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Chancellor Syverud Addresses April 13 Meeting of the University Senate
Thank you, Professor Stokes-Rees. I’ll be quick.
As you heard, Provost Ritter isn’t able to join us today. She’s actually leading the accreditation or the evaluation of another great academic institution. And that’s a very important task. She asked me to share her gratitude to all of the senators for your commitment to our university, and your generosity and engagement with her during her first year at the University.
There are now 32 days left until Commencement. And it’s 78 degrees as I speak in Syracuse. And that means that the next month is going to be very intense and very fast. And the temperature on Commencement day could be anywhere from 50 degrees colder to 20 degrees hotter—for those of you who haven’t experienced Syracuse during the last month of the semester. We began the semester by changing the academic calendar to safely respond to the omicron surge. There have been a lot of changing situations since then, but I think we are ready to power through to the end of the academic year. And I thank you for that.
We’ve welcomed two new leaders to Syracuse University since we last met. At our last meeting, there was a specific question about the women’s basketball coach search, so I’ll start there. We are pleased to welcome back our alumna, and our first female student-athlete to have her jersey retired, Felisha Legette-Jack. Coach Legette-Jack comes to us from the University at Buffalo, where she spent 10 seasons building a strong program. I look forward to the upcoming season with her at the helm and seeing you at women’s basketball games. I also want to officially welcome Craig Stone to campus. He started on April 1 and has hit the ground running in his new role as associate vice president and chief of Campus Safety and Emergency Management Services. If you haven’t had the chance yet to meet Craig, I encourage you to reach out and introduce yourself.
Now, to updates. We’ll cover a couple of other topics but first let me talk about benefits.
On the subject of faculty and staff benefits, at the last Senate meeting, I shared that the University would be working with the appropriate Senate committees and groups to engage on this issue carefully and thoughtfully before any more changes are made. In the three weeks since that meeting, I understand that Andy Gordon has given fairly lengthy and detailed answers to questions about the retirement and health benefits issues that were submitted by the University Senate Committee on Services to Faculty and Staff. There was a lot to digest and it’s fairly recently been provided. I understand that the committee was not ready to meet with the HR team last week, and will do so in the near future.
So, where we stand right now with regard to retirement benefits is, as of today, there is still more that needs to be studied and understood and discussed. And I’m not satisfied that we have the right answer yet. As I have said before, no changes will be made until I am satisfied that has happened. It is important to take steps to help employees secure a strong retirement savings. At the same time, we need to be sure we are offering competitive benefits as compared to our peers on the health benefits issues.
I understand that the changes continue to raise questions for some faculty and staff. For this reason, I will await the further information that we receive from our outside actuaries over the summer and from consultations that are going on, including with the relevant folks in the Senate before making any decisions on health care contributions.
At our first Senate meeting in the fall, I will discuss the results of our actuarial information and issues about health plan costs for the November Open Enrollment period.
Finally, as I referenced in the last Senate meeting, I would like to evaluate further changes to selection and charges for the committees that assist us in providing feedback about benefits plans. I will be looking for experts both from within the University and from externally who can better provide feedback on proposed changes and our values related to them going forward, and hope to have that in place to report on it in the September meeting as well.
As we wrap up a semester where we’ve asked for flexibility and patience—as we have for the last two years—I want to talk a little bit about the in-person experience going forward and what to expect.
COVID will be with us for a long time, as an endemic illness like the flu. It’s not going to end at a set date and for certain, we are not going to have a victory dance. It is going to subside into an endemic situation that at various times will concern us more and at other times will fade into the background. We have proven that the University can make the right decisions when the latest public health guidance, science and data are available to us. I do want to emphasize that Syracuse University is now moving forward from a pandemic to endemic public health management.
And what that means is that we have a very concrete sense that all of us have sacrificed a lot in recent years. Juniors on this campus have never known what we’d call an entirely “normal” spring semester. Our students have been patient. Our students have largely followed the many extra protocols, rules and requirements we’ve requested and required. I’d say that going forward out of respect for that, we should all plan to provide out students all the experiences every Syracuse student expects and deserves.
Over the past two years we have continually asked ourselves “can we do this?” As a university, we’ve shown that we can. Sometimes we have been able to do things that other universities haven’t and we’ve shown a lot of grit and grace. I think we should assume this will continue. We will conclude this spring semester safely and nimbly. I suspect there could be changes up and down depending on the circumstances, but I think we should all plan to have a normal fall semester in fall 2022 with all the academic and extracurricular activities that define the Orange experience.
Since Provost Ritter can’t be with us today, she asked me to give a brief update on the Academic Strategic Plan refresh. The Academic Strategic Plan Preparation Group represents almost every college and school. They have been meeting weekly to plan how to accomplish broad engagement with stakeholders across campus once the planning process kicks off. The provost has set out an aggressive timeline for completing the refresh. The goal is a process that results in a plan that is in place by the end of the Fall 2022 semester.
I’ll turn to some outstanding achievements from members of our community. Eight faculty members—so far—have been awarded prestigious CAREER grants from the National Science Foundation.
Our students are also doing very well this year competing for prestigious scholarships and fellowships. We have a record-breaking three Goldwater Scholars.
Our students have also earned other notable and competitive awards. Among them, a winner of a Hollings scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and a prestigious Beinecke Scholarship winner. We should all be proud of these accomplished members of our community.
We can also take great pride in the many people from across our campus who do things big and small that make Syracuse thrive. We will celebrate many of them next week at the One University Awards on April 22 at 4 p.m. in Hendricks Chapel. This year, in addition to recognizing the 2021 class of emeriti faculty that I hope this body will approve later in this meeting, we’ll recommend service awards for countless faculty and staff who stuck with us through thick and thin throughout the pandemic. We will formally install Bea González as the University mace bearer.
We will also recognize individuals who have made an extraordinary impact on the University and our broader community. This will include presenting the Forever Orange Award to Patricia Burak and Father Gerry Waterman. Jorge Castillo, director of the LGBTQ Resource Center, will receive the Diversity and Inclusion Award. Professor Mark Glauser will receive the Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence: Lifetime Achievement Award. I will also be presenting the Chancellor’s Medal to Jaime Alicea, the retiring superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, who has worked with the University for many years and helped that district work through COVID this past two years.
This is an opportunity for all of us to honor these and many other outstanding individuals for their contributions to our campus and our community. I hope you will make every effort to attend the ceremony in person at 4 o’clock next Friday.
I’ll turn now to our search for a new faculty athletics representative. Professor Rick Burton has served admirably as our faculty athletics representative to the NCAA since 2014. He is coming to the end of his term, and we are actively seeking nominations for the next faculty member to serve in this important capacity.
The faculty athletics representative works closely with both the provost and the athletic director, and reports to me. This individual serves as an institutional liaison to Syracuse Athletics as well as a representative of the University in ACC conference and NCAA matters. Key issues this position has focused on in the past include new and ongoing NCAA legislation, student-athlete welfare and advocating for the best interests of the University and its constituencies.
Individuals interested in applying for the position should submit a letter of interest by Friday, April 29, to email@example.com.
Next Thursday, April 21, the Community Review Board will hold its first open forum at 11 a.m. in the Melanie Gray Ceremonial Courtroom in Dineen Hall. This is the board that was created following the independent review of DPS. The entire community is invited to attend. The CRB is also inviting members of the campus community to serve on the CRB for the upcoming year. You received an email last week about the nomination process. There are six available seats—two undergraduate students, and one graduate student, staff member, faculty member and administrator. So if you are interested in the Community Review Board, you might attend that open forum or nominate those you think would be good to serve.
Finally, as I conclude on time, Professor Stokes-Rees, I strongly encourage faculty to participate in Commencement, Convocations and the Doctoral Hooding Ceremonies and related events. It has been three years since we have had an entirely normal set of graduation events, and I know it means a lot to our graduates when their teachers and mentors join the celebration.
If ever there was a year we should all turn out to acknowledge and respect what our students have accomplished, this would be that year. Please do your best to be there for our students in whatever way you appropriately can. I know you have been there for our students so amazingly these past few years, and I hope you can also help joyfully send them onward in May.
Thank you, I can take a few questions.