State of the University Address, September 5, 2019

President Richard J. Helldobler
Click here to view presentation slides

A year in the life of a president —

  • Moved from the Midwest to the East Coast
  • 40 listening sessions
  • 47 Cabinet meetings
  • 417 meetings with Cabinet members
  • 16 NJASCU meetings
  • 15 meetings with elected officials
  • 5 home football games
  • 22 men’s and women’s basketball games
  • 7 meetings with SGA elected officers
  • 22 meetings with bargaining units
  • 12 Board of Trustees meetings
  • 4 Foundation Board meetings
  • 1 Alumni Board meeting
  • Attended New President’s School
  • WP Investiture
  • TCNJ’s Investiture
  • Northern Illinois University’s Investiture
  • Promoted 56 faculty
  • Created a Community Police Center in the University Commons
  • Tenured 12 faculty members
  • Reinstituted the emeritus faculty group
  • Attended 85 academic department events on campus
  • Ribbon-cutting for Hunziker Hall
  • Purchased a new building at 1800 Valley Road
  • 2 trips to Trenton for the budget process
  • 4 phone calls as part of AFT negotiations
  • 30 meetings with individual trustees
  • 6 First Thursdays
  • 8 Pizzas with the President
  • Performed in The Nutcracker
  • 36 donor receptions
  • 353 on-campus meetings
  • 10 Open Office Hours held
  • 3 CIANJ Board meetings
  • 3 alumni trips
  • 4 Affordability Working Group meetings for the new Higher Education Strategic Plan
  • 2 new schools added through dual enrollment
  • 3 new academic programs added
  • Attended the Golf Outing and the Legacy Gala
  • Redesign of the First-Year Experience
  • Launched Propel Paterson
  • Completed 108 Instagram posts
  • Featured in 96 news stories
  • 8 media interviews
  • Hired a new general counsel
  • Hired a new provost
  • Appointed a new chief of staff
  • Hired a new director of communications
  • Named a new ACE Fellow
  • Hired 14 new tenure-track faculty
  • Hired 13 new one-year-only instructors
  • Hired 36 new staff members
  • Attended concerts for two of our music faculty in New York City
  • Hired an interim dean of the Cotsakos College of Business
  • Appointed acting dean and associate dean in Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Negotiated a transition to retirement program
  • Launched the Pledge 4 Success Program
  • Laid the foundation for more online programs
  • Attended Wayne Day
  • Adopted new University-wide KPIs
  • Attended the Parade of Ships on the Hudson
  • Launched a summer professional development program for WP staff
  • Implemented implicit bias training for the staff
  • Engaged in discussions and launched a multicultural and black cultural center
  • Read three books
  • Went to London, Toronto, Mexico, and Vegas on vacation
  • Daily stops at Starbucks, sometimes two or three
  • Not to mention daily ball throwing and treat giving for my dogs Sophie and Zeus—


Are you exhausted? I am energized!!

It was busy but a great first year. I keep telling people I am having the professional time of my life and I am. I want to thank all of you who made my first year such an exceptional experience. You know, when I talk to my cohort from New President’s School, they always remark, “You seem so happy and positive about the work you are doing.” I am positive and happy about the work WE are doing. Together, we are developing new strategies and implementing new programs that support the ability of our students to succeed. I especially want to thank last year’s Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate for all your good work, and recognize Sue Tardi, president of the AFT, and Murli Natrajan, the new chair of the Senate, and this year’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee. I look forward to the good hard work ahead. Will Sue and Murli and the Executive Committee please stand and let’s give them a round of applause and thank them for their leadership. Regrettably, the AFT contract is not settled. The faculty deserve a fair contract. Let’s hope a settlement is reached soon.

I’d also like to take a moment to recognize the members of the President’s Office staff, Rachel Rodriguez and Amanda Oleski. For every meeting, call, and event on that long list, they were there to support me, and I thank them for their good work.

And I also thank these excellent and talented folks to my right who are making what is actually a complex production run smoothly and look easy.

Last fall, I presented our Board of Trustees with a slate of Key Performance Indicators that we developed to chart our work toward achieving the goals that are most important to our University. Let’s take a look at our progress.

Now it is important to remember that the KPIs look both forward and back. For enrollment and retention, we look forward but for all other KPIs we look back to the previous fiscal/academic year. 

Enrollment numbers presented are as of this morning. Remember, we don’t lock in our numbers until census day which is the tenth day of classes, September 17. 

  1. All Student Headcount Fall: The goal is 10,351. The actual count stands at 9,964.
  2. Undergraduate Headcount Fall: The goal is 8,860. The current number is 8,482. So, we need to grow our undergraduate population by 378 students to make goal.
  3. Graduate Headcount Fall: The goal is 1,491. The current count is 1,482, but graduate students tend to register late, so we’re confident we can hit that goal. We are only 9 students away from goal.
  4. Full-Time, First-Year, One-Year Retention Rate: The goal is 72.5 percent. The rate now stands at 69 percent, but again, things are still in flux, and we think this number will improve. But we’ll know for certain when the numbers are finalized. When they are, after September 17, you’ll be able to find them in three places on the University website: The President’s Office page, the Board of Trustees page, and the Strategic Plan page.

We won’t have data for the next four KPI’s until after census.  Stay tuned for those, after September 17.

  1. Four-Year Graduation Rate
  2. Six-Year Graduation Rate
  3. Delta the Number of Degrees Awarded by 100 FTEs
  4. Social Mobility Index
  5. Student Engagement: This is a new data point; we are establishing the baseline.
  6. Student-Faculty Ratio: The goal was 14 to 1; the actual is 14 to 1. Goal met.
  7. Total All-University Revenues: The goal was $215 million; the actual was $219 million. Goal met and exceeded!
  8. Non-Tuition and Fee Revenue: The goal was $12.0 million; the actual was 12.8 million. Goal met and exceeded!
  9. Total Student Net Tuition and Fees Revenue: The goal was $113 million; the actual was $104 million. Goal not met.
  10. Average Direct Debt Service Coverage: The goal was a ratio with a range between 1.2-2.0. The actual for last year was 0.51. In this case, being below the goal range is good, and last year’s goal was met.
  11. Expendable Financial Resources to Operations: Here’s another ratio, and again, we’re looking to last year: The goal was between 0.09-0.3. The actual for last year was 0.55. In this case, being above the range is good, so the goal was met.
  12. Annual Donor Contributions (New Cash and Commitments): The goal was $3.0 million; the actual was $2.7 million. Goal not met. We had some turnover in fundraising that prevented us from meeting with as many prospective donors as we would have liked.
  13. Total Assets of the Foundation: The goal was $27.0 million; the actual was $29.2 million. Goal met.

So, you can see we met some of our goals, and fell short on others, and some we just don’t know about yet. Remember that after September 17, you can check on these. This is a work in progress. Thank you to everyone who has contributed.

We are excited this fall to launch programs designed to enhance the experience of William Paterson University students in our classrooms, labs, and studios, and throughout our campus, and to increase our accessibility for students with vast potential, but limited financial resources. These new programs underscore our commitment to guiding students to timely graduation. They demonstrate our collective ability to innovate and make changes that ensure that our students are successful. Doing so, I believe, helps to define who we are as a University, and why we are so important to the lives of our students.

Our brand-new first-year experience program will support our students in their transition to college. This multifaceted program combines highly structured academic and student support services that will help them learn how to succeed as college students. I know that this initiative required many of us—most of us—to change how we look at many of our roles. It required us to think in different ways, to collaborate across departments in different ways, to execute in different ways. Folks, together, we are making it happen and I can’t wait to see the results of our efforts. 

We all owe a big thank you to everyone who worked on the redesign and now launch of our new first-year experience. In particular, I want to thank Danielle Liautaud Watkins, Carmen Ortiz, Linda Refsland, and Susan Astarita, and all the faculty and staff who participated in the redesign. Let’s also thank Dr. Mark Ellis for his leadership over the years of the Pioneer Success Seminar.

So, as part of the new program, we have cohorted all of our freshmen and they are scheduled for a three-hour-a-week experience that we are calling Will. Power. 101. Professional advisors and other staff serving as Will. Power. 101 success coaches will guide our students through their first two semesters at William Paterson. This success seminar will connect faculty with the success coaches and help students navigate their academic experiences, interface with tutoring, and deal with student services like financial aid, registration, etc. We designed this program to help improve our retention rate moving forward. As you saw when I talked about KPIs, retention remains our priority commitment and we will improve. We will assess the program while we progress through the new academic year and will report on its success next year. While we will continue to improve this experience as we receive feedback and assess, I believe this is the first step to providing a signature William Paterson experience.

Our new Pledge 4 Success initiative will extend opportunities for low-income students to proceed toward graduation while minimizing student loan debt. When I interviewed for the presidency here, the director of financial aid asked one of the more troubling questions during the interview. I admittedly stumbled. He asked if I believed in institutional merit or need-based aid. I blanched at the question because the obvious answer is both. Yet, upon my arrival, I discovered that all of our institutional aid was merit based. We set out to change that. We started by taking $150,000 existing dollars and creating the Pledge 4 Success. For students who have an adjusted gross income of $45,000 or lower and are full federal, Pell, and TAG eligible, we will fill any gap between awarded aid and tuition and fees. We call it a pledge because William Paterson promises to close the financial gap for four years, but the student must do the following: Successfully complete 30 credit hours in an academic year; remain in good academic standing (2.0 GPA); complete the FAFSA application by the priority deadline of April 15; complete NJFAMS questions by the priority deadline of June 1; register for subsequent spring and fall semester courses in priority windows by November 30; and they must complete Will. Power. 101 in both the first and second semesters. We know one of the most significant barriers to admission and persistence, especially for low-income families, is a financial one. Many high school students and their families believe college is not an option—we believe it should be and we are proud to put our money where our mouths AND our hearts are. Thanks to Vice President Reginald Ross, Vice President Steve Boylai, and the many others who worked on getting this up and running.

Two other closely aligned initiatives celebrate the incredible diversity of our campus and our commitment to learning from each other, and about each other. The Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Black Cultural Center will provide programs that enhance racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity while promoting social justice and equity.

As many of you know, the spring before I arrived on campus had been tumultuous due to a video that had been circulated by a student, bringing to light other issues of diversity and inclusion that had been festering. Soon after I joined the campus community, I named a task force to lead a conversation on the development of a center to offer programming and support for underrepresented populations. This process was led by Vice President Miki Cammarata and Associate Dean Jean Fuller-Stanley and assisted by an able group of faculty, staff, and students. Would members of the task force and the chairs please stand and let us thank you.

Ultimately, it was decided to call this space the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, we have hired a director, Yolany Gonnell, and are moving forward. Additionally, the Black Cultural Center has opened. Both centers are located in the University Commons. We will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony soon, so check the announcements.

The initiatives of these centers will expand over time as we continue to embrace the full range of our diversity and build an even stronger campus community. 

This year we’re going to focus on conversations with our LatinX and LGBTQA students to determine their needs. We will begin to ask ourselves, if student success is defined by retention and graduation, what supports or systems are needed, and what barriers must be removed, to help these students be successful, walk across that stage, and earn that degree. Currently we hold the designation Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). I would argue that we are a Hispanic-enrolling institution but not enough of a Hispanic-Serving Institution. We can’t ignore the achievement gaps of this population, and others, and call ourselves successful.

Retention rates for the 2017 cohort are:

By race/ethnicity generally, white: we retain 77.3 percent of white students. Compare that with African Americans, who we retain at 61.9 percent overall, and Hispanic (all races), 66.2 percent overall. 

Graduation rates (four years) for the 2014 cohort are: Whites overall, 43.7 percent; African American, 27.7 percent overall; Hispanics (all races), 30.8 percent overall. (2018-19 Factbook). These gaps are staggering.

I have also charged an HSI working group to begin discussions with our students and help define benchmarks for the University to measure to help us move from a Hispanic-enrolling institution to a true Hispanic-Serving Institution. I am aware that conversations have taken place before but we are now going to be intentional about this effort. This group includes: Francisco Diaz, Kimberly Pe┼ła, Cristian Reyes, Dr. Maria Villar, Johanna Torres, Maribel Rodriguez, Dr. Elena Sabogal, and Dr. David Fuentes. Will those members present please stand and accept our thanks for this important work.

Our LGBTQA initiative will be led by Dr. Wendy Christensen, Tony Joachim, Steven Marks, and Dr. Zoe Meleo-Erwin. Could they stand and let us thank you for your work.  This group is newly formed and more information will be communicated to the campus in the near future. 

These HSI and LGBTQA initiatives will be shepherded by Vice President Miki Cammarata working closely with Provost Powers.

Additionally, I have funded a summit for African American and LatinX men to be held this spring to better connect them with a support network. We are also working on a peer-to-peer mentoring program for this group of men. We will glean from our students the obstacles—some they come with, and others they experience on our campus—that prevent them from persisting.

To continue our intentional work on diversity with inclusion in mind, we will be conducting a campus climate survey that will help us determine other areas that need attention or further development.

We addressed diversity, inclusion, oppression, and microaggressions this summer during our Wednesday morning professional development sessions. We conducted implicit bias training for staff and will extend the training to the faculty this year. Dr. LaShauna Dean, associate professor in the College of Education, led this training and did a great job of prompting us to think about ourselves and others. Can Dr. Dean please stand and let us thank her.

The diversity and inclusion training, as most of you know, was part of a much larger program of training throughout the summer. Vice President Allison Boucher-Jarvis, Annette Baron, and Myrna Torres did a fantastic job of taking a nugget of an idea I had, and brought it to life with a major undertaking that grew into a wide range of elective programs for all staff. Will they stand and accept our thanks. We will be doing an assessment of our summer professional development programming and training and begin to plan for next summer. Anecdotally, we have heard from many staff who were thankful to get off of the hamster wheel and develop their skills in training programs, and many have mentioned how beneficial it was to interact with colleagues from other departments who had never before crossed paths. If you have ideas for next summer, please let Vice President Boucher-Jarvis know.

As this summer flew by, and it always does, a number of our colleagues worked to get our new building at 1800 Valley Road ready for this fall. I talked about the importance of non-tuition and fee revenue during the KPI presentation. The acquisition of this building provides a great opportunity for us to grow several revenue-generating programs, along with support for academic programs. We were approached about this property in December of 2018 with a price tag of about $6 million. We passed, politely. However, in January we were approached again with a much lower price tag which made the property attractive. We ended up getting it for $1.75 million. I want you to know I thought hard about making such a purchase. But it was becoming clear to me at the same time that a bonding opportunity through the state that would allow us to expand our footprint on campus was not likely any time soon. Additionally, we were low on space for revenue-generating programs, new academic research institutes we were forming, the Continuing and Professional Education area could not expand programming due to space limitations in the current 1600 Valley Road property, and the Cotsakos College of Business was growing and in need of a little more space.

During my listening tour I heard a lot about a child development center that had closed and about the need for child care, particularly for low-income families. I learned that Wayne is actually what’s called a toddler desert, meaning it lacks facilities that will admit this age group. To help address that problem, we are currently working on a proposal to invest $2 million to renovate space, meet a need in our community, and, perhaps most importantly, provide our students with valuable experience through practicum and observation hours. The budget model allows for this $2 million to be paid back over time if enrollment and pricing strategies hold. We have not decided definitively to proceed, but we are talking seriously about it. More to come. In the meantime, 1800 Valley Road will house our adult completer program, job training programs, Saturday college programs for high school students, and continuing education opportunities. The newly formed Cannabis Research Institute and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies will also have space there, giving them an opportunity to accelerate their growth and impact. Sponsored programs and our transfer and dual enrollment offices will also be located at 1800 Valley Road. Additionally, the building will allow us to offer University Core Curriculum courses on site, which will ease the need for our students to make the mad dash between Valley Road and main campus.  #parkingproblems #alwaysspaceinlot6

We are in the process of developing another initiative that will generate revenue while benefiting students, in this instance, graduate students. We are planning to launch a new online endeavor with Academic Partnerships, a national provider of online higher education degree programs. As you have heard me speak about often, the freshmen population in New Jersey and in fact the country will be shrinking in the coming years. We must begin now to prepare for this shift if we are to remain stable when we reach this demographic cliff. Our adult completer program is one of those ways to address the shrinking population but a traditional degree program, with traditional delivery modes, will not reach or service that population. Another way to address this shift or decline in traditional-aged freshmen is to create an online portfolio for select graduate programs. We have entered into an agreement with Academic Partnerships to move some of our graduate degrees online. Those programs are:

MBA

RN-BSN

MSN Family Nurse Practitioner

MSN Adult/Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

MSN Education

MSN Administration

MEd in Educational Leadership

MEd in Higher Education Administration

MEd in Curriculum and Learning: Teaching Writing

MEd in Special Education: Autism Spectrum Disorders

These will be rolled out over time, beginning with the MBA in March of 2020. Now I know this conversation has caused concern in both the Faculty Senate and Cotsakos College of Business. I have heard concerns about quality, and I assure you that we don’t want to become an online university. We will remain a predominantly face-to-face, on-ground university, but we need to diversify our portfolio. Here is how this partnership works. Academic Partnerships works to put our curriculum online, they hire recruiters, front office staff, they provide 24/7 tech support, and they upfront the money for marketing. They put in about $4 million as their initial investment. We don’t have an extra $4 million for this, folks. But here is the key thing I want you to understand: we control the curriculum and we hire the faculty. Academic Partnerships has an 80 percent retention rate, and a higher graduation rate than we do for our traditional graduate programs. They do take 50 percent of the tuition dollars. That seems shocking—but I want to assure you that Steve Bolyai, Pam Winslow, Jonathon Lincoln, and I have all reviewed the numbers very carefully. It is still a viable option for us given the upfront investment of getting it up and running. Our contract with them is for three years with the option of two annual one-year extensions. At the end of the contract, if expectations are not met, we won’t renew. 

As I mentioned earlier, I found time this summer to read a few books. I’d like to share a story that impressed me from one of those books. We are already getting overwhelmed with communications from our presidential campaigns and, certainly, I’ll be interacting with you about some of the candidates’ ideas and proposals, particularly pertaining to higher education policies, as we move toward the November 2020 election. But I’d like to share some points now from one of the many candidates. The Shortest Way Home is a campaign platform book by Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Mayor Pete as he is known. He also happens to be the first openly gay man to run for president. Gay marriage, and an openly gay candidate for president in my lifetime—who would have thought? Not me.

If you don’t know him, Mayor Pete is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a Rust Belt town that in its heyday was home to the Studebaker and other manufacturers, like the South Bend Watch Company. Like most towns with a limited corporate portfolio (think Paterson and the silk industry), when the Studebaker factory closed in 1967 many other businesses soon followed. But I want to focus on the watch business. Pocket watches made by the South Bend Watch Company were considered some of the finest in the world. But right before World War I some watch companies started moving away from pocket watches and started adding leather straps to their watches which allowed men to look at them while working, and during wartime, did not require people to fumble into a vest pocket to check the time. The South Bend Watch Company was at the top of its game prior to World War I and refused to change. And soon, you guessed it, they went under. 

So, drawing on this story, I am both reminding and affirming that we will always be in education, despite the challenges that we face. During my tenure we will always focus on the population of students who need us most, particularly when inequality and inequity are growing.

However, we must always think about change. We must always think about the need for innovation. We must always think about how we deliver education to a population that may not be able to engage in a traditional face-to-face graduate or undergraduate degree program or, through no fault of their own, may lack academic or other resources needed for success. We must think about academic credit for work/life experience for our degree completion programs. For you see, if the South Bend Watch Company had chosen to add leather straps to their watches, they would likely still be making very fine watches—what will our story be? Do we want to add online programs to support our undergraduate programs that will get smaller given the change in demographics? Will the shift be with us forever? Doubtful. The pendulum will swing back but it will take a while and we must diversify our academic and revenue portfolio if we are to survive and, ultimately, thrive.

As we think about our students, I want to take a moment to watch part of a TED talk by the actor America Ferrera. She is the star of Ugly Betty, Real Women Have Curves, and currently stars in NBC’s sitcom Superstore. Her experience as a Latina actor is not unusual; let’s watch a little because I think it has something to teach us about higher education as well.

https://www.ted.com/talks/america_ferrera_my_identity_is_a_superpower_not_an_obstacle?language=en

What struck me about this clip was her comment, “I was never asking the system to change, but I was asking it to let me in. And those are not the same thing.” She further states, “You can actually be the person who genuinely wants to see change and at the same time, be the person who keeps things the way they are.” What I really love about this narrative is that she moves the conversation away from good and bad people. She points out that she is our reality, you are our reality. But she also challenges us to recognize that our systems do not always reflect our current reality. If we really want to make change, we actually have to do it. It’s that simple. Not that it is simple. And I believe that we do as a community want to better serve our students. Our actions sometimes show otherwise.

Let me tell you a few stories from over the summer where I discovered that our systems do not always meet our students’ reality. This was a readmit student who reached out early in the summer in an attempt to get registered. Here is the response that was received by the student:

“Dear Student Trying Do Right: These are the last two in-person registration events, where we register transfer students and readmit students: August 13, (1:30 - 4:00 p.m.) and August 27, (10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.). All events will take place in the University Commons Ballroom.

The Chair of Well-Meaning Department and I will be present at these two events, we will advise you and get you registered for fall 2019 classes. Please be aware that at this time in the year many of our classes are already filled; therefore, many students do not end up with an ideal schedule. In the meantime, email me your 855#, so I can take a look at your audit and see what you need.”

So, we have told this student, “Thanks for being responsible but come back later during the day when you might be at work, but when the system is ready for you, and oh, by the way, most of the classes are filled.” If I were this student, I would begin to look for another program.

Here is another dilemma— we have a good many students who complete 30 hours, are in good standing, and yet not registered at the end of the spring semester for the following fall. These students change from a professional advisor to a faculty advisor who by contract is not here over the summer. Now WE know that they should see the department chair and, absent the department chair, the associate dean. But do THEY know that? How would they? And would you want to see two strangers when you are already leaving your professional advisor who you bonded with in your first year? Then, if they meet with the chair or associate dean over the summer, they are then transferred to a third, or possibly even a fourth person at the start of the fall semester. Is this good stewarding of our students who do not already understand our systems?

Also, we must rethink the transfer experience. Students often complain, especially in the summer, that they take off work to come to campus (we do not have any evening hours) and if they have courses in two different departments that do not have transfer equivalencies that it is really hard to meet with chairs to get the answers they need. Often chairs are not on campus on the same day and it requires a lot of foot traffic on the part of the student. Then once their courses are articulated, they must come back for advisement. Other universities have a central office that helps these students, they do a lot of the legwork, and we will be moving toward that model in this coming academic year. Transfer students in particular will shop around for where they get the best client service and have their questions answered quickly. And William Paterson will be that place. That’s part of our commitment. And, it’s part of the changes that are already underway. 

So we will focus on advisement and the transfer experience over this coming year.

And this is not to minimize a lot of the great work that is done by faculty, staff, department chairs, and other administrators over the summer. However, while we have some systems that nicely support a non-working, single, childless, and affluent student—this is not the reality for many of our students. We must shift gears, and we must develop new systems.

Folks, our reality is going to change, as I have said, and as the demographic numbers bear out, our campuses will be browner. It’s fine to stand up in a meeting and talk about our diversity as a point of pride, and yet if our teaching strategies don’t implement success strategies and we have stark achievement gaps for our minority populations, how committed are we? If we talk about the challenges our students face with job and family responsibilities and yet only have offices open during their working times, how committed are we? Yes, this will require change. Yes, this will require discomfort.

As theatre directors, we are trained to be the audience’s eye. To make sure what is happening on stage is believable or plausible. Often it requires working collaboratively with designers and actors to create a reality where the language of the play matches behavior. This makes the work believable or “truth in art” as we say in the discipline. So likewise, if we are committed to this population of students and we stand up and say that diversity is our strength but our achievement gap data tells us that our students of color are less successful than their white counterparts—do our actions align with our spoken values?

I know that I have asked for a lot of change during my first year, and I am going to continue to push to change systems that do not reflect our reality. We must examine, and sometimes tweak, change, or even eliminate those systems, policies, or practices that do not support our students, faculty, and staff. And let’s embrace the fact that sometimes those will be at odds with each other. However, let’s remember that we are here for the students, and our reality, our systems, our policies, and our practices should first and foremost reflect their needs. This is innovation, and it is uncomfortable. It should make us nervous or cause us to have butterflies in our stomach.

Now for those of you who were here early you know we kept the doors closed while I was finishing one last detail. Many of you have commented over the course of the past year that you wanted to see me dance. So, while you were outside I was putting one Post-it note under one seat in the ballroom. The Post-it says, “You’re It!” Now, whoever gets it, do not identify yourself yet. That winner is going to come up and do a few ballet steps with me. Tombe, pas de bouree, glissande, assemble, entre chase trios, pas de bouree derierre to fourth, double pirouette, and finish on the knee. Nothing too complicated. Now take a second and look for that Post-it note.

We are going to bring the winner up in just a second and if they don’t identify themselves I am going to pick someone. So even if you did not get the Post-it, you might still be the one.

But before we do that, I want to go back to innovation leading to change that better reflects our reality. Let us acknowledge that innovation and change usually require some discomfort before things get better. To demonstrate my point, let me ask a question. Who knows what the most dangerous animal in the jungle is? (Take a few answers from the audience.) All good answers. I would argue it is the killer butterfly. The killer butterfly attacks our stomachs when we are going through a change in what we perceive as “normal” or predictable. It is that feeling of discomfort, nervousness, feeling nauseous, or “butterflies in our stomachs” as some of us might have been told as children. What is the number one cause for the attack of the killer butterfly? Public speaking or performing. It is what many of you are feeling about the possibility of coming up to do a short ballet combination with me. Ask yourself—when was the last time you felt butterflies about a project at work? Exciting—new—not completely sure it would work—but still felt compelled to try. As we think about systems to embrace our new reality—I hope we can embrace the butterflies. Let’s remember that Ms. Ferrera told us that we can “be the ones who want change and at the same time be the ones to keep things the same.” At times we might be doing it without even being conscious we are doing it—an implicit or unconscious bias if you will. Ask yourself, what am I DOING to help retention, or remove barriers for our students.

All of this work is not easy, but I am convinced that our University, with our excellent faculty, committed staff, and a population that has been desperately raising their hands to be included in a system not designed for them, can transform itself into a place where going to college is no longer a mystery. It will require us, as Audrey Hepburn said, to move away from entrenched arguments of “impossible” and move toward “I’m possible.” You see, they are the same letters arranged a little differently—a rhetorical, leather strap added to a watch.

Now, there was no Post-it note. I used that theatre convention to illustrate my point about change and innovation and our discomfort with moving away from “normalcy”.” Sorry! But I’ll make you a bet. If retention gets to 80 percent, I’ll do a dance in a tutu! Now let’s be honest—some of you did have an attack of the killer butterfly. I saw some of you react as if “I am not even going to look for the Post-it.” You got a strong sense of what it feels like.

With these thoughts in mind, I hope that as we move to change systems to better reflect the reality for our students, that our graduates will be able to say, my individual success is a result of the collective Will. Power. at William Paterson University. I know our students will benefit from our willingness to change, our eagerness to innovate, and our commitment to their successful lives.

I hope you will join me in this effort. Quick show of hands – who’s in? Good. I think you will enjoy it and I look forward to working with you for many years to come. This work, this important work, this critical work, this life-changing work at William Paterson University can result in a place where our graduates can say, “I’m done raising my hand, asking to be part of the system. I have embraced my true authentic self and I AM PART of the new reality. Look out world because here I come. I make no apologies—this is me.”

I’ll leave you with this musical thought—“This is Me” from The Greatest Showman. Thank you for your time, have a good afternoon, and a great fall semester.