December 30, 2015
Dear Binghamton University Community,
Many people and institutions follow an annual tradition of sending
out an end-of-the-year letter to share tidings of good fortune. I often put my thoughts in the form of a letter, so in that spirit, here is my look back at Binghamton University achievements in 2015...and perhaps a quick look at what 2016 might bring.
At the top of our list of successes for the year: The Upstate Revitalization Initiative – a competition developed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo – that ended favorably for the Southern Tier Regional Economic Development Council, which I co-chair, and Binghamton University. The announcement on Dec. 10 of our region as a Best Plan Awardee brings $500 million to the region and will have a positive impact on several Binghamton University projects, including establishment of a Health Sciences and Technology Innovation Park in Johnson City, N.Y., colocated with our School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. It's an exciting time for Binghamton and I see these initiatives as the catalyst for revitalization in the Southern Tier.
We also received an exceptional accolade this year – we are the only SUNY school, and in fact the only school in New York state, to be named a National Innovation & Economic Prosperity by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, in recognition of our strong commitment to economic engagement.
Engagement has become a buzz word of sorts for many things we do at Binghamton. We engage with our students, our alumni, and our communities locally and around the globe. But for me, it's not just a buzz word – it's our way of life. For example, in the past year, our students held their annual TEDx conference in March, bringing ideas worth spreading to a sold-out Osterhout Concert Theater; alumnus Marc Lawrence '81 screened his "love letter to Binghamton" movie, The Rewrite, on campus and brought its star Hugh Grant along with him; we reorganized our Office of International Affairs, appointing Watson School Dean Krishnaswami "Hari" Srihari as executive vice provost for international initiatives to succeed Vice Provost for International Affairs Katharine Krebs when she retired; and we established a new Center for Israel Studies. All of these examples are simple proof of the many ways we engage with our friends and partners, and of how we move Binghamton University forward each and every day.
Two students in particular, sophomore Conrad Taylor and doctoral student Giovanni Scaringi, put community engagement at the top of their list when they were elected to Binghamton City Council in November. Taylor will represent the 4th District, and Scaringi will represent the 1st District.
And our forward path, based on our Road Map to Premier Strategic Plan, continues as we grow, adding faculty through the NYSUNY 2020 initiative, setting a freshman application record of well over 30,000, building our pharmacy school leadership team, hiring an EOP director, Calvin Gantt, and even renewing our contract with Sodexo Campus Services. It takes focus in all of these areas to provide our students with the education and quality of life necessary to help them succeed.
On-campus housing continues to be a popular choice for our undergraduate population, so we made a decision earlier this year to put off renovations to Cayuga Hall in College-in-the-Woods for a year. This allowed us to accommodate the students who wanted to live on campus without having to place many into super-occupancy rooms, when three students are assigned to a double room. We're also renovating Old Digman Hall to return it to student housing with a health and wellness theme. It will be ready for fall 2016, allowing us some flexibility as we take one residence hall at a time offline for renovation.
Spring Commencement saw more than 3,400 students graduate in ceremonies for each school and each Harpur division – and another 460 of the 850 eligible students walked across the stage for our final Fall Commencement in December. We awarded three honorary degrees this year: to educator Horace Gibson, philosopher Jason Stanley, semiconductor manufacturing leader Tien Wu. We also recognized Cheol Kyo Kim, president and CEO of Samsung Techwin in South Korea, with a University Medal.
Summer was exceptionally busy as well, readying the campus for incoming students with multiple orientation sessions and lots of construction projects. We also learned that two Watson School faculty were recognized as distinguished faculty by the SUNY system. Jessica Fridich was promoted to distinguished professor and Mark Fowler was promoted to distinguished teaching professor. Elizabeth "Libby" Tucker also joined the distinguished ranks in the fall when she was promoted to distinguished service professor. Binghamton now has more than 30 active faculty and another three dozen plus emeritus faculty who have achieved distinguished rank.
And one of those active distinguished professors is M. Stanley Whittingham, a chemist and materials scientist who holds the original patent for the lithium ion battery that now powers virtually all of our portable devices, among other things. In September, he was named a 2015 Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate. It might not sound like much until you learn that it means Thomson Reuters sees him as likely to earn the Nobel Prize in Chemistry someday.
Binghamton University has tremendous support from alumni, parents and donors – as Homecoming and Family Weekend demonstrate. We celebrated 50 years of our doctoral programs during Homecoming with a visit and lecture from Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Hakeem Jeffries '92, our first alumnus elected to Congress, also came to campus for Homecoming and spoke to students at the College of Community and Public Affairs.
When mentioning support, two remarkable gifts stand out this year.
Binghamton community member and member of the Binghamton University Foundation Board of Directors Dr. Bai Lee provided a $1 million gift to support the University athletics program. The largest gift ever for our athletics programs, and among the largest gifts received by a private individual in the University's history, Lee's donation will help refurbish locker rooms, provide academic support for athletes, add to training facilities and help enhance the sports medicine support that our teams receive.
And on the academic support side, Charles M. Kim '98 and his wife, Jean Su Maeng-Kim, made a more than $1 million commitment to further support the Jean Su and Charles M. Kim '98 Scholarship. Established in 2010, the scholarship is awarded to full-time freshmen with demonstrated financial need. Recipients will be of Asian descent, with a preference for Korean-American descent, and residents of New York state.
As we consider the concerns raised at the University of Missouri, Ithaca College, Yale and other campuses nationwide, diversity and inclusiveness remain an area of focus for the campus and one of our Road Map strategic priorities. The Campus Climate Survey report was published and is available on the Web, and we have continued to seek ways to make Binghamton University a welcoming campus for everyone. In November, Chief Diversity Officer Valerie Hampton and I sent a message to the entire campus community http://b-line.binghamton.edu/events/16709 about our pledge to be steadfast in our efforts to ensure we create and sustain a campus that is welcoming and respectful of all persons regardless of identity.
We continue to move forward on our Road Map to Premier, and reviewed 97 proposals for funding in the spring. Of course, the process involved a large number of people: the Road Map Steering Committee, along with deans, directors and the Faculty Senate Budget Review Committee. With a great deal of discussion and ranking of projects, these groups determined which proposals best melded with our strategic priorities and would receive funding for the 2016-17 academic year. We've already started the same process for the 2017-18 year, and have begun initial review of the 76 proposals we received by the Dec. 1 deadline.
We also had strong push back for the first time to one of our Road Map-funded projects. The Road Map Steering Committee, with wide input from deans, directors and the Faculty Senate Budget Review Committee, prioritized raising graduate student stipends for incoming doctoral students beginning in 2016. Current graduate students protested, and following conversations with them, we did something unprecedented: We asked the graduate students to present their counter-proposals to the steering committee, and then we voted again. The steering committee voted overwhelming to move forward with the original proposal, which will raise stipends for incoming students beginning next fall.
Finally, Binghamton University pride received a boost this year as we introduced our new 'B' to our visual brand. Trying to establish a brand and an identity isn't easy, especially with the many name changes we've experienced in our history. We developed a single brand identity that promises educational excellence and will help us connect with all of our audiences. We're Binghamton University, and proud of it!
So, as most do, my holiday letter has run long – and there are many highlights I haven't mentioned – but that's because so much has happened. I thank each and every one of you for helping me and Binghamton University achieve and grow. 2015 has been an incredible year for us. Let 2016 begin!