollment shortfall in the current year will exacerbate our financial challenges. The EBPC undertook its work to address that gap with professionalism and did a commendable job with a difficult assignment. I encourage you to review its report, available on the Financial Health and Sustainability Wiki. I’d like to express my gratitude for the EBPC’s leadership, with a special acknowledgment of co-chairs James McLean, professor of physics, and former Interim VP for Finance and Administration Steve Storck, for the thoughtful work.   

Since our June 2019 receipt of the EBPC’s report, outlining its recommendations, it has been a central focus for the Cabinet and me. While our time today does not permit a thorough discussion of our Financial Health and Sustainability actions, I’d like to outline several.

The EBPC recommended multiple initiatives—those that were easily undertaken and capable of producing at least $50,000 annually—for prompt implementation. Among them are several on which we are acting already, including increased retention; improved marketing, especially downstate; and increased intersession and summer online courses.

With regard to the last, the Cabinet has established the goal of doubling these high-quality intersession course offerings, which last year produced nearly $300,000 in net revenues. Importantly, the introduction of local intersession opportunities appears to have stemmed the steady increase in the number of intersession courses taken elsewhere by our students and transferred back to Geneseo.  

A promising concept with the potential to attract new students to Geneseo and thus increase revenues, but which did not emerge from the EBPC, is the proposed addition of an intercollegiate sport: women’s golf. Golf tends to appeal to students who are academically strong, which is to say, students like those attracted to Geneseo. Adding this sport would also expand the opportunities for women—who constitute an increasing percentage of our student body—to participate in intercollegiate athletics on our campus. With these aims in mind, the Cabinet has endorsed the addition of women’s golf to our portfolio of athletic programs, with a proposed fall 2020 start. 

The EBPC also classified several efforts as “possible,” meaning easily undertaken and offering financial benefit less than $50,000 annually. They included reducing extra service payments and cell phone allowances and encouraging academic year online course offerings and out-of-state student enrollment. We are actively exploring these EBPC-identified possibilities as well. In fact, the Cabinet has agreed to reduce cell phone allowances for eligible management/confidential personnel and is exploring doing the same for others who receive this allowance, in keeping with the EBPC’s recommendation.  

The EBPC was mindful that our investment in personnel represents the majority—some 72%—of the college’s operating budget and acknowledged the cabinet’s central role in considering our options therein. We have initiated a focused review of those opportunities, while appreciating the need to preserve our quality and core capacities and ability to deliver on our mission.

Among the identified options are several extant programs that feature desirable flexibility for our employees and honor their contributions while offering possible cost savings. They include our Voluntary Reduction in Work Schedule and Change in Professional Obligation programs. As well, we are actively pursuing the development of a phased retirement program for professional staff. Our Human Resources colleagues will host information sessions about these options in coming weeks, and I encourage interested and eligible individuals to attend.  

You will also recall our spring 2019 implementation of a strategic hiring protocol, which formalized Academic Affairs’ longstanding practice of delaying by one year the filling of vacated tenure-track/tenured faculty lines; set a new 90-day pause on filling vacated staff positions; affirmed scrutiny of all vacancies to identify candidates for elimination and/or savings; and established an opportunity for exceptions for mission-critical positions, such as those with direct health and/or safety implications. That protocol has now been codified in our Position Management Policy.

The magnitude of our financial challenges is such that our responsive actions will continue, and I call on each member of our campus community to support our efforts. Facilitating that participation, I expect to charge the BPC, which will return to its usual rather than expanded membership, to continue its engagement of the campus community to solicit and vet recommendations for cost containment and new revenue generation. I urge you all to participate in that process.

Fundraising represents an important opportunity for us to expand our resources, and unlike so much of our budget, is an area over which we have substantial control. We are at an important point in time, as the College ramps up for a new comprehensive fundraising campaign. We know from past experience that prospective donors take note when they see strong participation rates among a college’s own personnel. I want to thank those of you who are among that number and encourage those who wish to support our fundraising efforts—whether through your time, talent, or treasure—to reach out to our colleagues in College Advancement. 

Assuring the adequacy of our campus’s physical facilities is also central to resilience and sustainability. The state’s funding of SUNY’s Critical Maintenance budget, which supports major repair and renovation of existing facilities, represents a welcome opportunity in an otherwise challenging budget and accordingly has been a key focus of my advocacy. Happily, our efforts are seemingly bearing fruit, as Geneseo now has four major projects in various stages of planning. We expect the much-needed renovation of Sturges Hall to begin this coming spring, with the Milne Library, Fraser Hall, and College Circle projects on the horizon. While highly anticipated, these projects will involve disruption, and I will thank all those affected in advance for their flexibility in accommodating them.   

No less important to our resilience and sustainability is fostering a healthy campus culture characterized by civility and respect. I appreciate the participation by many on campus in the Great Colleges to Work For employee opinion survey, which—along with our recently revised employee exit interview process—provided valuable information regarding our institutional work culture. The resulting data highlighted our strengths as well as opportunities for improvement.

The campus leadership has taken a number of responsive actions, including the development—in partnership with our union colleagues—of a Promoting the Respectful Workplace policy and associated professional development programming; acquisition of useful resources for campus managers; and implementation of events and programs intended to foster engagement and communication and celebrate our personnel. Please know that our efforts will continue, with plans calling for the creation and offering of leadership development opportunities for campus community members. I encourage your participation in these initiatives that aim to enhance personnel satisfaction with our work environment. 

Conclusion

I’ll conclude with a brief story. In late July, I participated in the closing events for our Access Opportunity Programs’ Summer Scholars. For those who are unfamiliar, the AOP programs were established to “meet the educational aspirations of academically talented students who reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of New York State and neighboring states.” Many participants have faced significant barriers to higher education, such as being first-generation college students or from other under-served populations, demonstrating financial need, or attending under-resourced K–12 schools.

The AOP Summer Scholars attend a several-week summer bridge program on our campus to support their transition from high school, taking academic courses, honing their research and study skills, and learning about college more generally. The Summer Scholars program culminates in a ceremony at which the students’ achievements are acknowledged. Because the program is intense and taxing for the students, it is a very celebratory—and inspirational—event.

During that closing ceremony, we remind our scholars that as difficult as the summer program is, the demands of the Geneseo academic year are even greater. We also assure these talented individuals that admission to the College signifies our belief that they have what it takes to be successful here—and with resilience, perseverance, and determination—they are capable and deserving of a Geneseo diploma. In short, we communicate our confidence that our high expectations will yield exceptional outcomes.

Like our AOP Scholars, all of us here at Geneseo have tremendous capacity and have achieved so much already, even in the face of significant challenges. Our community takes great pride in the high expectations we set for ourselves, tapping into our resilience, community spirit, and determination to meet every challenge head on. As we draw on that historic strength and commitment to the College and its students, I have no doubt in our ability to succeed.

Thank you for all you do to contribute to the continued success of this outstanding institution. Let’s have a truly exceptional year.