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Chancellor Syverud Updates the University Senate on Spring Planning, Searches and Diversity Efforts
In his remarks to the University Senate, Chancellor Kent Syverud provided updates on spring planning, the search for a leader for the Division of Enrollment and the Student Experience, progress on the provost search and the external review of the Department of Public Safety and the Campus Climate survey.
Thank you, Professor Haddix—Marcelle. It’s the last day of the fall semester and a pretty exhausting fall semester. Good afternoon. I know that many of you are in the midst of exams, grading finals and calculating grades. If you didn’t see it live, the Holidays at Hendricks virtual broadcast on Sunday evening was a wonderful lead-in to the holiday season. It’s a testament to what everybody did—across the University—to find a way to make this semester work. I know it’s symbolic of so many other events and performances and competitions and lectures and classes that people did, but thousands of people did watch it live. It really shows how well our faculty, the folks in Hendricks Chapel and the Setnor School of Music and the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and all of our wonderful faculty and student performers did, including Peppie Calvar. So I urge you to watch it. It’s representative of what we’ve all been able to do this semester in tough circumstances.
Today I am going to update you on spring planning, leadership searches and progress on diversity, inclusion, equity and accessibility.
As I noted last month, we have activated several of the Fall 2020 Open working groups in our spring 2021 planning. They are:
- Public Health and Emergency Management
- Student Experience and Engagement
- Academic Strategy
- Infrastructure and Residence Life
- International Students
- Disability Related Considerations
On Friday, these groups provided reports with recommendations for the spring semester based on current public health conditions. And the team is working through their recommendations as part of our overall plan for the spring.
Our goal remains to begin the spring semester on Jan. 25. But—as everyone on this call has to know—conditions in the country are very fluid and we have to be ready to change course depending on conditions at that time. As we have done from the beginning we will be ready to change course and all of our decisions will be led by guidance from our public health officials and elected leaders and our public health faculty. We will always prioritize the safety and health of our University and Central New York communities.
I can’t emphasize enough that the situation continues to change rapidly. Over the weekend, Onondaga County set a record for the highest daily number of cases since the pandemic began. Obviously we are seeing that in other places in the country. We have taken additional action to support the county’s ongoing efforts to combat the resurgence of the virus. This includes encouraging faculty and staff who can do their work remotely to do so. And we continue to offer COVID-19 testing to all faculty, staff and those students who are remaining on campus through Winter Break through our own testing center.
I think we all know but I think it is worth me saying again, I think we did reasonably well compared to our peers in the fall. We have a great team. I think the spring will present different circumstances and different conditions than what we saw in the fall. And therefore, it’s going to call for careful decision-making in different spots. The surge of cases we are experiencing in the community is one factor. Winter and weather limits our ability to hold academic and co-curricular activities outdoors. Fortunately, we will have access to the renovated Stadium and the Schine Student Center. The renovations of this facility are nearing completion, just in time for the start of the spring semester. Utilizing these spaces will allow for moderately sized academic, co-curricular and extra-curricular events and gatherings that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do outside.
We know that early intervention is key for preventing spread. That is why our testing program is so important. It was, in many ways, our advantage in the fall, thanks to a lot of people working hard and a great partnership with Upstate Medical University. We are planning for enhanced testing capabilities in the spring. We have conducted more than 116,000 tests so far. We’ll continue to work with Upstate, and we’ll expand our own laboratory capacity. For spring, we do expect that we’re going to have to more than double our capacity to do this right.
During the fall semester, we learned a lot about our students. The vast majority followed public health safety protocols in a way that some did not expect. I am very proud of what they achieved. But I am a bit concerned that we do need to evolve and learn from the fall to the spring. Right now, the Student Experience team is reviewing and updating the Stay Safe Pledge for the spring semester and making changes. And there will be updates in expectations and requirements for student conduct. Students will be held accountable to meet the expectations of the revised pledge.
We had hoped international travel would have resumed by now. Sadly, it has not. That is why we made the difficult decision to close our Syracuse Abroad centers for spring, with the exception of limited cohort of architecture students will study abroad in Florence, as this is a critical part of their academic trajectory. We believe that we’ve figured out a way to do that safely. We are cautiously optimistic we will be able to offer our full slate of Syracuse Abroad programs in fall 2021.
The search for the next senior vice president for Enrollment and the Student Experience continues. Cole Smith and Candace Campbell Jackson are leading the search. The position description was posted last week and the response so far has been very positive. The search committee expects to review candidates in late January and conduct first round interviews in February. We are on track to announce an appointment in the early spring there.
As I promised, I didn’t even start thinking about the provost search process until after Thanksgiving, but I have now done that. We have begun the preliminary steps to search for the next provost and chief academic officer. I met with the University Senate Agenda Committee last week to discuss the search. The co-chairs of the Senate Committee on Academic Affairs provided an update and shared feedback they have begun to solicit from faculty. That meeting was short. I only got 20 minutes, so we need more time there. They provided feedback from faculty and that was quite helpful, including from what we didn’t get in the last search. I have also talked to the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees. I need at this point to consult further with stakeholders, including the individual deans. There are also a lot of units that report to the provost, including things like the press, for example. So I’ll be doing that consultation before Christmas. Then, coming back, we’ll be working with the Agenda Committee and Academic Affairs Committee of the Senate to put the committee in place. In doing that we’ll follow the governance provided in the Senate Bylaws to name the slate of potential members of the search committee, and then the slate is finalized and sent to the full Senate membership for ratification, which I think is likely in the January meeting. I do believe with learning from the experience last time and the recommendations already received, we’ll be positioned to appoint the new provost in late spring with the expectation that the new hire will to be on campus in the summer.
It’s a great time for people to connect with Marcelle, Christine Ashby and Matthew Huber to provide your input. As you do so, I ask you to consider that the successful candidate for provost will need to lead a process to revise and update the Academic Strategic Plan, which is now five years old. Many parts of the plan have been implemented, and other things have changed a lot since that plan was adopted. And certainly higher education and the world situation has changed a lot. I have also shared with the Board of Trustees that provost candidates are attracted by how closely their academic ambitions match those of the institution. So it’s really important that the search committee, which includes faculty, students, deans and trustees, be a very strong one, with high expectations of themselves in their work and on behalf of the university.
So I’m just asking people to pay attention to this process.
Diversity, Inclusion and Equity
In the last meeting, I was asked about Loretta Lynch’s review of the Department of Public Safety and the Climate Survey undertaken by the Board of Trustees Special Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and University Climate. They are rapidly nearing their conclusion.
In February, we anticipate that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her team will have completed their review. Their report will follow shortly thereafter and they will also be sharing their final recommendations for the Public Safety Community Review Board.
Also in February, we expect to receive the findings of the Campus Climate survey conducted by Dr. Damon Williams and his team. In addition to the survey results, his team will provide tangible actions the University should take given the climate study findings. So a lot of reporting, no doubt, that the Senate will want to discuss in February.
That’s my report. Thanks, everybody, for your grit and grace this semester. I am proud of what you’re able to do. I am very, very aware of what it took and what it took out of you. So many people have worked very hard under difficult circumstances, and I am very grateful to all of them.
That concludes my remarks. I’ll take questions after the interim provost’s remarks.