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Chancellor Syverud Addresses Sept. 22 Meeting of the University Senate
In his remarks to the University Senate today, Chancellor Kent Syverud discussed “Advancing Academic Excellence in a University Welcoming to All.”
Good afternoon. I will be fairly brief and if I have any extra time, I want to give it to Provost Liu, and certainly take questions with him at the end of his remarks.
We are now into our fourth full week of the semester. I know it has been a busy start to the academic year for all of us. It is good to see our campus vibrant once again with lots of activity in classrooms and outside them.
As this is our first University Senate meeting this year, I will provide a snapshot of enrollment projections, budget and advancement. I want to briefly cover the DEIA strategic plan and our strategic priority for this year.
But first I want to address the protests last night, which I for one, heard loud and clear. As you know, the University can’t comment on any situation involving an identified student, due to student privacy rules. I can tell you that Syracuse University takes instances of sexual and relationship violence very seriously—I do too. There are robust processes here for reporting and addressing incidents. And one part of that process is that it does need to start with someone reporting this to a University employee. I know that is not always easy and it asks a lot. I want to point out to everybody that the report doesn’t have to be the person who experiences the violence to start the process. It can be a witness. It can be a friend. But the report is necessary to initiate the process. Over the past summer, the Chancellor’s Task Force on Sexual and Relationship Violence worked hard with others to create a website that consolidates resources from across the University—including reporting options—in one place: sexualrelationshipviolence.syr.edu. I urge people to go to that address.
I have also asked Dean Diane Murphy, who co-chairs that task force, to partner with Allen Groves and his team in Enrollment and the Student Experience, now, to review how systems are working at both the individual and Universitywide levels. This task force has been working since 2014, and every year it has taken dozens of steps to improve communication, raise awareness, implement training and regularly review the campus climate related to sexual and relationship violence.
Ultimately, the University is bound by New York State and federal law in this area. There has been much debate over Title IX regulations in recent years. As a university, we have been a participant in that debate, and in advocacy in Washington. The current White House administration is reviewing the changes made by the previous administration. And that review is not completed. We have to follow the law. We also have to work every day to offer compassion, care and support for those who are impacted by sexual violence. All of your help with that is greatly appreciated.
Today is John Liu’s last University Senate meeting as Interim Provost. John has led the academic enterprise of the University through one of the most difficult periods in our lifetimes. At heart, John is a scientist. He seeks guidance from facts and evidence to shape his decision-making. He has been very courageous in his decision-making. He has navigated according to facts, his knowledge of the University and his unique experiences.
His team was directly responsible for significant parts of our efforts in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. That work includes the faculty diversity hiring plan, professional development and the First Year Seminar. He kept us on track with regard to online education and development of the research clusters.
As many of you have seen in SU News, after some well-deserved research leave, John will return to academic leadership as vice president for international strategy in June 2022. I just want to say how grateful I am to John for his leadership through challenging times, and to thank him profusely.
Gretchen Ritter, currently the associate provost and dean of arts and sciences at The Ohio State University, will step into the role as provost and vice chancellor. Her first day is Oct. 1. She is a distinguished scholar of political science with a track record of leadership success at the University of Texas at Austin, Cornell University and, most recently, at Ohio State. We really look forward to welcoming her. I thank the Search Committee and the Agenda Committee of the Senate for their great help in this search and the process, which achieved a great result.
Also with us today is Allen Groves, senior vice president for the student experience. Allen arrived on campus July 1, joining us from the University of Virginia, where he spent more than a decade as associate vice president and university dean of students. Cerri Banks, our new vice president for student success, is traveling on behalf of the University today, but I urge you to get to know her as well. She is a three-time Syracuse University alumna who was most recently dean of students and vice president for student affairs at Skidmore College.
I am so pleased these new leaders have decided to join us at Syracuse. I am grateful to all who have participated in the search. Allen and Cerri are already having a significant impact in improving the student experience at Syracuse.
I also want to briefly talk to the COVID situation and response. I am acutely aware that the COVID situation continues to be stressful for all sorts of people in our community and our campus. I speak with leaders at peer institutions often every day, really for the last 18 months, including today. I can tell you that we are doing very well by comparison to almost all our peers, including this semester. Our vaccination rates are very high, nearly 98% of our students are vaccinated with 2.1% being granted an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Our positive case numbers are low. We have 91 active cases today among our almost 30,000-person community: 82 students and 9 employees. Numbers have been falling steadily for the last seven days. To date, and throughout the pandemic, we still do not see evidence of a transmission in the classroom. Faculty cases currently are 1% of total cases since Aug. 31 and our contact tracing indicates that those exposures have come from activities outside of the classroom and their teaching responsibility.
Our students are, by and large, happy to be here and happy to be back to in-person learning. They are—for the most part—wearing their masks, following public health guidelines and participating in a very extensive surveillance testing program. It has produced a positive testing rate that is very favorable compared to our peer institutions.
With the virus changing often, the public health team is monitoring the public health landscape and working with local and state authorities. We continue to make decisions medically as we go along based on data and science and public health guidance. I can guarantee you these decisions are not always popular. I can guarantee that almost none of them please everyone. And I guarantee that we hear from, and listen to people frequently, in response to what we’re trying to enforce each day. But I do assure you that our decisions and actions are going to continue to prioritize the health and the well-being of students, staff, staff, neighbors and the Central New York community. Because accurate facts matter. There’s a lot of stuff in the blogosphere that occasionally is not accurate. Because accurate facts matter, particularly when public health is involved. I do urge all of us to visit the state’s website frequently. We update that regularly with the most up-to-date and accurate factual public information.
Coming Back Together and Commencement
Over the weekend, we welcomed the Class of 2020 back to campus for Commencement. We got back more than half of the class, 16 months after they graduated and more than 5,000 family members, friends and guests. I’m just so grateful. It happened, it took a team of lots of people, including lots of people on this Zoom meeting to make it happen. I want to thank all of them. I also want to thank SUNY ESF. This Commencement marked a return to the tradition of Syracuse university and ESF doing a joint commencement. And it represents a very good dynamic between two institutions right now, where the leadership and faculty at both institutions, I believe, recognizes that we’re symbiotic. And that we are better each day because of the relationship with the other one.
We also had 825 registered to return to campus for Coming Back Together last weekend. That was the reunion of our Black and Latino alumni, which had a whole range of events and contact and support for our current students. That was pretty amazing. And I’m grateful for that.
I’ll turn now to progress with our work in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. I expect to announce the search committee for the next chief diversity and inclusion officer by early October. Meanwhile, Dean Diane Murphy, Professor Shiu-Kai Chin and Cerri Banks with Student Experience are leading the charge with our DEIA strategic plan and our leadership. They are working through finalizing the plan and socializing and listening to the community. Engagement from and participation by all will make this plan a success. They are also helping to identify initiatives from the plan that are being implemented quickly, this semester. I am grateful for their efforts.
The final plan has to reflect a broad range of input, from the campus climate pulse survey to the DEIA strategic plan steering committee, to the work they are doing now. And I mentioned that because there are parts of the draft plan that call for our curriculum to change. And that being the case, we need to continue to recognize that the purview of the curriculum is the faculty in general and the University Senate in particular. So, we will focus attention, particularly to the curricular aspects of that are important for the Senate in this fall, in the coming year.
The reason I am emphasizing our collective responsibility for DEIA is directly linked to my view of the highest priority for the University this year: Advancing Academic Excellence in a University Welcoming to All. I want us to look at almost everything we do this year and all the folks who help steward it through this lens—to resource this, to enable this, to prioritize this and to measurably hold ourselves accountable for progress on this.
Advancing academic excellence, of course, will be led by our new provost and will require support from every one of us, not just in academic roles, but also fundraisers, to general counsel, human resources, our bright young people, our chancellor, this is the year to do that.
A University welcoming to all: We need to make everyone who Syracuse University serves feel, every day, that they belong here as much as anyone else. That they can learn and explore and be uncomfortable at times, but always within an institution that values them and will have their backs when they need it. This is the year to move that needle as well, based on what we have learned in the last two years.
This work is on all of us. We are looking to Gretchen and Allen and Cerri for fresh perspectives on this. We are going to substantially support their efforts, including changes they recommend. And we are going to need to respect their priorities as job one, regardless of where in the University we work. I intend to model that this year and hope you will too.
The second thing we will need to do is pull together the many initiatives and strands of planning that are going on in support of these priorities. This includes the DEIA strategic plan. It includes the last third of the Forever Orange Campaign to where we go next with the campus framework and facilities, free speech and civil discourse, digitization and technology.
Academic Excellence in a University Welcoming to All. You are going to get tired of me saying that, but that’s what’s going to be the focus for me.
Turning to a brief review of some metrics—I’ll start with the enrollment forecast—the final census date for fall 21 is tomorrow so these are not final numbers.
Our first-year headcount projection of 3,760 is above our goal of 3,650 by 110 students. This is the result of a 24% increase in applications (+7%/1,488 over last year) and melt of admitted students that is much lower than expected.
Our law and Ph.D. enrollment is quite strong. Our master’s enrollment is below goal in some of the schools and colleges. Overall fall 2021 total enrollment is up about 400 students and close to the peak enrollment in fall 2019.
Undergraduate students of color are projected to comprise 31% of the enrolling class this year. Students of color made up 30% of the fall 2020 first-year class. And those numbers do not include international students.
Budget and Endowment
Turning to the budget, we ended FY21 on June 30 with a $15 million planned deficit. This is about 1% of our operating budget, which is quite manageable. due to increased costs and decreased revenue associated with COVID. We largely avoided the layoffs and benefits cuts we saw at many of our peers. We are planning for a balanced budget in this fiscal year. This includes $307 million in student aid, a 7% increase over the previous fiscal year, way above the current rate of increase in tuition.
The value of the total endowment as of the end of the fiscal year was more than $1.8 billion. It has grown very substantially in the last three years. This growth has enabled us to increase the total dollars paid out to schools and colleges while maintaining a responsible payout rate.
In fundraising, we ended FY21 with $137.6 million in new business and $106.7 million in cash across the threshold at the University. This is the largest amount of cash received in any year in our history.
As of Aug. 31, the Forever Orange Campaign has raised a total of $1.031 billion in new business toward the goal of $1.5 billion. And that means very soon, we will surpass the total raised in the last campaign of $1.044 billion, under current careful counting standards and regular audits of the campaign.
Our goal for this fiscal year is to raise $160 million, or $440,000 a day, every day this year and all year. And that means that I am back for traveling a lot and asking for a lot this year—with the mantra Advancing Academic Excellence in a University Welcoming to all.
That concludes my remarks. I wish you a safe and productive semester.