The State University of New York at Fredonia community was able to get to know Kristina M. Johnson, the new Chancellor of the SUNY system, and she learned about concerns held by administrators, faculty, staff, students and community members at SUNY’s western-most campus at an open forum on Nov. 3 in the Science Center.
“My priorities for the fall are very simple: you build a team, you build relationships by getting out and meeting the campuses, and you prepare a robust budget,” Chancellor Johnson said.
Midway through a schedule to visit all 64 SUNY campuses – she’s been to more than 20 of them since taking the helm of SUNY on Sept. 5 – Johnson called attention to the “distinctiveness of each campus.” Through its community colleges and four-year universities and SUNY Empire State, SUNY is able to bring together a very diverse set of offerings, she said. That’s what can help to continue to make students successful.
Johnson was welcomed by Fredonia President Virginia Horvath. Johnson’s biography was summarized by Kyle Licht, a junior Communications/Video Production major with minors Music, Film Studies, Leadership and English.
“Education has always been something that has enriched my life,” Johnson said. “There is no higher calling than teaching. What we give our students as a result is a window to a better life, a more productive and meaningful life,” she added.
“You have to have a base, and that’s the power of the liberal arts and learning about how to put career in the context of the liberal arts.”
Issues raised by audience members touched a variety of concerns that have the potential to directly impact the Fredonia campus, as well as campuses throughout the system.
Ralph Blasting, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, called attention to a proposal that would reduce out-of-state tuition as a means to attract more students from areas that are adjacent to SUNY campuses but lie outside of the state. Fredonia, as a cultural center midway between Buffalo and Cleveland, has a strategic advantage to attract non-resident students, Dean Blasting noted.
“If you think of ourselves as a regional institution, there is a lot of region around here not in New York State,” he remarked.
Johnson characterized a lowering of out-of-state tuition as “an interesting proposal” that she will discuss with her budget advisers. “Everything is on the table in terms of building a robust budget for sustainability,” Johnson said.
President Horvath offered to provide information of the lower out-of-state tuition proposal that was raised in the state Senate a couple years ago.
Concern about “withering” state support for SUNY that includes a significant drop in state funding in 2008 that was never restored was expressed by Jonathan Chausovsky, associate professor of Politics and International Affairs and co-chair of the University Senate’s Planning and Budget Committee.
Johnson pegged the state’s average support of SUNY in the range of 30 percent. She rated that funding level as “extremely generous” when compared to other states, such as Colorado, whose support of higher education has dropped from 30 percent, when Johnson taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the mid-1980s, to its current level of about 10 percent.
“That has been a story that has played out across the country,” she added.
Johnson proposed to increase financial resources by “amping up” partnerships in many different ways, such as philanthropic support in ways that haven’t been done before, notably at the system level. Fredonia has already done very well in this area, she noted, and President Horvath has displayed tremendous leadership in attracting philanthropic support to the campus.
“To me, SUNY really punches above its weight (for) the number of students that we educate, the number of programs that we offer, and, the outstanding faculty and staff, so I’m looking for ways to not only enhance our traditional resources, but to also bring to the table new resources that we traditionally have not accessed,” Johnson said.
Johnson also called for building a system-wide endowment that can enhance all individual campuses by attracting resources from foundations, industry and other partners that have traditionally not been brought to the table. Individual campuses have built endowments, but there is no system-wide SUNY endowment, Johnson noted, while other state systems, such as the University of California, have amassed large endowments.
In response from concerns raised by Ziya Arnavut, professor of Computer and Information Sciences and president of the Fredonia chapter of United University Professions (UUP) chapter, regarding the use of adjunct faculty due to limited budgets instead of hiring more full-time faculty, Johnson acknowledged that SUNY likely has the highest percentage of adjuncts compared to other publicly supported peer institutions. That issue can be addressed, Johnson said.
But she also noted that “one size does not fit all,” referring to adjuncts that can be highly successful and effective in the classroom.
In response to the growing linguistic diversity of students in higher education, particularly in New York with instate tuition being offered for students in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other areas damaged by severe weather, Johnson indicated that Fredonia, through its ECC English program, is well-equipped to serve students whose primary language is not English.
Fredonia was the last stop of a tour last week that had Johnson traveling to SUNY New Paltz on Tuesday for a groundbreaking ceremony and to meetings with the Faculty Council of Community Colleges and President Duckworth at Jamestown Community College on Thursday.
Students, faculty and staff were joined by Athanasia Landis, mayor of the Village of Fredonia; Cheryl John, director of Native American SUNY Western Consortium; and Willie Rosas, mayor of Dunkirk. All three extended a generous welcome to Johnson. “Dunkirk feels very much a part of the university family,” Mayor Rosas said.