Q & A with President Harvey Stenger

By Katie Ellis

President Harvey StengerIt has been three years since Harvey Stenger became president of Binghamton University. Since his arrival, the campus has launched the Road Map to Premier, grown to more than 16,000 students, hired new faculty, held groundbreakings and opening celebrations, fostered collaborations across disciplines and divisions, added new programs and maintained its commitment to excellence at all levels.

We asked the president for progress reports on major initiatives and for his thoughts on a number of topics Binghamton University will soon be dealing with.

Question:  You canceled the State of the University Address for January. Can you explain why?
Answer:  I’ve moved the State of the University Address to the beginning of the fall semester. When I arrived at Binghamton, the University Forum had become an annual event held during the winter break when most students and many faculty were not on campus. I made some changes to the format of the program to a state of the University address and moved it to the end of January when the campus was back in session, but I still felt that the timing was off. Holding it at the beginning of the fall semester makes more sense to me because I will have an entire academic year to talk about and it aligns better with everything we do – the Road Map, budgeting, construction timelines, everything.

Q:  Speaking of the Road Map, can you give us an update of where we are in the proposal process and how the funding for the proposals will work out?
A:  In mid-January, the 96 proposals submitted by campus members were sent to the Faculty Senate Budget Review Committee with prioritizations identified by our vice presidents and division directors. I believe the process will be more collaborative with the Budget Review Committee this year because we’ve given ourselves more time to read and rank the proposals that have been submitted and the Budget Review Committee will have more than one opportunity to provide input. There will be meetings between the Budget Review Committee and the vice presidents and division directors in February and March, with the schedule allowing two rounds of input from the BRC as well as the VPs and directors. 

This is the fourth consecutive year that we’ve seen an increase in our budget that allows us to conduct this proposal process. The available funds will go toward hiring new staff and faculty as well as facility improvements.

Q:  We currently have nearly 17,000 students and you’ve announced plans to grow to 20,000 by 2020. How can the campus accommodate 3,000 more students when we are already having to be creative with classroom space? In fact, how can we support that many more students at all?
A:  We’ve reached nearly 14,000 undergraduates, which I believe is the right number for Binghamton University for the foreseeable future. However, to be a premier public university, we have to increase the number of graduate students at the master’s and doctoral levels. Growing from 17,000 to 20,000 should be done with almost all graduate students which is a very, very tall order. Six thousand graduate students and 14,000 undergraduates will give us a student mix similar to the highest ranked public universities in the country. It’s an ambitious target that will challenge us to work hard, and we will need a creative and extensive plan to make it possible. I believe our thriving research programs will increase our PhD student population and play a significant role in our growth, and programs like the Binghamton Plus (or 411) will add graduate students at the master’s level. The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will add a significant number of graduate students as well.

But as I said last year, we also need new ideas; we will constantly need new ideas and new programs. And we’ll need to see growth in external funding to provide the resources and space necessary to support additional PhD students.

We’re known for the quality of our students and faculty, and I believe that adding students at the graduate level will raise the intellectual conversations on our campus even further. Graduate students come with high expectations, but we are capable of meeting those expectations, and the entire campus and surrounding communities will benefit from this growth at the graduate level.

Q:  We hired 57 new faculty for the current academic year and there has been a massive recruitment effort underway for the 2015-16 academic year. Much of the hiring involves our Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence (TAE). Can you explain how TAE hires fit into the faculty growth plan and what that means for Binghamton University?
A: I believe that the TAE hiring process is not as different as the traditional department-centered hiring process as people might think. The major difference is that recruited faculty are getting to meet more faculty in areas related to their research across the campus and get to choose Binghamton based on a stronger understanding of the interdisciplinary research that’s occurring. As a result, I think we are attracting even more talented faculty who are making us their first choice. It sets us apart and makes us attractive to this generation of faculty that is interested in interdisciplinary work. We’re a magnet for them because they see the benefit of coming to a university where the TAE process is healthy and robust.

Q:  You’ve recently announced the hiring of Gloria Meredith as the founding dean of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. What is the next step for the school in terms of hiring faculty, and when can we expect a groundbreaking for the building in Johnson City?
A:  The building is in the design phase and groundbreaking is slightly more than a year away. We will be making some strategic hires this summer who will design the curriculum, but the majority of hiring is also a year away. We are planning to enroll our first cohort of students in fall 2017.

Q:  What are you most proud about as you think of Binghamton University? How can we work to build that pride and establish traditions?
A:  This is a difficult question for me. In recent years, we’ve made tremendous strides in construction at the Innovative Technologies Complex, downtown and on the main campus. We’ve grown our student enrollment without losing quality. We have faculty interested in collaboration and an interdisciplinary focus. We’ve exponentially grown the opportunities we provide students for experiential learning. We have more alumni engaged with the campus and its programs. And so much more.

I truly appreciate all that our faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and friends have helped us accomplish, but institutional change is hard and takes a long time. We have been known as the best in SUNY and now, as we move beyond that to a national level, I see so much more that must be done.

So, what I’m most proud of are the people I see working every day to make Binghamton better. Look at all we’ve done, think about where we are and how young we are as an institution – and then think about where we’re going and how we can work together to get there. Our big successes are yet to come.

Q:  The Smart Energy Research and Design Facility and the Southern Tier High Technology Incubator are high-level projects that come with high expectations for economic development. Where do those two projects stand?
A:  They’re both on schedule and in budget. The incubator had to be slowed down to incorporate the more recent capital appropriation for the SUNY Broome 2020 proposal. Those additional funds will increase the incubator by almost 50 percent in size and turn it from a two to a three-story building with almost an entire floor dedicated to support student start-up companies and innovations.

Q: As president, you have to make decisions about every aspect of the campus – academics, operations, budget, quality of life, safety, athletics, alumni, fundraising, etc. There’s a great deal of collaboration with faculty and students in decision-making. Can you talk a bit about how the campus makes decisions?
A:  Decisions are made every day at every level of responsibility on campus. I don’t want to micromanage the decision process, but I do think we can have more communication before we make decisions and communicate them better. I value input in the decision-making process from all stakeholders and decisions that will have campus-wide impact need to have campus-wide input. I want people to feel they have a role to play because that makes for a more innovative campus and provides a sense of achievement to everyone involved. However, whether others are making the decisions or I’m making them, we need to talk about them more.

It’s also very important that we communicate our decisions in all the ways that we know students, faculty and staff get their information. We can’t rely on just one method; we have to use them all and anticipate that new ones will be created. Communication strategies have to be flexible and innovative as well as efficient.

Q:  The national spotlight has been on inclusiveness. How is Binghamton University working to ensure that our campus is inclusive and welcoming for everyone, no matter their race or background?
A:  I believe that we are fortunate to have started the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion almost two years ago and have Chief Diversity Officer Valerie Hampton who is already well versed in campus activities and is a great leader for the new office. She has brought together staff from across the university to help us achieve our goals of becoming a more inclusive campus.

Recent events in the country have heightened our focus on this issue and while many of the things we will be doing have been planned and thought of by us already, these instances across the country and on our campus have created a sense of urgency that I believe is good. Without urgency there’s a lack of interest in change.

We are finishing the analysis of the Campus Climate Survey and anticipate a series of meetings in February to discuss the results. Preliminary results show that we are, like everyone in the country, still trying to find ways to become more inclusive. The Campus Climate Survey will give us guidance on what we can do to help us meet that goal.

Q:  Assessment is a major topic at all levels of education, and Binghamton University has developed a number of metrics for the Road Map to help us measure our progress as we strive to become the premier public university. Are these the only metrics we are using to assess ourselves?
A:  The 25 metrics that we’ve chosen to measure our process within the strategic priorities are only to be considered metrics for the Road Map implementation process. There are many, many more metrics that individual departments, schools, colleges and divisions will continue to use to understand how their organizations are functioning, including understanding the role that accrediting agencies play in how we measure what we do. I believe the 25 we’ve chosen are measureable and reliable and will give us a strong indication of improvements we should see in the coming years.

What makes setting metric targets so difficult is the environment we’re in. Time scales in higher education are enormous, so we might not see a change for five years in some areas and a lot can happen in five years that can affect our progress. That’s why a great deal of thought and discussion must go into picking targets for these metrics. I’m currently working with the Road Map Steering Committee to determine targets for each of the 25 metrics. We know we want to get better, we just don’t know how far we will go or how fast.

Q:  If you were not the president of Binghamton University, but instead were an individual/business/alumni/friend, what would you need to hear/learn that would encourage you to become a donor?
A:  I would want to know about opportunities Binghamton is providing for students at all levels that will make an impact and help them reach their potential, and develop the skills they need to succeed and make a difference in their chosen fields. That’s what we’re here to achieve. I want to help others who need my help, just as donors helped me when I was a student.

Therefore, I would follow and support those programs and efforts at Binghamton that were supporting those who need my help. That might take the form of supporting faculty research in areas of critical need for our society, improving facilities where the research is conducted, or providing scholarship and fellowship support for the students who will benefit from the research and teaching of the faculty we hire.

Q:  Binghamton University is known for the quality of its students, as well as its faculty and staff. With the Fleishman Center for Professional and Career Development, internships and many other resources, we provide a great deal of support for students as they launch their careers. How can we provide the same kind of support for faculty and staff to enhance their skills and career paths?
A:  We are open for suggestions on this important topic. This is not something that universities typically think about, but I believe we can create our own future leaders from within and we can also help our current leaders to get even better. The kinds of programs that are available run from very simple mentoring programs to more advanced on- and off-campus leadership training, to allowing new employees to sample a variety of positions such as we are doing with the diversity fellows in the Division of Operations. Our on-campus leadership development program is continuing to improve and I can see that it can be modified to make it more attractive for faculty participation. We have an Administrative Services Unit certificate program for CSEA administrative employees to add to their skill sets. Faculty and staff from all areas of campus attend professional conferences. We can also point to our use of interim positions as ways to give people experience, such as Susannah Gal in the Libraries, Randall Edouard in undergraduate admissions, JoAnn Navarro in Information Technology Services, and Beth Burch and Laura Bronstein in academic affairs.

Q:  We have start-up suites, STARTUP-NY companies, entrepreneurial students and faculty and the Southern Tier High Technology Incubator on the horizon. What more can we do to identify and support technologies that can grow into larger companies?
A:  We have to have a careful balance between giving faculty the expectation for conducting fundamental research and conducting applied development work. Not all faculty should be encouraged to do both. Some have strength in the fundamental side and others in the applied development side. Allowing faculty to choose and then to support them in their decision is probably the best thing that we can do, giving them clear guidance and with the assurance that applied development work, as long as it involves publications and graduate student support, will be rewarded equally as fundamental research providing the same kind of publication results and graduate student support.

We currently offer a bachelor’s degree in management with a concentration in entrepreneurship. Our students have participated in hackathons to develop solutions for nonprofits and in business plan competitions. We must continue to offer opportunities like these and encourage our students to think entrepreneurially and develop start-ups with the resources available to them on campus. 

Another aspect is finding capital funding for these new ventures. It’s not our role as a university, but it can be our role to recruit and invite potential sponsors of start-up companies to campus and to create an atmosphere of entrepreneurialism and innovation in select locations on campus.

Q:  Binghamton University’s reputation for academic excellence is good and its reputation as a research university is growing, but the competition is great. What can you suggest that will help us become as well-known across the country as we are in New York state?
A:  We have great students, alumni and faculty doing tremendous things. Getting that information out in a large scale to the world is a very hard thing to do. We know we’re excellent in many things, but the roar of university marketing is so loud that it’s hard for us to be heard. But we will continue to try, and know that many times it can be a single event that thrusts you into the limelight and can create or destroy your reputation in a moment. Bold ideas like the Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence and doing things differently can generate story ideas. So finding good stories to tell and ways to tell them, making sure that our stories are balanced from student life to faculty research to alumni successes, will not only improve our reputation but will improve the strong feelings that our alumni will have toward us.


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Last Updated: 9/26/16