2016 Convocation Speech

York College Convocation Thursday, September 15, 2016, Presented by Dr. Marcia V. Keizs, President

Good afternoon and welcome to the official opening of the York College 2016-2017 Academic Year and the launch of York's year-long 50th anniversary observation! Let me extend a special welcome to our new faculty colleagues, as well as new administrators and support staff, who have joined us at this significant and exciting time in York College's history. To all of you who have joined us this year, please know that we look forward to your contributions to the academic enterprise as you join in teaching, scholarship and service in behalf of our students, thus assisting them in achieving their very highest potential.

Welcome Students

Students, I am delighted to see you all! I extend a special welcome to our first-year students, the Class of 2020--literally a once in a lifetime moniker! It is indeed good to have you as our students and I look forward to interacting with you as the semester progresses. In addition to new faculty that you have already met, we also have some new programs made ready just for you. And now, I am referring to the new App--the York College Cardinal App--intended to keep you engaged with the college and each other and give you a platform to access information on college service programs and activities. It is also a good way for you to get to know each other as I hear you are doing by asking questions or otherwise trying to develop friendships. Launched on August 3rd, I hear that it is a buzz of activity--1754 downloads so far. I know you have already participated in the Luau last Thursday, where you enjoyed a Hawaiian-themed event meant to connect you to the college and introduce you to your peers as well as to campus services. And soon, Tuesday, September 20th to be exact, there will be a fiesta to launch the Freshmen Reader Program, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. How many of you have completed the book? Finally, I too am available during my sessions: Chat with the President. Please feel free to make an appointment to speak with me on any subject related to the college (contact and available time slot details were sent out via email and are on our homepage).

All of these efforts are meant to get you connected and to keep you connected until you cross the finish line. In fact, the theme of connection is something that our chancellor, James B. Milliken, has adopted to launch the next phase of the development of CUNY. He wants CUNY to be a "Connected University": connected to each other; to our students; to our larger New York community, especially business and corporate; to be connected through technology - in offering students more opportunities to conduct some of their academic work online; and, of course, to be connected globally through offering students experiences to study abroad.

At York, we have always believed in the power of connecting: and our students, our alums of yesteryear and of today testify to the importance of those connections;

Current and Past Students Who Connected and Achieved

  • Students like Ariel Rosario (Class of 2017) who connected with his Prof. Francisco Villegas. Then Ariel connected with a younger student whom he mentored--Clinton Ehidom (Class of 2018)--and they both received summer study internships at Yale University Medical School;
  • Students like Marvelene Bazelais, (Class of 2016), a Merit Scholar and one of my personal mentees, who earned the BS/MS in Occupational Therapy, connected with faculty and took advantage of undergraduate research opportunities who says, "What I've gotten from York is a great college education, much support from faculty, a great deal of self-discovery, and great friendships and experiences to last a lifetime";
  • Or Jonathan Hubbard, (Class of 2010), who first connected with his teacher and mentor Prof. Paul Salisbury as a Marketing major, and later with staff in the Office of Marketing and Communications. He recently told us, "I have leveraged my experiences at York, both academic and personal, to stand tall in the world without fear, encountering success on many different levels, and in different forms. I am truly grateful to be a York College Alumnus";
  • When Journalism major, Khorri Atkinson, (Class of 2015), arrived at York, he was a quiet but persistent presence as he pursued stories for Pandora's Box. He connected with professors in the program, interned with the Amsterdam News and NBC News Online and is now completing his Master's in Journalism at the CUNY School of Journalism;
  • Alexis Haynie, (Class of 2016), an English major, connected with Prof. Michael Namphy and pursued summer internships at the CUNY Graduate Center and at Rutgers University where she is now enrolled on a full fellowship in the Doctoral Program in English Literature.

Keep making those connections inside and outside the classroom, with your professors, your mentors, your advisors, your counselors and each other. Now is the time to begin to create the stories you will tell in 2020 and beyond!

Faculty Promotions

I would like to endorse the provost's congratulations to those of you among the faculty who earned promotions or tenure and I am looking forward to your continued contributions to the academic enterprise.

Let me also acknowledge Ms. Rachael Antione, whose trip to Selma, Alabama with thirty York College students and faculty motivated her to be more engaged in the college. Today, Ms. Antoine is your SGA President.

Recent Faculty Retirees

I want to thank, in absentia, those colleagues who retired over the past years, among them, Daniel Cleary, Janice Cline, William Divale, Conrad Dyer, Basdeo Mangru, Joseph Schachter, Lorraine Stern and Dora Wolosin. Their collective contributions impacted the lives of thousands of students, their colleagues and the college at large.

Remembering a Dedicated Colleague

Sadly, as always, pain mixed in with the excitement of the new semester. On September 3rd, Economics Professor Paul Althaus died. Dr. Althaus, as you may have seen in the message sent out to the college community earlier this week, was a dedicated professor and colleague and his loss to the Business department and the rest of the college is incalculable. Let us take time to honor his memory with a moment of silence: thank you.

The State of the College

Let me now provide, as I usually do, the State of the College. In these remarks I will be relying on my letter to Chancellor Milliken in June 2016, in which I detailed the assessment of the College at the close of the academic year focusing on four categories: Academic Achievements, Student Outcomes, Administrative Achievements, Fiscal Stability and Facilities.

Academic Achievements

  • Two new master's programs enrolled students this fall; Physician Assistant has a cohort of 30; Pharmaceutical Science has a cohort of 8;
  • Occupational Therapy program achieved reaccreditation of 10 years;
  • Middle States Accreditation - self-study design proposal presented for approval to Middle States;
  • Scores of curriculum changes in a variety of disciplines and departments were effectively and systematically reviewed by the Curriculum Committee, approved by the Senate, and presented to the Board of Trustees;
  • In the area of Faculty Scholarship, there are a number of accomplishments to report;
  • Utilizing the assistance of Hanover Consultants, 21 faculty from five departments prepared proposals for review;
  • The Department of Business and Economics hosted the Annual International Meeting of the Northeast Business and Economics Association that registered over 160 participants from across the world;
  • Twenty (20) faculty received PSC/CUNY grants to support research and travel;
  • Drs. Arsov, Levinger, Desamero, Profit, Emtage and Bradbury were awarded multiple-year funding for their research from NIH;
  • Dr. Margarita Drago's book Fragmentos de la Memoria was presented by the house-representative Josefina 'Tana' Gonzalez (Santa Fe Province) last year and was declared of National Interest by the Human Rights Commission;
  • Dr. George Lam was recognized on the cover of Opera News Magazine. His company, "Rhymes With Opera" is cited as one of the "Young Companies Redefining Opera".

Student Outcomes

  • In June 2016, our graduating class numbered 1032. Our valedictorian, Eunice Udensi, is the fifth consecutive valedictorian from the Department of Chemistry;
  • Among the graduating cohort were 16 military veterans;
  • Graduating student, Mr. Olayinka Oladipupo, a biotechnology major, was the recipient of the Vice Chancellor's Student of the Year Award, given to one student CUNY-wide, demonstrating outstanding leadership and outstanding academic performance;
  • Among the graduating cohort of students going directly on to graduate schools are Roxana Azad, pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science at SUNY Buffalo, and Manpreet Kaur, pursuing a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Connecticut;
  • Teranderose Russell, a Journalism major, now at the Columbia University School of Journalism;
  • According to our Office of Institutional Research, new data confirms that nearly 32% of York's students participated in a variety of experiential opportunities including paid and unpaid internships, service learning, community service activities, clinical and field research, undergraduate research and campus-based leadership. This summer a record 54 studied abroad.

Administrative Achievements

  • Employee Recognition: we built on the successful launch last year of this program held in the summer on the Plaza where we celebrated 130 employees, including full-time, part-time and those of the Research Foundation, who have reached a milestone in their service to York College. Awards were given marking service of 5, 10, 15 to 40 years, with special recognition to Professor James Como for 48 years of service;
  • Among our proudest achievements administratively as a college, is our continued generosity as demonstrated in the CUNY Campaign efforts where York College continues to out-perform many of our larger sister institutions, this year contributing $37,962 to various charities and being named: Goalbuster and Highest Achiever Award among Senior Colleges. Thanks to Mondell Sealy and to all of you who continue to give generously;
  • StartUp NY: Many of you are aware, by its ubiquitous presence on our homepage, that York was selected as one of Governor Cuomo's StartUp NY sites. We are pleased that at the September and October Board of Trustees Meetings, our two projects will be under consideration. The first, York Analytical Labs, Inc., is a full-service, independent analytical laboratory providing analyses of water, waste water, soil, solid waste, hazardous waste and air in support of regulated activities under the applicable local, state and federal environmental guidelines. It is an $8 million business with 50 employees. The second company, a smaller emerging business, Cobbler Concierge, is a 3-D shoe manufacturing business with $200K in revenue and two full-time employees. Both companies will operate in a startup incubator in Richmond Hill. Benefits for the college include internships for students and partnering in research for faculty;
  • Linked to the StartUp project is the 10 million dollar economic development funding that Governor Cuomo has awarded to the Jamaica Now Project. Greater Jamaica Development Corp., the Borough President of Queens, and York College partnered in the creation of the proposal that will impact the economic, cultural, and educational life of downtown Jamaica.

Enrollment/Fiscal Stability/Fundraising/Facilities

Challenges remain aplenty and I will focus on them briefly. Clustered together they include: enrollment, fiscal stability, fundraising; and then there is the matter of facilities.

York continues to maintain stable enrollment, meeting or coming very close to our enrollment goals, though we are experiencing reduced cohorts of incoming first year and transfer students. While we achieved our agreed upon CUNY enrollment target for fall 2016, those goals represent a 1-2% decrease in first year and transfer students. We are unsure what the future trend will be, but the forecast suggests that all of us in CUNY may be experiencing immediate declining enrollment. Enrollment for fall 2016 stands at 8,538 vs. 8,604 last fall, a difference of 66 students.

Fiscal Stability/Fundraising

As of the end of the third quarter of fiscal year 2015-2016, the college was on target to end the fiscal year with a surplus of approximately $1.2M. The University Budget Office is still preparing the year-end financial report, which the college projects will reflect a CUTA balance of approximately $1M. In our fundraising effort, securing a leader in the Advancement area is of utmost importance as we enter the year marking our 50th Anniversary. Re-igniting sponsored research activity; identifying new sources of revenue; re-kindling relationships with old friends as well as making new ones will all be emphases on which the leadership team will be focused during the upcoming year.

And Then There is the Matter of Facilities:

As you all know, we have been keeping our eyes on the prize for some years now on building the Academic Village and Conference Center, the 160,000 square foot building that will be anchored by our business school. Of the 300 million dollars needed to erect this structure, to date we have secured 30 million from the State. As we move forward this year, we will continue to aggressively seek capital funding from the State while exploring private/public partnership for this venture. As you all are painfully aware, the three primary buildings are each over 25 years old. The number of items on the deferred maintenance list is shorter now than three years ago, thanks in part to several major infrastructure projects that are now underway, which will bring some systems into a state of good repair. We will continue our effort to pursue facility upgrades. This topic was a focus of my conversation with Chancellor Milliken and it continues to be a focus for Ron Thomas and James Minto as they work to secure additional capital funding.

Of the $18 million dollars we need to advance a number of significant projects, York now has 13 million. We are working with colleagues at the central office to bridge the gap of $5 million to be used in the following way:

  • ADA Access: Install six automatic ADA compliant doors: one at each entrance to the Academic Core Building ; one in the Milton G. Bassin Theater; and one in the Science Building;
  • Restroom Renovations: Renovate restrooms to yield sixteen ADA compliant restrooms campus wide: 8 in the Academic Core Building and 2 in each of the remaining four buildings; some of the renovated restrooms will be gender neutral;
  • Vertical Transportation: Continue to expedite a short-term solution to bring the elevators and escalators in the Academic Core into reliable, operational condition until the permanent solution is implemented over the next 3-5 years. The interim solution is being implemented with the assistance of Vice Chancellor Bergtraum's office and project consultants.

What we've accomplished: the pest infiltration issue of last spring is being addressed aggressively by a new pest control vendor that has been in place since June 16; repair of the outdoor track and field is underway with the support of half a million dollars from students; and an additional three (3) million dollars in capital funding have been identified for roof and other repairs of the Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center.

That brings me to our goals for the upcoming year. Not surprisingly they start with:

  • Maintain fiscal stability and assure an end of year reserve;
  • Increase fundraising and grants outcomes;
  • Make progress in obtaining capital dollars for new facilities and improving existing facilities;
  • Improve retention and graduation outcomes while meeting enrollment targets;
  • Launch two new Programs at the Masters level;
  • Improve student satisfaction with college services;
  • Advance Middle States document to completion;
  • Increase online offerings;
  • Extend appropriate programmatic connections to CUNY Colleges and;
  • Celebrate the College's 50th year.

50th Anniversary

As noted at the beginning of these remarks and as heralded all around the campus by the bold, vibrant banners, we are celebrating our golden anniversary. To this end, I invite you all to participate in the various celebratory activities starting this Friday morning with an Executive Leadership Breakfast moderated by our own Dr. Robert Parmet, a founding professor and author of the authoritative book on York College, Town and Gown: The Fight for Social Justice, Urban Rebirth and Higher Education.

The opening celebrations continue with Homecoming on Saturday, featuring a Block Party on the Plaza from noon to 3:00 pm, which is free of charge. From 6 to 7 pm, we will debut the Alumni Art Show with a reception, followed at 8 pm by a Dinner Dance in the Atrium. Inside this fine theater, we will also feature performances by, among others, Dance Theatre of Harlem. There will be other celebratory events throughout the year, including an off-site gala in the spring, where our goal is to raise at least a half million dollars.

Stay tuned York College Community! Let's have the best year yet!