President's Opening Day Address

September 6, 2016

Photo: Mike Peters

Good morning one and all, and I offer you a warm welcome to the Opening Day of the 2016-2017 academic year.

As we cannot help but notice, we work in a field that each year gives us a fresh beginning. Like those who farm, but on a different cycle, we start a new year with new seeds to plant, a new crop to tend, fruits to reap, some of which may never before have been seen, and another chance to perfect the plow. Thus, we begin again, and each time we do, our world has shifted a bit. New people and things have appeared; some have disappeared. Old ideas have been put away in the shed, and we find ourselves eager to test the worth of the new ideas. That’s how it goes for us in our place in the world, and it is a gift to be able to begin afresh. Definitely not like Sisyphus, pushing the same stone up the same hill. Much more like walking through a well-known wood, but with new companions and taking a path not taken before.

Last year, when we began again, we had some noticeable big new things as part of our landscape, the Feliciano School of Business and the Center for Environmental and Life Sciences, for example. And, this academic year, we will also add a number of new resources to the University. Among the more significant will be the new facility for the School of Communication and Media and the inauguration of our new School of Nursing and to house it, as well as The Graduate School, a completely renovated Partridge Hall.

The new Communication and Media facility, which is scheduled to open this January, will be the most technologically advanced broadcast and media production facility at any university in North America and will be more technologically advanced than the vast majority of professional broadcast and media production facilities in the country. The great differentiator is the Sony 4K control room and studio. The new building will have six broadcast-ready production areas: the 4K studio, two high-definition television studios, a newsroom, a 150-seat presentation hall with state-of-the-art projection and capture capabilities, and a “live space,” a small open space near the main entrance that will be useful for video interviews. These spaces will all be controlled by three inter-operable control rooms. One studio will be robotic, so that students will get training on current methodologies for controlling cameras remotely. The building will also have a full complement of post-production audio and video, which will access recorded media from a central computer server, as well as a 25-seat professional grade film screening room, which will be the only one of its kind in northern New Jersey. Our excellent radio studios in Schmidt Hall will also be relocated to the new building.

Students attending the School of Communication and Media will have the competitive advantage of mastering technology that is the industry standard, and they will be learning from the experts. For example, instruction on robotic equipment will be provided directly by technicians from Sony, and students will actually be certified to work in any Sony robotically operated broadcast studio – which is pretty much all of them. This hands-on instruction will be complemented by a rigorous, trans-disciplinary curriculum with majors in communication, television and digital media, filmmaking, journalism, and public and organizational relations.

As part of the Communication and Media project, a number of the dance and theater instructional, rehearsal and performance studios in Life Hall have been completely rebuilt and will be open this fall, in advance of the remainder of the project. If you want to see something extraordinary, stop by and have a look at the new large dance studio, just to the right as you enter Memorial Auditorium. It is a knock out, by any standards. And, by the way, congratulations to the Dance program, which was just last week ranked by OnStage as one of the top five programs in the country.

This September also brings the inauguration of our new School of Nursing, which is welcoming its first class of over 40 RN-to-BSN students under the leadership of our recently appointed dean, Dr. Janice Smolowitz, and Director of Undergraduate Nursing Courtney Reinisch. The full BSN curriculum is currently in preparation for submission to the New Jersey Board of Nursing. Master’s and doctoral programs in Nursing are planned to follow.

Partridge Hall, the future home of the School of Nursing, which is also scheduled for occupancy this January, will have excellent facilities, including lecture halls, fully mediated classrooms, an anatomy lab, and state-of-the-art nursing lab space with dedicated areas for students to develop their skills in specific medical procedures. The high-fidelity patient simulators will enable students to practice communication and decision-making skills using real-life scenarios from ambulatory, community and hospital settings. There will also be a dedicated area for virtual simulation where students can problem-solve and plan care for patients. I am pleased to say that the new School of Nursing has received its first gift, a generous $100,000 grant from the McMullen Family Foundation that will provide scholarships for nurses at Hackensack University Medical Center, Mountainside, to pursue their BSN degrees. It is particularly satisfying to be able to start the new School with this direct and beneficial link to a hospital that is an important resource to the Montclair community. Both Dean Smolowitz and Director Reinisch join us with distinguished experience, and I am certain that they will both provide a very forward-looking vision for the School, and both are eager to collaborate with the University’s other faculty and programs.

The renovated Partridge Hall will also, for the first time, give The Graduate School the consolidated space it needs at the center of the campus. When The Graduate School moves into the renovated Partridge Hall in January, it will be a timely occasion, because The Graduate School will be marking the 20-year anniversary of its creation in 1997. In renovating the building, we were very careful to provide welcoming and spacious student study and gathering areas, and I am particularly pleased that graduate students will finally have a place on campus to meet together and to call home.

In the residential life area, Stone Hall is once again open this year as a residence hall. The building was built in 1955 and named for John C. Stone, a highly regarded mathematics professor. Before it was taken off-line in 2011 upon the opening of the new Heights residence buildings, Stone Hall had gone through an extremely eventful half-century as a residence hall and had worked itself into a state of astonishing disrepair. But even in its ragged condition, something in the DNA of the building has always nurtured a tight community feeling among its residents. For some portion of its history, it was only for men and the social hub of the football team. Later, it became co-ed and, somewhat reluctantly I am told, began to take on a gentler character. But in all its iterations, for reasons that are mysterious, students have always loved humble and somewhat decrepit Stone Hall, and so we are very pleased to open the building this term once again to 145 students who will bring Stone back to life and enjoy a beautifully renovated facility. We trust that, once again, what was called over the years Stonee Pride will once again become a tradition for the next generation of students.

This year we will also be making a transition in office locations for a number of our key administrative units. As part of readying College Hall for a major renovation to become an integrated student services site and moving toward the end of our leasing arrangements at 855 Valley Road, we are currently renovating 51,000 GSF of office space that comprises the entirety of the third floor of the Overlook Tower which is located on the northern edge of campus. In our aggressively red-roofed environment, Overlook is the building often identified as the big one with the green roof. The third floor of Overlook will become the new headquarters of the divisions of Finance and Treasury, Budget and Planning, University Advancement, Human Resources and University Facilities. The design of this space adopts a contemporary open floor plan model, which will promote enhanced creative collaboration among these five important University business units. The interior layout provides for approximately 175 modern workstations that will be clustered along the windows allowing natural light to penetrate the core where there will be ample shared meeting and conference rooms. The target completion time frame is November of this year, with the move dates occurring in November and December for each of the respective business units. The building has ample parking availability, and University shuttles will travel the short distance between the main campus and Overlook every 30 minutes.

Always, the most important new resource for the University each fall are our new faculty colleagues. This year, we welcome a new class of 26 tenure-track faculty, and, by way of example, I introduce you to a few of your new colleagues:

Dr. Katherine Ashley joins the Department of Information Management and Data Analytics. She received her BA in Economics from Northwestern University and her MS in Business Administration and her PhD in Operations Management from Berkeley. Her research focuses on questions related to consumer behavior in service industries, most recently the airline industry.

Dr. Jessica Brater joins the Department of Theatre and Dance where she will be the coordinator of the BA and MA programs in Theatre Studies. She comes to Montclair State from the University of New Haven where she was an assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences as well as the director of the Theatre Program. Professor Brater is an active scholar with a research agenda that focuses on women in theatre history. Her book Ruth Maelczech at Mabou Mines: Woman’s Work was published by Methuen Drama earlier this year.

The Department of Justice Studies welcomes two new colleagues, Dr. Elenice De Souza Oliveira and Dr. Jason Williams. Dr. Oliveira received her PhD in Criminal Justice from Rutgers University and comes to Montclair State from Saint Joseph College in Long Island. She was a research assistant at the Center on Crime and Public Safety as well as public policy analyst for the municipality of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Dr. Oliveira’s research focuses on analyzing crime, policing and prevention strategies in both the U.S. and developing countries.

Dr. Williams received his PhD in Administration of Justice from Texas Southern University and joins us from Farleigh Dickinson University. Dr. Williams is an activist scholar, and his research and publications focus on critical policing, race, social control and criminal justice policy. He is co-editor of A Critical Analysis of Race and the Administration of Justice and has two forthcoming books with Routledge, Policing and Race: A Criminological Conception of #BlackLivesMatter and Black Males and the Criminal Justice System.

Dr. Rivera Rodas received her PhD in Economics and Urban Education Policy at Rutgers University. She joins the Educational Foundations Department after a two-year Fellowship at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University as part of the Strategic Data Project. Her research explores the relationship among teacher quality indicators, school demographics, school choice, and neighborhood diversity and addresses disparities in teacher quality in Title I and non-Title I schools.

Dr. Michelle Zhu joins the Department of Computer Science from Southern Illinois University where she was an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Director of their Undergraduate Programs. Dr. Zhu received her MS and PhD in Computer Science from Louisiana State University and her BS in Biomedical Engineering from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. She did a short stint as a research scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has received over $1 million in external grant awards, principally from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, and has an impressive record of publications. Her research is in the area of parallel computing and high performance computing to solve problems mostly in the areas of Big Data and Cloud Computing.

In addition to our tenure-track faculty, a number of the University’s instructional programs will have the benefit of the presence of a well-qualified cadre of instructional and clinical specialists, and, as always, a large number of excellent adjunct faculty. Departments throughout the University will be busy this year with approved searches for 33 new tenure-track faculty.

On the administrative front, there are several changes and new faces. Among these:

Lisa Hoyt has been promoted to the position of associate vice president for Development, which is the University’s chief development officer. A number of you know Lisa, who came to the University in 2014 as assistant vice president for Major Gifts and Corporate Development and who has been serving as acting associate vice president since Sue Davies’ departure this past spring. Prior to coming to Montclair State, Lisa was executive director for Advancement at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College and a major gifts officer at Cornell University.

Donna Sadlon has joined the Division of Information Technology as associate vice president of Enterprise Application Services. Donna will be responsible for the support of the new OneMontclair applications, including the PeopleSoft Financials, Banner Student Systems, Workday Human Resources and Payroll, the NEST portal and all overall reporting solutions. Donna comes to the University with over 25 years of experience in the management of large-scale applications development in both higher education and industry.

And, of course, we have the annual blessing of thousands of new students. When we take the official count on Census Day, the 10th day of the semester, we anticipate that our total student population will be over 20,500. That number will include about 3,000 freshmen, about 1,500 new transfer students, 1,000 new graduate students, and, overall, a total enrollment of approximately 16,500 undergraduate and 4,000 graduate students. Our students have come from every county in New Jersey, from 27 states, and many foreign countries. The top choices of majors among enrolling freshmen who have declared a major are Psychology, Business Administration, Biology, Justice Studies, and Family and Child Studies. A large number of students continue to express an interest in pursuing teacher certification in their academic disciplines. Once again, we have attracted a very strong, highly diverse class of students. Nearly 28 percent of this year’s freshman class identifies as Hispanic, and 16 percent as African American. The University continues to expand its recruitment geography, and this year we experienced a 16 percent increase in out-of-state students, and students from South Jersey will comprise 21 percent of the incoming undergraduate class.

During this recruitment cycle, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions extended its reach into areas of Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut and will continue to expand in Pennsylvania and New York, where it has established footholds over the last several years. In the performing arts, the University has already made significant advances in national recruitment and reputation, attracting the interest of prospective students from 47 states.

Here is a snapshot of a few of our new students:

Paige Elkovics graduated with a 3.8 GPA from Keyport High School. She joins the Montclair State University freshmen class as a Sociology major. Paige faced many obstacles growing up, taking on a number of adult responsibilities at a young age. She persevered through these challenges and now becomes the first member of her family to be accepted to and enrolled in a four-year college. She was an honor roll student in high school, taking a demanding course load of college preparatory classes, was captain of her varsity field hockey team, and was regarded by teachers and fellow students as inspirational, responsible, a team player and a school-spirited leader.

Maverick Hiu graduated from Las Vegas Academy of the Arts in Nevada, earning a 3.72 GPA in a rigorous curriculum. Maverick’s teachers describe him as a very talented and very engaged student. He enjoyed mentoring and guiding younger students through their studies, and, in his spare time, he was active in raising funds for breast cancer research. While a Dance Studies major in high school, he also took a series of honors level and Advanced Placement classes and was recognized for his participation in the “We the People” academic competition, which is focused on constitutional and national policy issues. Maverick will be joining the freshman class as a Musical Theatre major.

Marsha Monel graduated from Roselle Catholic High School in Hillside with a 3.85 GPA. She will be majoring in Exercise Science. Marsha tells us that her Haitian parents instilled in her the value of education from a young age. During her high school years, she focused on developing habits of discipline in her school work, in varsity track, and in volunteer work, tutoring middle school students and exercising a leadership role in an anti-bullying project.

Alexis Rodriquez graduated from Delmar High School in Delaware with a 4.0 GPA in a rigorous curriculum, including Wilmington University, honors and college prep courses. Alexis will join the Montclair State freshman class as a Business Administration major. In addition to serious study, her high school years were filled with active participation in many extracurricular and volunteer activities, including the Red Cross and the Math League, all while maintaining a part-time job.

Saeed Yasin graduated from Point Pleasant Borough High School with a 4.0 GPA and will be joining the freshman class as a Biology major. Throughout high school, he was a dedicated trombonist and member of the jazz band, marching band, concert band, and wind symphony and also played JV soccer. He was accepted into the National Honor Society and tutored younger students in Algebra, Music Theory, Spanish, and Pre-Calculus. When not studying or playing music, Saeed volunteered in his community with the March of Dimes, Relay for Life, performing in local nursing homes, and working at Ocean Medical Center. Here at Montclair State, Saeed hopes to fuel his “continuously growing desire” for knowledge above and beyond the structure of the classroom.

And, from our very first class of Nursing students, Kimberly Delorenzo graduated summa cum laude from Montclair State in 1982 with a BS in Biology. She went on to earn her RN from the Mountainside Hospital School of Nursing in 1987. Since then, she has had a fulfilling career in Nursing, but she notes that the nursing profession has evolved greatly since she graduated, and she is excited to return to her alma mater and continue her education. She looks forward to being part of the first class of BSN graduates at Montclair State.

So, with the advantage of all our new resources of faculty, students, and facilities, the colleges, schools, departments, programs and administrative units across the campus have planned work over the course of the upcoming year on a number of important initiatives. Among our critical tasks is preparation for the upcoming 10-year Middle States Reaccreditation Review. As you may recall, Montclair State is one of 15 institutions selected by the Middle States Commission to be part of its Collaborative Implementation Project, pioneering the adoption of revised reaccreditation standards. These 15 institutions are working closely with the Commission staff and with each other to apply the new standards in preparing their institutional self-studies. The Montclair State team has played a leading role in creating and promulgating data-gathering mechanisms, assessment tactics, and progress measures for this review. We now enter the third and final year of preparations for the accreditation visit that will take place in April, 2017.

Many people have been engaged in the self-study process. The Executive Leadership Team, comprised of Professor Joan Besing of Communication Science and Disorders, Professor Christine Lemesiano, associate director of the School of Communication and Media, and Associate Provost Joanne Cote-Bonanno, is actively assembling the Working Group drafts – one for each Standard – into the single draft which will tell the full reaccreditation story for Montclair State. The leaders of the Working Groups are: Associate Dean Brian Carolan for Mission and Goals; Professor Dorothy Rogers and Associate Dean Ron Sharps for Ethics and Integrity; Professor Suzanne McCotter for Design and Delivery of the Student Experience; Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Indiveri-Gant and Associate Vice President Allyson Straker-Banks for Support of the Student Experience; Assistant Director of Assessment Irina Koroleva and Assistant Director of Institutional Effectiveness Masela Obade for Educational Effectiveness Assessment; Dean Judith Lin Hunt for Planning, Resources and Institutional Improvement; Professor Kenneth Sumner for Governance; and, as Chair of the Verification of Compliance Committee, the man who always gets his data right, Director of Institutional Research Steve Johnson.

The team is currently in the stage of drafting and reviewing text for the final report. There is a Middle States review website at montclair.edu/middle-states where drafts will be posted for feedback by the University community and dates for open forums for discussion of the report will be posted. All members of the Montclair State University community are welcome to comment and to attend these discussions.

It is exciting to note that, in addition to the 20th anniversary of The Graduate School, this year will also mark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the John J. Cali School of Music. Since its founding in 2006, the Cali School has developed new curricula, expanded its global visibility with an International Artist’s Diploma, and instituted a Graduate String Residency program, with the Julius Quartet serving as its inaugural ensemble. The School has enjoyed successful collaborations with a number of professional performing ensembles, and, in particular, developed close ties with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, with regular performances by the School’s choral groups with the Orchestra. The School also continues to expand its outreach to the community with a Bridge Camp for school-aged musicians, chamber music concerts at a number of community venues, and collaborations with the Montclair Library, Montclair Art Museum and Jazz House Kids. The 10th-anniversary celebration will occur in mid-October in conjunction with Kaleidoscope and will include performances by all of our major ensembles, as well as a special Director’s Series of lectures and performances throughout the year centered on contemporary composers.

Over the past year or two, the Department of Art and Design has undertaken an entire re-imagination of their curriculum, and this fall will begin the important work of implementing the new curriculum. The newly-conceived programs, which aim to be distinctively contemporary and to emphasize transdisciplinarity, will include a BA in Visual Arts, a BFA in Visual Communication Design and a BFA in Product Design. Under development, in regard to the new BFA in Visual Communication Design, is also a 2+2 program in collaboration with the Shanghai Institute of Technology.

A major initiative for the year for the College of Education and Human Services is to increase its off-site programs in fields such as bilingual education and addictions counseling and to develop new approaches to alternate route programs for teacher education. The College will also begin the implementation of a new Student Success Center to provide expanded and more coordinated and effective advising, internship opportunities, clinical practice, and career services for the College’s students.

Effective July 1, 2016, the College’s programs in Nutrition and Food Studies and in Public Health officially separated into two new departments. The change was made at the initiative of the program faculty in order to give greater visibility and public credibility to the two different program areas, and to provide more focused efforts in the areas of advising and academic services for students, accreditation, curriculum development, acquisition of external funding, marketing and community agency relationships. Professor Amanda Birnbaum will be serving as chair of the Department of Public Health, and Professor Doug Murray will be chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.

A high priority initiative for the College of Science and Mathematics in the coming year is to secure external funding for the establishment of a four-year College Honors Program, capable of serving 100 science and mathematics students and offering them specialized honors courses, advanced research opportunities, and preparation for national science fellowships.

With the addition of the new Center for Environmental and Life Sciences, the College of Science and Mathematics is now able to host two incubators. Endomedix is focusing its work on the development of biopolymers that form hydrogel devices in situ for things like cerebral aneurysm repair and wound healing. Immunomedics is focusing on the development of monoclonal antibody-based products for the targeted treatment of cancer and autoimmune disorders. These incubators provide opportunities to expose science students to real world STEM business models and functioning commercial laboratories.

In the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, a major initiative for the year is the development of a combined BA and MA in Health Humanities focused on the intersection of medicine, systems of health care, and aspects of humane practice, and drawing on work in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts. The program is intended to prepare students for a wide range of careers in health-related fields. Faculty who have been engaged in its development include Professor Lois Oppenheim and Professor Jefferson Gatrall from Modern Languages and Literatures, and Professor Nicole Lytle from the Center for Child Advocacy and Policy. Other faculty with an interest in this developing program are encouraged to be engaged.

This year, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences will undertake an initiative, similar to the one in the College of Education and Human Services, to expand student service support and program delivery so that undergraduates have a better understanding of how academic programs relate to post-graduation employment and graduate study success. The effort will include initiatives such as: increased attention to new students through intrusive advising and social programs with opportunities to meet faculty; increased programming on career path exploration geared specifically for humanities and social science students; and in-class Lightning Talks to assist students in developing strategies for navigation of the University, preparing for employment, and career planning.

The Feliciano School of Business will launch its first fully online MBA this fall, with six start dates during the year, and an expectation of an enrollment of 300 students by the end of the third year. The School is also in the process of developing corporate partnerships with ADP and Wyndham, featuring initiatives such as specialized graduate programs, professional development, and comprehensive internship programs. The School is also actively engaged in developing joint 3+1+1 programs with a number of universities in China, as well as a 2+2 undergraduate program with Curtin University in Australia, which has one of the largest business schools in the world with over 15,000 students.

In an important new initiative, Sprague Library will be developing an institutional repository to showcase Montclair State’s scholarship, creative endeavors, and other University activities and accomplishments. Among the material to be included in the repository will be faculty papers and publications, conference announcements and proceedings, and grants and sponsored research. The repository will be hosted on Digital Commons, the leading repository software for universities and research centers. Scholarly material and special collections in Digital Commons’ repositories are highly discoverable in Google, Google Scholar, and other search engines, and articles are indexed in the Digital Commons Network, which is a free discovery tool for full text scholarly articles used by researchers worldwide.

Two important new initiatives will be implemented this year by the Division of University Advancement. Of great significance, the University’s website, which is our most important information link with the world, is being redesigned. A new look and new functionality for Undergraduate Admissions launched this September, and the redesigned homepage will be up in late September. It will make Montclair State universally accessible on all forms of electronic devices and is designed to provide our electronic visitors with quicker access to the information that is of greatest importance to them. The new design is more visual in its presentation format and makes possible greater and more effective use of videos and photos. Here is a preview of the new Admissions page:

A second Advancement initiative will be the launching of a new online reporting system for Foundation accounts. That new system will be of particular importance to academic departments, schools and colleges, enabling relevant units to see the various donor accounts that have been provided to the University and the funds that are available for programs, research, scholarships, and other academic needs. This new and transparent system, developed under the leadership of Associate Vice President Jeff Campo, will significantly enhance the ability of the University to make effective and timely use of the various gifts given to the University.

Last year represented a very strong year for the University in the acquisition of grants for externally-funded research and programs. We received 60 new awards, totaling $20.5 million, including multi-year awards, and $11.5 million in actual research dollars crossed the threshold during the year. In the coming year, there are several major new areas of opportunity. The University is now officially eligible for Title V funding as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, under the direction of Ted Russo, will be monitoring these opportunities as they arise.

With the arrival of our new School of Nursing and the possibility of collaborations between Nursing and other University programs, we will be eligible to apply for Health Research Services Administration grants that focus on the improvement and expansion of health care services to underserved people in areas such as maternal and child health and health care workforce development. Finally, while our new Carnegie research doctoral designation does not make us eligible for any specific funding, it does make us more competitive in seeking a variety of NSF and other grants. And don’t forget that Montclair State is also designated as a non-land-grant college of Agriculture and therefore eligible for capacity building grants in that field.

The OneMontclair program has taken the University from, in many instances, pen and paper, to the most modern computer systems available in Finance, Human Resources and Student Information. Taking on the absolutely necessary challenge of warehousing massive obsolete systems and moving simultaneously to the development of three major new systems has been an extraordinary task. This highly complex endeavor impacted hundreds of millions of pieces of data, required the review of thousands of business processes, and had to create hundreds of integrations on hundreds of servers across dozens of systems. There has never been an implementation such as we undertook accomplished anywhere without complications, errors and bumps in the road, and our initiative experienced some of those difficulties as well.

Under the direction of Samir Bakane, executive director for Enterprise Systems and Vice President for Information Technology Candy Fleming, we have had the benefit of genuinely committed teams from all of the units, and, among the many, were Keesha Chavis, assistant vice president for Talent Management, Kathleen Ragan, associate vice president for Student Development and Campus Life, and Bill Schulz, director of Application Management, Enterprise Application Services. Dealing with the many challenges and difficulties were literally hundreds of individuals throughout the University who have helped move the implementation forward and who have learned to use entirely new systems and assisted their colleagues in becoming adept at the new processing as well.

We have had major accomplishments. We implemented the new Human Resources Workday system and everyone got paid. Under the new system, students received financial aid and were able to register for classes. We implemented a new finance system and the vendors got paid ... eventually. The process still has a way to go, but what is different this year is that, for the first time, we can really begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What I ask of each of you is that you make your best effort to learn the new systems. Various units and the IT division will be providing considerable information about the new systems, as well as help desks, workshops and training opportunities to assist you.

In addition to the completion and January opening of the new facility for the School of Communication and Media and the renovated Partridge Hall for Nursing and the Graduate School, under the leadership of Vice President Shawn Connolly and his excellent University Facilities team, work will begin this year on the next major facilities project, which will be the complete renovation of Mallory Hall. This half-century old, 34,400-GSF building will be renovated into a state-of-the-art, 43,800-GSF instructional and research facility for the computer sciences. The project will add a fourth floor to the building and will repurpose the existing space to house classrooms for the thousands of students taking courses or pursuing degrees in Computer Science and Information Technology, as well as for a wide range of highly specialized instructional spaces and research laboratories, in areas such as Cyber Security, Forensics, Data Analytics, Image Processing, Parallel Computing, Computational Sensing, and Imaging and Optics. The facility will also house two instructional Biology laboratories. The building will be fully life-cycle renovated with new heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical and life safety systems, and a new exterior facade and roof system. The project will be funded in part by $7 million in phase-two state bond funds received by the University.

The second major project that will move forward this year is the design work for the total renovation of the 125,000-GSF College Hall, Montclair State’s original building which opened in 1908 as what was then Montclair Normal School. The planned renovation will repurpose the building as an integrated Student Services Center that will house the full range of academic support services required by a student population that numbers over 20,000. With a centralized and integrated student services facility, students will be able more effectively to navigate the processes required to enroll, register for courses, receive appropriate academic advising, manage their financial aid and pay their bills, access tutoring services, verify graduation requirements, obtain assistance needed to manage disabilities, and, in comprehensive ways, avail themselves of the many other services that are part of life in a large, public university, governed by a myriad of federal and state requirements.

So, that is a glimpse at the very intensive agenda for the year, and, of course, you must add to that all of the initiatives that will be undertaken in individual instruction and research. It will be a busy, but I hope very fruitful year, and I take a moment to note that we are doing that work in the context of a state and a nation, and a world that is not as settled as we might wish.

There are good times and there are bad times, and, sometimes, at the beginning of our academic year, we have found ourselves in times that require some notice and comment about what is happening beyond the borders of our University community. I believe this is one of those times. As Charles Dickens wrote in 1859, describing the world of 1775 in A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

So, there are better election campaigns, and there are worse ones, and we have found ourselves, through the endless primary season and into the run-up to the November election in the full flood of a presidential election campaign that feels as though it has been going on since the time of the flood, and it has been a misery of a campaign, appalling on so many levels. It has reached down to the truly muckiest levels of public discourse; it has thrown to the winds any respect for truth or responsible discussion of the issues; it has lacked any semblance of separation of church and state; it has displayed the worst aspects of the American character to the world; it has been sexist and racist and classist and xenophobic to the core. And the media has had a field day in making sure that the most offensive and senseless and rabble-rousing aspects of the whole thing are hashed and rehashed endlessly.

Now, as I say, there have been better and worse election cycles, but in the 23 years I have served as the president of two different public universities, I have never advocated for one candidate over another. It is in the nature of my role that I am taken to be, in many ways, the face and voice of this large educational community, and we do not have one point of view. We are a complex and diverse community and our members comprise many different points of view, and I cannot speak from one political point of view without appearing to represent all of you, and that, of course, would not be accurate.

So, although, even more than in other elections, I find it particularly difficult to hold my tongue now, and, while there are many tremendously important issues at stake in this election about which I feel very strongly, issues about our nation’s responsibilities and relationships in the world, about immigration, about domestic policies, and about social and economic justice and equality of opportunity, and many more, I will not break my rule. But I will call your attention to one of the issues that touches very closely on what it is we have chosen to do with our lives. And that issue is presidential candidate association with entities that take the name of university and turn it into a get-rich-quick sales gimmick that reaps millions of dollars from vulnerable people. Such enterprises are offensive and predatory and a violation of every value that informs the work that we do every day. Such enterprises make a mockery of education, of knowledge, of faculty and students, and of the honest pursuit of learning.

Making universities is what we do, and we do it in the context of a treasured and long national and international history that goes back centuries. James Bryant Conant was a very accomplished organic chemist, a serious scientist, and a very activist president of Harvard University for 20 years. He said at one public occasion in the very early years of his presidency that, “He who enters a university walks on hallowed ground.” In making that remark, I believe that Dr. Conant was thinking of the generations of brilliant minds who had trod the grounds of many universities to teach and to study, to uncover and preserve human culture and history and to push forward the boundaries of knowledge. He was thinking, I am sure, about the important societal purposes of the university. And, in using the phrase “hallowed ground,” I think he meant, not so much holy as venerable, that the university was ground to be respected and to be revered. And I think he was right: we who enter a university walk on hallowed ground.

Maybe in the mix of all the important issues at stake in this campaign, this one issue won’t seem that important to others, but it is to me, and, I suspect, to many of you. Here, with a profound commitment and the sweat of our brow, we are building a university, aligned with a long and venerable tradition that is intended to support the fundamental and best principles of American democracy. These principles rest on providing the nation’s people with a level field of educational opportunity, the platform from which all other economic and social opportunities can become attainable. In the 21st century, a higher education is as critically needed as a K-12 education was in the last century. And for the same reasons that the opportunity for a free and equal public school education was critical to the nation in the past and remains so, a free, and if not free at least truly affordable, higher education is critical to the nation now. But not a fake education, not some cheaply fabricated facsimile delivered by a sleazy salesman, but the real thing, delivered within a community of deeply trained scholars and scientists and of students willing to work hard at the process of attaining knowledge, developing their skills and the ability to think critically and analytically, and deepening their understanding of their place and their responsibilities in the world and the purposes of learning.

And, especially because we are living in a time when, throughout the country, we have seen a gradual abandonment of support for public higher education, we need the next president of the United States to be capable of understanding what a university is and capable of understanding the important relationship between an educated people and a free and just society. In New Jersey, this need is even greater, because, over the past decades, New Jersey has been among the chief offenders in systematically shifting the cost of public higher education from the state to the students and their families. All of New Jersey’s major higher education expenditures – for direct operating support, for fringe benefits, for capital support and for financial aid – have been allowed to drift, in an absence of any cogent public policy, creating enormous burdens and gross inequities for those most economically challenged.

If high-quality, really affordable public higher education became available to all who demonstrated the capacity to benefit by it, this state, and this nation, would have created the framework necessary to an enlightened and prosperous society. It would be a game changer. But changing the game will be a massive challenge, because the answers rest between the responsibilities of the federal government and the responsibilities of individual states, and each state has its own mode of operating that is not really transparent to the federal government and, often, not very transparent to the state’s own constituents. At this critical moment in time, we are among the caretakers of those institutions, the universities of the state, the nation, and the world, that, imperfect though they may be, have, more than any other human institution, been responsible for the unfettered generation of knowledge and for its dissemination to an increasingly broad segment of the population. We must do what we can to assure that we have in the White House someone who, at the very least, understands the basic concept of the relationship between education and freedom.

So, while the nation readies itself to make a critical decision in November and each of us exercises our individual citizen’s responsibility to work for the right decision, here, at this university, we will continue our important work together, and, at the end of this year, we will once again put on those strange-looking traditional robes and mortar boards that serve to remind us, as scholars, scientists, educators and students, that we have been occupying hallowed ground.

I wish you all a year of accomplishment and satisfaction in your work. Thank you.

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