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Thank you to all the alumni who submitted questions and comments regarding the recent developments on campus in connection with the publication of the Pursuit of Excellence plan. New responses will be posted as they are completed.
Alumni Questions with Answers from the College Leadership Team
"Was consideration given to notifying the department chairs that a three-year term limit was being instituted this year and that they be given a three-year notice on their term?"
Early this past fall, Provost Nosa Egiebor communicated to all department chairs that all chair positions were extended for only the 2017-18 academic year. During that time, he explained that he would review the needs and direction of the College and that chairs should anticipate the implementation of a model where chairs rotate through the position on a regular three-year basis. The chairs who were asked to step down in January remain as productive members of the faculty and were asked to continue in College leadership positions to advise the provost on significant projects that are critical to the College. The interim chairs are remarkable faculty who have distinguished careers and we look forward to working with them in their new capacities.
Can you clarify what is meant by the following statement in the Pursuit of Excellence document: "Chairs of all academic departments will work with ESF leadership and the College community throughout 2018 to identify optimum structures for a potential reorganization of academic departments to allow for increased transdisciplinary engagements in the College-approved Vision 2020 Update areas…?"
President Wheeler is calling upon the College community to examine the academic directions agreed upon in the Vision 2020 Update. The College has yet to determine how best we can make a difference in these key environmental areas. Examining significant, complex, environmental concerns through several perspectives based on multiple disciplines has been shown to be instrumental in addressing these concerns and creating solutions. To determine how ESF can most effectively do this, the College needs to explore this question as we move toward future strategic planning. There are many paths we could take. These include invigorating our institutes and centers to play this role. It might mean organizationally bringing the talent and expertise of our faculty together in different ways. We will work directly with the academic department chairs as we explore all options. We hope to begin these College-wide discussions in tandem with our Middle States Commission on Higher Education Accreditation cycle; this process ensures institutional accountability, self-appraisal, improvement, and innovation through peer review and the rigorous application of standards within the context of our institutional mission.
"You mentioned that ESF depends substantially more on state aid as a percentage of total revenue than any other SUNY institution – why is this?"
The primary factor is ESF's relatively small enrollment, especially when compared to the other doctoral-granting institutions within SUNY. This dependency is a major contributing factor to the structural budget gap the College has faced for nearly 10 years. When considering the total revenue generated from state support and tuition, state support accounts for 56 percent of the total while 44 percent comes from tuition. ESF's degree of reliance on state support is well above the SUNY average of 28 percent.
During the pre-2008 period when state support was increasing and thereby compensating ESF for annual increases in operating costs, this imbalance was not a problem. For example, contractual obligations, where salary and wage increases are concerned, amount to approximately $700,000 per year. Prior to 2008, annual state support allocations included additional funding for such costs. However, not only has this particular allocation been eliminated but ESF has lost more than $5 million of support from the state since 2008 and there is no expectation of future increases. Consequently, such a budget model is no longer sustainable and unless the imbalance between state operating support and tuition revenue is reversed, ESF will continue to operate in the face of a structural deficit.
"While I understand that there are pros and cons to instituting term limits for department chairs, given the College's current fiscal challenges, was financial consideration given to the costs associated with implementing this policy immediately?"
There are no significant increases with costs associated with this move. The existing chairs remain as productive faculty and have been offered other leadership opportunities working with the provost. The interim chairs are existing faculty in those departments.