2018 State of the University address

President Harvey Stenger addresses state of the University

President Harvey Stenger connects with students, faculty and staff at his 2018 State of the University address. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.
President Harvey Stenger connects with students, faculty and staff at his 2018 State of the University address.
President Harvey Stenger connects with students, faculty and staff at his 2018 State of the University address. Photography: Jonathan Cohen.

President Harvey Stenger came onto the stage to present his 2018 State of the University Sept. 25, but not until the audience heard two book passages read as the words appeared on the big screen.

“Last year, I came out to the sounds of “Mississippi Queen,” Stenger said. “But this year I’m taking a different approach.

“First – a quiz. What was the second passage from?” he asked. Anne of Green Gables was the answer, and the first person to respond got a T-shirt.

“Now, here’s the tough one. What was the first passage from?” No answer. Stenger then explained it was from Professor of English Liz Rosenberg’s new book, House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery, about the author of the Anne of Green Gables books. (Rosenberg, Stenger said, had been disqualified from answering.)

“I read all of Liz’s books – and we know what reading means for me – I listen to them on tape while riding back and forth to New York! But, now I have to at least listen to Anne of Green Gables and I’ve learned so much about Montgomery and why she wrote about the life she wanted but didn’t have. It gave me a new perspective. Maude Montgomery actually suffered from depression and died a difficult death, but Anne is always happy and everything is always great, so it’s about perspective.

“It’s not always exactly what we see,” he said. “A perspective can be brought by understanding what is behind something. And now, I’ll try to tie together why perspective is important to the State of the University this year.”

Since Stenger arrived at Binghamton, faculty have been hired at twice the rate of student enrollment and staff growth, giving faculty more time to develop and offer courses, balance their time between teaching and research, build critical mass in areas of strength, and help the community.

“In 2006, when I came back to New York after being away since 1979, I looked around and said, ‘What happened?’ and realized the loss of manufacturing jobs had devastated the area. The University’s growth can and has helped that,” he said.

“And thanks to state support of our capital projects we couldn’t be where we are today,” he said. The new Health Sciences campus will help revive Johnson City, but will also relieve pressure on the Vestal campus.

The new School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences building is a beautiful one, but what’s inside is what makes a difference. “I’m pretty sure we’re the only school of pharmacy with a true, sterile compounding room,” Stenger said.

He highlighted future additions to the Health Science Campus. A $30 million renovation to an Endicott Johnson box factory will create a new home for the Decker School of Nursing and its expanded programs by 2020, and a $15.9 million, three-story, research and development building currently in design will also open that year, able to accommodate company partners. With the state and Upstate Revitalization Initiative investments backing the new campus, “we will see significant improvements in Johnson City,” Stenger said.

Stenger also highlighted the opening of the Smart Energy Building and the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, as well as renovations to Science 4, and upgrades in safety measures and emergency communications as important initiatives brought to fruition.

A review of hiring for the campus showed that, even though the campus isn’t growing faculty at the rate it did for the five years of NYSUNY 2020 funding, there were 61 faculty searches this fall. Stenger highlighted a number of the new faculty. “These are great new people and we have many more,” he said, “as well as 160 new full-time staff. The staff turnover rate is very high, especially in residence halls, so we hired significant numbers of staff.”

Research expenditures are up, along with proposals written, Stenger said. “And almost one in four proposals is awarded, so we have a great success rate. The School of Pharmacy has also received $3.3 m in external funding in its first two years.”

Stenger recognized a number of faculty in the humanities and management before turning to the Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence (TAEs). “We always talk about them, but the fear that we’ll be consumed by the TAEs couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “They enhance departments. Of our 650 full-time faculty, 180 – not a majority – are affiliated with a TAE and it’s all voluntary participation. We’ve brought on 96 TAE faculty of the more than 300 we’ve hired.

“We asked TAE faculty to self-report some of their results,” Stenger said. “And they’ve brought in $17 million in funding and distributed $950,000 in seed grants to faculty to get ready to make proposals. We also have a new TAE – after a long process we selected Data Science as our sixth and probably final TAE.”

The biggest challenge currently facing the University, however, is also a great opportunity, Stenger said. “There’s a sense of urgency at our door right now. We have not had a raise for our faculty and staff for almost five years and then they’ve been without a contract for two years,” he said. “Getting the contract signed with healthy, strong components will help us retain and attract new faculty in the future, but our job now is to find the money to pay those raises.

“We have to work harder to find the funds,” he said. “The cost to the campus is $10 million now to catch up for the two years we did not give raises, and after this year we will need a $4 million increase in our revenues to maintain the raises.”

Stenger said reserves will carry the University through the $10 million for the retroactive raises, but the opportunity arises in how the University will find $4 million a year in revenues moving forward. “Growing our graduate students, that’s a big opportunity, and international student growth is an opportunity at the graduate level especially,” he said. “Knowing how will we find $4 million a year in new revenue doesn’t sound hard, but we’ll have to work on it. We’re going to grow our way out of this, not cut our way back.”

Stenger also reviewed the four University Initiatives that came out of the Road Map Renewal:

  • Presidential Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowships – the first two are on campus this semester
  • Data Science Initiative – the Data Science TAE is established
  • Health Sciences Campus – the School of Pharmacy is complete and construction will begin on the expanded Decker School of Nursing and research and development buildings
  • Health Sciences Core – the University will partner with local healthcare providers to share functional magnetic resonance imaging equipment once it has been purchased

“We try to come up with new ideas, we don’t sit in a small room with a few people,” he said. “These initiatives came through a very inclusive process.

“All of these will take a small investment, but there are investment plans in place and they will make us better as we get bigger,” Stenger said.

Stenger spoke of the $150 million comprehensive gifts campaign the University has underway. “That’s a lot of money for us, but I think we can reach it,” he said. The University is in the second year of the campaign’s silent phase, and has raised $32 million of the goal.

“And finally, what did the book have to do with the State of the University?”Stenger asked. “How do I explain this?

“The student speaker at TEDx last March talked about a glass half full or half empty,” Stenger said. “He said if that your life is the part that’s empty, think of all the opportunities you have to fill that glass. The half empty is the exciting part. And that takes me back to perspective. Having financial problems to solve? From my perspective, it’s an opportunity.”

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