Back in the days before I came over to the dark side of administration, I was a student of literature and then a teacher of literature. My mind was drawn to the language of the imagination, and, in particular, to utopian literature – the fabrication in language of whole, non-existing worlds. When I was in college, I wrote and produced utopian plays and went to graduate school with a playwriting scholarship. When I grew up, I became a university president, which is to say that I kept on at the task of creating non-existing worlds of the imagination. The most fully developed among my imaginary initiatives is called Montclair State University.
As we look out upon this fictitious entity and see all the shining buildings, and the laboratories, classrooms, and technology they contain, and see all the people at work in those buildings, and all the thousands of students who come to study here, as we see the buses and the cars and the train stations and the power plants, it certainly all feels real and concrete enough. But, of course, it is not; it is all the product of our collective imagination, and all of you are implicated in taking part in the creation of this imaginary world.
The best book that I read this year is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by the historian Yuval Noah Harari, in which he makes perfectly clear that all social orders are imagined. Even Sapiens’ most fundamental imagined order, money, the currency of trade, clearly exists only in people’s shared imagination. Whether shells, beads, or dollars, “money isn’t a material reality – it is,” as Harari says, “a psychological construct.” We believe in money because we have all agreed to believe in it. More than 80 percent of the world’s money “exists only on computer servers. Accordingly, most business transactions are executed by moving electronic data from one computer file to another, without any exchange of physical cash.” From money, to limited liability companies, to the intricacies of the beliefs of countless religions, to the practices associated with how we eat, to belief in the holiness or majesty of nations, the world of Sapiens is built on endless stories, stories which sometimes unite, sometimes distinguish, and, overall, serve to explain for us the meaning or existential basis of our life. A forager band in the Indus Valley believes that white-tailed foxes reveal the location of precious obsidian, even though obsidian has not been found for a long time; a large nation situated between two oceans believes that it is an indivisible nation that is sanctioned by God and that provides liberty and justice for all, even though it is clear to the most casual observer that the nation is divided in many ways, that it has no uniform concept of God, and that it does not provide liberty and justice for all. Sapiens imagine and tell stories, and that is how they impute meaning to their lives and how they create multinational corporations, or empires, or assure the standing of a nation in the collective imagination, or engage in the creation of a university.
What we are today as an institution is what we have chosen to believe in; the University is the ever-changing incarnation of our collective imagination. We have chosen to believe in Sociology, Anthropology, and Chemistry. We have created the fiction of General Education and the theater piece of the classroom. We have imagined collegial governance and the primal right to parking, and, of course, we have imagined the efficacy and meaning of degrees. We could have told and passed on different stories, but these are the stories we imagined, and so this is the University we created.
In addition to being storytellers, Sapiens is a communal species; we crave participation in collective fictions. We do not like to be out there by ourselves; we like to believe in the things that other people believe in. We identify “us” and distinguish ourselves from “them” through our shared beliefs. The “us” was at first quite a small clan, tribe or group, very much like other social animals. As Harari notes, “No chimpanzee cares about the interests of the chimpanzee species, no snail will lift a tentacle for the global snail community…, and at the entrance of no beehive can one find the slogan: ‘Worker bees of the world – unite.’” But Sapiens, unlike other species, began to understand the advantages of broadening the concept of us.
It would be hard to believe in cyber money or Sociology all by ourselves, but we can believe in them because there are people all over the world who believe in them too. We Sapiens are always in quest of our community, always striving to unite around a common system of beliefs – in government and politics, in religion, in arts, in knowledge systems, in trade and finance, in family and neighborhood, and in work.
Even as we sit here together today, we are affirming our imagined construct of the University, but we are definitely doing that at a very confusing moment in time, because, although we long to affirm what we have imagined, we are being compelled to ask the question as to whether or not the story of the university, as it has been told over the past decades or even centuries, will remain meaningful in the future. There come moments in time when the disequilibrium caused by rapid change creates the opportunity, or the necessity, to revise or extend our story, and I think that now is such a time. With the realization that the University is the product of our imagination, if we have the courage, comes also the rather exciting freedom to jettison the chapters that no longer have meaning for us, and there comes as well the freedom to write new chapters, to make up new stories and to build upon this great work of fiction.
And I know we are capable of these feats of imagination. I know it because that is how we grew from a normal school to a teacher’s college to a liberal arts college to a regional university to a research university. That is how we built the buildings and renovated the labs and recruited the faculty and professionals, and created the many colleges and schools and programs that stand today where vacant land and deserted quarries existed before we imagined them all.
I know it because this past fall we opened the new facility for the School of Communication and Media, which began its formal life several years ago. The new facility is right at the front edge of technological capacity in the field and has enabled the beginning of the imagination of new and innovative curricula and programs and School-generated content, ranging from a weekly student-produced television newscast originating in the News Lab to hours of live music performed on WMSC to audio podcasts created by the school’s research faculty. The Presentation Hall in the new building has become a dynamic space for critical community conversations with high-profile guests, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Colonel Jack Jacobs, NBC’s Willie Geist, WNYC’s Brooke Gladstone, and ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap – all streamed live from Montclair State across multiple digital platforms. The building’s many collaborative spaces have encouraged students and faculty towards new ventures, for example, the launch of a student-run public relations agency.
I know we are capable of these feats of imagination because, not long ago, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Jeff Indiveri-Gant, said to me that the one academic program that the University did not have that was most frequently requested by applicants was Nursing. Really, I said. Really, he said. Imagine that, I said. As a consequence of that conversation, during the 2015-16 academic year, a group of faculty and administrators did imagine that and began composing the story line of a School of Nursing and searching for someone who could really write the play about what a School of Nursing should be like in the changing world of health care in the decades to come, and the ongoing renovation of an old building called Partridge Hall also began to be re-imagined by Mike Zanko, our Associate Vice President for University Facilities.
On May 9, 2016, Dean Janice Smolowitz arrived on campus, and, less than four months later in September of 2016, the University’s School of Nursing came into being in newly renovated space with the admission of its first class of RN to BSN students. This spring, 22 of those students will be graduating. In fall 2017, the School admitted its first class of 50 freshmen to the four-year BSN program, and currently the MSN program is under review, and the School anticipates its first class of masters’ students will begin study this coming fall. With miraculous speed and efficiency, the School of Nursing will have launched three degree programs in as many years, and they project that the School will have close to 300 students enrolled next year. A doctoral program in nursing practice is under development and could be ready as soon as fall 2020. I’d say that’s not bad for a work of fiction.
And now we are moving ahead in imagining a new college for the approximately 2,000 to 2,500 students who have not declared a major and who do not have any formal academic home. When the University was smaller, providing guidance and a base of support to these students was more readily accomplished than it can be in the much larger University that exists today. Despite the best efforts of the knowledgeable professionals in the Division of Student Development and Campus Life, without any formal academic home, these students do not have access to sufficient academic mentoring to assist them in making important decisions about how to structure an academic program, choose a major, and adjust to the very complex environment of study in a university.
Throughout the nation, many other universities of Montclair State’s size and type, and with students of a similar demographic, have adopted the solution of creating an academic home for such students, most frequently called “University College.” In a fall 2017 meeting of the University’s academic department chairs, the advisability of Montclair State creating such an entity was suggested and discussed with considerable interest. Subsequent to that meeting, the Associate Vice President for Student Academic Services, Dr. Allyson Straker-Banks, and the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, Dr. Jim German, undertook a review of such programs and consideration of the concept. Out of their work and many discussions with colleagues, a proposal was developed for the creation of University College at Montclair State. The proposed mission for the College is very focused and clear: to retain undeclared undergraduate students who are admitted to the University; to connect those students with an appropriate program of study consistent with their abilities and interests and enable their smooth transition to a major in one of the other colleges or schools of the University; and to enhance the opportunity for those students to achieve timely completion of a baccalaureate degree.
I am pleased to announce that, on April 11, the Board of Trustees approved the establishment of University College. To assist in the implementation of the College, Provost Gingerich has assembled an excellent advisory team, including: Professors of Psychology Saundra Collins and Milton Fuentes; Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies Josh Galster; Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Indiveri-Gant; Director of Institutional Research Steven Johnson; Director of Academic Advising for the College of Education and Human Services Rebecca Madson; Professor of English Patricia Matthew; Director of Academic Advising for the Feliciano School of Business Eric Moskovitz; Professor of Communication Studies Marylou Naumoff; Director of Undergraduate Nursing Courtney Reinisch; Associate Vice President for Student Academic Services Allyson Straker-Banks; Government Documents and Data Librarian Darren Sweeper; and Director of Red Hawk Central Tara Morando Zurlo.
Ultimately, University College will have a home in the renovated College Hall. For a two-year interim period, a very good space in the southeast corner on the main floor of Sprague Library will be renovated to serve as the College’s initial home. Dean Hunt and the Library staff are excited about welcoming University College students to their building. The space itself is contiguous to one of the Library’s very fine reading rooms, and we expect the Library and Café Diem to become a natural gathering spot for these students. Dean Hunt likes, on every possible relevant occasion, to quote Albert Einstein’s statement: “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library,” so I expect University College students will begin their college career with this principle well inculcated into their minds.
The process of assembling a first rate professional staff for the new college is fully underway, and key to that process is recruitment for the position of Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of University College. As most of you know, Jim German, who was our first Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, having perfected everything here at Montclair State, is leaving at the end of this year and heading to a new opportunity as Dean for Undergraduate Studies at California State University, Sacramento, where the weather apparently is somewhat different. His replacement will hold responsibility as the founding Dean of the University College that Jim had an important hand in shaping. We wish Jim well in his new position.
I provide these three examples of the recent creation of new schools and colleges to remind us that it is quite possible for us to write new stories, and there are more that we should be considering. I know from meetings with various departments and conversations with members of the faculty and deans that many people share with me the view that our system of General Education needs serious reconsideration, as does the complex intersection of General Education, major field of study, and electives. If we began the discussion of these important elements by asking what makes the most sense for today’s and tomorrow’s students and what will best serve their educational needs, I am not convinced that we would come out of the discussion with the system we have in place today. And there are many other questions it might be timely to ask, but we have to have the will and the courage to ask them, we have to be unafraid to act on our deliberations, and we have to be willing to recognize the difference in importance between the big issues that affect the education of thousands of students and the small complications of our accustomed practices. If we can collectively imagine the big story line, we will be able to sort out the details.
In short, I think, as we plan for life in today’s much more complex and much larger institution, we need to look with clear eyes and creative minds at how the University functions for the students as an integrated and coherent whole. We have the opportunity to do that as we approach the construction of the University’s next strategic plan, which is essentially our next chance to prepare to retell the story of Montclair State. The strategic plan will not and should not answer all our questions, but it should certainly set the agenda of the important questions that are before us, in accordance with our understanding of current circumstances and bringing to the consideration the best thinking we can about how the world is evolving. I would urge you to engage in the strategic planning process. There is a website – montclair.edu/strategic-planning – for this initiative where you can find the most recent information, the names of the members of the strategic planning team, and suggestions for how you can engage in the process.
Accompanying the questions related to the overall structure of our undergraduate programs is the thinking we will want to bring to how we invest in and pursue graduate education and research and how we integrate our research initiatives with instruction. As many of you know, the Acting Dean of The Graduate School, Dr. Brian Carolan, is leaving Montclair State this spring to take up a new position as Dean of Graduate Studies at Sacred Heart University. I am certain that he is going to be very successful in this new role, and we wish him well and offer him our gratitude for his committed service over the past years, both as a member of the faculty in the College of Education and Human Services and in The Graduate School. We are very fortunate to have attracted excellent new leadership in Dr. Scott Herness, who was appointed this spring to the newly created position of Vice Provost for Research and Dean of The Graduate School. Dr. Herness received his BS in Biology from the University of California, Irvine and his PhD in Biology from Florida State University, and he has had an active faculty and research career in the field of neuroscience, as well as considerable administrative experience. He joins us from his most recent position as Interim Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate School at The Ohio State University, where he oversaw all aspects of graduate education at one of the nation’s largest public research universities.
The development and successful expansion of the University’s graduate programs requires very intensive and immediate attention. We have made some good recent steps, including the start-up of the new PhD program in Clinical Psychology, which brought in its first class this year, and the establishment of the Department of Social Work and Child Advocacy, which has received hundreds of applications for the inaugural class this coming fall of its new Master of Social Work. In the face of a variety of external challenges, the College of Education and Human Services has developed a number of initiatives to foster program partnerships in the community and varied instructional delivery models. The online Educational Leadership program has generated robust enrollment and was highly ranked at #12 among online graduate programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. A new program provides teachers with a second certification in Bilingual/Bicultural Teacher Education, which is an ongoing area of teacher shortage both in New Jersey and nationally. The program has prepared two cohorts of teachers in the Newark Public Schools, with a third cohort likely, and is now offering the program in the Irvington Public Schools. Continuing and adding to this promising work, as Associate Provost for Research and Dean of The Graduate School, Dr. Herness’ agenda will include strengthening the University’s portfolio of master’s programs and master’s-level enrollment, growing the research base to support the development of existing and new doctoral programs, and nurturing existing and developing new industry partners, and developing the University’s capacity to serve their post-baccalaureate educational needs and to provide pathways to career opportunities for our students.
Of course, nothing demonstrates the exercise of the imagination more than research and the connection between research and the education of the next generation of students. The possibilities are nicely exemplified by the National Science Foundation grant to Professor Robert Meredith in the Biology Department for a Next Generation Sequencer. Not only will this equipment support cutting-edge research, but its use is also incorporated into undergraduate Biology classes, engaging students in research projects related to DNA data sets and training them in experimental design, analysis, interpretation, and preparation of scientific papers. That instructional experience not only supports ongoing research, but also provides students with an extremely valuable skill set in preparation for their entrance into the biotechnology workforce.
Two faculty members in Earth and Environmental Studies, Professors Sandra Passchier and Stefanie Brachfeld, have been invited to participate in Antarctic climate science expeditions with the prestigious International Ocean Discovery Program during the austral summer of 2019. They will be members of international collaborative teams aboard a research vessel collecting sediment cores. That fact alone is exciting, but, even better, it will allow those faculty members to bring the research home to our students, who, in turn, will be able to participate in the study of the Antarctic Ice Sheet’s sensitivity to climatic and oceanographic changes, identifying trends in ice mass loss that contribute to sea level rise.
I am pleased to report that the PSEG Foundation has provided a new grant of $1.3 million to continue the Green Teams Program and to support the development of a Clean Energy and Sustainability Analytics Center as part of the University’s PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies. The Green Teams Program, under the direction of Dr. Amy Tuininga, enables students to work on solving real-world sustainability problems identified by major corporations, giving the students experience in applying scientific knowledge while simultaneously developing their business skills and creating networks for them that lead to internships and employment after graduation. The Clean Energy and Sustainability Analytics Center, developed by Professor Pankaj Lal, will be a public research and technical assistance center for the State of New Jersey to identify, quantify, and interpret the ramifications for the state of clean energy development and to facilitate energy planning.
A new Institute for Research on Youth Thriving and Evaluation (the RYTE Institute), developed by Professors Jennifer Urban and Miriam Linver of the Department of Family Science and Human Development, supported entirely by external grants, has become a robust social science research laboratory, exploring questions related to youth thriving, developmental science, and program evaluation from a systems science perspective. The Institute has generated $9.8 million to date for the five-year period from 2015 through 2020, with another $1.6 million currently under review.
The Center for Research and Evaluation on Education and Human Services (CREEHS), under the direction of Dr. Eden Kyse, conducts research and project assessment for a wide range of clients, including state and federal agencies, community organizations, health services, and educational institutions. Its project base is growing, and it is beginning to come close to operating fully as an externally funded center. The University has a number of established and emerging centers and institutes designed to generate revenue, and their development is actually extremely important, both to contribute to the diversification of the University’s revenue sources and to provide useful expert services to the external community, which, beyond the value of the service, has the additional benefit of expanding and elevating the reputation of the University.
As we continue to develop the research and scholarly portfolio of the University, given the limitations of our resources, it would be sensible to do so in relationship to the knowledge needs of the society we serve and the students we educate. One of the great contributions of the world’s universities has been the creation of communities of scholars and scientists who have ideas and who follow those ideas wherever their intellect takes them, unfettered by proscriptions about what directions they should and should not pursue in their work. We call that possibility academic freedom, and from that freedom has come new knowledge, pursued for its own sake, but, once created, applied to issues and problems arising from the societal context. That is a good thing. However, given our circumstances, it would be foolish if we were not as perspicacious as possible about building scholarly and research expertise that could be applied to areas of recognized immediate need. For example, the only new funding in the Governor’s proposed FY 2019 budget for the state’s senior public institutions was a $2 million proposed line item to develop a center for research on issues related to gun control. It wasn’t hard to see that one coming.
If we stay sensitive to the current areas of concern in the world that constitute the context for this institution, we will be able to identify the front of mind issues: yes, violence and guns in our society, but also, just for example, a sustainable energy infrastructure; issues related to climate change, flood control, and water quality; a wide range of cyber and other security issues; the tangled web of pre-K to 12 educational policies; access to affordable health care; the crisis of substance abuse; international affairs, particularly in regard to our relations with the Americas, China, Russia, and the Arab nations; and, of course, the economy, stupid. It is not a question of pure research vs. applied research; it is not either/or. We need to be active on both fronts, and we need to be aware of what our state, our nation, and the world need help with. As Rodgers and Hart put it, we need to sing for our supper, and we very much need to enable our students to be active members of the chorus.
We continue to improve facilities to support the needs of both undergraduate and graduate programs and research activities. We are getting ready to undertake one of the largest construction projects on campus, the complete renovation of College Hall. Opened in 1908, this 125,000 GSF building constituted the entirety of the original institution, the Montclair Normal School. Over the past 110 years, it has served us well, and now it will undergo a major makeover in preparation for its next 100 years of life. When finished, by September 2020, College Hall will emerge as a central, integrated home for all University-wide student support services. You have probably noticed the appearance on Parking Lot 7 of a temporary home for Red Hawk Central, the prototype of the new one-stop service center for students seeking assistance with Financial Aid, Student Accounts and Registration. The Center, which opened in January, has been very well-received by students and will move more fully developed to College Hall when that building’s renovation is complete.
At the other end of the construction spectrum, we are in the process of finishing work on Mallory Hall. When that 52-year-old, 44,000 GSF building opens in time for the fall term, it will have been transformed into a modern facility for research and instruction in Computer Science and Information Technology. A very successful smaller project was completed this year as the lower level of Sprague Library was very creatively redesigned and renovated to accommodate the classrooms, studios, and lab rooms for the Visual Communication Design program. The new instructional and studio space provides an inviting contemporary environment with full mediation, ample desktop and production space, and convenient access to library holdings, enhancing teaching and learning across the design disciplines. Go visit when next you are in the Library.
In the critical area of campus energy, the University is further strengthening its utility infrastructure with the addition of two natural gas engine generators to supplement our current plant. This expansion, which will go operational during the next year, together with upgrades to the University Substation, will allow the University to act as a micro grid, reducing demand from the external grid, reducing overall energy costs, and permitting the University to divorce itself from public utilities when necessary.
In addition to buildings, we are building new capacity in a variety of ways to support research, for example, in compliance, in accounting, in equipment and personnel, and, contributing to that infrastructure, the Digital Commons, Montclair State’s institutional repository is now up, fully hosted, offering unlimited cloud storage, and providing reliable impact metrics. The repository will collect, organize, preserve, and disseminate the scholarship and creative work of the faculty and other members of the University community in a digital, open-access environment. Placing work in the repository will make it easily discoverable through search engines, such as Google and Google Scholar, and the Digital Commons will be a useful tool to facilitate networking and collaboration among faculty nationally and internationally. Better than watching television, you can watch the Digital Commons screen showing in real time people all over the world downloading your work. For information about the Digital Commons and how to participate, please consult the website: https://digitalcommons.montclair.edu. If any departments, schools, or colleges are interested in having a presentation to learn more about the Digital Commons or how to go about uploading scholarship into the repository, please be in touch with Dean Hunt or Librarian Darren Sweeper or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and assistance will miraculously materialize.
Talking about scholarship, on April 11th, Provost Gingerich and Dean Hunt hosted a reception to celebrate the scholarship and creative work of the faculty. The event was focused primarily on recently published books, but also included music and the visual arts. A few examples of notable publications include:
- From Justice Studies, Prof. Cary Federman’s The Assassination of William McKinley: Anarchism, Insanity and the Birth of the Social Sciences, published by Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield;
- From Modern Languages and Literatures, Prof. Teresa Fiore’s Pre-occupied Spaces: Remapping Italy’s Transnational Migrations and Colonial Legacies, published by Fordham University Press;
- From Early Childhood, Elementary and Literacy Education, Prof. Michele Knobel’s co-edited Researching New Literacies: Design, Theory, and Data in Sociocultural Investigation, published by Peter Lang;
- From Accounting and Finance, Prof. Seddik Mezziani’s Exchange-Traded Funds: Investment Practices and Tactical Approaches, published by Palgrave Macmillan;
- From the School of Communication and Media, Prof. Joel Penny’s Citizen Marketer: Promoting Political Opinion in the Social Media Age, published by Oxford University Press;
- From English, Prof. Michael Robbins’ Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music, published by Simon & Schuster; and
- From the imaginary world of Sociology, Prof. Vikash Singh’s Uprising of the Fools: Pilgrimage as Moral Protest in Contemporary India, published by Stanford University Press.
The full version of University Authors – 2018 can be found on the University’s website, and I think you will find it an impressive catalog of work, and, as always, a good place to begin to compile your list of summer reading.
I would also note for your attention some interesting new programmatic initiatives that are well into the imagining stage. For example, the Department of Art and Design, the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies, and the Mix Lab at the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship are teaming up to create an academic program focused on sustainable design and the built environment. The newly established Department of Writing Studies is developing a new major program in Public and Professional Writing and working with the School of Communication Media to explore some of the possible intersections of those related programs. An interesting interdisciplinary program in Business, Language and Culture is under joint development by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Feliciano School of Business. The program is designed to prepare students for careers in international business, while blending the very high demand business programs with the lower demand language programs to support Modern Language enrollment and to give students a rich major program with applicability to emerging workforce needs. And, of course, the possibilities of rich collaborations extend well beyond the campus. The Department of Art and Design has developed a number of collaborations with the Montclair Art Museum, including an interesting series of programs focused on art, media and social justice. The Choral program of the Cali School of Music is continuing its long collaboration with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, which included the performance of Mozart’s Requiem this season and next year will include the Symphony’s opening performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Many programs and members of the University community earned fame, if not fortune, this year:
- Police Chief Paul Cell was elected by his police chief peers around the world to serve as President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and he will be sworn in this fall. This is an extraordinary honor, and this University has been very fortunate to have Paul’s dedicated service as Chief for many years. He has always been ahead of the curve in developing appropriate campus community policing, and but one example is the very important contribution he made, years before it became a national issue, to development and implementation of response guidelines for sexual assault. Congratulations Chief.
- John Davis, the University’s Head Athletic Trainer was elected to the National Athletic Training Association Hall of Fame.
- The women’s basketball team won their sixth consecutive New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship this year, and Head Coach Karin Harvey won her fourth straight NJAC Coach of the Year and her fifth regional Coach of the Year.
- Stefanie Murray, Director of the Center for Cooperative Media, was number one on MediaShift’s list of the top innovators in digital media for the year.
- And kudos to the Department of Theatre and Dance. College Factual rated their programs in Drama and Theatre Arts number one in the state of New Jersey. College Factual compiles a wide range of data to calculate its findings, focusing on post-graduation outcomes for students, as well as affordability and on-campus resources. Montclair State came out on top because of its state-of- the-art facilities, accomplished professional faculty, and numerous student production opportunities. And, I am happy to note, once again, our Dance program was selected to represent the Northeast Region at The American College Dance Association Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington this June. For college dance programs this is sort of like making it to the Super Bowl.
All of the great work at the University is the work of people, and we are always adding to the talent we have available to contribute to the achievement of our goals. Among some recent additions and changes:
David Vernon joined the University as Vice President for Human Resources this past January. He was, most recently, Assistant Vice President for Human Resources and Benefits Administration at Ramapo College. David earned an MBA in Accounting and Finance from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and he earned his BA in Political Science from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. As many of you know, I spent five years in Minnesota, and I have been to Northfield, which, in addition to St. Olaf, is also the home of Carlton College. There is a distinctive sign at the entrance to the town. It reads Northfield: Cows, Colleges and Contentment. I love that sign, and I have always wanted to put up a similar sign here, Montclair State: Cars, Colleges and Construction. In any event, we hope David finds contentment here.
Montclair State University was designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2016, and, now, to bring energy and accomplishment to that designation, Professor Katia Goldfarb, Chair of the Department of Family Science and Human Development, has taken on a new role at the University as Assistant Vice President for Hispanic Serving Initiatives. Among Katia’s current research interests have been transnational Latino families in the U.S., first-generation students, and immigrant families and schools. Last year, she co-hosted with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, a conference on “Strengthening the Well-Being of New Jersey’s Hispanic Communities.” Katia is well-prepared to take on this very important assignment, which will provide a central, organizing focus for the University’s efforts to provide excellent service to this rapidly growing student population.
The University Health Center has found new leadership with Dr. Patricia Ruiz, a certified Advanced Practice Nurse with substantial expertise and clinical experience in college health issues. Dr. Ruiz received her BS from Fairfield University, her MS from Columbia University, and her doctorate in Nursing Practice from Rutgers University.
Christopher Conzen has joined the University as Assistant Dean for Student Services and Administrative Affairs for the College of Education and Human Services. And, in the Division of Finance, Lillian Nash was promoted to the position of University Controller and Donna McMonagle joined us as Assistant Treasurer.
The talent, experience, and abilities of the people of Montclair State are extraordinary. We are blessed with great colleagues.
And last, but most important, our students. This is the time of year when we are thinking about the approaching graduation of thousands of students, more than 5,200 total graduates this year, and the shape of the new class of students who will be entering the University in September. In regard to the graduates, I strongly urge academic departments to do their best to keep track of your graduates. How they progress and succeed going forward is the best indicator of the quality of our programs, and your graduates will be one of the most important resources and sources of support for your programs in the future.
In regard to the incoming class, Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Indiveri-Gant reports that the fall 2018 class of new students looks quite strong. Completed applications have increased by over 10 percent year over year, and students are accepting admission and depositing much earlier than they have in prior years. In short, interest in attending Montclair State is quite robust. The average high school GPA of confirmed students is just brushing 3.3, and the rigor of courses that applicants have taken is greater than in prior years. The incoming class will, once again, be coming from all counties in New Jersey and approximately 22 states, and it will be a highly diverse class, with about 29 percent Hispanic students and 17 percent African American students. I am told that this fall’s class will be our first Generation Z class, which I saw somewhere defined as those who have never in their lives heard the distinctive sound of a dial-up modem and have never heard of a telephone booth.
Our students bring innumerable positive qualities to our campus, but it is also apparent that students here and everywhere in these times come with some considerable amount of issues and stress. One of the areas that requires attention is substance abuse, and, this fall, the Residential Life program initiated a new housing option called Residents in Recovery for students wishing to live in a supportive, substance-free community. To support further development of such programs, the State of New Jersey awarded the University a $928,000 grant for Recovery Housing and Recovery Services. The grant was developed by Dr. Marie Cascarano, Coordinator of Health Promotion, with Campus Recreation and Intramural Sports, Dr. Kristine deJesus, Staff Psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services, and Dr. Kevin Schafer, Assistant Director of Housing Services, and it is the largest grant ever received by the Division of Student Development and Campus Life. Counseling and Psychological Services also received a three-year grant from the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention program. The funding will assist the University to establish the first-ever formal New Jersey-wide campus suicide and violence prevention consortium, called the University and College Alliance for Prevention of Suicide. Funding from the Jed Foundation, Montclair-based Partners for Health, and the University’s Parent Fund will additionally support a multi-year effort to assess and enhance the University’s mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention programs. As Vice President Pennington reminds us frequently, the University in today’s world has a range of responsibilities that were never imagined in prior times.
Perhaps the most important area of stress for our students is managing the rising cost of their education caused by the declines in state support. That fact is why it is so important for us to do everything we can to help students succeed in timely acquisition of their degrees. Each extra term they spend in college has a big impact on costs. It also means that the effort to reform the state’s TAG program remains high on my agenda, as does the effort to raise increasing amounts of scholarship funding. The Annual Scholarship Dinner is a big part of that effort, and this year’s event, led by the team from University Advancement, was quite successful, raising approximately $800,000. Our students themselves are always our best weapon in the battle for dollars, both the students who wow the audience with their singing and dancing, and the students who lend their voices to the call for support. Here is the video that donors saw at this year’s Scholarship Dinner:
The video motivates our donors to give because it has the ring of authenticity, and that is because it is authentic. The mosaic described in the video is the reason why we have imagined the University and why we must keep challenging ourselves to know more and to create more.
In discussing the Scientific Revolution, Harari says in Sapiens:
“Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know.’ It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge….Having admitted ignorance, modern science aims to obtain new knowledge. It does so by gathering observations and then using mathematical tools to connect these observations into comprehensive theories….It uses these theories in order to acquire new powers, and in particular to develop new technologies. The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions.”
So, it turns out that being an ignoramus is a good thing, because it means having the capacity to realize that we do not know the answers to many important questions and it means having the capacity to realize that the things we think we know may be proven wrong. So, we gather here today, a proud community of ignoramuses, adept at imagining, unafraid to act on our ideas, and willing to accept that some of the things we thought we knew are, in fact, wrong. And, therefore, we must not stand still; we must not keep walking in the familiar tracks of the past, just because they are there and we are comfortable with the familiar, nor should we wait for certainty. The task before us is to muster the energy and enthusiasm to continue to exercise our communal imagination, to keep creating, with optimism, that piece of the social order that we call Montclair State University. And, if we are very lucky, from time to time, we will get to see and to understand the ways in which we were wrong, and we will change, adjust, refine and rethink. Because the collective belief we hold is that, though content and methodology and structures may change and evolve, the pursuit of knowledge, the preservation and creation of culture, and the teaching of others to the best of our ability is always the right road to take, even when, or perhaps especially when, we are not sure where it will lead.
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