More than 700 first-year international students and members of the University community recently came together to celebrate the University’s 39th Annual International Thanksgiving Celebration. A beloved University tradition, it is believed to be the only celebration of its kind on…
Chancellor Provides Updates on Campus Since May at University Senate
I’d like to begin by recognizing the loss of three members of our community over the last two months. Dr. Cerri Banks, vice president in the Division of Student Experience, was a three-time alumna of the School of Education. She was a believer in the University and in the power of education to transform lives. Her advocacy for our students had a really big impact particularly over this last year. We also lost Megan Bruno, a faculty affairs specialist in the Office of Academic Affairs. And less than two weeks ago, Yuyi Zhan, a junior economics major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, passed away. He was from Chengdu, China. Please join me in a moment of silence and reflection.
We are in the fourth week of the fall semester and off to a strong start. For the first time in several years, it feels almost like the start of a typical year.
Our campus is in great shape thanks to our facilities team that worked all summer to make a number of improvements. The first of several transformative research laboratory renovations are underway at both Link Hall and the Center for Science and Technology. Maybe the most noticeable change is our new gateway to campus on Waverly Avenue between Schine and Newhouse. The entry features a new sign and enhances accessibility by replacing stairs with wheelchair-friendly walkways. Accessibility updates also were completed to the Link Hall Allyn Innovation Center entrances.
The University is also in the final stages of completing the Onondaga Nation Memorial on Shaw Quadrangle. The commissioned artwork of native artist Brandon Lazore was installed this summer. I hope you will join us later this semester at the dedication ceremony. We’ll get the details of that out to you as soon as it is available.
In May after the last meeting of the Senate, we entered into a new naming partnership at the Dome with JMA Wireless, a local 5G technology company with international reach. The new JMA Wireless global headquarters and its expanding manufacturing facility are just down the Hill from the Dome. And, it is helping to revitalize downtown Syracuse. As part of the agreement, JMA will upgrade the stadium with the latest 5G technology. When complete, the JMA Wireless Dome will be the most networked stadium on a U.S. college campus. I think this partnership will transform the experience in the stadium. The improvements will help draw more high-profile events to campus, such as the recent Elton John concert, which just concluded.
This summer the University made changes to realign public safety and Title IX operations The realignment was based on very extensive feedback from students, faculty and staff. Today, both the Department of Public Safety and the new Student Title IX team now report to the Division of Student Experience. The new Faculty/Staff Title IX team will continue to report to Human Resources. The goal of this is to tailor our prevention and response strategies and to better support and advocate on behalf of our students, faculty and staff.
There have been some new leaders since Commencement. We welcomed in June Mary Grace Almandrez, who started as the new vice president for diversity and inclusion. Her enthusiasm and approach have proven to be a great fit for Syracuse already.
She is overseeing and helping facilitate the implementation of the five-year strategic diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility plan. If you haven’t had the opportunity to get to know her, you will learn later in this meeting she is an extraordinary and great addition to Syracuse.
Brett Padgett is our new senior vice president and chief financial officer. He also started on Sept. 1. He comes from the University of Chicago, where he most recently served as interim vice president and chief financial officer. Brett has more than two decades of experience in financial administration and a Navy veteran.
Professor Mary Graham has been selected as the University’s new faculty athletic representative. For a decade, she has served as professor of sport management in Falk College and as affiliated faculty member in Whitman. Many of you know her from her work with the Senate. In this new role, she will serve as an advisor to me and the provost on the student-athlete experience and as a liaison between academics and athletics, including to the NCAA and to the ACC. Mary succeeds Rick Burton, who served in this role since 2014. My thanks to Rick for his many years of service and thoughtful guidance through a time of great change in athletics.
I want to update the Senate on benefits issues because these matters were much discussed in the Senate last year. A lot has changed both at the University and in the world since we last discussed these issues.
First, as to retirement benefits. As some of you will recall, after listening to concerns in the Senate, I suspended the implementation of changes to our retirement benefits that would have required newly hired employees to choose to contribute some of their own compensation in order to qualify for a University 10% match. Senators expressed many concerns, including how this change would in fact play out for our lowest compensated new staff members.
Over the summer I decided to suspend indefinitely this change to our retirement benefits. The data I have now reviewed does not convince me that the proposed change will not have adverse effects on the retirement savings of our lowest paid employees. And we are in a time of staffing shortages where I believe the highest priority should be recruiting and retaining new staff.
The other benefits issue was health insurance contributions, which is particularly salient now because open enrollment is coming up on us beginning at the end of October. We at SU have very good health benefits, including compared to almost all our private university peers. They are so good that we faced a problem in that other employers in Syracuse, and particularly new private employers, have strong incentives to have two employee couples insured by SU rather than by them. We were in a gradual process of adjusting our family contributions to lessen this incentive, which in turn caused contributions to rise for family coverage. That was the issue we discussed last year. It is still an issue of concern to me and still an issue of concern to the Provost.
But again, a lot has changed in the last year. In particular, for the last five years we have been able to keep increases to individual employee contributions for health insurance very low—indeed, at zero for three of the last five years. This year, we are seeing rapid inflation in health care costs, like almost every other cost. If we were to apply our traditional process and algorithm, that would call for very substantial increases in health insurance contributions across the board this year.
We are still working on what to do about this. All I can report today is what I am carefully considering in this area. First, I am considering, in this unique time of staff hardships and staff shortages, having the University absorb a substantial share of the increased costs that our algorithm would otherwise assign to each employee. Second, I believe it is time to expand our schedule B eligibility. Schedule B is the lower cost schedule for health insurance for our lowest paid employees. I believe the income threshold for schedule B probably needs to be raised.
We will need to make these decisions in the next few weeks, and we will be reaching out to some of you for counsel in that time frame. Those interested in providing that counsel, I would like to hear from soon.
Next, I’d like to provide a brief update on our key metrics for the fiscal year end close. The fiscal year of the University closes on June 30. Syracuse University is in better shape than most of our peer institutions coming out of the pandemic. Fiscal year 2022 was one of our strongest fundraising years in school history. We exceeded our cash flow goal by more than 150%. The Forever Orange Campaign just passed the $1.2 billion toward its $1.5 billion goal.
For the budget, we ended FY22 with a small surplus after two years of small deficits during COVID. Our endowment is down just slightly despite the turbulent market. That compares favorably with most of our peers.
Turning to enrollment, we have one of the largest entering first-year undergraduate classes ever. The fall census numbers will be finalized tomorrow but we are at approximately 4,100 new first-year students, about 400 over our goal. We had record applications. Although we admitted fewer students, we had a record number of students who accepted. We had lower summer melt than our modeling predicted, meaning more of the people we got deposits from really intended to come here. We were a first choice school.
The ultimate result is that Syracuse University was the first choice for a lot of students—more than we expected. That’s a great thing, but 400 more students that we expected is a challenge. And it is a challenge for lots of teams across the University.
I want to recognize the really heroic work of our deans, our academic affairs team, our leaders in student experience, in housing and facilities to get additional courses scheduled and staffed and to get housing identified so that all entering student will have the quality first-year experience we expect.
The team decided the top priority was keeping our first-year students together and on main campus. To do that DellPlain was converted to an all first-year residence hall. That meant moving 200 sophomores elsewhere who had previously selected rooms in DellPlain in the lottery, and that was upsetting to them. They were given four housing options, including the Sheraton, the newly purchased Marley Building—which has a floor of residence in it, a former sorority house on Walnut Street and University Village Apartments. Ninety percent of the sophomores got their first-choice alternatives. While they were not all happy with this change, I think the teams did their best to provide what our first-year students should reasonably expect, while accommodating our returning students. I’m grateful to everyone who helped with this effort.
My final report before I turn it over to the Provost and then take questions is on the Senate resolution last spring to revoke the honorary degree of Rudy Giuliani, which was awarded in 1989. Like all degrees, only the full Board of Trustees has the power to approve or revoke honorary degrees. I brought the resolutions from the University Senate as well as the Student Association and the Graduate Student Organization to the full Board of Trustees in the May meeting. The board discussed the issue and charged me with recommending a standard and process for revoking an honorary degree.
Over the summer, I worked with our legal counsel, our audit, our archives and others to research Syracuse University’s history and the processes in place at peer institutions. With the help of Gabe Coleman and Abby Perer here today, I drafted a very substantial report regarding honorary degree revocation, which I provided to the Executive Committee and was discussed last Friday.
To summarize quickly what the report shows, it shows that in our 152-year history, only two degrees had been revoked—both earned degrees. One was a Ph.D. revoked for plagiarism in a doctoral dissertation. The other was an undergraduate degree revoked based on fraud in an application. We did not find any evidence of an honorary degree being revoked.
The report I submitted recommends a process to revoke honorary degrees that largely follows the same process used to award a degree. The Board requested I share this report with the University Senate, Student Association and Graduate Student Organization for comment. It has today been issued publicly to those groups, I ask that comments be provided by the Oct. 26, 2022, Senate meeting, including at that meeting. The report and all comments will be referred to the full Board and discussed at the November Board meeting, which is on Nov. 4. The Senate also may need to amend some of the bylaws in order to implement it.
Once the process and standard are in place for revocation of an honorary degree, that process and standard would be applied to the Rudy Giuliani case. I think it is important that we look at this process as a whole and be careful, but I think there’s a way forward provided in the report. There are also some issues embedded here that are covered in the report that I think people will want to discuss. And I’d like the benefit of that discussion to go to the full board on Nov. 4. I encourage you to read that and make comments either directly to me or through the Senate processes, including at the Senate meeting on Oct. 26. I suspect that the Student Association and the Graduate Student Organization may also want to review and comment.
Those are my updates. It is good to see you all back. Thanks for getting us to this point.