Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger's Quarterly Report - June 30, 2014
Springtime is a season of transition and excitement, and this is especially true on a university campus. At Binghamton, we see an increase in activity as the weather warms. Students take to the Peace Quad, the air is filled with the sound of new construction, while the walkways fill with high school students and their parents on campus visits. Meanwhile, students are working to complete papers and studying for final exams, and faculty are tying up research projects in anticipation of the end of the school year. And for a few thousand excited students, our Commencement ceremonies in May mark the culmination of their academic journey at Binghamton and the start of new careers and adventures.
So the period from March to June is always a busy time at Binghamton, and this year has been no exception. We’ve been moving forward on a number of other fronts, including our Road Map, research initiatives and enhancements to our campus. And we’re especially proud that our faculty, students and student-athletes are receiving national recognition.
It’s been an exciting few months and I am pleased with the progress we are making.
Commencement and enrollment growth
As I mentioned, the highlight of the academic year is always our Commencement ceremonies. Last year these were reorganized so that each school and college could recognize its students in a more personal manner. The results have been fantastic, and it is clear that the graduates appreciate the opportunity to cross the stage as they join the ranks of our alumni. Organizing ceremonies on a scale as large as this is a tremendous undertaking involving staff and faculty from across the campus, and I am always amazed at how smoothly the ceremonies run.
This year, more than 3,000 students, including more than 600 master’s and 90 doctoral students participated in our nine separate ceremonies. Receiving honorary degrees were three of our distinguished alumni: educator and former Geneseo College and University of Nevada, Las Vegas president Carol Harter ’64, MA ’67, PhD ’70; public policy scholar, public servant and international humanitarian and human rights expert Eric P. Schwartz ’79; and historian Deborah Gray White ’71. Each of these remarkable people richly merits this recognition and serves as a model for the entire University community.
Even as we celebrate the achievements of our graduates, we also are busy preparing for next year’s class of freshmen. Our Admissions Office has been very busy this year, processing more than 33,000 undergraduate applications to select the 2,500 freshmen and 1,000 transfer students who will begin their studies this coming fall. These students all have outstanding qualifications, with SAT scores averaging over 1300 for the “two-part” test.
One of the highest priorities has been to strengthen our graduate programs and increase Binghamton’s visibility as a research university. One of the measures for determining success in this area is the quality and number of applications for admission that our graduate school receives, and by this criteria, this year has been very good. In fall 2014, Binghamton University will have the highest graduate enrollment in its history. Over the past two years, the Graduate School and academic departments have worked to make the admissions process more reliable and more efficient, allowing them to process applications faster and to enroll academically stronger students.
We expect that our fall 2014 graduate enrollment will be roughly 9 to 10 percent higher than the enrollment in fall 2013, or a net growth of 270-300 students. The bulk of this growth is from new graduate students, and is a direct result of the broadening of the applicant pool, especially among international students. According to the latest national survey by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), Binghamton is a national leader in international application growth, with international graduate student applications growing by 26 percent over the prior year, compared to only 7 percent growth nationally. Binghamton has outperformed its peers for the second year in a row, having also seen exceptional growth in 2013, when international graduate applications to Binghamton were up 29 percent, compared with 1 percent nationally. Expanding our graduate enrollment is one of the highest priorities for the University Road Map, and success in this area will pay large dividends in the future, with greater national and international recognition and significantly increased research support.
Research and academics
We’ve already seen some evidence that our faculty and research programs are garnering attention. Recently, University faculty have won several large and prestigious grants for their research. For example, M. Stanley Whittingham, distinguished professor of chemistry and of materials science, and director of the NorthEast Center for Chemical Energy Storage at Binghamton, was awarded a $12.8 million, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to establish an Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) at Binghamton to study advances in battery technology. These centers are at the heart of the government’s efforts to accelerate scientific breakthroughs in energy production and storage. Professor Whittingham’s work is an outstanding example of the types of research that are makingBinghamton a leader in smart-energy research.
The University also has received a significant grant targeted toward improving undergraduate education in the science disciplines. A $1.2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a $700,000 grant from New York state, will support a freshman immersion program that will begin next fall.
Initially, the program will channel 90 students in three research streams: biofilms; neuroscience; and smart energy, with about 30 students per stream. Eventually, we envision as many as 10 streams, with 300 freshmen participating during the fall and spring semesters, with another 200 students in a summer immersion program. This grant will allow us to hire research assistant professors to oversee the research stream laboratories where these young students will conduct research. I am excited about this program and expect that it will become a drawing card for students interested in the STEM fields.
In addition to enhancing undergraduate education in the sciences, we also are moving forward on developing new academic programs in these fields for advanced students. The most visible of our efforts in this area regards our new school of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences. We have submitted our letter of intent and full proposal to SUNY and the State Board of Education for approval, and have received state funding to move forward. We are currently looking at sites in Johnson City near Wilson Hospital, with whom we will be partnering, and we are close to making our final site decision. We anticipate the school will open in 2017 and will grow to approximately 320 students and between 20-30 faculty by 2021.
Research, graduate and undergraduate education also continue to drive our Road Map process, which is now entering its second year. Earlier this month, the Road Map Steering Committee completed its review of divisional proposals put forward for funding for the 2015-16 academic year. After combining several proposals, the Committee ranked a total of 54 proposals, with the top 10 receiving a portion of the $1.8 million base, continuing funding available.
With limited dollars available for the 2015-16 year, it is impossible to fund more than a few proposals. We’ve selected proposals that match most closely with the University’s strategic priorities. In the end, the Steering Committee decided to fund, at levels yet to be determined, the following proposals:
• Four staff hires for undergraduate and graduate student recruitment
• Twenty new lines for PhD student stipends and tuition
• Two staff hires for the “4-1-1” Program
• Seven staff hires in academic affairs to meet demands of enrollment growth
• Four staff hires for undergraduate advising
• Three staff hires to support Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence activities
• One staff hire and seed funding for entrepreneurship and innovation partnerships
• One staff hire to direct a Language Center
• Additional funds for faculty start-up
• Two staff hires for the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion
Specific information on the proposals moving forward will be available online and we will also jump-start those projects that are ready for implementation now by matching up to $1 million in funding that vice presidents may provide. As we move forward, Provost Donald Nieman and I are working with my senior staff to identify ways to identify how all of our activities align with our Road Map’s strategic priorities.
Regional economic development
As part of our efforts to foster innovative research and promote regional economic development, the University is taking a lead role in the development of the Southern Tier High Technology Incubator that will be built in downtown Binghamton. You will recall that substantial funding for this project came from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council. We’ve made substantial progress on this initiative over the last three months, having finalized the interior and site design and let out bids for the initial concrete and steel work. When it is completed, it will include 12 office modules, 18 laboratories and a shared high bay space. We will be breaking ground on the project in September and expect to have the facility completed by January 2016. I am impressed by the way the process has moved forward and the cooperation that it has engendered between the University and community and business leaders.
It is interesting that one of the effects of having the University locate campuses in different parts of the Binghamton region is that our impact on the local economy is both broadened and magnified. With progress being made on the STARTUP-NY initiative, we can expect to see an even greater impact as we’ve identified space on campus as well as in the community that could accommodate new or expanding businesses that partner with us to take advantage of the state’s offer to operate 100 percent tax-free for 10 years. We are targeting technology businesses with expertise in the areas of health sciences, smart energy and microelectronics integration and packaging — businesses that do not compete with currently operating regional firms.
And speaking of competition, our number 1 Bearcat, Baxter, received SUNY-wide recognition as the winner of the Mascot Madness Cup during a ceremony held at SUNY Day in Washington, D.C. Fans of SUNY mascots were encouraged to vote through social media, and Baxter collected 27, 481 points through online votes and bonus points. It is good to see that Binghamton has a growing fan base, not only for our academics, but also for our athletic teams. These teams contribute significantly to the University’s national reputation and visibility. This was made most evident this semester as the baseball team won the America East title and traveled to Oklahoma to compete in the NCAA tournament, losing in the ninth inning to 19th-ranked Nebraska. Similarly, the men’s tennis team won its seventh straight conference title.
Administrative leadership transitions
I began this report talking about how springtime is a period of transition for the University, and just as we say goodbye to our graduates and welcome our new students, so, too, do we see changes in staffing, as experienced staff and faculty move on to new opportunities and we bring aboard new talent. This semester, we’ve added a new vice president for advancement, alumnus Jim Broschart, who comes to Binghamton from Hartwick College, where he led them in a successful comprehensive campaign, focusing on annual giving and increasing major gifts. We also welcomed our new women’s basketball coach, Linda Cimino, who led the Caldwell College women’s team for eight years and brings experience and energy to the position.
Even as we are adding new staff, we also are losing an excellent vice president for administration, James Van Voorst, who is leaving to serve at the University of Albany. Jim served the University well for over 14 years, including nine years as vice president. He played a vital role for the University, providing strategic advice during some very challenging fiscal times, and helped the University gain a reputation as a strong community partner during the flood of 2011.
With this opening in the senior administration, I have decided to reorganize the Division of Administration into a slightly smaller Division of Operations, with planning, budgeting and financial functions moved to the Division of Academic Affairs. I have appointed a search committee, chaired by Provost Nieman, to find a vice president of operations among internal candidates.
As you can see, it’s been a very eventful quarter. I believe we’ve made good progress on our strategic priorities, especially regarding our efforts to strengthen research and undergraduate education. With summer arriving, it is a good time for the campus to catch its breath and prepare for the next academic year. I’m looking forward to it.
Harvey G. Stenger