President’s Opening Day Address, 2017
September 5, 2017
Posted in: Featured Links, News for Faculty & Staff
In 1908, this institution was established as the New Jersey State Normal School at Montclair, housed in the facility we know as College Hall. Its initial class was comprised of 187 students, and the School offered a two-year program to train elementary school teachers. It was staffed by a principal, Dr. Charles Chapin, and a faculty of eight men and women who together were responsible for teaching English, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, Nature Study, the History of Education, as well as Vocal Music, Manual Arts, Hygiene, and Gymnastics. In the School’s second year, Dr. Chapin made a great additional hire in John Stone, who quickly gave the new School a national reputation in Mathematics. It was estimated that there were 20 million of Stone’s many Mathematics textbooks in classrooms in every state in the nation.
In the 1920’s, a state study reported that nearly 90 percent of New Jersey’s secondary school teachers had received degrees from institutions outside the state and that many of these teachers lacked adequate training. As a result, in 1927, the state directed the Normal School at Montclair to institute a four-year program to educate high school teachers, and the original two-year program for elementary school teachers was discontinued.
The School was renamed the New Jersey State Teachers College at Montclair, and it became not just the only institution in the state devoted exclusively to the training of secondary school teachers, it was the only such institution in the nation. From the start, then President Sprague was focused on the need to provide students with a strong liberal arts education, and, as a consequence, Montclair students were required to major in the discipline in which they were preparing to teach, which, at that time, meant in English, Foreign Languages, Mathematics, Science, or Social Studies, and the College offered Bachelor of Arts degrees in the discipline instead of the more usual Bachelor of Science degree in Teaching.
In 1932, the Teachers College at Montclair became the first of the teachers colleges authorized to offer master’s degrees, and, in 1958, the Teachers College became Montclair State College, a fully developed liberal arts college. Montclair State College then spent another 36 years growing its student enrollment, academic programs, and faculty, and succeeded, in 1994, in becoming the first of the state colleges to achieve university status. The bell in the tower of College Hall, originally donated to the Normal School by Edward Russ in 1908, rang in celebration. Four years later, in 1998, in the first year of my presidency, Montclair State University was approved to offer its first doctoral degree.
Over the past 19 years since that time, the University’s enrollment has grown from about 12,000 students to about 21,000 students. The number of degrees granted annually has grown from about 2,200 to about 5,200. We have recruited hundreds of new faculty, we have added many new academic programs at the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral levels. We have invested many hundreds of millions of dollars in campus facilities – academic buildings, such as University Hall, the Kasser Theater, the Cali School of Music, the School of Communication and Media, Schmitt Hall, the Feliciano School of Business, the Center for Environmental and Life Sciences – as well as new residential buildings to house thousands of students, three parking decks, many new dining facilities, a train station, a clinical facility, a recreational center, and a massive investment in information technology and energy infrastructure. We have added new schools and many specialized centers and research institutes. And, as the culmination of those years of growth and development, this summer, on July 17, 2017, Governor Christie signed into law a bill establishing Montclair State University as a public research university. That event was the official recognition of the years of work that have transformed this university in a chain reaction of accomplishments. An accomplished faculty provided excellent instruction and excelled in scholarship and research, and the new facilities provided the laboratories, equipment, and other resources necessary to enable the faculty to pursue its work. Skilled technicians and professional staff were recruited to support the maintenance of those sophisticated facilities and the technological infrastructure, as well as all the business processes of the greatly expanded university. Thousands more students were given the opportunity to study at an excellent university, and the University grew to the size necessary to sustain the comprehensive range of its programs at all degree levels.
There were undoubtedly a small number of people who were neither excited about these changes nor interested in participating in them, but there is absolutely no question that we could never have accomplished this transformation without the wholehearted engagement of the vast majority of the campus community. It took the participation of the full community to think through academic programs, to recruit faculty, and to recruit, teach and advise the students, to recruit critical professionals and staff, to design and oversee the renovation and construction of facilities, to analyze and prioritize equipment needs, to provide improved services to support the needs of employees and students, to keep the University compliant with the massive amounts of state and federal laws and regulations, to manage the growing portfolio of the University’s business and financial transactions, and so much more. And, of course, it took, and continues to take, the individual effort of each instructor to educate our students, and it takes the inspiration and effort of the individual scholar or scientist or artist, often in collaboration with colleagues, to produce the work that has made possible our recognition as the type of institution that nationally is now designated by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as a doctoral research university and by New Jersey as a public research university.
So now that we are here, we can certainly go ring the bells in the College Hall tower, but what does this accomplishment really mean for us? What does it tell us about our goals and responsibilities going forward? We could say, let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing, and, I’m sure if we did, we would not go far wrong. But I think we have a bigger opportunity than that, and I think, as a University community, we share an ambitious disposition with a long history of people, from the early days of Chapin and Sprague and the faculties and professionals of those times to today. For the past 109 years, the people of Montclair State have embraced the possibilities of the future and worked toward the next achievement.
In many ways, the shape and scope of the opportunities we have cannot be entirely apparent to us today, but will, in fact, reveal themselves over time. What we need to do is to be clever enough and attentive enough to see the possibilities coming toward us, and we need to have the courage and the confidence to embrace them. Meanwhile, we do know for certain, because it is at the core of our identity, that we must keep getting better at the education of our students and at the creation of knowledge.
In regard to the first of those tasks, we need to redouble our efforts to support students’ timely and successful completion of rigorous degree programs that enable our graduates to work and to pursue advanced study in fields related to their interests and abilities. That task is a critical responsibility, in one way or another, of everybody who works at the University. The component parts of the process are many: the development of coherent, up-to-date and carefully structured programs of study; excellent teaching; appropriate instructional facilities and equipment; clear and rational degree and program requirements; course scheduling that meets programmatic and student needs and that uses the campus infrastructure efficiently; effective and accurate advising; intelligent and proficient use of information systems; well-delivered academic, financial, health, and other support services. The success of our students rests in everyone’s hands, and each of us should feel actively and thoughtfully engaged in work that contributes to the process of moving students through to successful completion of degrees that enable them to realize their potential and expand their opportunities.
In support of this extremely important work, this year will see the advent of two new and very promising programs: the Discovery Program for Undeclared Students and the STEM Pioneers Program. The Discovery Program, developed by the Office of Student Development and Campus Life, with collaboration from faculty in the various colleges and schools and the Center for Career Services in Academic Affairs, is designed to guide incoming freshmen toward the selection of a major that meets their educational goals and capacities. Students in the Discovery Program will choose one of five tracks that is aligned with their interests: Education, Service, and Society; Management and Industry; Arts, Culture and Design; Technology and Innovation; and Sciences and the Environment. And for those incoming freshmen who really do not have any sense of where they might be heading in their studies, there is a separate track for the Undecided. Students in all of the Discovery tracks are assigned advisors, are part of a cohort of students with similar interests or similar confusion, and are guided through an exploration process designed to provide them with a route to degree completion in an appropriate field of study.
The second program starting this fall, the STEM Pioneers Program, was developed by faculty members from the College of Science and Mathematics, Professors Dirk Vanderklein from Biology, Nina Goodey from Chemistry, and Josh Galster from Earth and Environmental Studies, in collaboration with Julie Dalley, Assistant Director of the Research Academy for University Learning. The program will be supported by a three-year, $300,000 NSF grant and is focused on incoming first-generation college freshmen who are undeclared students and who think they may wish to pursue a science field. The goal of this program is to increase science literacy among our students regardless of their ultimate major, to increase enrollment of first-generation students into the sciences, and to increase their retention and success at the University. The unique characteristic of this program is that the students and the faculty are in linked learning communities: the students taking courses together in a traditional learning community and the faculty teaching the courses participating in a professional learning community, coordinating their teaching to ensure that there is an integration of material across the courses. Students in the STEM Pioneers Program will receive special advising and peer-mentoring from advanced students who were also the first in their families to attend college.
These programs, and all our student success initiatives, are very important, and we need to be extremely rigorous in our assessment of their ability to deliver on their goals. If they work, they will help us achieve our educational objectives, but we should not be under the illusion that such programs can cover all the ground that needs to be covered. What happens in each classroom, in each advising session, in each set of program requirements, in each class schedule, in the effectiveness of our use of Canvas and other academic and student-oriented information tools, in each encounter a student has with the financial aid office or the health service, or through each eye-opening cultural and educational experience on campus makes a difference. Everything we do, or don’t do, impacts our students’ chances for success.
As we examine this year’s incoming students, we continue to see evidence of the growing reputation of the University in the more than 15,300 completed applications for the approximately 3,000 places in our freshmen class. The class of 2021 entering this fall is an academically well-prepared group and diverse by every interpretation of the word. The applicant pool came from 47 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and approximately two dozen foreign countries. In regard to our New Jersey students, the University continues to attract students from all 21 counties and enrollment from south and central Jersey continues to grow and now stands at 24 percent. More than 29 percent of the incoming class identifies as Hispanic, and this year 22 percent of the incoming class is African American, a very heartening 6 percent increase over last year.
Given our recent designation by the federal government as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, this summer the Office of Undergraduate Admissions hosted the University’s first Hispanic Student College Institute, under the leadership of Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Indiveri-Gant and Associate Director Jordanna Maziarz. The Institute was a three-day conference-style event at which Hispanic high school students were challenged to “think big” about their educational future and the impact they could have on society after college. Through the Institute, students engaged in career exploration and aspirational planning and benefited from workshops on financial aid literacy, navigating the college search and application process, essay writing, and public speaking. This group of highly engaged and academically driven high school juniors and seniors came from 12 different states, and more than 50 of them have submitted applications for next year’s admissions cycle.
Since implementing an SAT-optional admissions policy, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has placed high school grade point average and the rigor of an applicant’s high school coursework at the center of the admissions process. The grade point average of the incoming class is 3.24, and this year’s incoming class displays the most rigor in their high school courses of any class since we began measuring course rigor seven years ago. The top choices of majors among enrolling freshmen who have declared a major remain consistent with past years and are Biology, Psychology, Business Administration, Family and Child Studies, and Justice Studies. A large number of students continue to express an interest in pursuing teacher certification in their academic disciplines.
When we take the official count on Census Day, the 10th day of the semester, we anticipate that our total student population will be about 21,000. That number will include about 3,100 new freshmen, about 1,450 new transfer students, about 1,300 new graduate students, and, overall, a total enrollment of approximately 17,000 undergraduate and 4,000 graduate students.
Here is a snapshot of a few of our entering freshmen:
Jonathan Alves graduated from Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains with a 3.75 GPA and a number of Honors-level courses. He excelled particularly in Physics and was active in the Portuguese and Spanish Club. Jonathan plans to major in Computer Science, and his goal is to become a software engineer.
Leah Asplen graduated from Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, with a 3.61 GPA. She took a rigorous course load of Honors and AP courses and earned a place in the National Honor Society and the French National Honor Society. In addition to her studies, Leah sang in the school choir, was a student director in the Pennsbury Theater program, and volunteered at her synagogue’s religious school. Leah plans to major in Linguistics.
Rokia Fane was born in West Africa and graduated from Central High School in Newark with a 3.6 GPA. Rokia went above and beyond her high school’s math and science requirements, adding Honors Chemistry, Algebra II, and Probability and Statistics to her schedule. She played on the Central High School soccer, softball and volleyball teams and was a member of the National Honor Society. Rokia will be part of the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program and has been admitted as one of the 50 students in the very competitive inaugural class of the four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
Matthew Hakel earned a 3.9 GPA from Lincoln Southwest High School in Lincoln, Nebraska. Matthew followed a rigorous course of study with many AP classes. He was also very involved in theatre and dance, receiving recognition for his talents on both the state and national level. Matthew volunteered with rehabilitation patients at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and served at the Matt Talbot Kitchen, which provides hunger relief and homeless prevention services. Matt will be a Musical Theatre major.
Allen Minaya graduated from Ridgefield Park High School where he was an Academic Scholar in Physics. Allen also participated in track and as a youth program volunteer at Saint Francis Church and as a volunteer assistant coach for the Ridgefield Park recreational basketball program. Allen will be part of the new Discovery Program for Undeclared Students, which I mentioned earlier, and he has chosen to participate in the Sciences and the Environment track of the Program.
Monica Tagmizyan graduated from Paramus High School with a 3.67 GPA. She has been very focused on preparing for a career in business, and supplemented the usual high school curriculum with courses in Business, Financial Literacy, AP Language and Composition, Pre-Calculus, International Business, AP Micro/Macro Economics, Honors Psychology, and a Syracuse University course in Sociology. She was a member of the National Honor Society, played volleyball, was active in a very wide range of charities, while also working part time at a local clothing store. Monica was also a member of the “Heroes and Cool Kids” program, speaking to area middle school students about bullying, sportsmanship and making smart life choices. Monica will be majoring in Business Administration, with a concentration in Marketing.
Jennifer Treubig graduated from Commack High School in Commack, New York, with a 4.0 GPA and is an International Baccalaureate Diploma Candidate. Jennifer is fluent in Italian and Spanish, was on the Varsity Kickline team, was treasurer of the National History Honor Society, served as a peer tutor, and participated in community service projects. After her mother was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, Jennifer shadowed a Registered Dietitian at Southside Hospital to learn more about how nutrition could help improve her mother’s health. She developed an eating plan for her mother and ultimately created an online blog to help others change their lifestyle and diets to lead healthier lives. In helping her mother, Jennifer discovered her interest, and she plans to major in Nutrition.
Turning to the second strand of our core mission, the creation of knowledge, we have less in long-established practices on which to rely. While the institution has a long tradition in undergraduate education and a solid tradition of scholarly excellence in a number of fields, Montclair State is a relatively young university in terms of our engagement in doctoral education and externally funded research. When we began the development of our first doctoral programs, we established several principles which I think are still valid. We were clear that we would only develop a doctoral program in a field where we had significant academic strength, where we had a concept that was carefully considered and distinctive, and where we could demonstrate clear need for the program and anticipate strong demand. Our first PhD program was in Environmental Management, and I think it stands today as a good model for what we intended. The other expectation we had for our doctoral programs was that, since we were starting out fresh, we would take care not to duplicate the less than desirable characteristics of doctoral education. In particular, it was our very explicit goal that we would hold ourselves responsible for enabling our doctoral students to move through our programs efficiently and in a very reasonable timeframe. I think we still have some work to do in improving the pathway to the doctoral degree, in terms of support and both academic and career advising. As we assess our current doctoral programs and plan the development of new programs, it is critical to keep in mind that doctoral programs are expensive to mount, and so we need to be very clear-headed and strategic about exactly where we should be making these investments and what resources we can bring to bear to support the programs.
Obviously, a faculty that is successfully engaged in research is the most important requirement for successful doctoral programs and clearly for generating external research funding. In regard to enhancing the University’s research activities, I am certain that we will have our greatest success if we build intentionally, in areas where we have and can build on current strengths, where we can build on enriching collaborations both within the University and with other universities nationally and internationally, and where we can focus on some key areas that have particular importance and relevance to regional and national problems. Clearly, some of our research success will come from the anticipated or unanticipated or sometimes even serendipitous achievement of an individual faculty member, and that is absolutely to be celebrated and hopefully will occur increasingly. However, at the same time, planning out potential research areas and research groups, and prioritizing facilities and equipment that can be used by a variety of research groups will be necessary to establish our success.
In that regard, some of the general areas that have been discussed as promising avenues to explore include: (1) the pharmaceutical life sciences, expanding on the work of the Sokol Institute and growing partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry; (2) expanding on the work we are doing in sustainability, and particularly areas that affect business; (3) the general field of quantitative health sciences, a highly interdisciplinary field, using Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science and drawing on applications from Biology, Nutrition, Psychology, Exercise Science and Nursing; (4) areas related to data science and cyber security, using the expertise we have in both Computer Science and in Information Management and Business Analytics; (5) the field of coastal sciences, clearly relevant to New Jersey, the nation, and world-wide; and (6) in the social sciences, we have clearly developed interests and expertise in issues related to children in society, including educational, psychological, health, and justice issues. That list is meant just to be illustrative, certainly not exhaustive. The point is that it is now really imperative that we have some genuine disciplinary, college and cross-university thinking about planning our areas of coordinated research engagement.
At the same time that the deep academic thinking is going forward, we will need also to continue to work on all of the ways in which we can improve the support structure for research. Over the past year, the divisions of Finance and Academic Affairs worked with a group of Principal Investigators to improve the post-grant reporting mechanisms, and good progress has been made. We need to continue that work until we have administrative systems and services that make the acquisition and administration of grants as efficient and user-friendly as possible. We will also need to give University-wide consideration to how we support doctoral students and how we provide and prioritize the uses of research space and equipment. There is a very capable committee currently conducting the search for a Vice Provost for Research and Dean of The Graduate School, and I am hopeful that we will be able to make a strong appointment of an individual who will be able to lead us in the next stage of our development.
Each new academic year at Montclair State has brought us significant new resources to support the University’s agenda and mission, and this year is no exception. Chief among the new physical resources is the extraordinary new facility for the School of Communication and Media, the most technologically advanced broadcast and media production facility at any university in North America and, in fact, more advanced than the majority of professional production facilities. The great differentiator derives from the University’s partnership with Sony which enabled the 4K control room and studio. The new building has six broadcast-ready production areas, including the 4K studio, two high-definition television studios, a newsroom, a 150-seat presentation hall with state-of-the-art projection and capture capabilities, and a “live space” near the front entrance that will be useful for video interviews. These spaces are controlled by three inter-operable control rooms, one of which will be robotic so that students will get training on current methodologies for remote camera control. The building also has a full complement of post-production audio and video, which will access recorded media from a central computer server, as well as a 25-seat professional grade film screening room. Our excellent radio studios have been relocated to the building, which will also include space for the Center for Cooperative Media and for the student-run Montclarion. It will now be in the hands of our faculty and professional staff in the School of Communication and Media to realize the potential of the facility in their instructional and scholarly programs, and I have every confidence that they will. The formal opening of the new Communication and Media building will occur on September 26, and throughout the fall with a range of events, so look for the notices and take the opportunity to explore this new campus resource. It offers great potential for collaborations with many programs throughout the University, and you will not need a passport to gain entrance.
I would note that, as part of the project, we were able to provide new and rebuilt dance and theater instructional, rehearsal and performance studios in Life Hall. If you want to see something extraordinary, stop by and have a look at the new studios, especially the new dance studio just to the right of the main entrance to Memorial Auditorium. It’s a knockout and a terrific asset for our Dance program which last year was ranked among the top five in the nation.
Of course, the most important additions to the campus each year are the new people, and, among them, we will welcome a new class of 35 tenure-track faculty. I hope you will all reach out and get to know some of our new colleagues, and, to whet your interest in doing so, here is a small sample of them:
Dr. Matthew Aardema joins the Department of Biology in the College of Science and Mathematics. He received his BS and MS degrees from Michigan State University, and his PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. He comes to the University from a research fellowship at the American Museum of Natural History where he studied evolutionary patterns in a variety of species. Professor Aardema has published numerous research papers, and, at Montclair State, his research will focus on genetic divergences and ecological patterns among strains of vector-transmitted pathogens.
Dr. Deniz Appelbaum joins the Department of Accounting and Finance in the Feliciano School of Business. She received her BA degree from The Catholic University of America and her MBA and PhD in Management from Rutgers University. Professor Appelbaum brings over 20 years of industry experience in operations, credit, and business development. She has published widely on her research in the areas of analytics, big data, and automation in financial auditing and accounting, and she brings to her teaching an emphasis on the use of data analytics and appropriate classroom software tools in order to prepare students well for the technically advanced innovations occurring in the business environment.
Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet joins the Voice faculty in the John J. Cali School of Music. She received her Bachelor of Music from Northwestern University and her Master of Music from Indiana University. She has enjoyed a long and successful career performing in opera houses and recording studios around the world. She is a leading force in German operatic roles and in contemporary repertoires, and her intense stage performances have been widely praised. Professor Charbonnet was most recently on the faculty of Texas Christian University.
Dr. Tyrone Cheng joins the newly established Department of Social Work and Child Advocacy in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences as its inaugural department Chair. Professor Cheng comes to Montclair State from the University of Alabama, where he received his Master of Social Work and PhD in Social Work, and where, most recently, he directed their MSW program. Professor Cheng has published broadly in the field of child welfare, including research in child-maltreatment, family reunification, addiction and maternal/child health.
Dr. Tamara Leech joins the Department of Public Health in the College of Education and Human Services. She received her BA from Princeton University in Public Policy and African American Studies and an MA and PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan. Most recently Professor Leech was an Associate Professor at the Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University, where she was also Director of the Survey Research Center. Her research focuses on the social, cultural, and relational aspects of health during adolescence and young adulthood and on questions of health inequality. She has numerous scholarly publications and has been the recipient of important grants in her field of study.
And, finally, our new School of Nursing has begun the process of building their faculty with two excellent hires this year. Dr. Sarah Kelly received her BS, MS, and PhD in Nursing from, respectively, York College in Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Kentucky. Professor Kelly has over two decades of nursing experience from an inpatient, acute care setting at Duke University Medical Center to her most recent appointment as a member of the Nursing faculty of Rutgers University and Director of the Generic Baccalaureate Program. In her teaching, Professor Kelly places a strong emphasis on mentoring undergraduate nursing students in research. Dr. Andrew Scanlon also has over two decades of nursing experience. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Nursing, respectively, from Victoria University and La Trobe University, both in Australia, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice from Columbia University. He comes to Montclair State from a career in which he divided his time between academic teaching and clinical practice as a nurse practitioner in Neurosurgery. His current work with the International Council of Nurses in Geneva, Switzerland, examines advanced practice nursing globally and is focused on the development of a new professional framework for advanced practice nursing.
In addition to many new faculty, we also have some new faces on the administrative side of the house.
Dr. Lora Billings has been appointed Acting Dean for the College of Science and Mathematics. She is a Professor of Applied Mathematics in our Department of Mathematical Sciences, and her research program focuses on deterministic and stochastic dynamical systems. Lora has actively incorporated both undergraduate and graduate students in her research. She has over 40 publications, which have appeared in distinguished journals, and she has been granted over $2 million in external funding from federal agencies including the NSF, the NIH and DARPA. Most recently, Dr. Billings was on leave from the University, serving as program director for Applied Mathematics at the NSF. Lora has put together a new team in the Dean’s office, including two new Associate Deans, Professor Stephanie Brachfeld, most recently Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies and Director of the Doctoral Program in Environmental Management, and Professor Scott Kight from Biology, who has been providing excellent direction to our program for new faculty.
Dr. Keith Strudler joined us this summer as the new Director of the School of Communication and Media. Keith earned a BA in English from Cornell University, a Master’s in Education from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, and a PhD in Mass Communication from the University of Florida. He joins us from Marist College, where he served as Chair of the Communication Department and established the Center for Sports Communication.
Dr. Kenneth Sumner, until recently the Chair of the Psychology Department, has been appointed as Acting Associate Provost for Academic Affairs. Having been the very accomplished Chair of the University’s largest academic department, Ken brings incredible energy and a wealth of experience in regard to a wide range of matters related to academic program development, faculty, instruction and research.
Michael Galvin joined the University three years ago as the University Controller, and he has now been promoted to the position of Associate Vice President for Finance, with responsibilities for oversight of the Controller’s Office and the Office of Student Accounts and a broad range of financial planning, policy, systems, service, and compliance issues. Michael holds a BS in Accounting from Rutgers University, and he is a Certified Public Accountant and a Chartered Global Management Accountant.
Denise Pinney joined the University this summer as our new Assistant Vice President for Foundation Relations and Major Gifts. Most recently, Denise served as the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and Major Gifts at Rider University and, prior to that, she was the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations and Government Grants at Seton Hall University School of Law. Denise is an alumna of Montclair State, having earned her BA in English here, as well as an MA in Liberal Studies from New York University.
Jane Ann Williams has joined the University as Associate Provost for International Engagement, what many of you know by its former name, Global Education. Jane Ann comes to Montclair State from the University of Central Arkansas where she was Associate Vice President and Associate Provost of International Engagement and Academic Affairs. The University’s global connections are very important to our academic programs, faculty, and students, and Jane Ann’s goal will be to build on and expand them.
As we move forward this year, we have a busy agenda of work that needs to be accomplished. On the facilities front, we will be moving the gut renovation and expansion of Mallory Hall successfully to completion, on time and on budget, and will be able to present the Department of Computer Science and the College of Science and Mathematics with their new facility in time to commission and occupy the building in advance of the 2018 fall term.
This year will also see the start, in earnest, of the massive and complete renovation of College Hall. For the first time in its 109-year history, this historic building will shortly stand empty. When it awakens from its two-year makeover, while retaining its original aesthetic identity, it will be a magnificently modern and expanded facility ready for another century of service to the University. College Hall will then take its place as a central and integrated home for all of the many complex services needed and used by our 21,000 students throughout their educational careers at the University. In recent years, many divisions of the University have had to move around the campus in temporary quarters as we accomplished our construction projects, and now it is the turn of the Provost’s office and the President’s office to move out of their long-occupied digs on a temporary basis. The Provost’s office has been given temporary shelter by the new School of Nursing, and the President’s office is now under the temporary protection of the Feliciano School of Business.
Another very important task for the year will be the continued implementation of the broad range of OneMontclair technology systems. Making the new systems more effective and responsive in serving the specific needs of all of the divisions of the University still requires considerable effort. The pains of adaptation have been experienced by many institutions who have traveled this path before us, and, unfortunately, there is no route that leads around the mine field. We just have to make our way through it very carefully, and we will.
So, all in all, there is a considerable amount to accomplish this year. As we begin our work, it clearly is necessary that we take note of events that are part of the world external to our campus and that must, of course, have both meaning for us and a likely impact on us. The agenda of critical world issues of concern would be long, but I want to mention three that touch particularly on our role as a university.
The first concerns the continued uncertainty faced by the nation’s students who themselves or whose families are undocumented immigrants, and particularly the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) population. As you know, the University has clear protective policies in place for our students and an ongoing point of contact and service for students who may have immigration-related issues. If any students raise such issues with you, you will find a link right on the main page of the University’s website that provides the information you need to refer them to our experts. President Trump is expected to make an announcement on this subject today. Whatever his message is, it is clear that positive and definitive federal legislation addressing DACA students would be highly beneficial and improve the current situation. The national higher education associations to which this University belongs, such as the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, are urging such legislation on our behalf, and we will assist them with letters to our Congressional delegation.
The second issue concerns the effect of Hurricane Harvey specifically on our sister institutions in Texas. Some of you will recall that we reached out to higher education institutions in New Orleans after Katrina and assisted some of their students at that time. Again, the higher education associations to which Montclair State belongs are monitoring the status and needs of institutions impacted by the storm, and if there are ways that Montclair State University can provide assistance, we will attempt to do that. Among the public institutions that are within the FEMA disaster zone are the three campuses of the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, two campuses of Texas A &M, Lamar University, and Prairie View A & M.
Finally, I want to speak most particularly about the recent appalling events at the University of Virginia and the responses to those events.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment would not quite fit into a tweet, but, in a mere 45 words, it expresses some of the most profound principles of our republic. For our purpose today, I focus on just the statement that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.
For many reasons, rooted in the history of our nation and deeper and far more complex than just the actions and reactions flowing from, and responding to, Charlottesville or the White House, we find ourselves, as we begin this academic year, in a period of growing public dissension, divisive identity politics, discourse by demonstration, declaration of truths not in considered writs and petitions, but in 140 characters or less, unsubstantiated assertions and accusations used as a form of attack to blur the truth, and a growing need by many people to express their anger in confrontational and even violent ways. In times such as these, universities have a very complex and difficult role to play, and it is important that we draw thoughtfully on the knowledge base we have to guide us. For example, I bring to mind Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, in which he wrote, “Speech is civilization itself. The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact – it is silence which isolates.” And Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard.” It is not our role as a University just to respond to events; it is our role to seek to understand events, to impart that understanding to others, and then to respond in ways that are appropriate to an educational and scholarly institution.
As a university, I would say that it is certain that we will be engaged in some way in the increasing public expressions around what appears to be a significant national divide. That engagement may occur in small and reasoned settings, such as discussions in classes or spirited questioning of guest lecturers, or it may be big and loud and less reasoned and campus wide. From my perspective, there are four aspects of the situation that must concern us: first, the safety of the campus and those who use it; second, the role of the university as a defender of free speech; third, the moral obligations of the university to the nation it serves; and fourth, the responsibility of the University, to paraphrase from Jefferson, to inform the discretion of our students. Jefferson said, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take [that control] from them, but to inform their discretion.”
In regard to the matter of safety, there are never any guarantees, but we are extremely well-prepared. Montclair State University has a very large, very well-trained, well-equipped and very seasoned Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Paul Cell, who has built strong relationships with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and is widely respected in the state, the nation, and internationally as well. Our police officers understand the complexities and nuances of this community, and they have demonstrated over many years that they are committed to this community’s well-being and safety. To guide the police, students, employees and visitors to the campus, we have a well-developed set of policies on the use of our campus, on how different kinds of activities can be staged and what approvals are necessary, on demonstrations and assembly, and on what is and is not permissible. We have detailed guidance about the prohibition of weapons of any type on our campus, and we are grateful to be located in a state that, by law, prohibits the carrying of weapons onto a college or university campus. It goes without saying, but I will say it nonetheless: if at any time any member of this community sees something or hears something or learns about something or just suspects something that may pose a concern or danger to the community, your first and most important action should be immediately to call University Police. Don’t analyze it, don’t overthink it, don’t call for a committee meeting, don’t wait and don’t be reluctant. Just call University Police immediately. They are trained to assess situations, and they will not be upset if, as is probable, it all turns out to be nothing. They will be grateful to you for being part of their network of caring and protective eyes and ears.
The second issue, the role of the University as a defender of free expression, is another matter altogether. I am sure many of you are familiar with Yale University’s 1974 report on free expression, which says in pertinent part that “the history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” On many occasions in various forums, I have reminded us that, at this University, we do not prohibit recognized groups of students or employees from holding events or inviting speakers on the basis of content or point of view. If a faculty member or a student organization plans to invite a lecturer or show a film which some of us may find deeply offensive or hostile to us as individuals or members of a group, we do not prevent that event from occurring. We can discuss with the organizer our reason for objecting to the event; we can produce a counter-event of our own; we can stay away from the event and encourage others to do so as well. In short, we can use any number of means to promulgate our own views on the matter or the event, but we do not shut it down or shout it down, we do not prevent those who would hear from being able to do so. As Rosa Luxemburg said in 1922, “Freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently.” In her case, it was the Russian revolution that was on her mind. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said essentially the same thing in United States v. Schwimmer in 1928: “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought – not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”
There are many whose urge and instinct is to stamp out “the thought that we hate,” to shut it down, to shout it down, to annihilate, if not the speaker, then the very idea that anybody should have the right to say or to display or to celebrate or to advocate for a hateful thing. While we can understand that urge, a university cannot accept it, cannot permit it, and cannot condone it – no matter how hateful the object. It is easy to tolerate that which we like. Tolerance only comes into play when it concerns something we may, justly or unjustly, hate. “Freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently.”
Obviously, we do not forfeit our right to general good sense about what is and is not appropriate to a university environment. There are types of events that we would never deem suitable for the campus. However, as a University, if we abandon our commitment to freedom of expression, then we have sold our soul to the devil, and, as Dr. Faustus, lingering still in the regions of a hell of his own making, would tell you, once you sell your soul, it is very difficult ever to reclaim it. The only decision we can make justifiably to prohibit acts of expression, as Justice Holmes articulated in words that have stood the test of time, is when those acts of expression are “of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” In short, if it is the judgment of those charged with making these decisions that an event or activity puts the safety – not the comfort, but the actual safety – of our community at significant risk, then we will prohibit or prevent that exercise of expression or shut it down. Not when people are fearful of danger, but when the danger actually exists. Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” So, in short, this University will do everything in its power to protect the open and free exchange of ideas, including ideas and means of expression some of us hate or find offensive or even frightening. We may need to hear it, even if we don’t want to, in order better to be able to address it or to defeat it. “It is silence which isolates.”
That said, and as to the third issue, the moral obligations of the University, I believe there is, and that we wish there to be, a broad moral infrastructure to this university, a set of principles that inform all those activities that constitute our mission as an institution. At the heart of that moral infrastructure is our commitment to do everything within our capacity and power to make equally available to all persons the benefits of what we have to offer, without any distinction on the basis of any unrelated differentiating characteristics, such as, but not limited to, race or gender or religion or immigration status or socio-economic status. At the heart of this University’s moral infrastructure is our absolute certainty that equality of educational opportunity and equality under the law are necessary to our democracy, that every mind is valuable, and that, to the extent that we find in the human creature something of the divine, it is a divinity that has been meted out equally to all. And if I am right that we do have that moral infrastructure, then we are obliged not just to permit freedom of speech. We are obliged to speak — proactively, clearly, responsibly, and persuasively in support of those moral principles. We are obliged better to inform the discretion of the world, and we are obliged to act in accordance with our conscience. We are obliged to act morally and to show our students what it looks like when one speaks and acts in that way. So, even while we will protect speech that we may hate, we will not permit on this campus any group that would actually threaten the safety or the ability of any member of this community to participate fully in the opportunities that we provide.
And to move to the fourth point, whatever our role is in this University, each of us is always, for better or for worse, educators. We are always modeling concepts and behavior to our students certainly, but also to each other and to the watching world beyond the boundaries of our campus. In our classrooms, and well beyond our classrooms, we are always educating through our actions. We are setting standards of behavior; we are enacting models of citizenship; we are exhibiting the difference between critical thinking and the promulgation of ideologies, the difference between fair and reasoned truth and convenient half-truths or lies, the difference between informed analysis and rant, the difference between informed debate and shouting down. We do this in our conversations, emails, casual and formal interactions, in our work in committees, in classrooms, in advising sessions, as we serve and assist students and each other, in our public presentations, and in the attitude and sense of purpose that we bring to those many activities that fill the days. There is absolutely not a single interactive moment in the day when what we do is not influencing others. Every time we speak or act, we are informing the discretion of our students, and they are watching and learning something. Let us not be as Mark Twain said we were when he said, “In our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” We must practice them. As responsible human beings we must practice them. As caretakers of this particular University and of everything that universities mean to civilization, we must practice them.
As we step forth on the first day of this new and very challenging academic year, I stand extremely impressed by the tremendous depth of intellectual qualities and commitment that you represent as a university community, and I wish each of you the moral and the physical fortitude to do right by the awesome responsibilities that together we share.
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