May 25, 2022

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President's Quarterly Report

Given the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID pandemic, the fall 2021 semester has been very positive. The start of the semester saw an increase in COVID cases on campus, threatening to pull the campus off course just as classes were entering full swing. Fortunately, this uptick was brief, and the University was able to recover until we reached final exam week and were met with a significant increase in virus infections. We decided to keep final exams in person but with increased social distancing in the rooms we used for finals that, coupled with all students being masked, provided a safe environment — the same kind of environment we’ve lived in for the past three semesters now.

Fortunately, the semester leading up to final exams was mostly normal, and we were able to conduct many of the usual rituals of academic life, highlighted by a well-attended Homecoming that featured the long-awaited Commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020. We also have seen our research and scholarship return to their normal productivity, which has resulted in several important grants for the campus, as well as significant accolades for our faculty. And serving as one of the strongest measures of a successful semester, the Health Sciences Campus in Johnson City held its official grand opening, with Gov. Kathy Hochul commending the University for bringing this years-long priority to fruition.

We are now working on a plan for the spring semester. We know that testing for the virus and booster vaccinations will be an important part of that plan, and guidance on these issues will be communicated to our community in the early part of January.

Homecoming and Commencement

This was one of the more successful Homecomings in recent years, with more than 2,800 registrants coming from across New York and the Northeast — as well as from farther corners of the nation. Of course, last year’s Homecoming was held virtually, another casualty of the pandemic, so it was good to see so many people on campus and in person. We were especially pleased with the turnout for the Wenzel 5K race in memory of Gregg Wenzel. The course followed the campus roadway around the Brain and along the East Access and Connector roads behind College-in the Woods and Hinman College. Wenzel was a Binghamton alumnus and swimming and diving athlete who quit his job to join the CIA in the years following 9/11. He died while serving in Ethiopia and has earned a star on the CIA’s Memorial Wall. His sister and father were on hand, as were the entire swimming and diving teams, for the unveiling of a statue in Wenzel’s honor located in the West Gym lobby.

But the highlight of the weekend was the long-awaited, in-person Commencement celebration for the Class of 2020. Originally scheduled for May 2020, the pandemic forced us to postpone this event for more than a year, so we were delighted to have more than 400 graduates and their families on hand to celebrate. Members of the Class of 2020 are some of the most remarkable in the University’s history, having had to persevere in their studies through an unprecedented world-wide pandemic. We also were honored to have Binghamton alumnus The Honorable Hakeem Jeffries ’92, representative of New York’s 8th Congressional District as the Commencement speaker.

In his remarks, Jeffries praised the graduates for their resiliency and told them that when life “knocks you down, don’t give up, get up!, because the best is yet to come.”

COVID status for fall 2021

We are now nearing the end of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing this challenge has been the University’s highest priority during this time, and while the effects of the pandemic have moderated over the past year, we continue to be vigilant regarding possible outbreaks on campus and in our community. This was the case when, in early September, the University experienced a significant spike in students and staff testing positive for COVID, with the number of positive cases nearing 200 during a rolling two-week period and more than 400 during our final exam week.

These upticks placed significant strain on the University’s COVID response arrangements, particularly regarding our testing capacity and our ability to house and provide academic support for isolated or quarantined students, despite having added six additional staff at the beginning of the semester to manage isolation housing. In the intervening months, the number of positive cases decreased dramatically, with only a handful of cases being reported for most of the semester. Unfortunately, the recent surge of Delta-variant cases nationally and locally has resulted in a second spike as the semester ends, with 153 positive test results on Dec. 14.

Required weekly surveillance testing of students with religious and medical exemptions and weekly testing of unvaccinated staff takes place every day at the Surveillance Testing Center in Old Union Hall in The Union. These are for asymptomatic students and staff only and utilize rapid antigen tests. If students are symptomatic, they are also being tested at the new Satellite Diagnostic Testing site at The Union — a tent with a walk-up window between the Engineering Building and The Union that is connected to our Surveillance Testing Center. Symptomatic students receive a rapid PCR or an antigen test depending on their symptoms.

Through much of the semester we had significant capacity at both sites, only running at 20-30% capacity approximately each week. However, as the semester ended, we reached capacity for all PCR tests for symptomatic students; the Surveillance Testing Center was running at about 50-60% capacity. We also continue to work with the Broome County Health Department and UHS across from the University to provide tests for symptomatic students.

We took steps to increase social distancing for finals as the number of students in isolation had increased as well. By mid-December, we are unable to determine whether the uptick in cases was caused by the emergent Omicron variant. The recent spike at nearby Cornell University was attributed to Omicron. Still, we worked to stabilize this spike and hoped that students would be healthy during the winter break.

Fortunately, almost all the cases of COVID on campus have been among individuals who had received the vaccine, and the effects were mostly mild. I have been impressed by the campus’s commitment to getting vaccinated. In fact, roughly 99% of all students are fully vaccinated, as are 94% of the faculty and 85% of the staff. This has been crucial in allowing the campus to continue to hold in-person classes and, more importantly, to keep our campus community safe.

Governor’s visit to Health Sciences Campus

Vaccines were the major topic of discussion in October when Gov. Kathy Hochul visited the University’s new Health Sciences Campus, where she received a vaccine booster as part of the “Boost Up, New York” campaign to encourage people to receive a third dose of the vaccine. During her visit, she congratulated the University on the opening of our new home for the Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences and noted the transformational impact that the Health Sciences Campus is having in Johnson City. The governor played a key role in the early development of the entire Health Sciences Campus, which also includes the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, as she served as the head of the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which shepherded more than $133 million in state funding for the campus.

Decker College is poised for growth in the coming years, with close to 350 additional students anticipated to enroll in our new programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech and language pathology. In anticipation of these new programs, Decker College has increased its teaching and support personnel, adding 25 new faculty and staff. All told, we expect that there will be around 450 additional faculty, students and staff adding to the foot traffic around the campus when these programs are brought online, bringing the total number of people associated with the campus to around 1,500.

We also are nearing the start of construction for the pharmacy research and development facility that will be located adjacent to the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. During the 2019-20 academic year, campus facilities personnel worked with School of Pharmacy faculty and administrators to design the building; however, when the project went to bid, all bids came in at over cost. Much of the past year has been spent revising these designs, resulting in a smaller facility with an estimated cost of over $17 million. The new design has gone to bid and a contractor has been identified; the state of New York is currently reviewing the contract. Staging for the project has begun with construction to begin this winter.

Budget

Although the semester has been very successful, we are concerned about the lingering effects of COVID on our ability to attract students for the next academic year, particularly regarding our international and out-of-state students. This year we saw a continuing decline in admissions for these students, with 729 fewer international students than we saw in 2013. Similarly, our out-of-state undergraduate student numbers have fallen from 1,242 in 2012 to 885 this current year. These declines mean that we did not meet our revenue targets for the year. We anticipate a deficit of approximately $8.9 million for next year that we will address with our reserves. Our hope is that there will be a resolution to the COVID crisis in the next year or two, and that our recruiting efforts will bring more students to campus.

Faculty accolades

Binghamton’s faculty continue to receive accolades for their research and work on behalf of their disciplines. During the past three months, several faculty members have been awarded significant grants from federal and other funding agencies and have received recognition by their disciplines. These include:

  • Professor of Human Development Leo Wilton is co-leading a research project that received a $3.1 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This project, being conducted in conjunction with faculty at New York University, is examining the structural, historical and cultural factors that impact how youth of color receive HIV primary care.
  • Hoda Naghibijouybari, assistant professor in computer science, has received a $535,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to find way to prevent hackers from utilizing the interfaces between computer processors and graphics processors to circumvent traditional security measures.
  • We also learned this month that Binghamton University Chemistry Professor Eriks Rozners and doctoral candidate Christopher Ryan have received a two-year $428,330 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for a research project that targets SARS-CoV-2 RNA “pseudoknots.” These “pseudoknots” are the point in the virus’s RNA where it doubles back on itself twice, like an accordion fold, and Rozners and Ryan believe that this structure serves as a switch that tells the virus to either make viral proteins that attack cells, or replicate itself to spread. Viruses can’t do both at the same time. Their research is trying to find ways to disrupt this “switch” and slow the virus’s rate of increase.
  • U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Charles Schumer announced that Binghamton University’s New Energy NY Project has been selected as one of the nation’s first awardees for Phase 1 of the American Rescue Plan’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The award provides $500,000 in technical assistance funding to develop a proposal to create a regional energy technology hub and places the campus in the running for challenge grants of up to $100 million to establish a battery manufacturing hub in the Southern Tier. The project builds on the work of Binghamton University’s Nobel Prize Laureate M. Stanley Whittingham’s pioneering research on battery development.
  • Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Nathaniel Mathews recently received a grant from the Oman Studies Centre in Berlin, Germany. The book he’s working on centers on a group of exiles from the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964, their political activities, the communities they formed in exile and their return migration to Oman. In particular, he wants to examine how diaspora groups participated in nationalist movements in Asia and Africa in the 1960s and what their relationship was to anti-colonial and nationalist politics.
  • In October, we learned that faculty in our College of Community and Public Affairs have received an additional $1.25 million from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to expand the work of the Central/Western Community Schools Technical Assistance Center (CSTAC), which supports community schools in the central/western regions of the state. Dean Laura Bronstein serves as the Principal Investigator for the grant. Funds are provided through federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and CCPA will partner with the Binghamton University Community Schools project to work with students and families in communities impacted by COVID.
  • The Community Schools program received an additional $2.7 million from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) contract to operate the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) Technical Assistance Resource Centers (TARC). This program helps students, particularly those in low-performing schools, to meet state and local academic achievement standards in core academic subjects such as reading and math.
  • SB Park, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Integrated Electronics Engineering Center (IEEC), was named a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), in recognition for three decades of work in electronics packaging. Park’s work has focused on making electronic devices both smaller and more resilient, particularly regarding heat dissipation. Being named a fellow is an honor reserved for just the top 3% of members of the association and reflects well on the quality of work conducted by Park and his department.

Binghamton University faculty and administrators have also attracted the attention of their peers in the SUNY system. Faculty have been selected for leadership roles within SUNY, while our student support programs have been highlighted. Binghamton received three Outstanding Student Affairs Program Awards for the University’s success in dealing with different aspects of student life and well-being.

  • The Binghamton student life programs recognized were the Career Clusters: Using Technology to Empower Students’ Career Success; the Residential Life Master of Social Work (MSW) Internship Program; and the Violence, Abuse and Rape Crisis Center (VARCC).
  • Distinguished Professor of Africana Studies Nkiru Nzegwu was recently elected chair of the SUNY Distinguished Academy, with a focus on increasing visibility of distinguished faculty’s research, scholarship, teaching and service. She also will be working with faculty in SUNY and the Chancellor’s Office to increase diversity within SUNY and encouraging more effective mentoring of faculty of color.
  • Miguel Baique has been selected as a fellow for the 2022 class of SUNY’s Hispanic Leadership Institute. He is one of only 10 SUNY faculty chosen this year for the program, which is designed to help Hispanic/Latinx faculty and administrators develop leadership skills.
  • And we were delighted to learn that history PhD graduate Jonathan S. Jones was named the inaugural winner of the SUNY Chancellor Distinguished PhD Graduate Dissertation Awards. Jones’s dissertation, titled Opium Slavery: Veterans and Addiction in the American Civil War Era;” looks at America’s first opiate crisis, taking place among Civil War veterans, as well as the stigma attached to them.

Construction update

In addition to the pending construction of the new pharmaceutical research and development facility in Johnson City, the campus is currently engaged in several projects that will strengthen our research and teaching while contributing to our sustainability goals by making our facilities more efficient.

Work is nearing completion on our Science 2 Tower and Science 4 facilities. Upper floors in the Science 2 Tower have been gutted and new walls and electric are in place. Plumbing work for labs is now underway and should be completed next semester. Similarly, Science 4 has had the HVAC, electrical, mechanical and plumbing replaced, and exterior cladding work and landscaping will be completed in spring 2022.

The West Gym and Events Center have a new boiler facility that will be completed this winter. This project will provide more efficient heat and hot water for these buildings and will be completed next fall.

A staging area is in place for construction work on Bartle Library and work will begin soon. This project entails gutting the entire third floor of the library and replacing air and energy systems, as well as connecting the third floor to the stairwell facing West Drive. This project is expected to be completed in 2024. Also in the library is our new Innovation Hub that houses the Innovation Scholars program. The Innovation Lab also has space for the Zurack Family High Technology Collaboration Center, a scholars lab, a group study room, the library instructional lab and several small break-out rooms along with a large, open study space.

Renovations have been completed to the Science Library. This work serves as a companion project with the Bartle Library renovation as the Science Library will provide a temporary home for the books being removed from the third floor of the Bartle Library. It will also provide a compact storage facility for the Libraries in the future.

The most visible construction on campus is the new baseball stadium complex, which is nearing the completion of its first phase. This facility includes locker rooms, strength and conditioning rooms, batting tunnels, VIP areas, a team meeting room, concession stands, and expanded seating, with the exterior landscaping adding a new berm and a second scoreboard. This work will be completed in time for the baseball team’s home opener against Maine on March 18.

We also will begin work soon on the new Charlene and Roger Kramer Welcome Center to be located on Bartle Drive. This facility will include a facelift for the existing information booth and entrance and a new building that will include a lounge space and restrooms for campus visitors. This new facility has long been a strategic priority for the campus.

Provost search

Last summer, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Nieman announced that he would be stepping down from his position to return to the classroom at the end of the upcoming semester. We are currently conducting a national search for his replacement and have hired the higher education consulting firm WittKieffer to assist in the search. Professor of Economics Barry Jones and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Karen Jones are serving as co-chairs for the search committee, which includes three distinguished professors; the directors of the Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention and the Harriett Tubman Center; representatives from the faculty and Faculty Senate; our Educational Opportunity Program director; and administration representatives. Two members of the Binghamton University Council, including our student representative, are also serving on the committee, which will be working quickly. We expect to make a decision during the spring semester, with a new provost on board by summer.

Finally, as the semester ended, we learned that the Chancellor of the SUNY System, Jim Malatras, will leave his position in January, and that an interim chancellor would soon be appointed. We are looking forward to working with the new interim chancellor Deborah Stanley, who stepped down in December after serving as president of SUNY Oswego for 25 years. I expect that a national search will be conducted for the new chancellor and that the search committee will find an excellent candidate for what is a very challenging job.

Academics

After more than one COVID-related postponement and a virtual ceremony, the Class of 2020 celebrated with an in-person Commencement a year and a half after completing their degrees.

Advancement

Nearly 3,000 people attended Homecoming events on campus Oct. 8-10, the largest of which was the make-up Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020.

Foundation

The Binghamton University Forum held a gala Oct. 16 in the Mountainview Collegiate Center at Binghamton University that featured performances by student a cappella groups.

Research

A Binghamton graduate student received a nomination in October to apply for the national level of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps.

Student Affairs

Binghamton University students now have access to a new, comprehensive resource guide that can direct them to help on campus and in the local community.