President's Opening Day Address

September 6, 2011

Photo: Mike Peters

Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole

Good morning everyone. I am delighted to welcome you all to the beginning of a new academic year.

Let me begin with the bad news, and then we can move on to all the positive initiatives that will be occupying us this year. The bad news is, of course, once again the State budget. After years of historic cuts during Governor Corzine’s administration, and after a whopping 15% cut in Governor Christie’s first budget last year, we were hoping for at least a flat budget in this academic year. Alas, in literally the last minutes of the budget process on June 30, higher education was hit with several surprise cuts, including a significant reduction in the number of authorized state positions, that is, positions for which the state pays fringe benefits. For Montclair State, that meant the loss of 66 authorized positions, shifting the benefits costs of those positions from the state to the University. You are seeing the impact of that last-minute reduction in a far more rigorous approval process for any temporary, full-, or part-time positions.

Inadequate state support is nothing new for us, and in spite of the funding deficiencies, the good news is that the University has continued to enhance its reputation nationally and internationally.

  • Once again, Montclair State’s graduate programs in secondary and elementary education were ranked in the top 20 in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report listing of “Best Graduate Schools.”
  • Montclair State was ranked in the top 2% nationally for awarding undergraduate degrees to minority students. The publication, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, ranked the University 84th out of 4,800 schools nationally, and the University was named one of the “Top 100 Colleges for Hispanics” for the 14th year in a row by Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. And, once again, G.I. Jobs magazine named Montclair State as one of the top military-friendly schools in the nation.
  • The University has attracted an unprecedented number of international Fulbright scholars for this year: 17 students from 17 different countries.  These scholars can apply anywhere they wish, and they chose to come to Montclair State.
  • Montclair State was one of six universities out of 113 applicants nationwide to win a Creative Campus Innovations Grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.  Developed by Director of Arts and Cultural Programming Jed Wheeler and Vice Provost Ken Bain, the two-year $250,000 grant is to support the development of a Creative Learning course that employs visiting performing artists to help a broad range of students from a variety of disciplines discover their innate creativity and ingenuity.
  • Montclair State was one of only two colleges in New Jersey to make Sierra magazine’s list of “Coolest Schools,” those considered to be America’s most environmentally responsible and forward-looking. The other New Jersey institution was Princeton University.

All of these instances of recognition are good, but the most important validation we strive for is recognition of the quality of our academic programs by highly reputable evaluators. I want to stress once again the importance of each of the several colleges and schools to identify specific programs to achieve this type of national ranking.

The University’s growing reputation brings increased applications, and, this year, we received close to 13,000 applications for 2,300 places in the freshman class. The number of applications we are receiving is about double what it was a decade ago.  Transfer students also continue to apply to the University in historically high numbers. More than 4,000 students applied to transfer here, an increase of 100% over ten years ago, and approximately 1,400 transfers will be enrolled in our fall class.  Undergraduate students applied from every county in New Jersey, from 45 states, and from many foreign countries.  The Admissions Office continues to raise its standards and has seen modest increases in academic quality among both freshmen and transfer students.  The top four choices of majors among enrolling freshman students will be no surprise and are, in order: Biology, Psychology, English, and Business Administration.  Other majors in high demand among enrolling students are History, Fashion Studies, Mathematics, Physical Education, Justice Studies, and, of course, our Education-related programs.  Some of our highly restricted programs, such as Musical Theater and Broadcasting, continue to draw hundreds of talented applicants for their very small number of places.

Behind the numbers, I always enjoy sharing a closer look at a few of our incoming freshmen students:

When we received Alanda Alexandre’s application, a conspicuous yellow attachment was included. This message from her high school read: “Alanda’s records from Haiti have been destroyed in the earthquake. Her former school is still in ruins.” Alanda’s academic career could have been interrupted by the 2010 earthquake, but with courage and determination, she left her parents, who continue to work to rebuild their community in Haiti, and came to live with relatives in West Orange. Alanda flourished academically at Mount St. Dominic Academy, where she quickly became one of the top-achieving students, earning a GPA of 3.96 despite a demanding schedule of honors and AP courses and participation on the basketball and track teams. She is fluent in French, Spanish, Creole, and English. Alanda has yet to pick her major program of study at Montclair State, but it is clear that she has the determination to succeed in whatever program she pursues.

Emily Burd comes to Montclair State from Newton High School, where, in addition to a rigorous academic schedule, she pursued a wide range of extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and a part-time job. Emily’s teachers and guidance counselors all noted the strength of character that she exhibits on a daily basis. One teacher remarked: “Behind all of her success is a genuinely good, caring person, one who really could change the world.” At Montclair State, she will major in Chemistry and play on the field hockey team. Her outstanding academic achievements have earned Emily a place in the highly competitive, seven-year, combined B.S./Pharm.D. program, for which only 18 students were selected this year.

Robert Morais high school years were fraught with adversity. After serving as a primary caregiver to his mother, who lost a battle with a long-term illness, Robert was thrust into a similar role in support of an uncle with whom he was living. His teachers and guidance counselors at Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains reported that Robert faced these devastating losses with poise, never complaining, never making excuses, and never letting his grades slip. Robert was originally accepted to Montclair State last year, but family obligations called again, and he was forced to postpone his entrance into college. Fortunately, Robert will be able to start college this year. His accomplishments have earned him a scholarship in the School of Business, and we expect his determination and commitment will lead to strong achievements as a student.

Natalie Perez-Duel’s path to the highly competitive Musical Theatre program at Montclair State began at the age of 11 when she debuted in A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge’s sister, Fan. Natalie continued her preparation for the stage throughout high school, becoming one of 24 young singers, dancers and actors from around the world picked to work with Tony Award-winning choreographer and performer Chet Walker at the Jacob’s Pillow Musical Theater & Jazz Summer Dance Intensive. A dedicated student, Natalie graduated from Albert Einstein High School in Silver Spring, Maryland with a GPA of 3.77 in a rigorous schedule of honors, AP, and international baccalaureate courses. Natalie plans, as she puts it in her own words, “to spend the next four years in college learning, experimenting, performing, and preparing for a never-ending cycle of auditions, opening nights, rave reviews and closing curtains.”

These are just four among the 2,300 distinct and individual freshmen who are entering the University this September, and, as I always remind us at this time of the year, we are the guardians of their hopes and aspirations.

As the critical centerpiece of our efforts to assure the quality of our academic programs and the educational experience we offer to students, we have maintained our policy of continuing a steady pace of faculty recruitment, adding dozens of new faculty members every year.  I am pleased to announce that 21 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 from some of the best universities in the country, including Princeton, the University of North Carolina, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Duke, and Johns Hopkins, among others.  I urge you to familiarize yourself with the newest members of the faculty and staff by reading with avidity the 2011-12 edition of New Faculty, Professional, and Managerial Staff, which may be found online. 

It is a matter of great satisfaction to me that this fall’s new faculty cohort brings to 358 the number of tenure-track faculty members hired since my arrival in 1998, or almost 60% of all faculty members on campus this fall.  Hiring new faculty members is hard work, and these results represent the efforts of many 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. Although the enormous growth in our campus facilities has been 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.

Let me introduce a few of the faculty members who are joining us this semester:

After earning his PhD from the University of Minnesota and spending eight years at Baruch College’s Ziklin School of Business, Mehmet Genc has joined our Management Department.  He has extensive experience teaching a wide variety of courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  Prof. Genc‘s research focuses on how in-country institutional characteristics, such as the extent of corruption, regulation, and unwritten norms, shape the strategies of multinational firms and their competitive advantages and disadvantages in the international marketplace. 

Thomas Herold comes to our Department of Modern Languages and Literatures after earning a master’s from Humboldt University in Berlin and a PhD from Harvard University.  Prof. Herold received several prestigious awards at Harvard, including the Jack M. Stein Teaching Fellow Prize in Germanic Languages, six Derek Bok Center Certificates of Distinction in Teaching, and the Esther Sellholm Walz Prize for the best paper or essay.  Prof. Herold’s research focuses primarily on 19th and 20th century German literature and film.  He has published numerous articles and has three book projects in progress.

Kenneth Lam comes from his position as Assistant Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to the Cali School of Music as Conductor of the Montclair State University Symphony Orchestra and to lead our programs in Orchestra Studies. Prof. Lam was recently named the winner of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra Conducting Competition, and he serves as Resident Conductor of the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, Artistic Director of the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestras, and Artistic Director of Hong Kong Voices. Prof. Lam read Economics at Cambridge University and studied orchestra conducting at the Peabody Conservatory.

Having earned her PhD in School Psychology at the University of Oregon, Danielle Parisi joins the Special Education faculty in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching. Prof. Parisi’s research focus is in “response to intervention,” an innovative instructional approach that uses data to identify students with learning disabilities, support the development of appropriate instructional interventions, monitor their progress, and adjust interventions on the basis of individual student responses.

David Rotella, earned his PhD at Ohio State University, began his career at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, and then moved to the pharmaceutical industry, conducting research at Wyeth Research, Lexicon Pharmaceuticals, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. He now returns to the academy as the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor of Chemistry. Prof. Rotella has played a leadership role within the Division of Medicinal Chemistry of the American Chemical Society, served as co-editor of the 7th edition of Burger’s Medicinal Chemistry, and serves as senior editor of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Drug Discovery book series. Prof. Rotella has authored over 30 scientific publications and currently holds seven patents.

There are also two new administrative appointments to note:

Robert Cart, the new Director of the John J. Cali School of Music. Dr. Cart most recently served as Dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts at Rowan University. As an opera singer, he has performed leading roles with opera companies throughout America and Europe, and he has sung in recitals at many important venues. He has also maintained an active schedule as a flutist. Dr. Cart received his Master of Music degree from Indiana University and his Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Maryland.

Gerard Costa, the Director of our new Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, received his PhD from Temple University, taught in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and has practiced psychotherapy for over 30 years. He has a special interest in relationship-based approaches to autistic-spectrum disorders and was the founding director of the YCS Institute for Infant and Preschool Mental Health, which operates New Jersey’s only licensed, Medicaid-approved mental health clinic specializing in infants and young children and their families.

I urge you to get to know these and your many other new colleagues, as well as those who are not so new. As individuals, as departments, as informal groups with cognate research interests, make this the year that you implement strategies to get to know more of your colleagues and perhaps discover some mutual interests and opportunities for cross-disciplinary projects. The richest resource I have to give you is each other.

In the area of our senior leadership in academic affairs, we are, as many of you know, in a period of transition. Dr. Joan Ficke, who, of course, we have known in her various roles at the University for many years, begins her first full year as Dean of the Graduate School.In that regard, she is leading an area that is of the utmost importance to the University. We face critical decisions and challenges in regard to sharpening the focus and enhancing the enrollment and competitiveness of our graduate programs, so I hope that all of you associated with graduate programs will bring your best concerted efforts to work with Dean Ficke and with the Graduate Council to advance this very important aspect of the University’s mission.

While Dean Ficke pursues her new role, two extraordinary deans will be leaving their positions at the end of this academic year. Dean Ada Beth Cutler will be stepping down from her position as Dean of the College of Education and Human Services and Dean Geoffrey Newman will be stepping down from his position as Dean of the College of the Arts, both effective at the end of June 2012. Dean Cutler and Dean Newman have overseen periods of extraordinary development and advancement in their respective colleges. They have both been close and valued colleagues to me, and, while it is not now the moment to articulate all of their virtues and contributions (we shall certainly do that at a later date), I would just note in a preliminary way that this University has been immensely fortunate to have the leadership of these two incredibly talented individuals. If indentured servitude were still an option, I would certainly force them to stay, but, since it is not, we must reluctantly let them move on to the next phases of their life. Searches for new deans will commence in both colleges this fall. The search for the dean of the College of Education and Human Services will be chaired by Dean Ficke, and the committee will include: Professors Brian Carolan, Katia Goldfarb, Robert Horn, Michele Knobel, Suzanne McCotter, Stephanie Silvera, Ana Maria Villegas, and Director of the Center of Pedagogy, Jennifer Robinson.  The search for the dean of the College of the Arts will be chaired by Dean Morrissey, and the committee will include: Professors Harry Haines, Scott Gordley, Larry Londino, Suzanne Trauth, Director of the Cali School, Robert Cart, and Associate Dean Ronald Sharps.

There will be a number of major initiatives underway this year. Among them, all units of the University will be engaged in preparation of the Middle States Periodic Review report, which is due June 1, 2012.  This report comes at the mid-point between our last accreditation visit in 2007 and our next scheduled visit in 2017.  I want to emphasize how important this process is for all of us. As you might have heard, Kean University and Essex County College both recently received warnings from Middle States for failing to produce evidence of sustained programs of institutional and student learning assessments and considerable negative press as a result. That will not happen at Montclair State. 

In the report to Middle States, the University is required to provide evidence of a comprehensive, integrated, institution-wide assessment process that documents student learning outcomes and informs planning. As a consequence, all our schools and colleges have been working over the past two years under the direction of Associate Provost Joanne Coté-Bonanno to develop and document evidence of programmatic assessment of student learning.  This process includes degree program assessment plans, identification of assessment points in each program, collection of data, analysis of data, and the use of data for program improvement, which is the goal of the entire process.

As many of you know from your own involvement, the Provost’s Office is offering workshops and training for faculty and staff to assist in the development and implementation of these assessment plans.  As active members of the New Jersey Assessment Consortium, we interact regularly with colleagues from public and private universities and colleges in New Jersey in regard to our common concerns with assessment activities, and Montclair State will host the group’s Fall meeting during the month of October.

The Committee on University Effectiveness, which is co-chaired by Director of Institutional Research Steve Johnson and Associate Provost Joanne Coté-Bonanno, has been working as a formal standing committee since 2010.  This committee will, with your support, generate the evidence necessary to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of every administrative and service unit of the University in conformity with Middle States criteria.  I know Steve and JoAnne can count on your full cooperation in this important process as we prepare to demonstrate our commitment to institutional assessment and the improvement of all our academic and supporting programs and services.

In a related initiative, Professors Faye Allard and Sangeeta Parashar of the Sociology Department prepared a report, which was completed in May, entitled, “Project Advice: Evaluating Undergraduate Academic Advising at Montclair State University.” This report contains some very useful information about how advising is used and how it is perceived by the University’s undergraduate students, and it offers a number of useful recommendations that should enable us to build on our current practices and enhance the reach and the impact of our academic support services for students. Provost Gingerich and Vice President Pennington are in the process of developing a coordinated response, and the Report and a summary of the action steps that will be taken will be circulated to the University community.

Campus comments on Draft A of the University’s Strategic Plan were received last June, and, over the summer, those comments were incorporated into Draft B of the Plan. That draft will be in your hands shortly for a final read through and any final recommended adjustments before it is submitted to the Board of Trustees for adoption in October. The central theme of the plan focuses on how the University will make the critical connections necessary to prepare students for a rapidly changing world, to assure that the programs of this University are well integrated with the external environmental, and to assure that the complex fabric of University-wide initiatives contribute to the advancement of a sustainable, high quality institution that is deeply relevant to the advanced educational needs of society.

In another area, as some of you may be aware, the University was a major contender to take over the NJN television licenses, but the state ultimately decided to lease the licenses to WNET. However, the University’s decision to enhance significantly its programming and capacities in media and communication remains, and there are a number of efforts underway which will have the effect of enhancing our reputation, our visibility, and the quality and scope of our programs in this area. The University’s broadcast studios have been completely renovated and are now really superb. The top floor of Finley will also contain, when it is complete in January, a new radio station and a multi-media newsroom. A number of talented professionals have joined the University in these areas, and the University has established strong collaborative relationships with both WNYC, which now holds the state’s northern radio licenses, and WNET.  In addition, the faculty in Broadcasting, Communication Studies, and Filmmaking have been collaborating on a plan for a School of Media and Communication Studies that will integrate the considerable expertise we have in these fields and will form the basis of an expanded professional school.

We continue to make progress on expanding and improving the University’s physical facilities. Among the major projects, certainly the largest is The Heights, the nearly 2,000-bed student residential complex, the largest college residential facility in New Jersey. This project, the first completed under the New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act and built, from start to finish, in just 14 months, is located on the northern portion of campus. It is comprised of two complexes, named in recognition of generous gifts. Machuga Heights, the north eastern complex, is named for John Victor Machuga, a native of Paterson and a local businessman who directed in his will that his assets be used to support education, research, the arts, and health care. Machuga Heights contains four residential halls named for deceased distinguished New Jerseyans, including: Clara Barton, who established the first free school in New Jersey and introduced the Red Cross to the U.S.; Althea Gibson, the tennis champion; William E. Gordon, a Montclair State alumnus, the physicist and astronomer credited with the creation of the world’s largest radio telescope; and Sam Mills, also a Montclair State alumnus, who played for the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers. The fantastic dining facility in Machuga Heights is named Sam’s Place. You should take the opportunity to drop by for a meal.

Dinallo Heights, the south western complex, is named in memory of Anthony M. Dinallo, better known as Babe Dinallo, who was the co-founder of Terminal Construction Company, which has built many of the newer buildings on this campus, including the theater we are in today. Dinallo Heights contains four residential halls named for John Basilone, killed at the battle of Iwo Jima and the first enlisted Marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, and a Purple Heart; Nellie Katherine Morrow Parker, an alumna of Montclair State, and the first African-American public schoolteacher in Bergen County; and Albert Einstein and Walt Whitman, who need no introduction. We will celebrate the public dedication and grand opening of The Heights on September 14, and you are all invited to participate in the festivities, so look for the announcement.

As you can see, the total renovation of Finley Hall is close to completion; in fact, we expect it to be ready in January. In addition to the complete renovation of the first two floors for all of our language and linguistics programs, the building also got a complete exterior makeover and now takes its place as one of the campus’ mission-style buildings. In addition, a new third floor was added to the building that will house the new Red Hawk Mathematics Learning Center, which is the beginning of an exciting and innovative initiative of the Department of Mathematics to improve math learning in a highly flexible and efficient model. I want to welcome Catherine Holl Cross, the new Director of the Center who joined the University this summer. Also occupying the third floor of Finley will be the new radio studio and a multi-media newsroom. Along with the complete reconstruction of the building, it has received a new name, Conrad J. Schmitt Hall, in recognition of a multimillion dollar planned gift to the University. Mr. Schmitt, an alumnus of the University, is the author of more than 200 foreign language textbooks and has had a distinguished career in teaching and publishing.

As our co-generation plant reaches the end of its useful life, we are advancing a major project to develop a Combined Heating, 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. This project is the second that the University is undertaking under the New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act and will entail the design, construction, financing, and operation of a new energy plant and the installation of new steam and chilled water piping throughout the campus. The new plant will address the increased energy demands created by our new facilities, as well as many of the heating and cooling problems we have experienced in the campus’ older facilities, an improvement which I know will be well-received by many of you who have been living with unpredictable periods of excessive cold or heat. We expect to receive all required State approvals this fall, with construction to start soon thereafter.

Designs for both a new Environmental and Life Sciences Building and a new Business School are very close to completion. Financing plans for those two major projects will be one of our major challenges this year.

And, finally, the campus roadways are seeing a number of significant improvements. I hope you are all enjoying the beautifully redesigned and replanted College Avenue entrance to the campus and the new quad design stretching from College Hall to Russ Hall. In addition, having been released from use for construction staging for The Heights, the northern portion of the former Quarry Road, now renamed Yogi Berra Drive, and Parking Lots 22 and 23 have been improved, including the installation of new concrete curbs, traffic signs, pavement milling, re-paving, and striping. Trees will be planted this fall to complete the restoration.  The University also acquired the former Ward Trucking site on Clove Road, and that site will provide hundreds more parking spaces and associated shuttle service. The site will also house a solar farm that is a companion project to the solar farm being constructed at the School of Conservation.

In regard to the School of Conservation, Hurricane Irene visited some significant damage to that site, undermining the bridge, retaining walls, and spill way, and knocking out power. We are working now to assess the damage and the needs of this large campus. Meanwhile, I want to express my appreciation to Bill Thomas, the Director of the School of Conservation, and to all the staff for the way in which they immediately rolled up their sleeves and figured out ways to keep the School up and running under challenging conditions.

On the technology front, a primary focus for the IT team has been the expansion of our online instructional capabilities and, in particular, addressing the challenge of providing instructional design services for online program development. IT has refined its approach to Blackboard Training and is now presenting it as a sequence of courses that integrate the Blackboard application into the online course design process in a way that is better aligned with our faculty’s teaching and learning priorities. They used this approach during the Summer Institute for Online Teaching and Learning, and I understand it was well received by the 45 faculty members who participated. If you have not already done so, remember that you can enroll in an IT workshop or sign up for one-on-one support to enhance your ability to take advantage of the technology resources at our disposal. In a related effort, the Technology Division has expanded its investment in cloud-based computing by adding the NJVid service, which provides all members of the University community with access to thousands of commercial videos that can be integrated into online courses.

The second phase of our wireless network project has been completed, and all student residences and all academic and administrative buildings are now outfitted with wireless network infrastructure that gives every member of the community untethered access to all networked information services and applications by means of any portable computing device, whether a laptop, iPad, or cell phone. The third and final phase of the project, which is scheduled for completion in early 2012, will provide pervasive wireless connectivity in all of the University’s outdoor and open spaces.

The third iteration of the computer life-cycle replacement program began over the summer with the installation of new equipment in all of our public computing and teaching labs. The next phase of the program calls for the replacement of all computers provided to our faculty and staff over the course of the next several months.

The Technology Division has expanded its investment in the Gartner Group’s services and arranged for every member of the community to have access to Gartner’s repository of IT research and consulting resources. The Gartner Research Portal will allow all members of the University community with a valid NetID and password to help themselves to a vast array of publications organized around a well-designed search engine to investigate whatever technology-related topics they choose.

Finally, a major upgrade was completed from our Audix voicemail system to the Avaya Modular Messaging system. The new system is more resilient and can accommodate more and larger voicemail accounts than the old system. A feature currently being tested will permit you to access voicemail directly from your computer.

In regard to university communications, the University’s print magazine, a vital tool in connecting to alumni and other constituents, has been revitalized and will be published semiannually beginning this fall with a distribution to over 100,000 alumni, faculty and staff members, students, parents, donors, opinion leaders, board members, and peer institutions. By the early spring of 2012, a total redesign of the University’s website will be launched, making it more responsive to the needs and interests of all our constituents. Most importantly, the University will embark on a rebranding initiative this fall that will bring the University’s public identity up to date, enabling us to capitalize on our unique strengths and enhance our regional and national reputation.

That brings you up to date on most of the major on-going initiatives. However, there is one other issue of a completely different character that I want to raise briefly today.During the last academic year, we had two events on campus that became very controversial. One event was the showing of the film considered by some to be anti-Semitic, The Passion of the Christ, sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students in association with the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry. The second event was a lecture by Bill Ayers, an individual considered by some to be a terrorist, entitled, “ Bill Ayers on Education and the New Activism,” sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society. I want to spend just a moment talking about these incidents at the beginning of this new academic year because I think that an appropriate understanding of their context is absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of our professional responsibilities and to our ability to carry out our function as a public university.

At the heart of both issues was the following situation. Some people, both within and beyond the University, were deeply outraged and offended by the film or the speaker and, in each case, wanted the University to cancel the events, which the University did not do. In the case of the speaker, the controversy was also covered by the media, a number of legislators weighed in as well, and, in fact, I had to respond before a legislative committee hearing to questions on the subject posed by a legislator who objected to the speaker. I gave the legislative committee a mini lecture on free speech, a concept with which I thought they should be familiar, and the news media accurately reported me as being “unapologetic” about permitting the lecture to go forward.

The two controversial events engendered a considerable amount of written debate which ranged widely in character from reasoned to hysterical, from carefully attuned to the sensitivities of others to wildly offensive. Although I personally favor the more reasoned rather than the hysterical approach, there is absolutely nothing wrong with such debate, even when it resorts to taking some pretty harsh verbal swings. But, certainly, it should be clear that it is never acceptable on this campus for any debate to become physical, no matter how robust the verbal or written exchanges, and shouting, either in print or vocally, is rarely likely to engender reasoned discourse.

These two incidents were not the only such controversies ever to occur within this academic community, nor will they be the last, and, consequently, we have an obligation to hone our abilities to address differences of view professionally, because these moments are often important teaching and learning moments for our students. If we really believe in the power of our mission, if we believe that we are educating citizens and, thereby, shaping society, then what we teach at these moments of difficult controversy is actually of great importance.

During the course of the coming academic year, many individual faculty members, departments, and student organizations will host numerous on-campus lectures, speakers, films, and performances, the content of which will span the ideological, intellectual, and artistic spectrum. I can almost certainly guarantee that some of those events will contain material that will be deeply offensive to some members of this community. (I can tell you that every year I get letters of outrage about some of the things that happen on this very stage where I stand today.) Nevertheless, the University absolutely will not interfere with such activities except in the very rare instance when the University considers the activity to be illegal or to pose an imminent danger to the safety of the community.

In its role as an institution of higher education, Montclair State supports free and open public discourse and unequivocally takes the position that the free exchange of ideas and opinions is essential to the education of our students. Members of the University community may not agree with the views expressed in one or another lecture or presentation on campus, but, as a community, we must respect the right of our faculty and students to hear and see whatever presentations are of interest to them. The University does not censor speakers or presentations because some members of the community find them objectionable or even offensive. We try, not to protect our students from exposure to what may be objectionable or offensive, but rather to teach our students to use their faculties of reason and critical judgment to assess what they see and hear, both within and beyond the classroom, and we try to teach them that the correct response to speech to which they object is not to censor it, but rather to promote more speech that expresses a contrary view.

Free speech, the cornerstone of our democracy and an absolutely fundamental principle governing the operation of a free university, is very easy to defend when we like the speakers and their message. We are only really tested on this difficult principle when we find the speaker and his or her views abhorrent or when we are offended or disgusted by the presentation. Quite simply, none among us has the right to set him or herself up as an arbiter of which ideas or expressions others may explore. That principle is most definitely not an easy one to live with, but it is absolutely necessary that we do live with it if the university is to be the societal guardian of free expression that it should be. We must trust in the fundamental nature of the free university; we must trust that what we do every day, in our classrooms and beyond our classrooms, gives our students the intellectual resilience and critical acuity to deal with the falsehoods they will encounter all around them in their lives, here and elsewhere. If we find that we cannot trust in that, then the only remedy we have is to get better at what we do so that we can.

I speak of this matter here today because I feel so strongly about the importance to society of how we practice our chosen and shared profession, and because we are surrounded by 18,000 students and many thousands more public constituents who are watching us and for whom we may be the only model they will have for the principles we profess to value. So that’s my serious side for the day.

And now, next to last, before we leave this beautiful Kasser Theater, I want to take a moment to note the extraordinary Peak Performances season that Jed Wheeler and his staff have provided for this coming year. One of the tenets that has driven the performance work in the Kasser is the search for that which is on the cutting edge and that which is unique to the larger metropolitan region. People from New York City come to the Kasser because what you see here cannot be seen in New York. Many of the Kasser performances provide exciting opportunities to work into your classes, and remember that the performances here are free for our undergraduate students. So before you leave today, pick up a brochure and take a peek at what has been laid at your feet for the coming year. Just in September, you can enjoy AnDa Union, celebrating the music of Inner Mongolia and a Brazilian dance group that brings with them the electric dance traditions of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. And that’s just September; there is much more that follows.

And, last and finally, I want to remind everyone that today is Red Hawk Day.  This tradition began four years ago and is designed to welcome our newest students and share our Montclair State. One of today’s activities is our second Montclair State College Olympics, during which first-year and new transfer students sport their college shirts and compete against each other in a variety of light-hearted activities. As a result of the inclement weather, the Red Hawk Day community lunch, which will be held immediately after this address, will not be held outdoors. Faculty and staff can pick up boxed lunches under the tents outside of Dickson Hall or join with the students in the Student Center Cafeteria and Dining Room. You are all welcome to get some lunch, and I encourage you to introduce yourselves to the students and welcome them to the campus community.

I wish everyone an exciting and fruitful academic year. 

Thank you.