Dear Faculty and Staff: As we prepare for the start of the spring semester, I am writing today to remind you of the University’s vaccine requirements and how we are supporting our employees in achieving a healthy and safe environment…
Chancellor Syverud Discusses Spring Semester 2022 and Progress Toward Strategic Goals
In his remarks to the University Senate today, Chancellor Kent Syverud discussed spring 2022 planning, academic year goals and leadership searches.
The full text of his remarks is below.
Good afternoon. Forty-eight hours until the end of the fall semester 2021. I know it has been a long academic experience, like all of 2021. I know that many of you will still be grading or finishing final exams or projects for a while yet, but I sure hope that you are able to spend some time with loved ones and some rest.
I am extremely proud of and grateful for how well you have all navigated the semester. It required commitment from faculty, staff and students. I really think everyone has done their part to keep our campus safe and to help students continue to make progress toward their degrees. Our students have by and large very responsibly followed the COVID guidelines, and we brought back, with help from all of you, the vibrant campus life that is so important here.
We have had about 15,000 undergraduate students, 6,000 graduate and professional students on campus throughout this semester and more than 500 students studying abroad and are shortly on their way home safely. Applications for new students for 2022 are doing very well by all accounts. It is a hopeful sign for the coming year. And we will be welcoming a very strong new group of students to the University for the spring semester in January.
Our current plan is to open for the spring semester on Jan. 15 on schedule. Implicit in that plan is the hope that if there’s another wave of the virus, which I suspect there is, it will be waning by mid-January. All I can say is the team and I are spending a significant part of every day watching the situation and preparing for the various scenarios we might face.
This afternoon, I will provide an overview of our spring 2022 planning, a review of our academic year goals, and an update on a few key leadership searches.
Last week, we announced all eligible students, faculty and staff are required to receive a booster shot prior to the start of the spring semester, and those not yet eligible are required to do so as soon as they are eligible to do so. Once again, exceptions will be made only for those with medical or religious exemptions. This is due in part to the federal requirement that employees of all contractors be vaccinated. As far as our New York City employees, there are new requirements going in place in New York City on Dec. 27.
There are judicial challenges to the federal vaccine mandate for federal contractors, which we are. Some universities, a significant number, are backing off their vaccine requirements. At this point, the legal challenge does not affect the determination by Syracuse University on vaccination and boosters. We are proceeding. It is risky to hold off on planning for boosters until the courts provide clarity. We as a private university are proceeding with our expectation that our booster requirements will be in place for the spring semester.
We have the logistical pieces in place for faculty, staff and students to submit evidence of vaccination. All faculty and staff have received instructions on how to provide documentation through MySlice. The Barnes Center has contacted all students with guidance for uploading their documentation. While it may be a lift to make this happen, our public health team believes this is the right thing to do. And, I do too. We intend to continue to trust the science and follow the advice of our campus public health experts and those at the county and state level on this issue.
We are watching developments with the omicron variant and with another wave of the virus very closely. Monday, Onondaga County announced the identification of the first omicron case locally. We are seeing an increase in the local cases in our community. We can assume more will follow and a significant number of them will be omicron variant.
All semester, our case numbers have remained low. For the last 11 weeks, we have had a positivity rate of less than 1 percent, and we’ve been doing a lot of testing. However, there has been an uptick recently. With the emergence of omicron, we’re just going to have to watch this day by day because we have seen at a campus not far from us that the situation can change very quickly. Cornell announced yesterday that they were moving all finals online and closing down all in-person activities due to cases more than doubling since the end of last week. They had just under 1,000 student cases as of yesterday. We’re less than one-tenth of that. We aren’t there yet. I do think we’ll go up in the next reporting later today. I think we’ll be over 100 but not much over. Again, studying Cornell, what we’re seeing is things can increase very rapidly. We’re going to have to be very careful in our planning day by day, including for the remaining events we have planned at the University over the weekend and next week. We’ll be communicating about this as we go along as we have been. We’re ready to pivot if we have to. That said, it looks like we’re going to make it to the end of the semester in 48 hours intact.
That’s taken a lot from everybody, and I just want to acknowledge that and thank everyone in this meeting for your contribution.
In terms of progress toward goals for 2021-2022 and the overarching goal of advancing academic excellence in a University welcoming to all, I have six things to highlight since we last met.
In terms of the student experience, Orange Success has launched a mentoring program that will connect first-generation new and transfer undergraduate students, including those starting in January, with sophomore and junior mentors at Syracuse University.
Second, Academic Affairs, and we’ll hear more on this from Provost Ritter in a moment, has initiated the review of our cluster hire program and our research operations have commenced. Thank you to all of you who are involved in this effort. These reviews will be critical to the refresh of the Academic Strategic Plan.
There are lots of key faculty searches in progress. I think that’s great news. I hope everyone involved will help keep these moving forward with dispatch so that we are competitive in our hiring this year. That we hire early, not late.
In the area of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, we are looking forward to the preliminary feedback from the recent campuswide survey of the draft strategic plan. I know that there has been substantive input from Senate committees. Thank you for the time and thought you have brought to that process.
In advancement, and in order to meet our annual and Forever Orange fundraising goals, staff have resumed travel and in-person activities this summer. Fundraising this fall has been very strong. I’ll be reporting more on that after the close of the calendar year on Dec. 31.
This is a good time to acknowledge that while many of us appreciate Orange Appreciation days, there are many who continue to work full tilt through Orange Appreciation Days. That includes not just advancement staff but also facilities staff and the student support staff for the students who are not able to return home. I thank all of them.
And lastly, in area of the Campus Framework, design planning is in progress for the new Allyn Innovation Center and renovation of Link Hall and for Phase 1 of the Athletics Framework.
I want to say a little more about the Campus Framework, which was a fairly massive campuswide effort that Sasaki and Associates advised on almost five years ago. The framework did a great job informing our decisions in design and building on our campus over the last five years, but it is probably time to refresh it because the world has changed. In addition to issues brought to light by COVID, we have been working on a strategic approach for housing and for academic space. In the coming semester we’ll be collaborating across campus with a refresh to the Campus Framework.
Those are just a few examples of the progress we have made to date.
Turning to key leadership searches. The search for vice president for diversity and inclusion is moving along as scheduled. The search committee, co-chaired by Cerri Banks and Brian Konkol, has met several times. The committee participated in an implicit bias training session to ensure the search process is inclusive. The position description has been widely circulated. We’re building a very strong pool of candidates. First round interviews are expected to be held in early February.
Next, the search is in full swing for the associate vice president and chief of campus safety and emergency management services, which Allen Groves chairs. The search committee has vetted a list of approximately 10 semi-finalists. Virtual interviews were conducted last week. The search committee is recommending moving forward with three finalists with in-person interviews scheduled for January. Our plan is to have the position filled as soon as possible and no later than the end of spring semester.
As you all know, after more than 40 years in law enforcement, Bobby Maldonado will retire later this month.
Last week, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees recognized Bobby Maldonado for his leadership in helping the department earn accreditation from the gold standard of law enforcement accreditation agencies. It cited his work strengthening training programs and community policing. And it praised his hiring of staff from underrepresented communities, resulting in 43% of the Department of Public Safety’s current team identifying as people of color. We are grateful to Bobby for his work here at Syracuse, and we wish Bobby the very best!
Early in spring 2022, we will launch the search for a new chief financial officer for Syracuse University. In the meantime, I thank Gwenn Judge for her excellent service as interim senior vice president and chief financial officer through all of the coming semester. I will be conferring with leadership after the next 48 hours.
This semester and the last 48 hours are just like the rest of the semester. Every day there are new developments, and we have to adjust. I have one request to you all before I conclude. The deadline for nominations for the Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence has been extended to Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. Full guidelines are available on the Chancellor’s Citation webpage on the Academic Affairs website. I would be grateful if you would nominate your colleagues who you feel deserve Universitywide recognition. Faculty can be nominated for faculty excellence and scholarly distinction. Faculty and staff can receive the award for contributions to the student experience and University initiatives. Students can receive the award for excellence in graduate and undergraduate work and research. Finally, anyone can be nominated in the lifetime achievement category.
As you know, we’ve had a lot of retirements that we’ve had during COVID or are coming up, so please think about who particularly toward the end of their careers we should be recognizing with a lifetime achievement award at the University level. I don’t think I and others say thank you enough for extraordinary work.
I want to end with a few words of gratitude. Thank you for rising to the occasion all the past year. Thank you for giving your all to a very tough year at Syracuse University. I hope you unplug and unwind, enjoy time with loved ones, and have happy holidays!