Presidential candidate: Jonathan AlgerTweet
Jonathan Alger’s visit to Binghamton University marked a return to upstate New York for the third of five presidential candidates.
“There is a really exciting personal connection for me being here,” Alger told a crowd of predominantly faculty, staff and administrators during an open forum Dec. 8 in Old Union Hall.
Alger, now senior vice president and general counsel at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, began his remarks by saying that he was born and raised in upstate New York. He was born in York (Livingston County) and moved to Chili (outside of Rochester) at age 5. His parents still live in Chili, his sister lives in Cortland and several family members have attended SUNY schools.
Alger credited his grandparents and parents with teaching him about ethics and service.
“Those are core values I’ve carried with me through my life and career,” he said, “and (the values) I would bring to the presidency of Binghamton University.”
At the forum, Alger offered 10 challenges and opportunities that face Binghamton University in the 21st century.
“These are all important and interrelated challenges and opportunities,” said Alger, who added that the 10 were not necessarily in order of priority. “I would label this ‘engaged with ideas and engaged with the world.’”
A clear vision for a public research university
“We have to be able to ask the question that parents, students and employers ask: What is the value of a Binghamton education? Why should I send my son or daughter there?” he said.
The answer, Alger said, is that universities must prepare students for “lifelong learning” with skills that combine theory and practice.
“It’s important for students to understand and build upon our cultural heritage and also develop analytical skills, communication skills, creativity and a willingness and openness to explore new ideas and approaches,” he said. “It also means getting real-world experience: working on research projects, internships and doing service learning.”
Incorporate the values of public service, civic engagement and social responsibility
“How do you live, work and learn together in a community and how are you going to do that after you graduate?” Alger asked.
Alger stressed the aftermath of a tragedy at Rutgers earlier this semester in which a freshman committed suicide after a cyber-bullying incident. The university has a program in place called Project Civility, in which students, faculty and others discuss what it means to live, work and respect each other in a technologically advanced age.
Create a holistic learning environment inside and outside the classroom
Alger pointed out that Binghamton University already complements its classroom teaching with the residential college system. But he also emphasized the importance of two of his loves: the arts and athletics.
The arts are “an important lens of the world I want students exposed to,” said Alger, who has sung with choral groups and produced professional recordings. “Athletics need to be incorporated into the academic environment. That’s something we talked a lot about at Michigan and Rutgers.”
Prepare students for the global marketplace and focus on international education and enrollment
Alger told the forum audience that going to Japan as a high school junior was a “life-changing experience,” as he was no longer in the majority with race, religion and language. He has carried the experience into his professional career, he said, by striving to make all individuals feel welcome and gain educational benefits.
“This is obviously a signature strength of Binghamton and one that I would be a champion for,” he said.
Provide access and opportunities to students of all backgrounds
Alger used a Future Scholars Program that developed from a Rutgers diversity task force he led as an example. The program identifies dozens of students in New Jersey public school districts and they are provided with mentoring, tutoring and on-campus research opportunities. The students then go to Rutgers for free if they graduate and are accepted.
“We need to think of ourselves as part of a pipeline,” he said. “How undergraduate and graduate education relates to K-12 schools is very important.”
Harness the educational benefits of diversity
Alger cited this as another Binghamton strength. “It’s not just diversity for the sake of diversity,” he said. “It’s because there are real educational benefits to an environment in which you are living and interacting with students from different backgrounds and perspectives and life experiences.”
Address issues of accountability and assessment
“What are the learning outcomes? Are students being prepared for the careers after they graduate?” Alger asked. “We can’t be afraid to ask these questions in higher education.”
Taking the lead on sustainability and green initiatives
“I think our institutions of higher education need to lead our society in the years ahead,” Alger said. “I know Binghamton has been doing this in its curriculum and through the buildings it is putting up.”
Overcome the image of the isolated ivory tower
Active involvement and engagement with the community is necessary, Alger said.
“We can certainly serve as a powerful economic engine for our community,” he said. “It’s an important thing we can do to get people to support us at the federal, state and local levels. But we have to be out there in the community. We need to value public service and roll up our sleeves.”
Deal with financial challenges
The times have changed, Alger said, and universities cannot assume state money will be the only means of support.
“We have to look for new sources of revenue,” he said. “We have to grow our endowment. We need engaged alumni.”
A university such as Binghamton should look to corporations, foundations and the federal government, while also possibly creating revenue-generating programs.
Alger said he sees the president’s role in fund-raising as an “advocate.”
“I would love the opportunity to tell the Binghamton story to all of these different constituents,” he said. “That’s what I see as a big part of the president’s role: to be your representative at the state level, local level, with alumni, with foundations. It’s something I enjoy doing. You have a great story to tell and I would love to be part of it.”
To read about Gary Miller’s open forum, click here.
To read about Susan Jeffords’ open forum, click here.
To read about Uday Sukhatme’s open forum, click here.
To read about Bruce Bursten’s open foum, click here.