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A night to salute leadership: Forum dinner honors DeFleur

By : Katie Ellis

Held for the first time in the Events Center to accommodate the crowd of 320, the Binghamton University Forum annual dinner on June 12 was a time of reflection as well as a time of celebration of the nearly 20-year tenure of President Lois B. DeFleur.

Featured speaker Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, U.S. Army (Ret.), president and CEO of Business Executives for National Security, prompted reflection throughout his presentation on “Strategic Challenges for the U.S.”

“My greatest concern is our national debt and the way it’s growing,” he said. “American people don’t understand this problem and this is the number one challenge for security — how we’re not dealing with the burgeoning deficit.”

After reviewing current and past military operations, Meigs cautioned the audience that the cyber world poses a second, serious national security problem. “The United States is in a period of idiosyncratic warfare — a crazy kind of warfare that we haven’t had to deal with before with organized, insurgent types of activity.

“We have, in my view, a more complicated strategic environment than at any time since 1963,” he said, but universities such as Binghamton can contribute to overcoming the strategic challenges our country faces. “It’s a very, very tough game we’re in and getting out of this will require participation, determination, discipline and a competitive way to solve these problems.”

Reflection was also apparent as DeFleur was lauded through word and video for her contributions to the University and community. Noting that the annual forum gala was one of DeFleur’s favorite events and the culmination of her Binghamton University career, Forum chair Gerald Putman said, “This is what Lois is all about — the University, community and friendships.

“She is a proven leader. She has vision and she commands and earned our respect. But most of all — she cares,” he said. “I thought about 1991 when Lois DeFleur came here with a vision of what this University could look like. Here we are and look where we are.”

Video tributes to DeFleur included interviews with current and former members of her senior staff, Binghamton University Council Chair Kathryn Grant Madigan and incoming Interim President C. Peter Magrath, as well as a tribute on the state Senate floor from Sen. Thomas W. Libous.

Thomas Kelly, professor of management and former vice president for external affairs, spoke of DeFleur’s attention to the University’s reputation within New York state, which “she built to one of national prominence and international renown.”

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Mary Ann Swain referred to DeFleur’s vision to sustain excellence and grow.

“She made this a public research university with superb undergraduate programs,” Swain said. “And we’re highly integrated into the community as well. She has always hung onto the notion that our foundation is in the quality of the education we offer our undergraduates.”

Strength in research, reaching out to the business community and increasing fundraising by almost 600 percent have also been part of DeFleur’s central mission said others.

“The way she approaches any issue, it’s not about her,” said James Van Voorst, vice president for administration. “It’s about Binghamton University, our students, faculty, staff and the community. She is not promoting herself and that’s an excellent framework. She knows the operation, our history, what our heart is, and she is able to express that and it will be a lasting thing that’s not going to change.”

DeFleur was surprised with a second video before beginning her remarks, this one a “thank you” video featuring more than 70 faculty, staff, colleagues, community members and friends.

“Wow!” she said. “I don’t even know where to begin, but I was remembering when I interviewed for the job, and I was impressed by all of the people.” Touring the community with Darwin and Alice Wales was a turning point in her “really wanting to come here,” she said. “I had never encountered a group such as this forum and I thought to myself that the possibilities are endless, and that if we worked together we could build something that would be vital to our combined futures.”

DeFleur spoke of the more than 1,300 partnerships the University has with the community, the University Downtown Center and its academic programs that reach out into the area, the student volunteerism that connects the University with the community and the use of the Events Center to house more than 3,000 people during the flood in 2006.

“Some of the evacuees told us they really didn’t want to leave and it was like being on a cruise ship,” she said. “That illustrates that in times of fun and cheering, and in times of great need, we do work together and in doing so we have built and enhanced the reputation of this great University.

“Throughout all of this, what we’ve done is transform what is truly an upstate jewel of the SUNY system into a first-class, international university, and this University should continue to grow and develop, and I feel great confidence that the next president will take it to the next level.

“After Commencement, I said that my years here have been the best time in my life, and I mean that sincerely,” she said. “Thank each and every one of you for the tremendous support you’ve given me over the years.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08