Spring 2013

April 4, 2013

Stated Meeting of the Faculty Address by President Karen L. Gould


I am pleased to share with you a spring update on the state of the college.

Today, I will address issues of critical importance to our campus, provide some updates, and highlight recent accomplishments of our faculty.

BDS Event

First, I want to make a few comments on our recent campus controversy.  At the beginning of spring semester, our college became the focus of local, national and even international attention due to an event on Feb. 7, which was hosted by one of our student clubs and co-sponsored by the Political Science Department. There has been ample discussion about the issues this event raised, and I have made my position clear on numerous occasions. However, I would like to take a few minutes to reiterate some key points.

I have always been a steadfast defender of academic freedom, and I have acted in this and other instances with that principle as my guide. In one of my statements on the matter, I quoted the wisdom of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Nearly a century ago, he remarked that when one finds another's speech offensive, "...the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence." At Brooklyn College, we will not stifle debate or shut down dialogue, even if some of the viewpoints expressed may be offensive. At the same time, we must work together to ensure that on our campus more and more speech continues to occur so that our students can broaden their knowledge, expand their thinking, encounter diverse and competing viewpoints, and bring their own analysis and values to bear on a wide range of topics. These were the principles we sought to preserve by allowing the event of Feb. 7 and departmental co-sponsorship to take place, despite enormous pressure to do otherwise.

The event is now behind us, and the principles of academic freedom were upheld by allowing the event to occur. Afterwards, however, there were reports that four students, who were asked to leave the event, were not treated fairly, and may have been escorted from the event without just cause. I was deeply troubled by this allegation and therefore asked the Chancellor's Office to conduct an impartial inquiry. That review is nearing completion, and I expect a full report shortly. If it is determined that these students were improperly denied the opportunity to listen and debate, I will be the first to issue a swift and sincere apology, as will members of my cabinet. I have also convened a subcommittee of Policy Council, composed of students, faculty and staff, to review the concerns raised by the students' removal, along with other issues, and make recommendations to Policy Council. While there will always be passionate and diverse views on the more contentious social and political issues of our time, it is essential that we work and learn together in an honest and respectful manner.

FY14 Budget

I want to turn now briefly to the budgetary outlook for the college. The New York State budget for FY14 was officially adopted last week. It appears that Brooklyn College will receive level funding for the coming year. Level funding from the state for next year reflects our governor's continuing commitment to the higher education compact with CUNY and SUNY — a compact that many other states around the country have been unwilling to extend to their public institutions.

One new budget initiative in next year's CUNY budget deserves mention. A $55 million annual allocation to CUNY over the next five years is targeted for "CUNY 2020," which parallels an existing investment program for SUNY. CUNY 2020 will award competitive grants for projects across the university that connect economic development and academic excellence in the region.

The New York State capital budget for higher education next year is more restrained and disappointing for new projects. Construction projects across CUNY for which funding was already approved in prior years will move forward as planned; but significant funding for new projects has not been made available for either CUNY or SUNY. We will continue nonetheless to work on plans for the new Roosevelt Science Teaching Commons, but no additional funds will be available next year. Over the past three years, we have garnered very strong support from elected officials on both sides of the aisle and from the chancellery for this new facility. We will therefore continue to lobby hard to fund the full cost of construction so that we are "shovel ready" when the state releases major capital funding for CUNY.

Like many state universities across the country, a growing percentage of our expenses are supported by tuition dollars. As a result, our financial health is increasingly linked to the stability and growth of our enrollment.

On the positive side, this year we have met or exceeded our targets for undergraduate enrollment, and the academic quality of our incoming students remains strong.  However, demographics across Brooklyn and New York City point to increasing competition for high school graduates who are college-bound and, at the same time, shrinkage in the traditional college-age population. We will need to cast a wider net to attract qualified students and ensure that we mentor them well when they come.

With respect to graduate enrollment, colleges and universities around the country are struggling to maintain graduate student enrollment, as demographics, career training and professional expectations shift in response to a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive job market. Our college has not been isolated from these trends, and our graduate enrollment has slipped over the past several years in a number of areas. It is important that our faculty and deans assess graduate program quality, along with societal needs and realistic employment opportunities. We should also continue to pursue curricular innovation and new graduate program development in order to ensure that we have a vibrant mix of graduate and professional programs going forward.

Accomplishments and the Road Ahead

As I near the end of my fourth year as president, I have been reflecting on our many shared accomplishments, our strong reputation and the course we are collectively charting for the college. There is much to celebrate and much more to accomplish. Guided by the goals outlined in our strategic plan and the college facilities master plan, and guided as well by the commitment to excellence of our faculty and staff, we are making progress on many fronts. I want to review with you several key areas that will remain significant over the next five years.

#1: Retention and Graduation

One of my first acts as president was to ask the provost to convene a Presidential Task Force on Retention and Graduation Success, which worked diligently and delivered its report three years ago this spring. 

Since that time, the divisions of academic affairs and enrollment management have implemented many of the recommendations, and I am pleased to note that these efforts have borne fruit.

From fall 2009 to fall 2012, freshmen-to-sophomore retention rates have risen by 7 percent, from 77 percent to 84 percent. Over the same period, six-year graduation rates for first-time freshmen have increased by more than 6 percent, from 43.7 percent to nearly 50 percent. We have also narrowed the gap in retention rates between traditionally underrepresented groups and their fellow students as well as between males and females.

However, while our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate of 84 percent is now comparatively strong, our retention rates drop off considerably from the sophomore to junior year, and drop off even more sharply for transfer students. It is imperative that we provide strong advisement to our sophomore and transfer students, particularly those who have not yet declared a major. This will require an additional investment in advising.

We must also continue to expand the high-impact learning opportunities available to our students, including internships, place-based learning, undergraduate research and study abroad. I am pleased to report that we have made substantial progress in increasing internship opportunities this past year. There has been a 30 percent increase in the number of available internships through the Magner Center, the percentage of paid internships has nearly doubled, and the total number of internship placements for our students is expected to top 800 this year. By leveraging our strong alumni contacts, the Magner Center has placed interns with Google, Harper Collins, Deloitte, MTV, Simon & Schuster and Giorgio Armani, to name just a few. This is good news for our students, for the reputation of our degree programs and for retention, since research indicates that students who participate in internships and other high-impact programs are more likely to continue their studies and stay on track.

#2: Study Abroad and International Education

In our complex and increasingly interconnected world, global literacy is an essential pillar of 21st-century liberal learning. Over the past two years, we have sought to expand our international connections and increase opportunities for students to broaden their worldview by studying, conducting research, and interning beyond our borders. Through the Office of International Education and Global Engagement, and with the involvement of our faculty, we have made important progress.  Participation in our study abroad programs is up 6 percent over last year. Over the past 12 months, 350 students studied and pursued research in 15 countries on topics ranging from archaeology to film, from politics to public health, and from sociology to Chinese language and culture.

Stimulated by faculty and departmental interest, we are also developing new partnership agreements with leading universities around the world. Discussions are currently under way with more than 20 institutions in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East in pursuit of mutually beneficial partnerships.

I am also happy to report today that we have finally made headway in acquiring more financial support for faculty-led programs abroad. As a result of the recommendations provided by the CUNY Presidents Committee on International Education, which I chair, the CUNY Board of Trustees will be voting on April 29 to change the e-permit policy for study abroad. Once this new policy is in place, tuition from other CUNY students will go to the college hosting the study abroad program rather than remain, as it currently does, at the student's home institution. The board of trustees will also be voting to allow individual colleges to approve program fees for study abroad in support of reasonable faculty expenses for those who lead international programs.

This recent growth in study abroad opportunities and international exchange agreements would not be possible without the dedicated engagement of many members of our faculty. I want to give special thanks today to Arthur Bankoff, Sophia Perdikaris and Pat Antoinello from Archaeology and Anthropology; Lynda Day from Africana Studies; Rebecca Boger from Earth and Environmental Sciences; Shuming Lu from Speech Communication Arts and Sciences; Veronica Manlow, Tomas Lopez-Pumarejo and Hervé Queneau from Finance and Business Management; Vinit Parmar from Film; and Ken Gould from Sociology. They have helped sustain and expand international education opportunities for our students. I also want to thank Gail Bier, from our Center for International Education and Global Engagement, for spearheading this work.

Another way in which we have expanded opportunities for study abroad and independent research is through our very special Rosen Fellowship Program, now in its third year. Since 2011, 25 Brooklyn College students have been awarded fellowships to pursue projects of their own design. Although the Rosen Fellowship Program does not require study abroad, many of the awardees have global interests. The nine Rosen Fellows who were just selected last month will pursue a wide range of projects that include educating birth attendants in Nigeria, conducting an ethnographic study of HIV patients in India, researching breastfeeding practices in Nepal, digitizing medical records at a health clinic in the Philippines, taking acting classes in Dublin and making a film about it, and studying with an internationally renowned Argentinian composer in Cordoba. Each Rosen Fellow will pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity through the creative philanthropy of Florence Rosen and also through the remarkable mentoring received from our faculty.

#3: Fundraising

The Rosen Fellowship Program is a natural segue to a major and ongoing priority for the college: continuing to grow our fundraising capacity. 

Sustained fundraising efforts provide critical support for our core mission and for new initiatives that we could not otherwise pursue. Through private donations, we are able to subsidize tuition with need-based and merit-based aid, support faculty research and development, and provide capital funds for new construction and for renovations. Without the continued contributions from our alumni and friends, we would be unable to support the margin of excellence we want to provide.

For the past two years, I have announced at this meeting the recipients of the Tow Professorships, which are funded through the generosity of the Tow Foundation. Due to recent changes in the format of the awards, however, I am unable to do so today. However, an announcement regarding the Tow Professorships is now out.  Faculty development awards of up to $25,000 will be provided to four faculty members who are recognized for sustained excellence in the areas of teaching, scholarship and commitment to our mission. Nominations for the 2013 Tow Professorships must be submitted by Friday, April 19.

With the support of the Brooklyn College Foundation and the work of our advancement office, we have continued to increase fundraising revenue and broaden our donor base. Since my arrival in August 2009, we have raised more than $56 million in private funds, and alumni participation is now at an all-time high. A large portion of these funds are being used for student scholarships and financial aid, including a recent $100,000 gift to establish the Paul and Betsy Mazursky Scholarship, and gifts totaling $105,000 from Florence Solomon '41. Since launching our $200 million comprehensive campaign in 2010, we have made tremendous progress. Recently, we reached a campaign milestone, surpassing our $50 million goal for scholarships, internships and other student support.

Today, the Brooklyn College Foundation has more than $69 million under investment, with total net assets of $80 million. Thanks to the wise stewardship of our BCF Investment Committee and recent gains in the market, nearly all of our endowments have recovered from the economic crisis of 2008, which is a welcome turnaround.

Our bequest program is also growing. This year, we received bequests from alumni and faculty who have chosen to name the Brooklyn College Foundation as a beneficiary. Included among the bequests recently received are contributions from the estates of Patricia Bowers, former chair of the Economics Department; Dr. Stanley August '66; Steven Belasco '67; and Frances Koltun '42. Their gifts total nearly $1 million in additional funds that will go to support student scholarships and academic departments. Four of our classrooms will be named for these three alumni and a devoted faculty member in recognition of their generous support.

#4: Renaissance in the Arts

Brooklyn College has a long and stellar history of strength in the arts. 

Among our faculty and alumni are world-renowned filmmakers, playwrights, painters, conductors, composers, actors, directors, designers and others who have achieved remarkable success.

The next five years will constitute a period of heightened attention and renewed investment in the arts at Brooklyn College. The completion of the Leonard and Claire Tow Center for the Performing Arts will be a major centerpiece for the arts renaissance and is on track to open in fall 2014.

In preparation for this opening, I invite Dean Conelli and the faculty in the School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts to plan an inaugural year of arts programming for 2014–15 that highlights the full range of artistic activity on our campus and that includes participation from distinguished alumni and renowned artists across the country and around the world. To that end, I am officially declaring 2014–15 "The Year of the Arts at Brooklyn College," and we will do all we can to make it a very special year indeed.

In addition to the marvelous new performing arts facility and the programming that will accompany it, the new Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema will strengthen our reputation in the media and digital arts on an international scale. Our plans for the graduate cinema school have been met with enthusiastic support from internal and external constituencies alike. Design plans are fully under way for 70,000 square feet at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Feirstein School will be under the purview of the Film Department and Dean Conelli, but it will also provide opportunities for faculty and students in music, theater, television, playwriting and business management to be engaged in this unique and exciting graduate initiative.

I hope that we can also continue to make progress in our discussions of a dance program in the Theater Department and in our efforts to identify appropriate space for a college art gallery. Over the next five years, we will further strengthen our reputation as a preeminent institution for the arts. 

#5: Scientific Research and Education

Another area of accomplishment and opportunity that merits emphasis is our ongoing commitment to excellence in STEM education and research, which are critical for the 21st century. 

We want our students to receive a strong foundation in the sciences and mathematics, regardless of their major, and we want our STEM majors to benefit from accomplished faculty, cutting-edge research and excellent facilities.

We are fortunate to have a strong science and mathematics faculty. However, we must provide state-of-the-art facilities that are equal in quality to our faculty and students. Before this decade is over, we will secure investments of more than half a billion dollars for science infrastructure on our campus. The construction of the new Roosevelt Science Teaching Commons will constitute the largest portion of this investment. The remainder will support substantial renovations and upgrades to the Ingersoll complex to modernize our research facilities. Significant progress is being made in this regard — $23 million in infrastructure improvements are already under way in Ingersoll Hall.

Modernization of our STEM infrastructure will help us attract new revenue for sponsored research as well as faculty and student support. Moving forward, with additional hires and the upgraded research facilities, we can anticipate accelerated growth in our sponsored research.

Improving Our Technology Infrastructure and Service

At my request, last fall Senior Vice President Giovannelli convened a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of campus technology with the assistance of an external consultant. I am pleased to report that the process is nearing completion.

Composed of faculty, students and staff, the Campus Technology Task Force has gathered data from all areas of the campus community. Individual and group meetings have occurred, the consultant has visited our college several times, and he has conducted focus groups for faculty, staff and students. The task force has also administered two online surveys to students and faculty.

In all, 2,800 members of our campus community have provided input, and their feedback will inform the recommendations in the final report, which will be shared with the college community.

On a technology-related note, I am announcing today that over the next two years my office will allocate $25,000 to support a development fund aimed at assisting faculty who seek to incorporate open-source materials into their syllabi in order to help lower the costs of course materials for our students.

Faculty Accomplishments

The strong reputation of our college is due, in large part, to the outstanding contributions of our faculty. It is now my pleasure to highlight a few of the many recent achievements of our fellow faculty members:

  • Professor Jeanne Theoharis, in Political Science, has garnered national attention for her new biography, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Described as the definitive political biography of Rosa Parks, it is, in the words of news anchor Melissa Harris-Perry, "one of the most important scholarly contributions to civil rights history ever written."
  • Last month, we received word from the National Science Foundation that, for the second consecutive year, a member of our faculty has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development Award. Professor Jennifer Adams, in the Department of Secondary Education, has been awarded a $650,000 grant to investigate the development of teachers' identities and their impact on learning environments in the teaching of STEM disciplines.
  • Professor Mary Beth Easley, in Theater, received an AUDELCO Best Director Award for her production of Court-Martial at Fort Devens. The show's cast also received an AUDELCO Award for Outstanding Ensemble Award. AUDELCO is an organization dedicated to stimulating interest in the performing arts in black communities.
  • Professor Shlomo Silman, in Speech Communication Arts and Sciences, has invented and patented a device that is now in clinical trials. The new EarPopper will address problems with fluid in the ear among children six months to two years old. It is based his previous EarPopper for three- to 11-year olds, which will now be donated to rural communities in Africa where fluid in the ear accounts for 40 percent of hearing loss in children, versus only 2 percent in the United States. Professor Silman will be speaking about his invention next week at the Global Health Conference at Yale.
  • Professor Jillian Cavanaugh, in Anthropology and Archaeology, has been awarded $120,000 from the National Science Foundation to explore how the production of and demand for locally important foods influences cultural, political and economic change in northern Italy.
  • The Institute for New Economic Thinking has awarded Professor Carol Connell, in the Department of Finance and Business Management, a grant to publish a book about the proceedings of the Bellagio Group which, at a time of economic crisis, sought to reform the system. Professor Connell's grant is one of only 29 awarded to "challenge conventional economic thinking and push the frontier of economics…"
  • Professor Laura Rabin and Professor Deborah Walder, in the Psychology Department, have received funding from the National Science Foundation through its Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. As a result of their work, Brooklyn College is serving as one of only 38 REU sites nationwide, including Yale, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Notre Dame and the Smithsonian.
  • Distinguished Lecturer Vito Acconci, in the Art Department, was named 2012 Designer of the Year at Design Miami, one of the most prestigious art shows in the United States.
  • Professor Tania León, in the Conservatory of Music, was nominated for a 2013 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Her composition "Inura for Voices, Strings, and Percussion" was one of only five nominees in the category. "Inura" was also nominated for a Latin Grammy Award.
  • Professor Laurie Rubel, in the Secondary Education Department,has been awarded a $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a three-year project to develop innovative ways of teaching math in collaboration with the Center for Urban Pedagogy and MIT. In one of her teaching modules, students will use GPS technology to determine where New York lottery tickets are purchased, types of buyers, and the money trail in order to see if the money returns to the original neighborhood.
  • Professor Ben Lerner and Lecturer Erin Courtney, in the English Department, have both received numerous accolades for their work. She is an Obie Award–winning playwright, and his novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, was named one of the best books of 2011 by The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Guardian and New York magazine, among others. Although I am unable to make a public statement today, later this month it will be announced that they both have been awarded one of the most prestigious fellowships available to American scholars. Stay tuned.
  • Dean Kimberly Phillips was featured live on more than 100 PBS stations in January regarding her book, War! What Is It Good For? Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military From World War II to Iraq.  

Congratulations to these and many other members of our faculty whose accomplishments over the past year have made us all so very proud.

This concludes my remarks. Thank you for coming.