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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
Can you please clarify for the College community the faculty positions to be added and when that will happen? Please include how that will work with the academic chair searches (will those be additional to the planned faculty hires)?
There will be twelve positions backfilled to distribute to the Departments of Chemistry, Environmental and Forest Biology (EFB), Environmental Studies (ES), Forest and Natural Resources Management (FNRM), Landscape Architecture and Paper and Bioprocess Engineering (PBE). Eight new positions will be distributed to EFB, Environmental and Resources Engineering (ERE), ES, FNRM and PBE. Additionally, six new positions will be created to support general education in physics, the social sciences and the humanities. These general education hires will initially be a mixture of full-time and visiting professors. As other funding opportunities arise through SUNY or partnerships with other institutions, we will continue to add to the breadth and depth of our faculty.
"As faculty have retired, or left, have these positions been filled?"
This is not a simple “yes/no” question. The College is committed to hiring faculty in areas of demand or academic need. When faculty leave the college, the provost (as advised by academic departments) determines the priorities and opportunities available. While we are fortunate to have faculty who contribute to the College for decades, it might be the case that the College does not simply “replace” that particular faculty member as research areas, enrollment trends, program changes and additional opportunities have presented themselves over the years. The College is committed to ensuring that we can deliver the highest level of educational experiences to our students in partnership with faculty who exhibit strong teaching, research, and service contributions. Using 2015 as a baseline, we have been strategically refilling all positions and have committed to a net increase of nine new positions.
Is there a specific plan in place that details the financial commitment (faculty, support staff, services, academic and residential space) and timeline that details what will be necessary to grow the student population by up to 1,000 undergraduate students over the next five years?”
A proof-of-concept financial model was constructed using 2017-18 as the base year, with revenue and expenses projected for the next five years. A number of scenarios were generated with the goal of determining the level of enrollment needed to eliminate the College’s state operating budget’s structural deficit while also providing the means to grow academic programs and add the necessary faculty, support personnel and infrastructure. Besides enrollment, a number of underlying revenue and expense assumptions were made.
This model identified that an increase of 1,050 undergraduate students over the five-year period was needed. Although no firm enrollment plan nor time table has been adopted to reach that scenario, Administration requested the Undergraduate Admissions Office to begin the process of increasing enrollment for Spring 2018 and Fall 2018 knowing some growth is required. The final targets and associated critical decisions arising from such significant enrollment growth will depend upon several factors. Critical to the process is consultation with departments regarding existing capacity in programs and a hard look at campus needs to accommodate any growth.
CFO Joseph Rufo discussed the proof-of-concept model and its key underlying assumptions, timeline and summary results during the ESF College Board of Trustees at their February 14, 2018 meeting.
How will the goal of attaining a student body that consists of at least 40% from out of state affect the in-state student acceptance rate? Will out-of-state students receive preferential treatment?
We anticipate that there will be no effect on the in-state acceptance rate, nor will "preferential treatment" be given to out of state applicants. The objective is to increase our overall applicant pool.
"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.