President's Opening Day Address

September 1, 2010

Photo: Mike Peters

Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole

Good morning everyone. It is a pleasure to greet you once again at the beginning of a new academic year. 

I always try to take a little time in August to catch up on some of the reading I cannot quite fit into the work year and that often includes, before I move on to the weightier books, catching up on recent issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education.  There I came upon mention of a spate of new books, all with titles that bore a certain similarity, for example: The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It; or Higher Education and the American Dream: Success and Its Discontents; and my favorite, Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – and What We Can Do About It (this one I give credit to for eschewing the colon in the title and instead going with the question mark). 

These books follow on a number of recent more scholarly works discussing the failures of, primarily, public institutions of higher education.  Every year, two or three new books come out announcing that American higher education is failing the students, failing the nation, and just plain failing.  The assertions most often made in relation to this failure have to do with the alleged failure to actually provide students with an adequate education (graduates, it is asserted, do not know what they should know and cannot do what they should be able to do), the length of time it takes to degree (too many students are taking six years to graduate when they should be graduating in four years, or even less), the large number of students who never attain a degree, and, of course, the cost of a college degree. 

The impression left is that students, after years of effort and financial sacrifice, struggling under accumulated debt, must come away from their college years bitterly disappointed with the waste of time and money. That apparently is what the facts and the studies indicate.  We, on the other hand, labor under the impression that what we do is, in fact, of immense value both to the individual students we serve as well as the larger society, but we appear to be divorced from reality in so thinking.

In order to test the principle, the American Council on Education (ACE) hired a highly reputable polling agency to survey a broad range of alumni aged 25 to 39 from colleges and universities across the nation.  I made sure that Montclair State University was among those whose alumni were surveyed because I thought the results would provide valuable information for us. What, in fact, the surveys tell us is that graduates across the country hold an enormously favorable view of the value of their college education, and Montclair State University tracks positively with that national response.  Among our alumni who were surveyed:

  • 95% reported a favorable overall impression of the University, compared to 88% nationally. 
  • 89% of our graduates and those surveyed nationally believe that their college education was worth the time and money dedicated to it.
  • 81% thought that the University charged them a fair price for their college education compared to 76% nationally.
  • 78% felt that upon graduation they were effectively prepared with the knowledge and skills they needed compared to 81% nationally.
  • When asked more specifically if their undergraduate college experience adequately prepared them for their current jobs, 73% said yes, with 14% saying exceptionally well, 21% saying more than adequately, and 38% saying adequately.  That 73%, while certainly a high number, compares to 85% nationally who felt they were adequately prepared for their current jobs, so there may be something here that bears some thinking about.
  • 73%, compared to 79% nationally, answered that if they could begin again, they would once more choose to attend Montclair State.  The reasons indicated by those who said yes were:

34% - the academic experience was fulfilling
20% - the campus culture and atmosphere were a good fit for me
19% - the campus location was preferable
13% - my degree has helped me in important way
11% - the cost of attendance

  • Of the 27% who answered that they would choose a different school, the reasons they gave were:

                        32% - the degree has not helped me as much as I would like
                        24% - the academic experience was not fulfilling
                        19% - the campus culture and atmosphere were not a good fit for me
                        10% - the cost of attendance
                         8% - the campus location was not preferable

In short, about half of the graduates who would choose to attend again would do so for reasons related to the academic experience and the value of their degrees.  About half of those who would choose not to attend again were not happy about the academic experience and the value of their degrees.  About 20% of both groups were focused on the campus culture and about 10% on the cost of attendance.  Location was twice as important to those who would choose Montclair State again compared to those who would not.

Given the nature of survey responses, the experts say that these are extraordinarily positive numbers.  The way ACE’s expert pollsters put it was to say that any politician who got responses as positive as these would have thought he or she had died and gone to heaven.  In summary, one can extrapolate that almost all students who succeed in attaining a degree feel very positively about the experience they had at Montclair State, and about three-quarters of them feel that they were well prepared for their careers and would choose Montclair State again. 

The survey results also tell us something that is both gratifying to know and important to remember: the most important factors to graduates are those related to the quality of the education they receive, and it is critical for us to remember this point.  The constant focus of our efforts must be to strengthen our curricula, challenge our students to attain higher levels of knowledge and more advanced skills, align our degrees with the theoretical and applied knowledge that will be of use to them, and provide those services that will enable them to succeed to their highest potential.  They want and they need to be as well-prepared as possible to take on the complex assignments that will face them in the world after graduation. 

When asked about the most important role of colleges and universities, our graduates and graduates nationally agree that the two most important roles are to teach students how to learn and think critically and to prepare students for employment.  Those responses are interesting because they suggest that we are successful in conveying the fundamental importance of critical thinking, which is at the heart of our educational mission, even while the students maintain a significant interest in the practical necessity of being well-prepared in specific and applied ways for the pursuit of their professions.  It further suggests to me that the quality of the education we provide has to be very intentional in both developing our students’ theoretical knowledge and critical thinking abilities and in the efforts we make to assure that they have the specific skills and abilities necessary to work in their fields.

We can achieve both of these goals by continuing to be attentive to the intellectual and educational constructs we provide and the attention we give to moving students through a coherent progression of studies, building on their educational development with increasingly advanced intellectual challenges and increasingly engaged learning.  One of the things we know from the NSSE studies in which our students participate is that we are more successful in engaging students when they are freshmen and sophomores and less successful in the upper division. 

To some degree, this result is because, in many of our programs, the order in which students take courses in the discipline is a bit random, not evidencing a rigorous and coherent progression, and upper-division students are not necessarily taking advanced courses, but are being under-challenged in lower-division courses.  It is clear that our graduates want to feel that their knowledge and skills give them what it takes to be at the top of their fields.  Although they may resist being challenged as students, they clearly appreciate the results of the effort once they do graduate.  It is very much the case that alumni remember as their best professors those who made them work the hardest and got them to achieve more than they thought they could.

Turning now from our graduates to our new incoming class of students, I can report that we received close to 13,200 applications for the fall semester.  That is more than double the number of applications we were receiving a decade ago.  Transfer students also continue to apply to the University in historically high numbers — over 4,500 — an increase of 100% over ten years ago. Undergraduate students applied from every county in New Jersey, from 45 states, and from many foreign countries.  The Admissions Office has continued to raise admissions standards and has seen modest increases in academic quality among both freshmen and transfer students. 

The top four choices of major among enrolling freshman students will be no surprise and are, in order: Biology, Psychology, English, and Business.  Other majors in high demand among enrolling students are History, Fashion Studies, Mathematics, Physical Education, Justice Studies, and Family and Child Studies.  Another high-demand program with highly selective admissions is Musical Theater, which had nearly 300 applicants who auditioned for 22 places. 

Here is a closer look at a few of our incoming students: 

Jeremy Cosme comes to us from Ferris High School in Jersey City. As a member of the competitive Business and Finance Magnet Program, Jeremy was selected from among his peers last summer for an internship with Bank of America, Merrill Lynch.  This summer he was selected once again, and he worked at Pershing LLC.  In addition to these internships, Jeremy was a member of the Future Business Leaders of America and a representative of the Student Leadership Forum.  He plans to pursue a degree in Communication Studies.

Pamela Emenuga comes to Montclair State from East Orange High School. Pamela and her family traveled to Nigeria in 2008 on a medical mission, volunteering their services to village hospitals.  She has also volunteered her time to Habitat for Humanity, the American Cancer Society, and various rescue missions.  In addition to her volunteer efforts, Pamela maintained a 3.9 grade point average in high school and was a member of the National Honor Society, Science Club, and student government, and she is a varsity track and field athlete.  Pamela plans to major in Biology through Montclair State’s Health Careers Program.

Rhett Gross comes to Montclair State from Kearny High School with a perfect 4.0 GPA.  He was accepted to the New Jersey State and the National Student Youth Leadership Conference, is a member of the National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, the student government, both the Math and Science Leagues, and the Student Board of Education Liaison Committee.  Rhett was instrumental in creating more advanced-placement opportunities at Kearny High School, and he took full advantage of the offerings.  In addition to his academic achievements, Rhett was a three-sport athlete, a lifeguard, and a hospital volunteer throughout all four years of high school.  Rhett plans to pursue his goal of becoming a high school mathematics teacher.

Misha Hajj has a passion for English and History and a dream of becoming the first African-American woman appointed to the Supreme Court.  A graduate of the Academy for Allied Health Sciences in Scotch Plains, Misha declares herself to be an “artistic mind stuck in a science school.”  She divides her discretionary reading time between the works of Sophocles, Faulkner, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.  Misha created an organization called “Hunger Proof,” donating surplus food to local food banks in her community.  She plans to pursue a degree in Jurisprudence.

Sean Gillan was attracted to Montclair State by his interests in business and finance, his love of both baseball and violin, and his quest for a culturally diverse community.  In addition to his rigorous course load at Franklin High School in Somerset, participation in Junior ROTC, his musical pursuits, and baseball, Sean makes time to volunteer at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, where he participates in a special program that cares for families living with HIV/AIDS.  Sean plans to major in Business Administration. 

These are just five among the 2,217 distinct and individual freshmen who are entering the University this September, and we are the guardians of their hopes and aspirations. 

Although the State’s anemic appropriations for higher education continue to present the University with major challenges, through good times and bad, we have maintained a steady pace of faculty recruitment, adding dozens of new faculty members every year, a process that assures the vitality and currency of our academic programs.  This year will be no exception.  I am pleased to announce that 36 new, full-time, tenure-track faculty colleagues have joined us this September, over half of them in newly created lines.  They come to Montclair State having received their training from some of the best universities in the country, including Cornell, Yale, UCLA, Columbia, New York University, Purdue, Johns Hopkins, and the University of London.  I urge you to familiarize yourself with the newest members of the faculty and the staff by perusing the 2010-11 edition of New Faculty, Professional, and Managerial Staff, which may be found online.

This fall’s new faculty cohort brings the full-time faculty number to 573 and the total number of tenured and tenure-track faculty hired since my arrival in 1998 to 337, or almost 59% of all faculty on campus this fall.  Hiring new faculty is hard work, and these results represent the efforts of a large number of individuals, most particularly the deans and the members of departmental search committees, and I want to express my gratitude for your efforts to enhance a faculty that is already second to none in our sector in New Jersey.

We have already approved about 20 new faculty searches to begin this fall, representing a continued investment in the future of the University and providing new faculty resources to programs that are expanding rapidly or whose potential for growth has been convincingly demonstrated.  While the enormous growth in campus facilities is critical to the University’s success, I consider our continued investment in faculty to be our most important legacy to the Montclair State of tomorrow. 

One of the most critical efforts members of the faculty can make is to get to know each other.  Some of the most significant scholarly and research work is accomplished through teams of faculty, often from a variety of departments, colleges and schools, and, of course, teams that cross the boundaries of various universities.  As the faculty of the University has grown, and hopefully will continue to grow, it is important to be intentional in our efforts to facilitate these cross-disciplinary scholarly opportunities. 

On September 25, the University will host an opportunity for new faculty to meet with the current faculty to share their scholarly interests and hopefully begin the process of stimulating new scholarly connections.  At this special event to welcome new faculty and get them quickly absorbed into their new academic home, the faculty will have the opportunity to hear from each new member of the faculty about his or her area of research interest.

As many of you may have noticed, new faculty quickly become, not old exactly, but experienced, shall we say, and well on their way to establishing themselves professionally.  As an example, I thought it might be interesting to check in on a group of faculty members who, just a few short years ago, were themselves the new ones. 

Tyson Lewis joined the faculty in the Educational Foundations Department in 2006.  Dr Lewis’s scholarship explores functions of power in schools.  A major focus of his work has been redefining and re-conceptualizing the theory and practice of critical pedagogy, and, since coming to the University, collaborating with faculty members in his own and other departments and from other universities, he has incorporated his work into three books and numerous journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers, with another book and several more articles on the way.  In his instructional work, he has carefully designed his courses to help students understand larger philosophical constructs and to connect those concepts to the actual situations they will face in schools. 

Sandra Passchier joined the University in 2005 and is an Associate Professor of Geoscience in the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies.  Her primary research interests are the sustainability of the cryosphere and its role in global climate change.  She has been invited to participate in five international drilling programs in Antarctica and has numerous publications in such prestigious journals as Nature, Sedimentology, and The Journal of Geophysical Research.  Prof. Passchier has received over half a million dollars in funding from the National Science Foundation and the Joint Oceanographic Institutions.  She is a member of the international steering committee for Antarctic Climate Evolution, one of the five flagship research programs of the Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research.

Beverly Peterson joined the University’s Broadcasting Department in 2008.  Prof. Peterson, whose work has been screened on HBO and ABC and at the Sundance Film Festival, focuses on finding innovative ways to use media to help address social problems.  She recently won a grant to continue her use of new social media and the Internet to create informational forums for the public.  She also continues to develop documentaries in a more traditional style, and, this year, will complete production of a documentary about indigenous journalists who risk their lives to report on their communities. 

Elizabeth Wishnick joined the faculty of the Department of Political Science and Law in 2006.  Her research interests in international security, globalization and migration, environmental and energy policy, and the role of the major powers in Central Asia have resulted in many articles in well-regarded professional journals and a monograph, Mending Fences: The Evolution of Moscow’s China Policy from Brezhnev to Yeltsin.  Prof. Wishnick has been a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Lingnan University in Hong Kong and a research fellow at Taiwan's Academia Sinica, the Hoover Institution, and the Davis Center at Harvard University.  Her research has been supported by the International Studies Association, the Northeast Asia Risk Project, the East Asian Institute, the Tokyo Foundation, and the Smith-Richardson Foundation.

Susana Yu joined the Department of Economics and Finance in 2006.  Her scholarly interests include portfolio analysis, earnings forecasts, and investment strategies.  Prof. Yu is an active scholar who has published numerous journal articles and presented her research at national and international conferences. Prof. Yu is also actively engaged in the scholarly community beyond the University, serving as a special-issue editor for Managerial Finance and for Financial Decisions, and serving on the editorial boards of several refereed journals.  Prof. Yu will serve as the conference chair for the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Northeast Business and Economics Association, which will be hosted by the University.  

While we rely on new classes of faculty to bring new energy and ideas to our educational and scholarly work, the continuing contributions of long-serving faculty are equally important in preserving and passing on the institution’s values and mission and in providing the stability and wisdom that comes with years of experience in the profession.  For that reason, I thought I would take a moment to highlight the work of several of such senior members of our faculty, in reverse order of seniority:

Jennifer Robinson came to Montclair State University as an assistant professor in the department of Curriculum and Teaching in 1992 — the year most of our freshman class was born. In her early years, she was the PI on a federal teacher recruitment grant that established our Teacher Education Advocacy Center.  In 2004, she became the Executive Director of our Center of Pedagogy, and, during her tenure as director, our teacher education programs have nearly doubled in size and the Center of Pedagogy now oversees the field placements for over 1,300 students a year.  Dr. Robinson's most recent achievement was the receipt in 2009 of a prestigious, five-year, $6.3 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education — the largest federal grant in University history — to fund the Newark Montclair Urban Teacher Residency Program.  In all, Dr. Robinson has been the PI on 18 different grants for a total of $18.8 million in external funding. For over 15 years, Dr. Robinson has been the guiding force in our partnership work in Newark, where her deep commitment to urban education in general, and the Newark Public Schools in particular, has enabled Montclair State to forge one of the strongest  partnerships with a Great Cities' school district in the nation. Despite her heavy administrative schedule, she continues to teach, often co-teaching with faculty colleagues, and serves as a mentor to students.
 
Frank Aquilino has been a member of the faculty since 1978 and has served as the Chair of the Department of Accounting, Law and Taxation since 1999.  During his tenure, he has contributed to the development and reputation of the Accounting Department by recruiting and supporting strong faculty members and by developing a rigorous curricular structure.  Professor Aquilino has also been a leader in professional associations, helping to shape the field of accounting education and practice in the region, and he has overseen the education of many hundreds of accounting professionals now working throughout the country. Professor Aquilino led the recent development of the MS in Accounting program at Montclair State and is providing critical leadership in the comprehensive curricular review process currently underway at the School of Business.

Ruth Rendleman was appointed to the Music faculty in 1975 and has been an active and contributing member of the University’s music programs over the last 35 years.  Earlier in her career, she received three National Endowment Fellowships to pursue her research, and she continues to be a recognized expert in 18th century improvisation and cadenza form.  She started and served as Director of both the Preparatory Center for the Arts and the Stokes Forest Music Camp, she served as chair of the Music faculty, and she is currently serving as the Interim Director of the John J. Cali School of Music.  Professor Rendleman continues to perform on campus and to teach piano students.

Irwin Badin has been a professor of psychology at Montclair State for 40 years.  Over these many years, Prof. Badin has continued to be a vital member of the department, nurturing new students by willingly teaching the department’s introductory courses and playing a very important role in the advising and mentoring of students in a department that has over a thousand undergraduate majors.  Most recently, Prof. Badin has developed expertise in the uses of technology in Psychology instruction and has generously mentored colleagues in the development of these skills.

Ken Wolff has been a professor of mathematics at Montclair State for 43 years, if my arithmetic is correct, but his history with the institution goes back even further since he received his B.A. from Montclair State in 1963.  I like having Ken around because he can testify that parking was even worse half a century ago and that I have, in fact, made it better.  Prof. Wolff served as Chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences for about 18 years.  More recently, he was the founding Director of the EdD in Mathematics Education, and in 2003, he received the Max Sobel Outstanding Mathematics Educator Award. Prof. Wolff's area of scholarship is in developing and assessing effective professional development programs for middle and secondary school math teachers and visualization and modeling tools to support the teaching and learning of Linear Algebra.  He was a major contributor to the $2.5 million grant that led to the Middle Grades Math program and is the PI on a five-year, $2.8 million, NSF-funded GK12 project that has promoted math and science education by having the University's math and science graduate students serve as teaching fellows in five Northern New Jersey school districts. 

There are, of course, many more of our colleagues who have been making continuing and important contributions to the life of the University over many years, and we have all benefited from their efforts. 

There have been some changes on the administrative side of the University, and some important people for all of you to get to know include the following:

James Anderson is our new Director of Financial Aid.  Jim brings to the University deep experience in both financial aid and higher education.  Most recently, he was the Senior Account Executive for Sallie Mae, the largest lender in the student loan industry.  Prior to that job, Jim served as Director of Financial Aid at Columbia University and Fairfield University and as the Assistant Dean of Admissions Services at the University of New Haven.

Sharon Carney joined us as Associate Controller.  Sharon is a certified public accountant and brings to the University significant experience in accounting and higher education. Most recently, she was the Controller for Union Theological Seminary in New York.  Sharon was also the Assistant Controller at Southwestern University in Texas and held several positions in the State Auditor’s Office in Texas and The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Lisa Kasper is our new Director of Undergraduate Admissions.  She brings with her more than 15 years of admissions experience, the last eight years of them here at Montclair State.  Since her arrival in 2002, Lisa has been instrumental in streamlining the application processing, revamping the merit scholarship program, and eliminating barriers to the transfer application and credit evaluation process.  She also possesses first-hand knowledge of the “Montclair experience,” having earned her

John Shannon, Jr. joined us in June as Vice President for University Advancement.  Jack was raised and began his career in Camden, serving in a variety of positions, including Business Administrator of the City of Camden.  He subsequently served as First Deputy Director of Commerce for the City of Philadelphia and as Associate Vice President at the University of Pennsylvania, working in the area of economic development.  Most recently, he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of East Baltimore Development Inc., where he was responsible for launching the largest redevelopment initiative in Baltimore’s history.

As you may have noticed, we have continued our efforts, under the most difficult of circumstances, to expand and improve the University’s physical facilities.  Those challenging circumstances include the lack of any State resources for the last two decades for campus capital projects, the enormous bureaucratic complications of building as a State institution, and the regulatory requirements that often make the quality of our vendors and contractors a very variable affair.  Nevertheless, under the able leadership of Vice President Bressler and his hardy team, we continue to make progress. 

Obviously, the largest project currently on-going on campus is the new student housing project at the north end of the campus.  It is a massive project and the very first project authorized under the New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act, which was signed into law just a little over one year ago by Governor Corzine and which makes public/private construction projects possible for the first time at state colleges and universities.  The project, which has received the strong support of Governor Christie, will provide 1,978 beds of student housing and an associated dining facility. 

Ground was broken for the project in May, and fast-track construction is scheduled for completion next summer in time for occupancy for the fall 2011 term.  Our current bed capacity on campus is about 3,000 beds, so you can imagine that the addition of about 2,000 more beds will make a major difference to the University and its students.  As the new housing is constructed, we are also reconstructing Quarry and Carlisle Roads, installing new curbs, sidewalks, bike lanes, and lighting. 

The barriers and hurtles that had to be conquered in order to move this project forward expeditiously were numerous and seriously challenging, and accomplishment of the task took an extraordinary effort by a number of University officers, including Vice President Bressler and his staff, Vice President Cipullo and his staff, Vice President Pennington and her staff, Valerie Van Baaren and Maria Anderson in the University Counsel’s office, Director of Government Relations Shivaun Gaines, and, recently added to the mix, Vice President Jack Shannon and his staff.  It was a team effort all the way. 

Everyone in the state who had reason to know about these things said it could not be done, and, yet, we did it.  What got us there was simple hard, around-the-clock work by many people, determination and persistence, some very basic street smarts, the help of several friends of the University and public officials, and, without a doubt, the very real support and assistance of Governor Christie and his administration. 

The result is that we will be able to provide urgently needed facilities to New Jersey and to do so without cost to the State or the University At the same time, we have provided work for well over 1,000 New Jersey trades people — carpenters, electricians, plumbers, builders of all kinds — who have been suffering from over 40% unemployment rates in this economic downturn.  A very good thing all around. 

The new housing complex will be called The Heights, and, in keeping with the tradition we started with The Village at Little Falls, the various buildings will bear the names of deceased New Jerseyans who blazed new trails in their fields of endeavor.  As we did with The Village, we will have a public plebiscite, so check your e-mail for a chance to cast your ballot for the names you would like to see on these buildings.

Meanwhile, we have completed the construction and opened for this term the new and very pretty Frank Sinatra Hall as part of the Village complex, and it is providing housing for approximately three hundred additional students.  The formal ribbon cutting will occur on September 16, and you are all invited. 

We have also, this summer, completed the renovations to the old Clove Road Apartments, those 40-year old, not so attractive brown buildings, which have now become shiny new white 40-year old buildings but in much better condition and with brand new names to mark the occasion.  The old Clove Road Apartments will henceforth be called Hawk Crossings, and, acknowledging the advice of Prof. Smallwood from the Biology department, the three buildings will be called Falco, after the true falcons, Accipiter, after the woodland hawks, and Buteo, the soaring hawks, which include, we believe, our own Red Hawks. 

We have also undertaken major renovations to Freeman Hall and replaced the HVAC units located in the ceilings of Blanton Hall student rooms. It has been a difficult effort, and we are not quite there yet, but, with the on-going renovations and the new housing currently under construction, we are well on our way to having adequately addressed what was a very severe shortage of available housing for our students. 

In other facilities news, the graduate programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders and Audiology were relocated into expanded and specially designed new space at 1515 Broad Street in Bloomfield, where they received a very warm welcome from the city.  The program’s new home provides state-of-the-art clinical facilities and plenty of room for growth.  The space at 855 Valley Road previously occupied by these programs is being expanded and re-equipped for use by the clinical programs in Psychology.

The Panzer Athletic Center re-opened this past year after a year of renovations with a completely rebuilt infrastructure, main gymnasium, team rooms, and weight training rooms, as well as a beautiful new façade and entrance.  This part of campus is being further enhanced by the renovation of the University’s front door entrance off Normal Avenue and the rebuilding of College Avenue, the creation of user-friendly stairs and connections to the Cali School and the Panzer Athletic Center, the building of a more welcoming plaza between College Hall and the Kasser Theater, and the rebuilding of the historic quad surrounded by Freeman, Russ and the Cali School. As you may have noticed, this project is not quite complete, but it will be shortly, and soon you will also see the restoration of trees and plants to this southern portion of the campus. 

The newest parking facility, CarParc Diem, was completed in June and accommodates 1,530 cars.  It, too, proudly sports the campus’s Mission Style and is fast becoming everybody’s favorite new building.

The renovation of Finley Hall for foreign languages and linguistics has been redesigned (again) to add a new third floor to the project.  Construction will begin this September, and, barring any further complications, our language programs, which have waited with patience, should be in their new facility no later than fall 2012.  Renovation of the ground floor of the Speech Building for Fashion Studies is well underway, and the project is projected to be completed this winter.

As we look to the immediate future, two major academic projects are at the top of our list of priorities.  The first is a new facility for the School of Business, which will also provide space for Global Education.  With the assistance of an active and involved committee staffed by the School of Business and University Facilities personnel, the architects are well into design.  The building is planned for the site of the old tennis courts — new tennis courts are being completed this fall on what was formerly Parking Lot 40 — and the new building will form the third, western side of the quad of which Dickson Hall and University Hall make up the southern and northern borders.  

This location will enable the School of Business to take advantage of classrooms and lecture halls in University Hall.  In order for this project to come to fruition, the School of Business, under Dean Chrite’s leadership and working with University Advancement, has a major fund-raising task high on its agenda. The School has already made a good start, having sequestered a portion of the net profits from their Disney program toward the development of the new building.

The second major academic project is a new building for Environmental and Life Sciences.  Architects and a committee formed by the College of Science and Mathematics and University Facilities are proceeding with the design of this new building.  It is planned for the site of McEachern Hall, and the new building will form the third, eastern side of the quad of which Finley/Mallory Halls and Richardson Hall make up the western and northern borders. To assist the financing of this project, CSAM and Facilities have submitted a major grant proposal to the National Institute for Standards and Technology, so let us all keep our fingers crossed. 

Along with the innovative laboratory features of this new facility, there is one design feature that should give pleasure to the whole University community.  This new building is designed to utilize the ridge-line site of our campus and begin the formal definition of a ridge-line walk along the eastern edge of the campus with access from the public quads and exquisite views of the New York City skyline.

In the area of infrastructure, as our co-generation plant reaches the end of its useful life, we are advancing a project to develop a Combined Heat, Cooling, and Power Plant.  Given the cost of energy, developing a well-conceived plan for meeting the University’s current and future energy needs is obviously of critical importance.  We are exploring the possible opportunities afforded by the new Economic Stimulus Act to provide innovative public/private partnership models for this project.

In the less visible but equally important area of information technology, the University remains deeply committed to providing our students, faculty, and staff with the software solutions, computing and classroom technology resources, infrastructure, and qualified staff necessary to realize maximum value from our substantial investments in this critical area of operations.

Under Vice Presidents Chapel and Gingerich’s leadership, the Bell Tower initiative is in full swing.  For the past year, hundreds of personnel throughout the University have been hard at work implementing the Oracle/PeopleSoft Suite of business applications that will run our rapidly expanding enterprise and replace the University’s legacy business systems.  The goal of this enormous effort is to provide the community with the most current, Web-based, and feature-rich software available to manage our financial, student services, and human resources affairs. The implementation of the finance module, our first planned application launch, was postponed due to a series of technical challenges encountered during final testing.  We are working with Oracle to determine an alternative date to activate this module.  The student recruitment and admissions components of the Bell Tower Program as well as elements of the portal will be available in late September, and the Human Resources system is slated to go live at the conclusion of the fall 2010 term.

I would like to take a moment to recognize a few current staff members who are providing the leadership for the complex process of implementing the new system:

Cathy Bongo, Assistant Vice President of University Staffing Services, joined the University in 2000.  She was selected to lead the Bell Tower Human Resources team because of her functional knowledge and her tenacity in delivering results.  Thanks to her leadership, implementation of the Bell Tower Human Resources module is on track.

Denise DeBlasio joined the University in 1979 and serves as the full-time team lead for implementation of the Campus Solutions Module, which involves Student Records, Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Finance, and Academic Advising.  She has performed this complex assignment while continuing to serve in her primary capacity as University Registrar.

Carolyn Ortega joined Montclair State University in 2005.  In her current position of Associate Vice President for Enterprise Software Services and Deputy Chief Information Officer, she is responsible for providing leadership in the planning, design, and management of the University’s software applications, systems, and databases.  She plays the critical role in the overall management of the Bell Tower Initiative and directs its complex implementation.

Since her arrival in 2002, Catherine Rush, our Director of Financial Systems Administration, has demonstrated her ability to organize complex work plans, and her strong analytical skills and her knowledge of financial systems made her the natural choice to lead the Finance team through the Bell Tower implementation. 

I want to thank these four people for their steady leadership of this expansive assignment and, along with them, the many others who have worked tirelessly on this absolutely critical University project.

With the proliferation of wireless devices and the popularity of mobile computing for social networking, business, and educational purposes, the University has made great progress in replacing our mosaic of wireless hot spots with a pervasive, robust, high-speed, wireless network.  The first phase of the project is complete, with all of our residence halls “wired” for wireless, and I am pleased to announce that students returning for the fall term will enjoy secure access to information resources via any portable computing device — whether laptop, cell phone, iPhone, smart phone, or PDA — in any one of our residence halls.  

The second phase of the program, which will bring high-performance wireless broadband to our key academic and administrative buildings, is well underway with Partridge Hall and the Sprague Library fully wired and ready to support the high volume of laptop users participating in the Business School’s laptop program and the Library’s 24/7 laptop lending program.  The University will finish preparing other academic and administrative buildings by the end of this academic year.  

The third phase of the project, which will provide pervasive wireless connectivity in all of the University’s open spaces, including parking decks and lots, will be completed over the summer of 2011.

Advancing the quality and capacity of our online instructional capabilities is a strategic priority for the University.  Over the summer, the University upgraded the Blackboard Learning Management and Content Systems that support our online learning activities to the latest available release, version 9.0.  The Blackboard system has served the University well as we grew our online and hybrid learning capabilities.  Even so, many excellent learning management system options have emerged over the last decade that warrant our consideration as alternatives to the current system.  

Over the course of the past year, the Provost’s Learning Management System Work Group, chaired by Professor Christine Lemesianou, completed a thorough evaluation of alternatives leading to a plan to test Moodle, an open-source learning management system, as an alternative to Blackboard in the near future.  

To better serve our students’ research and computing needs, the Information Technology Division, Sprague Library, Student Development and Campus Life, and our food services contractor joined forces to move our overnight computing laboratory out of University Hall and made it an integral part of Sprague Library and Café Diem.  Using an information commons model, students are able to check out one of 85 laptop computers available for loan and freely roam the Library, with its rich array of special collections and print media resources to conduct research, work in groups, and even wander into Café Diem for a bite to eat or a cup of coffee.

The Library again will provide late-night and overnight hours beginning on Tuesday, September 7.  Sunday through Thursday, the Library will be open 24/7, and it will offer extended hours on Friday and Saturday evenings.  Students, and any insomniac members of the faculty or staff, will be able to study, read, check out books, access print and online resources, check out laptops to use in the Library, print from the laptops, and take a break in Café Diem pretty much all night long.  I look forward to seeing many of you in the library at 3:00 a.m.

The telecommunications group has been making improvements to our telephone switch and services over the course of the past year as well.  With a phased approach, the University is transitioning to voice-over-Internet-protocol-based telephone services and is decommissioning our legacy telephone switch in favor of a new Internet protocol-based switch that combines traditional equipment with voice-over-Internet-protocol- and local-area-network-based technology that makes it easier to transition from old to new with minimum disruptions to the campus community.  And if any of you understand what I just said, I offer you my congratulations.  Generally speaking, I think it means that the phones will work, but they will cost less. 

I am pleased to announce that the University has doubled e-mail quotas from 500 megabytes to 1 gigabyte for all faculty and staff, and in response to the persistent growth in demand for Internet bandwidth, the University has upgraded our regional network connections through the New Jersey Higher Education Network to lower-cost, fiber-optic technology that provides greater flexibility to adjust our bandwidth as our needs change.

The University’s first foray into the use of software applications made available through the network cloud begins this fall as the University replaces our legacy MeetingMaker calendar system with Google’s Calendar application for education.  Faculty, staff, and students will access a University-branded calendar system that will provide all of the calendar and meeting-scheduling features of MeetingMaker but with a much richer Web-based interface and, most important, seamless integration with mobile devices such as Blackberries, iPhones, and other PDAs and smart phones, providing for real-time, over-the-air, calendar synchronization.

So, standing ready to synchronize our calendars and refreshed hopefully from a bit of vacation, we are prepared to take up the challenges of another year.  As we do so, I want to note that today is the second day of Red Hawk Days.  This tradition began three years ago and is designed to welcome our newest students and share our Montclair State spirit. 

This year is also the first of a new initiative, the Montclair State Olympics.  You will see first-year and new transfer students sporting their college shirts and competing against each other in a variety of light-hearted activities today.  A pep rally was held last night at which Provost Gingerich marked the start of the games and our academic deans cheered their students on.  Competitions will be held throughout the afternoon and the winning school or college will receive the Montclair State Olympics trophy at the end of the week and have it to display and guard for the year. 

One final note: On your way into the theater this morning, you might have noticed some mysterious red posts in the Amphitheater.  These posts are a key component of the sound and light installation “Everywhere Is the Best Seat,” a centerpiece of our Peak Performances fall season that was created specifically for the University by composer and architect Christopher Janney with support from The National Endowment for the Arts.

Inspired by composer John Cage, who said “Everything you do is music, and everywhere is the best seat,” Mr. Janney has transformed the Amphitheater into an interactive sonic experience.  The other key component for bringing the composition to life is you.  I invite all of you to join Chris Janney, Jed Wheeler, Dean Newman, and me as you leave to activate the installation and be the first to play: Everywhere Is the Best Seat.

Once you have had your sonic experience in the Amphitheater, I invite you to join the Community Lunch, which will take place outside the Student Center, and all of that will happen just as soon as I stop talking, which will be right now.  I wish you all a productive and enjoyable year. 

Thank you.

Media: