May 28, 2022

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President's Quarterly Report

Fall 2020

The start of the fall 2020 semester was anything but normal. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of the University’s operations, from the way classes are taught and students learn and live, to the research and scholarship activities of our faculty, to the way our staff conduct their daily work. However, because of the tremendous job faculty and staff have done in preparing for this semester, we’ve had a successful start to the academic year.

At the same time, the campus has been profoundly impacted by the volatile social and political climate of the summer of 2020. The calls for social justice that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May continued throughout the summer; in addition, students and alumni raised issues about how the campus handles complaints regarding sexual assault and harassment. In response, the University has instituted a number of reforms to University procedures and policies, and redoubled our efforts to make Binghamton a campus that is diverse, equitable, inclusive and safe.

The University’s work continues despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, with faculty earning recognition for their work and progress being made on a number of construction and renovation projects. Several of these projects are associated with the Health Sciences Campus in Johnson City; most notably, the new home for the Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences is rapidly approaching completion. We also are watching New York state’s fiscal situation very carefully, as there is a significant budget deficit predicted for later this year and into next as a result of the pandemic. So, while we have successfully weathered the challenges of the coronavirus for now, we expect the next few quarters to be difficult and we have begun preparing for them already.

Launching the fall semester

The beginning of the fall semester saw Binghamton welcome 2,863 first-year students into the Class of 2024, as well as 1,020 transfer students to our campus. In addition, we have 1,241 new graduate students in our community. For the first time, first-year students participated in a common read project prior to arriving on campus. All new students were asked to read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, and also watch the documentary, 13th, by director Ava DuVernay. Significantly, members of the alumni’s virtual book club also participated in reading Just Mercy, extending the common experience across generations of Binghamton students and graduates.

The arrival of the first-year class brought Binghamton’s total enrollment to 18,128 (as of Sept. 23). This is 26 more students than were enrolled in fall 2019. Undergraduate enrollment is 14,307 — 162 more than in 2019, while graduate enrollment is 3,821 — down 136 compared to 2019. Much of the decrease in graduate enrollment is a result of international travel restrictions due to COVID-19. International graduate enrollment is just 1,045, down by 297 students compared to last year; international undergraduate enrollment also declined from 820 last year to 650 this year. Among this year’s graduate enrollment is the final cohort of our School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; this fall 93 students were added to the program, bringing the school’s total enrollment up to 310 students in its four class years. We look forward to graduating our inaugural cohort in the spring.

Planning for Restarting Binghamton began in the spring semester and continued throughout the summer. Countless scenarios and potential challenges were considered, with the goal of renewing the faculty-student interactions that are critical to the University’s education and research missions. Students returning to campus were required to sign a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities outlining the public health directives they must follow, and notifying them of the housing and academic penalties for violations of University policies. Our primary goal has been to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.

Because of COVID-19, we decided to stagger the student move-in times from Aug. 19 to 25, to reduce campus densities and provide for testing of students upon their arrival and before they moved into their residence halls. The initial testing went well, averaging 150 tests per hour. Twenty-eight individuals (out of 6,232 students) tested positive for COVID-19 — a positive rate of .45%. Most of the students who tested positive returned home to isolate before returning to campus, although we reserved two residence halls as quarantine and isolation areas for those who preferred to remain on campus. And, in a break from previous years, we prohibited parents from entering the residence halls. More than 300 student, faculty and staff volunteers assisted in the move-in process across a wide variety of roles, from helping in the parking lots to assisting students as they moved into their residence halls. Because of the careful planning that went into Move-in Week, it proved to be one of the smoothest semester openings I’ve seen, with many parents comparing us favorably to their experiences at other campuses.

Everyone on campus is required to answer a health screening questionnaire daily, and the campus began a random surveillance testing program to identify both on- and off-campus students who may be infected with the novel coronavirus. We have also begun random testing of faculty and staff, in agreement with several of our bargaining units. We also are testing wastewater streams from each of the residential communities to allow us to identify potential hotspots. New York state has identified a threshold for the campus to remain open for in-person classes of 100 positive tests for COVID-19 over two-week periods; the most recent two-week period began Saturday, Sept. 26. As of Oct. 5, Binghamton’s cumulative total since Sept. 2 is 38 positive results out of 4,640 tests for a positive rate test percentage of .82%.

The coronavirus has also changed how faculty are conducting their classes. They had to design classes to be taught simultaneously in person and remotely — essentially having to practice two types of teaching. Over the summer, the University invested in both technology and support staff to assist faculty in making the transition to remote teaching. A number of classes are being taught in “Bingflex” mode to allow a portion of the class to attend face-to-face classes on a rotating basis, with other students learning remotely on Zoom. We also have utilized many larger spaces on campus as classrooms to allow for social distancing, and all large lecture classes are being taught online. Even with these changes, about 40% of our courses are being taught in person, meaning that students have the opportunity to learn directly from and interact with their faculty mentors. All told, 6,197 students are learning in a fully remote manner this semester either voluntarily or because of scheduling challenges. At the same time, the Division of Student Affairs has worked hard to provide socially distanced and virtual activities for student groups and organizations, while the University’s admissions programs such as Orientation and our open houses also have gone virtual.

We also have made a number of changes to the academic calendar in order to reduce student travel, which we see as essential to reducing campus exposure to COVID-19. Classes began as originally planned on Aug. 26, but traditional fall breaks and breaks for Jewish holidays were canceled. We also decided to cancel in-person classes following Thanksgiving break in November, following two days of exams for classes requiring in-person assessments. All classes will be virtual following the Thanksgiving break, so other classes will hold virtual exams in early December. We are planning on similar changes to the spring 2021 academic calendar as well.

The University is being very strict about limiting student gatherings and ensuring that students wear masks and social distance themselves outside the classroom. Still, the first weeks of the semester saw several occasions where these protocols were ignored. In response I, along with Student Association President Khaleel James, have had to issue statements reminding students of their responsibilities in preventing an outbreak of COVID-19 at Binghamton that would result in the cancellation of in-person classes, as well as the academic and residential punishments that might ensue to students violating our policies. Thankfully, the vast majority of students are complying with our guidelines, and the recent run of good weather has encouraged more outdoor, socially-distanced activities.

Over all, I think our students — and everyone else, too — are glad to be back on campus and in classes. I want to commend all of our faculty and staff for helping to bring the campus back online. Because of their efforts we’ve had a successful start of the semester.

Social justice and Title IX actions

This summer saw an eruption of concerns about social issues across the United States, with evidence that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting minority communities. But in particular, the killing of George Floyd in May raised questions of institutional racism and injustice against Black and Brown Americans across the nation. In response to these issues, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new Say their Name Reform Agenda covering the New York state police, including the New York State University Police at Binghamton. Going farther, I established a new Campus Citizen Review Board, composed of students, faculty and staff, that is charged with reviewing and improving the University Police Department’s policies, procedures and practices. In addition, the University has set aside $1.5 million in endowment funds to establish a scholarship fund to support minority students in honor of George Floyd, with the five inaugural recipients of this award named in early September. At the same time, we have increased funding for the Clifford D. Clark Diversity Fellowships program by $200,000 annually in order to support minority graduate students.

Also during the summer, a number of current and former students posted on social media expressing concerns about the University’s culture surrounding sexual assault and sexual violence and problems with the process for reporting Title IX violations. To address these concerns, we have created a new Title IX Council to investigate complaints and identify problems related to the campus response to complaints. We have appointed a member of our CARE Team to be a sexual assault advocate and are training several of our University Counseling Center to provide support to victims of sexual assault. We are also hiring two sexual violence investigators, and have hired an outside consultant to assess campus policies and procedures. In addition, we will be changing student conduct rules to enhance punishments for students and groups found to be involved with sexual assault cases.

Overseeing the Title IX Council will be Andrew Baker, our Title IX coordinator. The Campus Citizen Review Board is being co-chaired by Karen Jones, our vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Myra Sabir, associate professor of human development. With her deep experience in civil rights compliance, equity initiatives and human resources strategies in higher education, healthcare and private industry, Jones is already a strong ally for students and faculty pushing for inclusion and equity on campus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also raised issues of equity and inclusion across the campus community. We have experienced an increase of anti-Asian and other racist sentiment since the start of the pandemic, and it has only increased since the killing of George Floyd and others. Members of our campus community also have been subjected to hate-filled Zoom bombing due to their ethnicity, study of religious beliefs or gender. In September, Vice President Jones and I issued a statement condemning these racist and sexist words and actions, and providing links to campus offices where individuals can report incidences or seek support in response to verbal or physical attacks. Our goal is to make our campus a place where all people — of all backgrounds, representations and ethnicities — are safe, welcome and given opportunities to meet their full potential.

Budget

While the summer and start of the semester have gone well, we are concerned about the University’s looming fiscal situation, given the impact that COVID-19 has had on state resources. In August, I sent a message to faculty and staff outlining the challenges we are facing.

These include:

  • $27 million in refunded housing and student fees for spring 2020
  • $2 million in extra costs associated with COVID-19
  • a 25% reduction in state support this year, plus a retroactive cut of $6 million for last year
  • an estimated $10 million in lost tuition from international and out-of-state students
  • $12 million in lost housing revenues and ~$2 million in lost student athletics fees for this semester

These costs will be offset by:

  • restructured housing debt (~$25 million for each year, 2020-21 and 2021-22)
  • reduced hiring and purchasing by 15%, including a hiring pause implemented this summer
  • $6 million in CARES Act funding in July
  • and, potentially, $30-40 million in federal support, though this has yet to be authorized.

This adds up to a to a shortfall of around $10 million; we will be utilizing reserves to help address this, but it will be a challenging year, particularly if needed federal support fails to materialize. Overlying all of this are the many contingencies caused by the pandemic, particularly with regard to admissions and enrollment reflected in the decrease in international student enrollment. So our next year will also be difficult and filled with uncertainty. Nonetheless, we are optimistic that when the pandemic is brought under control, either through a vaccine or effective therapeutics, there will be a very large pent-up demand for education at Binghamton.

Good news

Binghamton continues to earn accolades for our faculty’s research and scholarship. In July, Binghamton’s Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity (CIAC) was named a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Research through 2025. This center draws on faculty expertise in a range of disciplines from computer science and electrical engineering to geography, management, nursing, anthropology and mathematics. This is outstanding recognition of the University’s role in keeping data secure.

Individual faculty have also been identified as leaders in their disciplines. For example, Yifan Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science recently received a five-year, $485,244 National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his work trying to speed access to data held in the cloud. Zhang’s CAREER Award is the third one received by Binghamton researchers this year. In a similar vein, Professor and Chair of Chemistry Eriks Rozners has been announced as the winner of the 2021 Melville L. Wolfrom Award from the American Chemical Society’s Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry in recognition of his contributions to his discipline. Rozners’ recent work has explored the role of carbohydrates in the production and functioning of ribonucleic acid (RNA), one of the building blocks of organic life. And Binghamton’s first Nobel Prize-winning faculty member, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science M. Stanley Whittingham, received another accolade this summer, having been named to the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s 2020 list of “Great Immigrants, Great Americans.” Whittingham was recognized for his work as an early creator of the lithium-ion battery and was celebrated as a member of an “extraordinary group of immigrants who have made notable contributions to the progress of American society” according to the Carnegie Corporation. Congratulations to all of our grant and award winners — your success shows that Binghamton’s research and scholarship is on a strong and positive trajectory.

The summer months also saw progress made on campus construction and maintenance projects. Many of these were initially slowed when the campus was closed at the start of the pandemic; however, by mid-summer most projects were back on schedule. The largest of these projects is the new building for our Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences, the co-anchor college of our Health Sciences Campus in nearby Johnson City, N.Y. Phase 1 of the project involving the first four floors of the facility is nearly complete, with fixtures and casework completed and interior painting underway. Interior construction is winding up and furnishing of the building will soon begin, with the first classes in the facility scheduled to begin in the spring.

Design work for floors five and six of the building is complete. These floors will house our new physical, occupational, and speech and language therapy programs, as well as provide space for a joint partnership with Upstate Medical University. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall, with an expected completion date of August 2021. In addition, the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ Research and Development facility is currently in the design phase.

On the Vestal campus, work has been completed for the Science 2 renovations that included new laboratories, classrooms and restrooms. Work will begin soon on the Science 2 Tower renovation that will address critical maintenance issues in the building, including asbestos abatement as well as mechanical, electrical, plumbing and HVAC upgrades. Steel installation for the Hinman Dining Hall is underway and concrete for the expansion foundation has been laid. Cleveland Hall renovations are nearly complete, with new air conditioning, electrical, mechanical and plumbing services. The building should be ready for occupation next semester. And work has begun on the University’s new $60 million baseball stadium complex, with completion slated for early 2022 — in time for that year’s athletic season.

Sincerely,

Harvey Stenger

Academics

The first Black woman to earn a PhD in geological sciences at Binghamton University, Kuwanna Dyer-Pietras is one of only 50 Black women in the United States to hold a doctorate in the field.

Advancement

The Alumni Association’s virtual event series, which launched in the summer, has continued into fall with several programs offered each month.

Communications and Marketing

The Division of Communications and Marketing continued to inform its audiences through statements, stories, Dateline, B-Line, social media and the web of critical information about what restarting the campus for the fall semester would entail.

Diversity

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) drastically impacted the operations of all institutions within higher education.

Operations

The pandemic has only served to ramp up the activities of the Environmental Health and Safety staff, who continued to be fully staffed and working in person on campus during the entire work-from-home period.

Research

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted research activities on campus, as it did so many other aspects of University life.