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Fall 2008 Faculty-Staff Assembly Address

President James Muyskens
State of the College Address
October 16, 2008

I would like to talk briefly today about where we are and where we are heading.

But first, I want to say how impressed I am with our new faculty. They have an extraordinary range of interests, from autism to Arabic literature to Andy Warhol, and that’s just the A’s. They are also involved in countless fascinating projects. For instance, one of them is making a documentary about a blind choir from Alabama, and another is examining that unpredictable place that is on everyone’s minds these days: Wall Street.

To all our new faculty, I can say without hesitation that Queens College is a fine place to work. And part of what makes it such a fine place is that we ask so much of you. As you have discovered, our standards for teaching are exceptionally high, and simultaneously we have high expectations for your scholarship. However, if you see how teaching and scholarship support each other, you will find that there is no more satisfying profession.

You are also becoming part of an exciting and rather adventurous faculty who are making their presence known all over the planet. To cite just a few examples: Rikki Asher recently was working on art projects with young girls at a special school in India. Stephane Boissinot took students to Africa to help him track the wanderings of the baboon population.

Susan Einhorn and Clare Carroll led a group of undergraduates to Ireland last summer to give them a greater feel for Irish theatre, and the outcome of that trip can be seen starting tonight with the first performance of The Playboy of the Western World, which I urge all of you to see this weekend or next. And Stephen Pekar has headed back to Antarctica with some of our student researchers.

I am also very happy that our faculty and staff were able to secure a new contract before the market meltdown. That contract certainly does not give you as much as you deserve, but I shudder to think what it might have been if you had to negotiate in the current environment.

The most important thing I want to talk about today is Momentum. It may sound as if I am daring the gods to strike me down by saying this, but I believe Queens College has great momentum. And I believe that this momentum will set us apart from other colleges in the years to come.

How did we gain this momentum?

Very briefly, working together over the past few years, we gained momentum:

By taking care of the college’s debt.

By hiring so many fine new teachers and scholars—almost half of our current faculty was hired in the last six years.

By reversing the trend of falling enrollment and increasing our student retention rate. Enrollment is up once again this fall, thanks to the efforts of our Provost and Vinny Angrisani and his dedicated staff.

We gained momentum: By approving a new undergraduate curriculum that will be in place in fall 2009, and my deepest thanks go to the Academic Senate and all our departments for their efforts in making this new curriculum a reality.

We gained momentum by completing a $100 million fund-raising campaign.

By putting together a strategic plan that outlines clearly what we want Queens College to be in the future.

By introducing majors in such in-demand areas as graphic design, business administration, and neuroscience.

By increasing the amount of our external awards to $17.5 million, a jump of almost 40% over 2007.

Much of this increase is due to our faculty being more aggressive in applying for grants.

We gained momentum by becoming a vanguard college for CUNY First, which means we will be the first to benefit from all the time- and money-saving initiatives this program will introduce as we bring our business processes into the 21st century.

And we also gained momentum by starting new green initiatives, which have been ably spearheaded by Kathy Cobb and her people. We have recycled over 130,000 pounds of metal since September 2007 and over 64 tons of paper, cardboard, cans, and bottles since February. This is not only good news for the environment but also good news for the college, as it has put another $10,000 into our coffers.

And we did so much more, and we somehow did it just before the recent financial downturn. Was that just dumb luck? Well, on the subject of luck I stand with Thomas Jefferson, who said he found that the harder he worked, the more luck he seemed to have. We have all worked tremendously hard and have earned the right to a little luck.

Our accomplishing so much before this crisis made me think of the Superman comics I used to read when I was growing up on the vast prairie of the Midwest.
Once or twice a year there would be a brief reference in the comic explaining how Superman came to earth, which would usually include a picture of baby Superman in a spaceship, landing on the prairie, escaping from Krypton just as that planet explodes. And that’s how I feel.

I am so grateful that we had this momentum before the crisis—such as hiring so many faculty before the hiring pause—to put some distance between disaster and ourselves.

But make no mistake about it: there is plenty of danger and adventure ahead of us, there will be kryptonite everywhere before we make a soft landing in a better economy. The college and the university have already suffered several significant budget cuts this year as a result of the state’s financial difficulties, close to $70 million. And Governor Patterson will be bringing legislators back in session on November 18—when our representatives will not have to worry about being re-elected—and is likely to ask for additional cuts then.

We are not unique in our suffering. Public colleges and universities in Massachusetts are bracing for a cut of over five and a half percent, and their counterparts in Virginia may lose seven percent of their state funding. The governor of Nevada is proposing a 14 percent cut in state funding for next year. Everyone is going to feel the pain from this downturn. But please be assured that in this difficult time we will do all we can to keep our momentum going, and any necessary cuts will be made in the most careful and thoughtful way possible.

Just because times are hard it does not mean we must put our dreams on hold.
Why should we? After all, surviving hard times is in this college’s DNA.
We opened our doors in the middle of the great depression and graduated our first students just months before Pearl Harbor. If anything, now is the time to dream harder and work harder. A college that has to wait for money to be great is a second-rate college, and we will never be a second-rate college.

Fortunately there are several events on the horizon that should increase our momentum. I will mention just two of these.

The addition to Remsen Hall will provide state-of-the-art laboratories for thousands of our undergraduates each year. Several new research laboratories will also be available to support the CUNY initiative on doctoral education in the sciences and increase our competitiveness in attracting research grants. Our new chemistry labs are scheduled to open in the fall of 2009.

I also believe that the building of our first residence hall, which will open next August, will add considerably to our momentum. Think about it: with a residence hall, we are basically inviting people to our home, so we must find ways to make sure they have everything they need and want during their stay here.

We will be taking a hard look at the services we offer our students and how to improve them, be it food, extracurricular activities, security, or someone to talk to about personal and academic problems. And what we do for these residential students will spill over and benefit all of our students. I believe it will change the culture of the college, make us a richer, deeper, more thoughtful college.

To conclude, ever since Homecoming several weeks ago I have been thinking about our current students and our past students, wondering about what connects them.


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