President’s Report March 2021
Dear College Community,
I hope that you were able to have a bit of respite during spring break and that you and your family are well. Spring is here and we want to take this time to ensure that some of the needs and issues we have identified over the past few months blossom into actionable steps with the goal of positive outcomes for the institution, faculty, staff and students.
As you know, in response to concerns about the unevenness of operations in departments and emerging patterns of phone calls and emails that go unanswered across the college, I recently I sent out a call for volunteers for Business Operations and Standards Taskforce to identify issues and needs, and develop a set of business operations standards that can be employed across the college. Due to the great deal of interest in serving, I expanded the committee membership from the original target of 8 members to a membership of 13. Thank you to all those who indicated an interest in serving, all those who accepted the invitation, and to Judy Cohen for agreeing to serve as the chair of this taskforce. A co-chair will be selected from among the final membership of the committee. More information will be forthcoming.
Many times, there are conflicts between and among members of the college community (faculty, staff and students) that unfortunately have taken deep roots and affects our ability to work collaboratively to achieve our mission. There are also issues that span multiple areas and complaints that do not fall neatly under the purview of the Chief Diversity Officer, Labor Designee, or Judicial Affairs Officer that go unresolved, undetected and therefore many times are repeated. While I am committed to moving the college forward, it is not my role to mediate, arbitrate or adjudicate these matters. It is my role however to support the development of a campus climate, and educational environment where we can work collaboratively toward fulfilling the mission of the college. As part of this effort and forward moving trajectory, the Climate Committee was established and has served to provide me with feedback on a number of matters and are working on closing the loop on two initiatives this semester. In the fall, I suggested to the Climate Committee that we consider appointing an Ombuds Officer who can serve as an independent agent to help untangle long standing, emerging and reoccurring issues at the college. The ability to resolve issues is important for the college as it affects one’s ability to effectively engage in the life and mission of the college. For faculty and staff, as well as students, it could also mean the difference between staying at Kingsborough or leaving. Issues that go unresolved threaten to keep us from achieving our fullest potential as an institution.
There are a few CUNY Colleges and number of institutions throughout the landscape of higher ed that have Ombuds Officers (as per the college’s governance plan). Ombuds Officers can receive complaints (anonymous or not) that fall outside of the jurisdiction of the aforementioned bodies, undertake independent investigation, and make recommendations for action to me. The Ombuds Officer can also mediate issues between members of our college community. It is possible to have an Ombuds Officer who only handles student-related matters, one that only handles faculty/staff matters, or one that handles both. Whatever the design of the role, as you can imagine, the Ombuds Officer is someone who must act with high levels of impartiality, integrity, and confidentiality. I would like to pilot this position (which will not be full-time) at Kingsborough beginning in Fall 2021 and I am interested in hearing your thoughts (not nominations or recommendations on who can serve) on this matter. I invite you to email me directly or reach out to Karen St. Hilaire to set up a time to talk briefly.
As you are aware, after 33 years of outstanding service to the College, Peter Cohen has left us for the greener pastures and sandy beaches of retirement. I was grateful that we were able to thank him and express our appreciation for his commitment to Kingsborough at Convocation last month. Effective immediately, Provost Russell will assume oversight of the Division of Student Affairs. Dean Brian Mitra will continue to represent the college at the Central Office as our Chief Student Affairs Officer.
With regards to our financial status, in March we received the balance of our FY21 operating budget allocation from the university. We had been operating on a month-to-month allocation since July 2020. The allocation provides the college with operating funds through the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021.
Upon receipt of the allocation, the University required us to submit a financial plan due to CUNY Central by March 31. Generally, plans are due from the colleges to the university in September of the new fiscal year, due to the pandemic, budget uncertainties and operating on a month-to-month allocation, the university pushed the plan due dates.
As required by the university, the plan was presented to: the College’s Personnel and Budget Committee (Department Chairs); and student government leadership. It was also uploaded to the college’s internet budget webpage. The link can be accessed through the college budget website by clicking on the inside KCC link using your KCC computer login credentials. In his next monthly report, VP Rios will provide detailed information on funding appropriations to the college by the University from Federal Stimulus funds, CARES - Corona Virus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (Stimulus I) & (CRIS-A) - Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Acts – (Stimulus II). In addition, he will share information about Federal Stimulus III, The American Relief Support Act as well as information about our FY 22, July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022 operating allocation from the University when it is received.
Know that we remain cautious and prudent regarding fiscal decisions. Despite continued incredible college wide efforts, enrollment continues to be a concern. In some ways, distance learning provides students with more options.
In addition, because we are primarily online, we lack the ability to lure students to our educational oasis. The Forward Committee is actively planning for an increased return of classes, student services and business operations in the fall. We know that what we plan for the fall will have an effect on enrollment. Students have a range of interests when it comes to returning. Some, like members of our college community, would like to continue with distance learning, others are anxious to get back to campus because they learn best in the traditional modality, and others want the best of both worlds. We also know that if we limit our instructional options and are narrow in our planning, students will decide with their feet and hands; hands that will take them online, or feet that will take them physically to a college campus whose planning and options matches what they want and need to succeed. In addition to monitoring spending, we continue to making strategic hiring decisions. In the past it was almost a given that all positions that were vacated would be immediately refilled. However, given our current context, when a staff member separates from the college, it gives us an opportunity to rethink the position and the current, unmet and emerging needs of the college and the area. Over the next few weeks, we will be reviewing divisional needs for potential changes in staff assignments. Of most importance is ensuring that an employee’s knowledge and skills are a match for what is needed in an area. Ultimately, we want to assign staff where they are most needed and where they can make a positive contribution to the college.
Finally, colleagues we heard your concerns about the lack of recognition for the important contribution you make to the college as a mentor to our students. In addition to mentoring being an important part of the service that you do as faculty and staff, we would like to formally recognize the important role of mentorship that you have as faculty and staff and the difference you make for students. I will be convening a small committee to provide us with feedback regarding plans that we are developing for recognizing outstanding mentors this semester.
Over the next few weeks, as an extension to our work addressing the concerns highlighted by the COACHE as it relates to promotion and tenure, Provost Russell and I will be meeting with faculty groups by rank. We also will host Community Chats in the coming weeks with the Faculty Edition (April 21); Staff Edition (May 19) and an Adjunct Faculty Edition (May 18). Registration information will be forthcoming.
Colleagues, like the Community Chats and upcoming promotion and tenure discussions with faculty, the Faculty Experts Database and Ovations Platform are all a result of your concerns and feedback. A significant amount of work went into creating these platforms so that we can highlight your outstanding accomplishments and so that you can enjoy the recognition and interest from external parties that you deserve. I encourage you to avail yourself of these opportunities and resources.
March marked one year since the start of the pandemic and our pivot to distance learning and remote operations. Back then we couldn’t envision what a year would bring, but here we are—with more resolve than ever. During the darkest days of the pandemic, I couldn’t imagine myself being more grateful than I was for this KCC community, but here I am. Grateful for your work in moving us to the next phase and for your commitment to students and the college. Thank you for all that you have done, are doing and will continue to do.