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University Forum addresses strategic plan

Several hundred employees attended the annual University Forum, where leaders brought them up to speed on recent achievements as well as challenges the institution faces. President Lois B. DeFleur and the five vice presidents each gave presentations Tuesday and then took questions from the audience on topics ranging from rising energy costs to library acquisitions.

The administrators focused on how each division is working to implement the University’s strategic plan. DeFleur said Binghamton will:

• Continue slow growth to meet demands for access.

• Continue to invest in academic programs.

• Develop benchmarks and measures to judge student success and institutional efficiency.

• Implement the strategic plan with commitment, creativity and cooperation.

She offered a snapshot of recent successes, including the transformation of the Alumni Journal into the Binghamton University Magazine, the popularity of Winter Session and renovation of the Innovative Technologies Complex. She also noted that the school has been able to recruit better students each year.

“It’s because of the quality students and high-quality academic programs that the University continues to be recognized nationally,” she said.

The University has earned kudos from publications such as U.S. News & World Report and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. “For a young school like Binghamton, this visibility helps us to achieve other goals,” DeFleur said. The president also discussed the state and national climates for higher education. Among the main challenges will be budget constraints at both levels, she said.

“As we look to the future, it’s clear we can’t count on federal or even state funding to meet all of our needs,” said DeFleur, who has met with congressmen and senators to discuss her concerns.

DeFleur also noted that many of the University’s priorities mesh with those of new State University of New York Chancellor John Ryan. The SUNY budget proposal includes money for negotiated salary increases and increased energy costs, $50 million for instructional technology and equipment and $550 million for capital projects.

The president said that the strategic plan’s interrelated goals make cooperation among divisions essential. “We have a long tradition of getting it done,” she told the assembled employees. “Each of you have been and are a part of this important tradition.”

Division of Academic Affairs Provost Mary Ann Swain addressed the University’s mission at the beginning of her talk. “As a public institution,” she said, “it is important for us not only to expand the borders of knowledge but to do that for the public good.”

Maintaining academic excellence as enrollment rises in both existing and new programs means focusing on faculty, she said. The University has set its sights on a 20-1 student-faculty ratio and is taking steps toward that goal. Swain also mentioned her proposal to divide the School of Education and Human Development into a separate School of Education and a new College of Community and Public Affairs. She also hopes to see new doctoral programs in educational leadership and bioengineering. Division of Research Gerald Sonnenfeld, vice president for research, said the last year or two has presented a tough climate in which to increase research awards and expenditures.Nevertheless, Binghamton has been able to do just that.

“In order to continue this we’re going to have to show some innovative activities,” he said.

That will mean identifying new and novel funding sources as well as enhancing the services of the Office of Research Development, he said.

As engagement becomes a University-wide priority, Sonnenfeld pointed to several successes, including a collaboration with the Roberson Museum & Science Center and enhanced interaction with area agencies and industry.

He closed with an invitation to visit the new Innovative Technologies Complex, where Division of Research offices recently relocated.

Division of Student Affairs Rodger Summers, vice president for student affairs, emphasized that students are at the center of the learning process.

Binghamton must increase learning opportunities including volunteer work and internships, he said. Students have asked for these experiences and they can help with job and graduate school applications.

Improving out-of-classroom experiences also has to be a priority, Summers said. He noted his college-bound daughter gets brochures touting schools’ recreational facilities. Summers also noted that the current group of Binghamton students is more ethnically diverse than ever before and said he hopes to see that diversity reflected in the faculty and staff.

“I’m going to ask you to say ‘yes’ when we ask you to help,” he told the audience. “Show your commitment to excellence.” Division of External Affairs Thomas Kelly, vice president for external affairs, said the University is in an environment “replete with competitors” but also with constituents and potential constituents.

A new comprehensive gifts campaign is in the works, he said, and that offers Binghamton a chance to convey information about our achievements as well as our needs to alumni and friends.

“At Binghamton, we have a great story to tell,” Kelly said. The campaign will support faculty hiring, graduate education, undergraduate enrollment as well as research, he noted. It will also contribute to the University’s growing endowment.

Binghamton’s endowment of $57 million puts it in the elite company of about 15 percent of American colleges with endowments of more than $50 million. That endowment provides a valuable revenue stream for the University and serves as a symbol of the institution’s stability.

Division of Administration James Van Voorst, vice president for administration, started off with some surprising statistics about services provided by his division.

University Police received 34,000 requests for service last year, he said, and 90 million e-mail messages were processed. “Seventy-three million were targeted as spam or viruses, and they never hit your computer,” he said, to loud applause.

Van Voorst noted several major projects are on the horizon, including a Success Commons, a project involving Newing and Dickinson, renovations to the East Gym and improvements to the campus’ exterior spaces.

Like each of the other vice presidents, Van Voorst also discussed plans to strengthen staff training and development. As Summers put it, “We believe it’s important that staff feel they can move up in the organization.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08