President Hitchcock's Address to the Faculty, September 13, 1995
Good afternoon. How wonderful it is to see you all again, and to have this opportunity to welcome you ; or to welcome you back ; to the University at Albany's 1995-96 academic year.
First, let me thank Professor Mark Durand for accepting my invitation to be Chair of the Faculty for the year. He, like Distinguished Teaching Professor Warren Roberts before him, brings to the position a keen sense of the University ; its strengths; its accomplishments; and its potential. Thank you, Mark, for agreeing to serve.
Second, let me extend my deep thanks to all the faculty and staff who worked so hard to achieve a marvelously smooth opening to the Fall semester.
As I reflected on today's meeting over the last several weeks ; reflected on my message to you ; I kept coming back to a single word: engagement; engagement with each other; engagement with those we serve ; our students and all the citizens of New York; engagement with our national and global colleagues ; all toward the end of deep engagement with our University and its future.
We all have disciplinary loyalties ; as well we should. It is through the enrichment of our disciplines that we grow as an institution of academic excellence. But if we are truly to fulfill our mission, we must have a broader vision as well ;- a broader engagement, an engagement which transcends disciplines and serves to define the institution as a whole in the context of great societal change.
Our University, like all institutions of higher education, is facing a set of challenges created in large part by the economic realities of our State and nation, and exacerbated by a public perception that we ; the members of the academy ; are disengaged from the realities of these financial constraints, and disengaged from the implications of changing demographics, changing global relationships, and changing technologies for our students as they prepare to take their place in society.
Our approach to these issues ; our collective engagement ; will be the measure of us for years to come ; will be our institutional legacy. And this critical dialogue, already begun, must be continued in the face of and in the context of our ongoing budgetary challenges.
Let me review these challenges with you. In the absence of any new State revenue, next year's State General Fund Budget of $33 billion is expected to be at least $3 billion short of the revenues needed to sustain it. And this estimate does not take into account a large predicted shortfall in Medicaid. In light of these budgetary realities, SUNY system administration currently predicts a $130 - $150 million reduction for the SUNY system for the 1996-97 fiscal year.
We have been asked by the SUNY System Administration to develop plans for a 4 to 8 percent reduction of our State tax appropriation for next year. This will follow a reduction of 3.9 percent in this year's State tax appropriation, a reduction which was met, without layoffs or retrenchments, through some 87 early retirements, careful management of our course schedule, and new campus fees and revenues.
Indeed, given continuing shortfalls in this year's State revenues, we may also need to deal with a mid-year reduction of some 2 to 3 percent. While we have established a modest contingency fund in anticipation of such a mid-year reduction, depending on its magnitude we may be called upon to reduce expenditures in order to meet this additional reduction in our resources during the current fiscal year.
It is critical to emphasize that the nature of the current planning environment is as important as the actual magnitude of the projected 1996-97 budget shortfall.
First, the timing of our planning process. In an effort to assure more timely passage of the State budget bill, the Governor plans to submit the Executive Budget to the Legislature by early December. As a consequence, the SUNY Trustees are expected to have a formal budget vote at their October meeting. And decisions are already being made. We clearly have a very short time frame to influence the nature of SUNY's budget transmittal. Indeed, we have been asked by SUNY to submit, within the next four to six weeks, a budget impact statement based on a 4 to 8 percent reduction in State tax appropriation for 1996-97. While the Presidents of the four University Centers agree that these impact statements should not, at this time, include recommendations for specific academic program reductions, it is clear that we will be required to specify at least the categories of savings we envision to meet this reduction target.
A second key feature of our planning environment is the mandate contained in the budget bill passed last spring. Under this mandate, the SUNY Trustees were instructed by the Legislature to develop, and I quote, "a multi-year, comprehensive system-wide plan to increase cost efficiency in the continuing pursuit of the highest quality and broadest possible access consistent with the State University mission."
In developing such a plan, the Trustees were directed to consider ways to:
To carry out this charge, the Trustees have organized themselves into four committees which will deal first with the mission of and vision for the System, including appropriate campus differentiation and the role of graduate and professional education; second, the structure of the System, including an examination of program duplication; third, operations, including an examination of System-wide administration, faculty productivity and learning productivity; and, finally, operating revenues and tuition, including tuition policy and the maximizing of campus revenue generation and cost control. The report is due on December 1st ; another very short timeline.
The SUNY budget proposal will clearly reflect the results of this Trustee planning process, and, just as clearly, each campus' approach to its own budget planning will need to reflect a consideration of comparable issues: administrative efficiencies, opportunities ; perhaps through the use of technology ; for resource sharing across the different units of the System, and academic program evaluation and restructuring based not only on academic quality, but also on system-wide demand and centrality vis-a-vis the campus' particular mission.
It should be clear from this planning environment, coupled with the fact of a cumulative 44.8 percent reduction in our State tax appropriation since 1989-90, that we must base our budgetary strategies and decisions on our academic priorities ; priorities which flow from our strengths as well as our special mission as a research university.
An across-the-board approach to further budgetary reduction is not an option. We must, therefore, organize ourselves immediately to review our academic programs and set our institutional priorities. Given the time-frame I have described, this may seem a daunting task. However, over the last several years, such discussions have been ongoing in most of our academic departments.
Choices now must be made based upon these ongoing discussions. By viewing the institution as a whole, by becoming engaged with colleagues in different disciplines, different schools and colleges ; indeed, even different institutions ; we can use this opportunity to move our institution forward. We must, I feel, begin to do things differently, not just better.
The vice presidents will coordinate these deliberations and assure that their recommendations to me are grounded in broad consultation across their respective divisions. In the schools and colleges, disciplinary recommendations will form the core of the consultative process. Chairs will convene their faculties for review and evaluation of their programs. The chairs will then develop and present their departmental recommendations to the deans for review and synthesis. The deans will then articulate their unit's mission and the faculty and other resources needed to the Academic Vice President.
Throughout this process I will also seek input from the University Senate's Educational Policy Council, and I will be re-convening the Long Range Resource Advisory Committee which did an excellent job last year generating ideas regarding mechanisms and pro-cesses for revenue development and budget allocation.
Finally, as I reported in my recent letter to the faculty, I will be convening a series of meetings with the faculty of each of the schools and colleges in order to hear directly the major issues and priorities which you see as defining for your respective units. I cannot overstate the importance of these meetings. The challenges we face and the very pace of change require that we all bring the best of our thinking to bear on the kind of institution we want to be, and can be. Indeed, the overall goal of this entire planning process will be to identify what programs are central to our mission ; to the very special learning environment of a research university ; and, to allocate our resources accordingly.
As I have already indicated, the challenges we face are not unique to New York. There is a trend nation-wide for legislatures to view education as more a private than a public good ; a growing conviction that our students should pay a greater share of the costs of their education.
Let me share just one statistic: the University at Albany's state tax appropriation this year represents our smallest source of disposable income, 22 percent of our overall budget. Student tuition dollars, for the first time ever, exceed direct tax support for the University. De-spite substantial State support ; some $43.8 million ; the sources of our revenues are clearly changing. Like most public institutions across the nation, we are more tuition-driven, more subject to market forces, and increasingly challenged to pursue alternative sources of revenues.
We must continue to chart our course within the context of a number of forces which are impacting higher education, not only in New York, but across the country. As Chair of the Council of Academic Affairs of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, I recently helped to organize a meeting to examine trends in higher education across our nation ; to examine the changing relationships of public institutions to their governing boards and their state legislatures.
The list of issues discussed at that meeting should not surprise you: constrained funding from all sources; grea-ter public accountability; student expectations for anywhere-anytime educational opportunities; research funding which is becoming more targeted, more interdisciplinary; pressure to avoid and reduce graduate program dupli-cation; the impact of electronic technology on pedagogy; an expanding demand for access to higher education accompanied by diminished opportunity; a greater differentiation of mission among institutions; and on and on.
We must continue to be visible and influential in the national dialogue during this time of transformation of our country's system of public higher education. Our initiatives for the coming academic year reflect these challenges, and will help to assure that the University at Albany will be a part of the public policy debate which will shape the future of public higher education.
I will focus on three key areas: resource development; enhancement of our learning environment; and advocacy. First ; RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT. I have been meeting with the legislative leaders and other University Center presidents to pursue alternative tuition policies that would reflect and support the very special mission and strengths of a research university. We are also exploring alternative models of organization for the University Centers vis-a-vis the System ; models which would provide the flexibility we need to fulfill our mission during this time of financial constraint. The legislatively-mandated planning process of the Trustees provides the perfect forum for a full airing of these major issues. Our views will be heard.
Clearly, given the increasing importance of non-state revenues, we also must assume an aggressive posture regarding external fund-raising. One of our foremost goals will be to conclude our first-ever Capital Campaign at an accelerated rate, perhaps as early as calendar year 1996. Since 1991, the Campaign for Albany has secured $34.5 million in new resources toward our goal of $55 million. With the concerted help of the deans and faculty, Vice President Kersten and the University Advancement staff believe that, if we are successful in certain key initiatives, we can conclude this campaign ahead of schedule ; and immediately begin planning for our next Campaign.
The focus of this expanded fund-raising activity will be on endowed professorships. The stability such funding represents is essential in the face of decreased State and, possibly, federal support. We must make our potential donors aware of this new reality.
In support of this fund-raising initiative, I am also an-nouncing an unprecedented Annual Fund goal of $1.4 million ; a substantial, but achievable, increase over our record accomplishment last year ; and a three-year goal to increase Annual Fund support by 40 percent to $2 million.
We will also continue to seek non-state sources of funding for our academic programs. Many examples of such creativity exist. For instance, the departments of East Asian Studies and Judaic Studies have attracted substantial non-state private donations to support new faculty positions, one in Judaic Studies and three in East Asian Studies. Our faculty have also been successful in attracting substantial non-state support for innovative educational programs. We will organize to obtain even more of these resources.
In short, we will be fully engaged in policy discussions regarding our State allocation, and we will pursue aggressively new revenue sources in support of our academic programs.
My second key area of focus for the coming year will be the LEARNING ENVIRONMENT here at the University at Albany. Let me begin on a note of celebration, thanks and congratulations. Money magazine has recently reported what we at Albany have known for a long time, namely that the University at Albany is one of the Top 10 best values in higher education in the nation. This is a tri-bute to our excellent faculty and academic programs, our dedicated staff, and the high quality of this city and region.
What pleases me most about this national recognition is that the improvement in our rating, up from number 20 in the nation last year, is attributable in large measure to the excellent graduation rate of University at Albany students, which was 73 percent for the last cohort. As such, this designation is a tribute not only to our students, but to you, our faculty and academic professional staff, who work with them to ensure their success. It is an acknowledgment of the learning environment you have created; a learning environment we must continue to support and enrich during the coming year.
Clearly, the quality of our student body is one of the essential features of our learning environment. And, given the increasing proportion of our budget derived from tuition revenues, the need for a successful recruitment program is self-evident. However, if we are to continue to enrich our learning environment, we must do more than simply meet our headcount, AAFTE, and revenue targets. We must recruit to Albany students who are capable of succeeding in and benefiting from the very special learning environment of a research university. We must, in short, increase the yield of such highly qualified and motivated applicants.
In this regard, I am delighted to report that our undergraduate enrollment for 1995 is strong. We have enrolled a freshman class of 1,910 students ; smaller, by design, than in recent years and with a very strong quality profile: average SAT scores of 1082, almost 20 points higher than last year's class. Among this group of new students are 147 Presidential Scholars, up from 88 last year and 46 the year before. We now have enrolled 281 of these exceptional students, students with highly competitive SAT scores and high school grade point averages.
We have also enrolled 1,119 highly qualified transfer students. The increase in selectivity that these figures represents results from an 11.2 percent increase in freshman applications for this year's class ; the largest increase of any campus in the system.
This unprecedented increase in applications, in the face of a 28 percent increase in tuition, is due in large part to the tremendous efforts of the Admissions Office, the newly constituted Enrollment Initiatives Group, and faculty, staff, students and alumni/alumnae who have devoted their time, energy, and creativity to getting the word out about Albany. As I said in a recent newspaper interview, there was no magic involved, just plain hard work by many dedicated people.
We have also enrolled a strong cadre of nearly 5,050 graduate students. We faced a serious challenge in graduate enrollment this year as a result of the late and significant increase in graduate tuition. As a result, some departments and programs experienced smaller than expected enrollments in some areas. Under the leadership of Vice President Gullahorn, many colleagues undertook Herculean efforts to assist students in their enrollment decisions, and we thank them. At the same time, we must develop strategies for the Spring semester to assure that we meet our overall enrollment target for the year.
In 1995-96, we must sustain and enhance our recruitment efforts. We will implement strategies to reach outstanding students ; at both the undergraduate and graduate levels ; through advertisement campaigns, and personal contacts with students, parents, teachers and counselors in high schools and two-year colleges. And we will involve faculty to a greater extent than ever in recruitment of prospective students. Members of the faculty, chairs of the academic departments, and deans have been enormously important to our success thus far. We will need your continued participation.
I have also met with the leadership of our Alumni Association and am delighted to report that they plan to target student recruitment as one of their major priorities this year. During visits to our alumni chapters around the country, I will stress the importance of this student recruitment initiative.
Of course, at the core of any successful recruitment program is the quality of our academic programs. Without this, we can not hope to recruit, let alone retain, students of quality. Let me share with you some of the initiatives planned in this area for the coming year.
First and foremost, despite limited resources, we will undertake recruitment of new faculty in areas we determine to be of strategic importance to the institution. Such faculty renewal must be a key feature of any strategy to continue our growth in academic excellence.
We must also continue to participate in the transformation of the learning experience itself. In fundamental ways, the academy is being challenged to re-examine its intellectual assumptions, its mode of teaching and learning in the new information age and the structure and assumptions of its curricula in a time of major societal change and need.
I have been particularly gratified ; here at Albany ; to see the richness of the campus dialogue around these critical issues. Indeed, based on such a faculty dialogue over the past year, we have developed the concept for a new living-learning pilot initiative called Project Renaissance. This program will be inaugurated in the Fall of 1996. During the current academic year, a team of faculty and graduate and undergraduate student tutors will develop a 9 to 12-hour interdisciplinary general education sequence which will be delivered to a cohort of 100 freshmen who will form a residence-hall based learning community. Communication skills and critical thinking will be emphasized, and students will spend more time outside of class in collaborative learning and interaction with their faculty through the use of information technology and electronic communications.
Such pilot projects are essential if we are to remain competitive in the transformations occurring nation-wide in the way students and faculty interact to promote learning. I am committed to Project Renaissance and will give it my full support.
The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning is providing leadership for Project Renaissance. Established just last year, the Center has already received external funding for a number of its innovative educational programs. Under the leadership of Professor Lil Brannon, it provides a focus for campus-wide discussion regarding our learning environment, and it was established in response to our faculty's request for support in developing innovations in teaching and learning. As knowledge expands and as new technologies emerge, we have the rare opportunity, as I said earlier, to do things differently, not just better.
And, finally, we will begin a campus-wide discussion of how we can assure that our students are prepared for full participation in the global society in which they will function. We must, I feel, enrich our international commitments and design programs of study which increase our student's multinational awareness.
Crucial as well to the kind of learning environment I have been describing is the quality of on-campus living experiences. The Division of Student Affairs, under the leadership of Vice President Doellefeld, will focus this year on enhancing the intellectual climate in the residence halls and improving the quality of services provided there. We have made great strides in the residence halls in the past year. We will build upon that momentum.
Finally, a quality learning environment at a research university requires both excellent facilities and expanded technology. Especially in times of diminished operating funds, we cannot afford to be anything less than aggressive in pursuing targeted federal, state and private funds which remain available for such specific purposes.
One such opportunity has resulted in our Center for Environmental Sciences and Technology Manage-ment,which is funded by a state economic development grant and private support from regional business leaders. In June we broke ground for CESTM, and the opening is planned for 1997.
CESTM will provide much-needed research space as well as function as an incubator facility, where University scientists in atmospheric sciences and physicists in our Center for Advanced Technology in Thin Films and Coatings (the CAT) will work alongside scientists from the National Weather Service and a number of spin-off companies. Technology transfer and small business support services are an essential component of this initiative. The resulting synergy is expected to generate new research-based technologies with commercial application. The support of the Legislature and our local business community for this project has been exceptional. This support has laid the groundwork for further partnerships designed to expand the resources we need to fulfill our research mission.
We are also moving forward on the Electronic Library Project. I am pleased to report that full funding for the Library project was confirmed just last week. I am now working with SUNY and with our Capital Region Legislative Delegation to expedite the release of the funds by the Division of the Budget so that we can break ground for the facility before the end of this year.
I am also pleased to report that we are continuing to pursue, through the University at Albany Foundation, an opportunity to acquire by gift and purchase the former Sterling-Winthrop laboratory complex in East Greenbush ; a 370,000 square-foot facility. An economic development grant of up to $5 million, made possible through the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, has been provided for the purchase of the facility. These are targeted funds to assist in the economic development of Rensselaer County. I am now working with the University at Albany Foundation to assess the feasibility of this important initiative.
These state-of-the art office and laboratory facilities would make an excellent venue for our School of Public Health. The Sterling site could also serve as an important option for other long-standing and pressing requirements for laboratory and office space here on the campus. In ad-dition, we anticipate the leasing of additional space in the buildings to several private health-related ventures and other businesses which would provide both a revenue stream to support the operation of the facility as well as the potential for professional interaction with our faculty.
Rarely does a university have such an opportunity to expand its physical facilities in such a substantial way. I will keep you apprised as we continue to assess the feasibility of the project.
Finally, we will move aggressively during the current academic year to enhance the technology so critical to our teaching and research programs ; critical, in fact, to maintaining our status as a major research university. Input from the faculty has indicated that their clear priority is access to network resources. And that will be our first priority. Such access for faculty is crucial if we are to enrich the educational opportunities available to our students. Since 1993 we have added more than 2,100 data connections for individual faculty and staff, most of them in the past year alone. Although a significant accomplishment, this is by no means adequate. Yet, even this expansion of data connections has stretched our present network environment beyond its practical limit.
Therefore, this year, under the leadership of Vice President Carlucci and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven DeLong, we will undertake a major data communications upgrade, including a new fiber optic backbone to service all academic and administrative buildings, and installation of individual connections to faculty and staff offices throughout these buildings, on and off the podium, both uptown and at Rockefeller College.
We have developed a long-term strategic budgetary plan to permit us to develop this extensive project. The first phase ; acquisition of routing equipment that will become the new network's foundation ; has already taken place. By February, the new backbone reaching out from this central point to all of the buildings will be in place, substantially improving both access and response time. Immediately following, new wiring will be installed inside the buildings ; for some 7,000 individual users ; with completion targeted for early Fall 1996.
As you know, major investments have also been made in the residence halls. The cabling infrastructure is already in place, and this year the University activated data connections in four additional residence halls. We will continue to expand this Residential Network (ResNet), which not only has great potential for delivering academic and administrative services to students, but is a tremendously effective marketing tool for student recruitment and retention.
With the funds from the new Technology Fee we will also be able to provide increased student access to equipment and electronic technology. Mainframe access through the modem pool, computer classrooms and laboratories, and educational technology available in the lecture centers will also be enhanced.
These facility and technology projects, coupled with our student recruitment, academic program and residence hall initiatives, should enhance in a substantial way the learning environment here at Albany.
However, none of these initiatives ; be they in the area of resource development or enhancing our learning environment ; will have long-term impact if we do not participate fully in the current public policy debate which will shape the future of higher education in general, and the research university in particular.
Therefore, our final initiative during the coming year will be ADVOCACY ; telling our story. We must step forward on behalf of our institution to articulate (and defend) our special role as a research university within the higher education community ; to clarify the distinctive nature of undergraduate education in such a research environment. We must tell the story of how our academic community enriches the society of which we are a part. The confluence of perspectives from fundamental research in the disciplines to application of new discoveries offers a powerful opportunity to impact many of our societal challenges. Such responsiveness to key issues of societal concern will offer persuasive testimony to the crucial role of our institutions.
In my conversations with business leaders in recent weeks, I have found a great willingness on their part to join me in advocacy on behalf of the University at Albany. They clearly value and understand the mission of a research university. Such coalitions of business leaders can be a powerful force working on our behalf, just as they have been in advocating on behalf of university research funding in the Congress. In my meetings with Capital Region legislators, they have assured me of their firm commitment to our success. I will work closely with them as well to advance our various initiatives.
And, most important, we must tell the story of our students. Indeed, we have selected the theme of Celebrating Our Alumni for this 1995-96 academic year. During the year, we will celebrate the accomplishments of our outstanding graduates at events, in publications and through other outreach efforts and special recognition programs. Through them we will convey the meaning and significant impact of this university on our state and our nation.
This is a pivotal year for the University at Albany, in-deed for all of SUNY. The results of the Trustees' review of the System could set the course for our institution for years to come. All of us must be ; I'm back to that word ; engaged in this process. We must determine what is central to our overall institutional mission and move, together, to advocate on behalf of our common vision.
This is truly a defining moment for SUNY, as well as for the academy. We, here at Albany, have a real opportunity to make a difference, to participate in charting the course for a truly transformed University. And, we have in abundance the committed faculty and academic leadership necessary to the task.
[After acknowledging new administrators and faculty leaders, and welcoming new faculty, the President concluded:]
The learning community which is the University at Albany is nothing more or less than those of you who have committed yourselves to educating your students, advancing your disciplines and, thus, enriching our institution. I look forward to working with all of you in the months ahead as, together, we help to define the future of this great institution. Thank you.
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