President's Address to the University Community

April 20, 2016

Photo: Mike Peters

View Video: Montclair in Motion

Good afternoon. Well, this year has certainly been one for ringing the bells at Montclair State University. Years of hard work came to fruition in multiple ways that, taken together, really constitute a significant change in the institution’s identity. In 1994, Montclair State College became Montclair State University, and, four years later, in 1998, when I arrived on campus as president, I found a new university that was in the process of seeking its first doctoral degree and that had before it a complicated road to travel in order to realize the full potential of what Montclair State University could be in service to the people of New Jersey and to the nation and the world beyond.

As we progressed on that journey, we began to fill out our institutional identity, and we picked up a number of markers along the way. But, in my estimation, this academic year will stand out in the University’s history as the year in which the work that began in the late nineties came to fruition in a cascade of achievements. I think, therefore, that it is appropriate that we take a breath and a moment to consider where and who we were in the late nineties and where and who we are today, close to 20 years later.

We have traveled from being an institution of about 12,000 students to one of 20,465 students this year, from an institution that granted about 2,200 degrees a year to one that grants over 4,500 degrees a year. The former state college was, this year, recognized by the Carnegie Listing of Institutions of Higher Education as a Research 3 Doctoral University, and that makes Montclair State one of the only 335 institutions in the country (or the 7 percent) designated as research doctoral universities out of the 4,664 institutions reviewed by the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University, which produces the Carnegie list. We now offer 6 doctoral degrees, and the state bureaucracy that has, until now, put Montclair State through a lengthy maze of expensive and time-consuming processes in order to get each one of those degrees approved, because they were considered to be beyond our mission, has this year officially approved a change of our mission to a doctoral degree granting university.

Montclair State has always had a diverse student population, but since the 1990’s that diversity has grown substantially, from approximately 38 percent students of color to approximately 53 percent. Leading this change was a nearly 10 percent rise in Hispanic undergraduates, and, as an indication of that fact, this year the Federal government officially designated Montclair State as a Hispanic Serving Institution. That recognition is particularly important, not just because it makes us eligible for dedicated federal funding, but because Hispanics now represent 20 percent of New Jersey’s population, and we have a moral imperative to serve that growing segment of our society.

Montclair State is now recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a Community Engaged Campus; by The Princeton Review as among the nation’s greenest campuses, and the Princeton Review also ranks the Feliciano School of Business as among the Best Business Schools; by Money Magazine as among the nation’s colleges that add the most value; by Forbes Magazine as one of America’s Top Colleges; by the Campus Pride Top 25 LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges and Universities; by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education as a Top Degree Producer of minority student degrees and by Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine as among the Top 100 Colleges for Hispanics; by G.I. Jobs magazine as a Military-Friendly university, and by U.S. News & World Report as a top tier Northern Regional University, as a Top Public School, and as among the top graduate teacher preparation programs in the nation.

Consistent with its identity as a university, as distinct from a college, Montclair State has greatly enhanced its professional programs: transforming the Department of Music into the John J. Cali School of Music; bringing together programs in Broadcasting, Film and Communications to create the School of Communication and Media; expanding, raising significant private money for, and naming the Feliciano School of Business; and, this coming fall, beginning a new School of Nursing.

When Montclair State became a university in 1994, its complement of facilities was grossly inadequate for a college, let alone a university, and, since that time, we have come a long way to providing the physical assets required by a university of quality, including among some of the most major additions to the campus:

  • This year, the 143,000-square-foot, $66 million Feliciano School of Business replaced a 40-year old facility that was one-third its size, with one that has advanced instructional spaces and technology, including computer labs, a financial trading facility, and market research capability.
  • This year, the 115,000-square-foot, $55 million Center for Environmental and Life Sciences was opened, supporting instructional programs and research in fields such as Pharmaceutical Biochemistry and Medicinal Chemistry and housing the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies, the Passaic River Institute and the Sokol Institute for the Pharmaceutical Life Sciences.
  • The Center for Communication Sciences and Disorders occupies a specially designed facility on Broad Street that houses the graduate programs in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology.
  • The old Finley Hall became the completely renovated and newly named Schmitt Hall, housing foreign languages and linguistics, as well as the Mathematics learning center, all in what is now a modern and well-equipped building.
  • Morehead Hall was fully renovated to serve as the first building for the School of Communication and Media.
  • University Hall, at over 325,000 square feet became, by far, the largest building on campus, and, when it was completed in 2005, it was the biggest step in the reinvention of the physical campus, providing a beautiful facility for the College of Education and Human Services, as well as classrooms, lecture halls, computer center and conference center for the whole campus.
  • This Kasser Theater, where we meet today and which recently celebrated its 10th year anniversary, provided an exquisite performance facility for both our academic and professional programs in the performing arts.
  • The John J. Cali School of Music took occupancy of the fully renovated and substantially expanded old Chapin Hall, with its rehearsal space and elegant Leschowitz Recital Hall.
  • The Student Recreation Center finally gave our thousands of students a long sought after place where they could exercise and play.
  • With long waiting lists for student housing, and hundreds of students being put up in motels on Route 3, about 3,100 student beds were added to the University’s student housing stock with the Heights, the Village and Sinatra Hall projects, and, in time for this fall, the current renovation of Stone Hall will provide an additional 148 new beds. With these additions, this new university could, for the first time, actually recruit out-of-state and foreign students and provide an opportunity for many more New Jersey students to have a full on-campus college experience.
  • Montclair State’s first three parking garages were added to the campus, with a capacity of close to 4,000 cars in the Red Hawk Deck, the Transit Deck and CarParc Diem. And in a partnership with NJ Transit, a second train station was built to serve the campus.
  • Massive expansion and upgrading of the University’s computing and IT infrastructure occurred and is still occurring, bringing the University to the front edge of higher education computing technologies.
  • The entire energy, heating, and cooling infrastructure of the campus was replaced with a modern system that can serve the University for decades to come.
  • Major renovations too numerous to mention have been accomplished, modernizing instructional and research spaces, as well as the Panzer Athletic Center for our outstanding 18 highly competitive intercollegiate athletic teams.
  • Currently in construction is a 105,000-square-foot, $55 million facility for the School of Communication and Media that will be among the most technologically advanced on American campuses.
  • Also in construction is a complete renovation of Partridge Hall to create a home for the new School of Nursing and for The Graduate School.
  • Design is well underway for a complete renovation of the University’s original building. College Hall, built in 1908 to house the brand new Montclair Normal School, will be fully renovated to create an integrated, technologically advanced, and extremely welcoming and supportive student services facility.
  • And, if we are successful in the second round of state bonding, next year we will begin the renovation of Mallory Hall into a new facility for programs in Computer Science and Information Technology.

All of those achievements have, in innumerable ways, been part of the evolution of the identity of Montclair State. It is clearly difficult to imagine what was here if all of that, just a few short years ago, was not here. However, as visible and impressive as that list may seem, the fundamental identity of any university, in the end, rests with its faculty, and the faculty of Montclair State has changed in ways that are also profound and exciting. Over recent years, we have recruited literally hundreds of new faculty to the University, and they have brought with them a passion for teaching, a commitment to students, an interest in exploiting the potential of emerging instructional technologies, and an advanced engagement in scholarship and research, which is contributing to the development of new instructional programs, to the creation of knowledge in important fields, and is giving many of our students the opportunity actually to put their hands on, and wrap their minds around, the process of knowledge-creation. Here is a small example of what I mean:>

View Video: Research at Montclair

Thank you to those faculty members for sharing their time and their thoughts with us, and, just imagine if we expanded that brief video to include all of the great scholarly work being done on campus. We’d be watching for a long time. I would also call attention to this year’s edition of University Authors, which provides another snapshot of the same phenomenon from a slightly different angle and can be found in a handsome hardcopy brochure, as well as online on both the Provost’s and the Library’s websites. University Authors includes a listing of the major publications of faculty this year and is an extremely impressive illustration of Montclair State’s evolving faculty identity.

So, in summary, the institution that not that long ago was Montclair State College truly is now Montclair State University, and, if anyone asks you to describe the institution, you can simply say that Montclair State is New Jersey’s second-largest university, a research doctoral institution with more than 20,000 students, granting over 4,500 degrees a year, a highly diverse, Hispanic-Serving Institution, community-engaged, ranked highly for its undergraduate and graduate programs in a comprehensive range of liberal arts and sciences and professional fields, affordable and a great value, with a distinguished faculty, a beautiful campus and state-of-the-art facilities, LGBT- and veteran-friendly, with very strong student services, a great athletic program, and, beyond all that, the Red Hawks are very green. That should cover it!

While all the really big stories were coming to fruition this year, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that, across the University, a wide range of more focused accomplishments were also being realized. For example, through a joint initiative by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the College of Education and Human Services, the University this January opened a new Center for Clinical Services. Located on Clove Road, it is a 25,000-square-foot facility that combines, under one roof with an integrated support structure, a number of clinical services that are available to the community at affordable rates. The programs currently engaged in the Center include the Counseling programs, the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, the Educational Assessment and Intervention Services, the Nutrition program, and the Psychological Services Clinic. In addition to providing a resource to the community, the Center is a rich training ground for our students, equipped with really creative, client-friendly interior spaces and advanced technologies to support the Center’s therapeutic and instructional activities, as well as the work of researchers in areas such as Child Advocacy, Clinical Psychology and Developmental Psychology.

The University also concluded a major partnership agreement this year with Sony Electronics that will provide the new School of Communication and Media with one of the most extensive university-based 4K studio and production facilities. The initiative will make emerging technologies available to our students, and Montclair State will be Sony’s preferred educational environment for the introduction of new products, technologies and services related to television, film, media and education. The Sony partnership will extend across campus, including, for example, the technologies that will be associated with the new School of Nursing.

The Center for Entrepreneurship in the Feliciano School of Business opened its MIX laboratory this year. MIX stands for Making and Innovating for X, that is, for the unknown. The lab houses 35 3D print devices and is co-directed by Iain Kerr and Jason Frasca, who describe its goal as providing a space where students from a wide variety of programs across the University can use rapid prototyping to develop new concepts and innovative solutions to problems. Students have worked on concepts as broadly various as 3D mathematical models, solutions to prevent roadway corrosion and designs for a better toothbrush. The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship has a strong outreach mission and has made the MIX lab available to high school students in Montclair and Paterson, as well as to the business community.

Some very important accreditations were achieved this year, including accreditation of the PhD in Counseling, awarded to only 21 percent of all graduate programs in Counseling in the U.S., and accreditation of the BS in Public Health. Both of these programs are the only such programs to be accredited in New Jersey.

The OneMontclair project, which is the multi-year replacement of all of the University’s computing systems, achieved another and critically important milestone, the implementation of the new recruiting and admissions system, the launch of the NEST portal, and the implementation of the new registration module, including the supporting functions of financial aid and billing. It took the leadership of Samir Bakane and the work of a large and dedicated team of people from OneMontclair, IT, Academic Affairs, and Student Development and Campus Life to make possible the registration of 20,000 plus students under a completely new system, and that team did an extraordinary job.

But, of course, we are not finished, and the University has some ambitious goals for the coming academic year. Chief among them will be the establishment of the University’s new School of Nursing, which will be admitting its first class of students this fall. The new Dean of Nursing, Dr. Janice Smolowitz, will be joining us next month. She is presently the Senior Director of Education, Professional Practice and Research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and, prior to that, she held positions at Columbia University’s School of Nursing, as a Professor of Nursing, Director of their DNP residency program, and as a Senior Associate Dean, with admitting and clinical privileges as a Faculty Nurse Practitioner at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center. She is eminently qualified to lead our program, and I want to give special thanks to the Committee who assisted with the search in this highly competitive field, including professors Amanda Birnbaum, Reginald Halaby, Lisa Hazard, Christine Price and Ken Sumner, as well as Vice President Shannon, Dean Prezant, Dean Coleman-Carter, and search chair, Associate Provost Fred Bonato. The renovation of Partridge Hall will be complete by January, and the new School will be able to take up permanent residency there at that time. The School of Nursing is a very exciting new venture for the University and brings with it the potential for many interesting cross-campus academic and research collaborations.

Following on the success of the off-site program in Educational Leadership, the College of Education and Human Services will seek to expand the number of revenue-generating programs held at sites off campus, including programs in special education, higher education leadership, and addictions counseling. This effort will be led by Dr. Benjamin Manyindo, the College’s new Director of Off-Site and Special Programs. It is important to note that, as the University continues to grow future enrollments, our plan is for the largest share of the growth to be in the three areas of graduate education, corporate-based and other off-site programs, and online programs. The Feliciano School of Business is also focused on outreach programming, including the development of a 2+2 program with Curtin University in Australia and possible 3+1+1 programs with partner institutions in China. For departments interested in expanding online programming and other outreach educational options, I would urge you to meet the new Executive Director for Online Programs and Extended Learning, Dr. Peter McAliney, who joined us this spring and who is housed in The Graduate School.

In the area of new academic programs, I would note that, this September, the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures will be launching New Jersey’s first and only Arabic major, and the Feliciano School of Business will launch its fully online MBA program, with six program start dates throughout the year. A number of new program development initiatives will be underway during the next year, including work by our very large Psychology Department in their quest for a PhD program, potentially in the areas of Clinical Psychology and Industrial and Organizational Psychology. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences has also begun preliminary exploration of new trans-disciplinary programs in fields such as Medical Humanities, Digital Humanities, and Urban Studies.

And, finally, I would note that the School of Business has been leading the way in the development of college-based student service centers, and, next year, the College of Education and Human Services will follow in that pathway and begin the implementation of their own Student Success Center concept, offering centralized and coordinated advising, internships, field experiences, and career services to students in all programs in the College.

As we look to the future, there are a few additional new leadership appointments I would like to mention. First, Dr. Tamara Lucas has been appointed as the new Dean of the College of Education and Human Services, effective this very week. Tamara has served the University for about 20 years as a professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, as Associate Dean of the College, and most recently as Acting Dean. Dean Lucas is a nationally-recognized expert in English language acquisition, and she has been active in statewide and national policy issues affecting the College’s programs. I am certain that she will bring strong leadership to the College at a very interesting time in its history.

Two new vice presidents have joined the University this year. Effective in January, Shawn Connolly, formerly Associate Vice President for University Facilities, was appointed Vice President for University Facilities. Shawn is already a well-known personality on campus, and he is bringing his unique brand of excitement, optimism and energy to the massive task of addressing the University’s extensive facilities needs. And, as of April 1, Jon Rosenhein joined the University as Vice President for Finance and Treasurer. Jon brings with him very substantial experience from prior finance and administrative leadership positions at the Juilliard School of Music and Columbia University. He has already begun to dig into our complex new finance system implementation, bond refinancing, and the many other items on the complex business agenda of the University.

And, finally, in regard to administrative matters, the University will be transitioning a number of administrative offices from 855 Valley Road and College Hall to newly designed, leased space in the Overlook Tower at the north end of the campus. Areas that will be moving are Finance, Human Resources, University Advancement, Budget and Planning, and Facilities. The leases at Valley Road will not be renewed, and the College Hall spaces will be repurposed for the planned integrated student services functions which form the core of the renovation plan for College Hall.

I will conclude today by posing and, of course, answering a largely rhetorical question. Why do I come before you as the cheerleader-in-chief of this University? Why do I take this time each spring to remind us all about what is growing, and what has been accomplished, and what is great about this institution? I do so because I believe profoundly that ultimately, on some important level, and notwithstanding the circumstances that are beyond our control, we get the lives that we want. If we look with passion and hope at our mission and bring the positive force of our collective intelligence and energy to bear, we will build a great and meaningful and impactful institution.

It is my firm view that in order to build something worthwhile, we must maintain a positive disposition, we must be optimistic, we must engage, we must believe in ourselves and in each other. In short, if we go through life with the attitude that, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll just eat worms,” we will, indeed, spend our lives eating worms. Who we are, what we feel and what we think, how we act and what we say becomes the reality of the world. We cannot build a university we don’t believe in. We cannot build a university with people we don’t believe in. We cannot help our students realize their potential if we don’t believe in them and in their capacity to be better than we may think, or they may think, they are at this present moment. At a Board of Trustees meeting last week, a graduating student who has been serving as a student trustee summed up what I am trying to say this way:

View Video: Anthony Fasano

We provided the opportunity for Anthony Fasano to become himself. From the first days when we recruited and admitted and oriented Anthony, to the days when we provided him with instruction and advising and mentoring, to the days when we provided the activities and organizations and opportunities that would enable him to develop his intellectual and leadership skills, we paved the way for Anthony’s discovery of himself and the development of his understanding of the world. Think of how many people in this room probably touched Anthony on his journey and helped him get from the kid from Hopatcong, New Jersey, who didn’t have a clue who he was or what he wanted to do, to the young man he is today. You may not remember him and he may not remember you, but there you were, teaching him, and supporting him, and helping him to discover himself. How great is that?

A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way over to our Annual Scholarship Dinner. As I got out of my car, I saw a student across the road near the Cali School waving his arms at me. He seemed quite frantic so I started walking toward him and he came running to me, dragging a big bass viol with him, and when we met he threw his arms around me, and there we were – him, me and the bass – and he said, “Thank you, thank you. We’ve never met, but I had to tell you what a great university this is and what a great experience I have had at the Cali School. Thank you for everything.” How great is that? I’m on my way into an event to get 400 people to understand why we need their help and why they should support scholarships for our students. That student fired the starting pistol for me, and we raised $760,000 in scholarship money that night.

And, about a week ago, I had the good fortune to be in a room with Dean of Students Margaree Coleman-Carter and another graduating senior, Leonel Valerio. Several months earlier, Leo had told me that he had no plan for after graduation, and I had very strongly urged him to start working on that situation right away. Well, a week ago, Leo was telling us with great pleasure that he had secured a really good post-graduation internship in New York City, and, in a moment I will never forget, Margaree leaned over and said to him, “I remember you when you first came here, a bit of a confused kid, and I’ve been keeping my eye on you the whole time, watching you getting better each year at figuring out how to take advantage of all the opportunities that were here for you. I never stopped watching you,” said Margaree, “and, today, I am proud of you.” And Leo? He ducked his head for a moment and came up smiling the kind of smile that makes your day. How great is that?

As Prof. Marc Favata has informed us, the discovery of gravitational waves has made it possible for us to listen to the Universe, and, who knows, maybe that will make it easier for us really to hear each other and to hear the beating heart of this University. From where we sit, which, after all, is actually bigger? The Universe or the University? As Einstein said, it’s all relative.

Thank you all for your extraordinary efforts and accomplishments. Thank you for building Montclair State University.

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