President's Opening Day Address

September 3, 2013

Photo: Mike Peters

Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole

Good morning everyone. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the opening of the 2013-2014 academic year. For some of you, it is your first Opening Day at Montclair State University; others have participated in the beginning of a new year for forty years or more; and the rest of us fall somewhere in between. It is a positive characteristic of our profession that, unlike other walks of life, we actually do get to begin afresh each year, following the idiosyncratic seasons of our own calendar.

It is perhaps demonstrative of the nature of the academic mind that we have felt the need to create our own calendar, finding the Gregorian calendar that governs most of the rest of world somehow not adequate to our purposes. In addition to rejecting the Gregorian calendar, we have eschewed as well all of the other 50 odd calendars in use around the world, such as the Assyrian or the Hindu or the Maya or the Zoroastrian calendars, and we have declined to resurrect one of the fine old calendars no longer in use, such as the Aztec or the Byzantine or even the old Soviet calendar that had 5- and 6-day weeks.

Thinking about it, the old Soviet calendar might have been a good one for us. A quick peak at Wikipedia, I confess to not having taken the time to go back to original sources, tells us that from 1929 to 1931 the Soviets divided the year into 72 five-day weeks, three of which were split into two partial weeks by five national holidays. The two parts of each split week still totaled five days—the one or two national holidays that split it not being part of that week. But here’s the key thing. Each day of the five-day week was labeled by a specific color, and each worker was assigned a color, which identified his or her day of rest. The colors vary depending on the source consulted or the surviving images of the calendars. One source has days of purple, blue, yellow, red, and green, in that order beginning on the 1st of January. Another source says red was the first day, not purple. Other sources replace blue with either pink, orange or peach and have a different order - yellow, pink/orange/peach, red, purple, and green. A black and white calendar from 1930 apparently does not conform to any of these because its red day is the fifth day of the week. In 1931, the Soviets then decided to change from a five-day to a six-day week with another set of complex rules. Here surely was a model that has every appearance of having derived from a university committee, and one would have thought that this model would have had great appeal to the academic mind.

But no, we have instead created our own academic calendar, and every institution has one, and every institution’s academic calendar is different from every other institution’s academic calendar, and since there are thousands of colleges and universities in the country, that makes thousands of different academic calendars. And, of course, every year we all make some changes to our own particular academic calendar, so we are never entirely certain what it is, which of course provides material for debate, but then, as I am sure we would all agree, anything that provides food for debate is, of course, a good thing.

However, what is indubitably clear is that today is September 3rd, Opening Day, and, for reasons not entirely clear, the beginning of our academic year. Although last year, it was September 4th, and the year before that September 6th and the year before that September 1st. But never mind. All this is just to say that, as chance would have it, we are all in the right place on the right day, and it is a pleasure to see you all.

As for me, this is my 16th Opening Day, and, having just completed 15 years as president of Montclair State University, it seemed an appropriate time to reflect on what we have accomplished over that period of time. There are many ways to approach that question, but the way I looked at it was to assess what is here now that was not here when I arrived 15 years ago. Here is a partial answer to that question.

We have approximately 6,500 more students than we had 15years ago. When we take the official count on Census Day, the tenth day of the semester, we anticipate our total student population will be 19,300. That number will include a freshman class of about 3,000 students, about 1,400 new transfer students, and close to 1,400 new graduate students. Undergraduate students have come from every county in New Jersey, from 24 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C., and from many foreign countries. The top four choices of majors among enrolling freshman students in order are: Psychology and Biology, which are running neck and neck, Business Administration, and English. Our largest graduate programs are in Counseling, Business Administration, Teaching, and Educational Leadership.

Let’s meet a few of our incoming freshmen:

  • Nathan Ellis graduated from Timber Creek Regional High School. With five AP and eight Honors-level classes throughout his high school career, Nathan ranked among the top students in his high school class. He served as a member of the National Honor Society and as a mentor to his peers in various organizations. He has participated in leadership programs and internship opportunities and plans to pursue a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Retail Merchandising and Management.
  • Owen Grove graduated from Communications High School in Monmouth County. Owen is a strong, well-rounded student who has pursued an extremely rigorous curriculum and who has impressive talents that extend beyond the traditional classroom. Owen is an independent filmmaker who has been recognized at the Cinemadness Film Festival for his films entitled Timeless and Dawn. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He has appeared on Saturday Night Live, performed a voiceover for Game Boy, and worked with MTV. Owen is pursuing a degree in Filmmaking in our new School of Communication and Media.
  • Serena Kumalmaz graduated from Saud International School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While there, Serena took advantage of AP courses in Physics and Information and Communication Technology, served as a member of her student council, school newspaper, and theatre group and found time to volunteer in her community. Her academic credentials are extremely strong, including a perfect 4.0 GPA. Serena will be pursuing a degree in Geoscience, with a concentration in Environmental Science, and hopes to attend law school and practice in the area of Environmental Law.
  • Nicole Massoud graduated from Paramus High School. She is a high-achieving student with many honors and AP courses and served as the voice of Passaic High School, reading the daily announcements, sports scores and schedules, and participating in school plays and musicals. She successfully created a tutoring program in her school for students with severe learning disabilities, and that program is now an established option so that other high achieving students can follow in Nicole’s footsteps, serving as tutors. Nicole will major in Mathematics, and her goal is to become a Mathematics teacher.
  • Lynese Rawlins graduated from Red Bank High School. Early in her high school career, Lynese founded Black Girls Rock, an organization committed to open dialogues regarding cultural competency issues and the sharing of experiences with other students and staff. Inspired by her relationship with her great-grandmother, as a sophomore, she founded her school’s chapter of GlamourGals, an organization with a mission to inspire young women to forge strong bonds with mature women by providing makeovers and manicures to women living in senior citizen homes. A three-year class president, peer mentor, captain of the cheering team, and soup kitchen volunteer, Lynese is praised by her principal as demonstrating an uncommon “compassion and an understanding of others seldom displayed by a high school student.” Lynese plans to pursue a degree in Political Science.

These are just five of the over 3,000 entering freshmen, but they give us a good perspective on why it matters that we have significantly expanded the opportunity for talented students to attend the University. Most of you are aware that New Jersey has long ranked at the bottom of the nation in its provision of places for the state’s high school graduates in its public colleges and universities. Montclair State has been at the forefront in the state in expanding access to public higher education and that has meant more high quality opportunities for students such as Nathan, Owen, Serena, Nicole and Lynese and their thousands of classmates.

The University now grants 2,000 more degrees each year than we did 15 years ago. In FY 2013, we granted 4,200 degrees. It is a matter of particular significance that, while our enrollment has grown by about 52 percent, the number of degrees granted has grown by almost 90 percent, which means that we are increasingly successful at moving students through to degree attainment. Serious attention to the implementation of strategies for student retention and timely graduation has been an important theme over the past 15 years, which have been marked by university-wide efforts to continue a path of improvement in these areas.

Every year, over the past 15 years, in good budget times and bad (and mostly they were bad), we have continued to invest in recruiting outstanding full time faculty to the University, and we have increased the full time faculty by about 180 positions. This September, we are welcoming a cohort of 25 new tenure track faculty. I hope you will get to know them all – their bios can found online on the Provost’s website, but here is a quick introduction to five of them:

  • Adam Patrick Bell is joining the John J. Cali School of Music to fill a position in music technology. Professor Bell also brings expertise in music education and music therapy.  In addition to mastery of SSL Duality consoles, API preamps, compressors and equalizers, Professor Bell has done research with autism spectrum children in the Nordoff-Robins Center for Music Therapy at NYU, played in two rock bands, and engineered and produced albums for Toronto-based artists. He earned his PhD from NYU.
  • Jonathan Howell is joining the Department of Linguistics. He has done fieldwork in the click languages of South Africa, among Native American Objiwe in Canada, which is his country of origin, held a post-doctoral fellowship at the Wagner Prosody Laboratory & Centre for Research on Language, Mind and Brain at McGill University, and, most recently, was assistant professor at Brock University in Ontario. He earned his PhD from Cornell University.
  • Rashmi Jain is joining the School of Business as the new Chair of the Department of Information and Operations Management. Professor Jain was most recently an Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore where she managed the program in systems and design management. She earned her PhD in technology management at the Stevens Institute of Technology. She is active in several national and international systems engineering societies, including the International Council on Systems Engineering and the IEEE Computer Society.
  • Nicole Panorkou is joining the Department of Mathematics and Physics with a PhD in math education from the Institute of Education at the University of London. Since 2011, Professor Panorkou has been a Fulbright Visiting Scholar and post-doctoral fellow at North Carolina State University working with a large NSF-funded DELTA II research project team to build diagnostic assessments for concepts in rational number reasoning for grades K-8 and, most recently, to develop learning trajectories with which to interpret the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.
  • Chris Torres is joining the Department of Counseling and Educational Leadership. Most recently, he held a position at Hunter College, CUNY as a researcher and senior manager with their Relay Graduate School of Education. Professor Torres earned his PhD from the Steinhardt School of Education at NYU, where his research involved a critical examination of teacher staffing and turnover in urban charter schools.

Over the past 15 years, we have followed a policy of regular and predictable replenishment and incremental growth of the faculty. That policy has enabled us to provide a continuing flow of new ideas and vitality for our instructional programs; it has enabled us to bring new strength to the University’s research activities; and, it has enabled us to make important adjustments to the faculty as enrollment and programmatic priorities change over time. For this coming year, 38 new full-time, tenure-track faculty searches have been authorized across the University, which will continue our investment in growing our faculty ranks.

The most dramatically visible change in the University has been in the development of critically needed facilities. The following are the major facilities that have been added:

  • University Hall added its lecture halls, classrooms, computing facilities, conference center, student study areas, and, of course, its facilities for the College of Education and Human Services. That critical academic facility increased the University’s instructional capacity by approximately 40 percent.
  • The Kasser Theater, the very one we are sitting in today, added an outstanding performance venue by any standards and, in addition to providing space for our excellent student productions and performances, made possible the creation of the Peak Performances series that has established the University as a recognized artistic center for the larger region, including New York City.
  • The major renovation and expansion of the old Chapin Hall into a home for the John J. Cali School of Music enabled the transformation of a severely under-resourced music department into a top school of music in the region.
  • The complete renovation and additions to the old Finley Hall to create the new Conrad J. Schmitt Hall, provided state-of-the-art facilities for our instructional and research programs in foreign languages and linguistics, as well as a home for the innovative Mathematics Learning Center and a number of specialized spaces for communications and media, including the University’s new radio studios.
  • Acquisition and renovation of space at 1515 Broad St. in Bloomfield, five minutes from the campus, provided outstanding instructional and clinical facilities for the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology programs in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
  • The George Segal Art Gallery, ingeniously carved out of the Red Hawk Parking Deck, has enabled the enhancement of the University’s art collection and a program of noted exhibitions.
  • Montclair State has had a shortage of student residential opportunities since its founding in 1908. In the early years of my administration, our residence halls on campus were severely over-crowded and we were housing students in motels on Route 3. In recent years, we have added 3,150 new residence hall beds to campus, including The Heights with 2,000 beds, the Village at Little Falls with 850 beds and Sinatra Hall with 300 beds. For the first time in the history of the institution, any student who wishes to live on campus has the opportunity to do so.
  • For many years, our thousands of students had to share a relatively small athletic facility with our 17 intercollegiate athletic teams and our instructional programs in exercise science and physical education. The new Student Recreation Center, for the first time, gave our large student population a wonderful fitness and recreational facility of their own, and, since the first day we opened it, the Student Recreation Center has been used by over 1,300 students every day.
  • The University has historically had excellent early childhood programs, both for typically developing children and those on the autism spectrum, but those programs were housed in terribly inadequate facilities. Today, the Ben Samuels Children’s Center provides a modern facility for our distinguished programs and has permitted the expansion of those programs to serve more children.
  • Not only was the campus historically short of classrooms and laboratories and residence halls and performance spaces, it was also short of food, and it is apparently the case that we share with our students a robust interest in eating. To the minimal food service venues that existed on campus, we have added Sam’s Place, the Red Hawk Diner, Café Diem, and, most recently, Guy Fieri on Campus and the other venues at The Plaza in Blanton Hall, as well as Food on Demand in Freeman Hall. We can now eat at Montclair State any time of the day or night, and according to the food service statistics, we are doing just that.
  • As much as we like to eat, we like to park even more, and, while I am not under the illusion that we will ever be satisfied that we have sufficiently convenient parking, we have done our best to keep up with the need, adding over 4,000 thousand parking spaces in the first three parking decks ever built on campus – the Red Hawk Deck, CarParc Diem, and the Transit Parking Deck. In collaboration with NJ Transit, we also built a second train station to service the campus, and I am pretty sure that we are the only campus in New Jersey that is served by two train stations.
  • With the adherence to the original Spanish Mission architectural style of the campus and the reconstruction and landscaping of College Avenue, the College Hall Plazas and surrounding areas, and many other outdoor areas around campus, we have made a good-looking campus into one that is truly beautiful.

We can now add to this list the completion of the University’s Combined Heating, Cooling and Power Plant. For the past year, we have lived with the constant digging and filling in of trenches throughout the campus, with a new hole in the ground emerging almost every day, when and where you least expected it. That project was completed this summer, and the University now has a modern, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible energy infrastructure that will provide reliable and redundant ways of generating and distributing power and heating and cooling to the whole core campus. The system was built through a public private partnership that requires our private partner, UMM Energy Partners, to maintain and replace as necessary the entire infrastructure for the next 30 years.

After years of working for a state bond initiative for capital facilities, and no campus in the state was more fully engaged in that effort than Montclair State, our success will now enable the construction of two new major academic facilities. The Center for Environmental and Life Sciences will be a four-story, 108,000 gross-square-foot, $55-million project that will support academic programs and cross-disciplinary research in fields such as Sustainability Science, Pharmaceutical Biochemistry and Medicinal Chemistry. It will contain teaching and research laboratories, classrooms, seminar rooms, a 150-seat lecture hall, a vivarium, a microscopy suite, and other research support facilities, and it will ease the College of Science and Math’s other over-utilized buildings and enable their future renovation.

The second project, the new School of Business will be a 142,000 gross-square-foot, $66-million structure, replacing the 40-year-old and wholly inadequate 49,000 gross-square-foot Partridge Hall. It will be a 6-story building containing state-of-the-art instructional spaces and technology, including computer labs, a financial trading facility, market research and analysis capability, and distributed learning opportunities, as well as appropriate spaces for executive education programs and business partnership initiatives.

Obviously, the students, the faculty, and the facilities are meaningless without an increasingly vital portfolio of academic programs, and there, too, the growth and development of the University has been quite expansive. Over the past 15 years, there have been extensive investments in new instructional and research programs and resources, far too numerous to list, but consider, for example:

  • 24 new baccalaureate programs
  • 18 new master’s programs
  • The university’s first seven doctoral programs
  • The creation of the John J. Cali School of Music
  • The creation of the School of Communication and Media
  • The Passaic River Institute
  • The PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies
  • The ADP Center for Teacher Preparation and Learning Technologies
  • The Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health
  • The Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Laboratory
  • The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship
  • The Center for Writing Excellence
  • The Bristol Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning
  • The Research Academy for University Learning
  • The Sokol Institute for the Pharmaceutical Life Sciences
  • The Center for Cooperative Media
  • The Red Hawk Mathematics Learning Center
  • Winter Session
  • The Science Honors Program

To support all of these programs and their associated instructional and research needs, we have made truly transformative and massive investments in the University’s information technology infrastructure and computing resources for students, for faculty, and for administrative support services. The Library has also undergone a transformation from paper to digital resources, and whole new structures have been developed to support the needs of a faculty that is increasingly engaged in research and in the use of new instructional technologies. Similarly, student academic support services have been developed to meet the needs of a larger, more residential student population and the University’s higher expectations in regard to continual improvement in the important measures of student success.

If I have not mentioned your favorite newly developed program, facility, or initiative, I apologize, but the scope of even this very partial list and the very positive and substantial change it represents, is very impressive. And it is even more impressive when one remembers that this growth was achieved during a period of historic declines in what was already very modest state support. These accomplishments were the direct result of the University’s collective determination to meet the higher education needs of the people of New Jersey, and they grew out of a strongly-held sense of institutional purpose and mission based on the University’s historic values. It is a fact that, in largest measure, these achievements were effected without assistance from the state and in spite of what has been the state’s fundamental disinterest.

For those of us who have been here during this period of transition, one of the important lessons we have learned is that we can do it. We have discovered something about our capacity to achieve beyond our own, or anyone else’s, expectations; we have surprised ourselves by how far and how fast we can go when we hold some core goals and values in common and when we are willing to work together.

For those of you who are new to the University, it will be difficult to understand how much effort, determination, painstaking deliberation and analysis, flexibility of mind, and just plain guts and courage it took by so many to effect this transformation. You need to know that you are joining a community that has gotten used to being on the move and that has the fortitude to live, not in the secure recesses of the past, but on the advancing edge of the present. So, to the newest members of this community, I say take a big breath, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to contribute your creativity and sweat equity because we are not finished.  Until we reach the day when we can say that we have done everything there is to do, everything we can do, to contribute to the educational and intellectual betterment of the society we serve, we will not be done.

For the faculty, of course, your primary responsibilities relate to the scope and quality of your teaching and mentoring of students and to the pursuit of important initiatives in scholarship, research, and creative endeavors. For the rest of us, our jobs are to do all that we can to manage the increasingly complex and demanding tasks necessary to the creation of an environment in which those activities can flourish. However, as we start this new academic year, I would ask that we all keep two particular things firmly fixed in our minds. First, every single person who works at this University has an obligation to do everything he or she possibly can to assure the success of our students, and that extends from engagement in recruiting students, advising them, challenging them and providing them with a rigorous education, and ultimately assuring that they continue their education, once started, and succeed in graduating in as timely a period as possible. There is no person on this campus who does not carry that responsibility.

The second thing I would like us all to keep in mind is that it matters what happens to our students when they leave Montclair State. We need to know where they are one year later and five years later and fifteen years later. We are responsible, when we develop curricula and offer programs, when we advise and provide services, to know if we are doing the right things, and the only way to know that is to know what happens to our students when they leave. Preparing our students well for professions and further education, giving them the competencies they need to survive and to contribute, is a responsibility carried by every member of this community. This year will be the year when we will be asking ourselves what it is we really know about our graduates, and what more we need to know to test our assumptions that we are doing the right things.

Finally, I would like to conclude by introducing an important initiative that will be implemented this year. As members of the Montclair State University community, we have a strong, clear vision of who we are and where we are going. We understand the qualities and the values that set us apart from our competition, including our passion and commitment to excellent teaching; our engagement in focused research; our connections to the world beyond the University; our vibrant and active community with a strong tradition of intellectual, artistic, and athletic excellence; and our beautiful campus and stunning location just a few miles from one of the world’s great cities.

However, for those who don’t know us – especially prospective students, potential research and educational partners, and others beyond our immediate geographic area – it has proven difficult to communicate the reality that is the present day Montclair State and our distinctive position in the higher education landscape. After nearly two years of research, including focus groups and surveys that touched thousands of people, both within and beyond the Montclair State community, including many of us here today, we have settled on a new approach to presenting the University that we hope will convey its reality and complexity in a direct and compelling way to a broad audience of our constituents. The fundamental message is: Montclair State gives ambitious, motivated students the opportunity to succeed and lead. In our classrooms, on our campus, and through our engagement in the world beyond our gates, you will find everything you need right here.

The new brand identity – It’s all here – incorporates the key strengths that have helped Montclair State grow into the thriving university we are today. The short video that you are about to see [below] will serve as an introduction to some of the elements that will be in use to shape the look and feel of the University’s public presence.


In the coming months, you will see “It’s all here” on banners around campus, on our buses, and in our advertising. As you leave today, you will receive a package of what our anthropologists might call artifacts, compliments of the Office of University Communications, which will help you show your pride in, and spread the word about, this extraordinary University.

I wish you all a productive and satisfying new academic year, and I invite you to proceed to the Amphitheater just outside to enjoy some lunch and a little time with your colleagues.

Thank you.

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