September 15, 2014


Volume 9, Issue 11 – September 15, 2014


This ‘n’ That

A college president’s life is filled with meetings, taking up more than half the time in an average week. Some meetings are with groups (Deans Council, Executive Council, College Council), others are with individual faculty, staff, or students who want to discuss something that is affecting them, and some are to meet people from the community who might want to work (or who we might want to work) with the College in one capacity or another. This past week was no exception. Here are some highlights.


Monday began with a meeting with SUNY Canton’s UUP President and Vice President, who wanted to talk about some changes that had been made in the faculty evaluation process and on the forms that we use. Changes in these areas tend to be closely scrutinized, since they affect faculty in very important ways—how they are evaluated, promoted, and tenured. The particular changes had been made before I came to Canton, and involved a policy requiring faculty with continuing appointments to provide a compelling reason if they didn’t want to participate in student evaluations, and involved the new departmental matrices that indicate what is expected for promotion and tenure. After some discussion, we collectively decided that we will hold an Open Forum for faculty to be able to discuss all issues related to evaluation, promotion, and continuing appointment. I’m sure we’ll have a vigorous discussion, and hopefully will come to consensus on key issues. We’ll then take appropriate action and make any necessary changes so that we’ll wind up with a process that we can all stand behind.

Later in the day, I met with the Faculty Senate’s Continuing Appointment Appeals Committee. President Hoffman had suggested that they broaden their scope to include making recommendations on all matters related to Promotion and Continuing Appointment. Two particular issues came up. The first, once again, had to do with the new departmental matrices, specifically, what was to be the process for making changes in them? After some discussion, we decided that the Committee would draft some legislation on this for consideration by the Senate, who would then forward a recommendation to me.

The other issue had to do with how to distribute discretionary salary funds when the College gets them from SUNY. Once again, we decided that the Committee draft some legislation, after getting input from both faculty and non-faculty professionals who are eligible to receive such funds. The legislation would then be considered by an expanded Faculty Senate, inviting the non-faculty professionals to participate.  The final recommendation would be made to me as well. The only proviso that I gave the committee was to not recommend that the funds be equally distributed across the board. My opinion here is that since the funds are discretionary, we need to come up with criteria of what should be rewarded and how it should be evaluated. Across-the-board awards are by definition non-discretionary.

Tuesday began with my first meeting with the College Council. The College Council is essentially a Board of Trustees for the College, whose charge is to make sure we’re moving in appropriate directions and to raise any issues of concern. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with several of its members in one-on-one meetings earlier in the year, and know about the deep care and affection they have for our College. The main topic on the agenda was for me and several others in the campus leadership to update the Council on what had been happening for the past few months, and to let them know about some of the new directions we were planning to go in. Something I hadn’t quite expected was that several of the Council’s members said that they were aware of many of the updates, since they read THE WEEKLY BLAB! Anyway, the upshot of the meeting was that we concluded that SUNY Canton was in an excellent position to move forward, and that we all had confidence in our leadership team and in our faculty and staff to accomplish our ambitious goals.

This was followed by a meeting of the Foundation’s Audit Committee, which has a charge of ensuring that the College Foundation’s financials are in order. We reviewed the recent outside audit, which gave the College Foundation a clean bill of health. The audit was then recommended for approval at the next Foundation Board Meeting, which is on September 19.

The Deans Cabinet met later in the day. Among the issues taken up was international programs, and some measures we are taking to increase the number of international students at SUNY Canton. A former colleague of mine, Dr. Raj Sashti, will be on campus this week talking to faculty and staff about how we might expand our international programs, including assisting faculty to get Fulbright grants, developing summer programs, recruiting students from Brazil, and making SUNY Canton more of an international hub for the North Country. Raj is a nice guy with an excellent track record of accomplishment, and is doing this for us on a pro bono basis. I hope you’ll all have a chance to meet him. The Deans Cabinet also discussed Wave 2 of the Open SUNY online initiative (we’re participating and have submitted several of our online programs for inclusion), and how we might simplify the math leveling process used in admissions decisions.

On Wednesday morning at 8:00, I met with the St. Lawrence County Workforce Investment Board for the first time. As its name implies, the WIB is focused on improving job skills and opportunities for people in the county. The main topic of the discussion was recent changes in the Federal Act providing funding for these efforts.

At 9:30, I met with the Foundation’s Finance and Investment Committee. We received a report on how the Foundation’s assets are invested, how those investments are balanced, and what the returns have been. The Committee concluded that we are receiving a good return on our investments, and that things are going well. This will also be reported at the September 19 Foundation Board Meeting.

At noon, I hopped into the car and took off for Albany for a meeting of all the SUNY presidents. The trip was pleasant and uneventful, especially since I figured out how to use the car’s cruise control. I checked into the Holiday Inn Express, which is located really close to SUNY Central, and is thus really convenient. The meeting began with a reception and dinner, held in the former federal courthouse which has been given to SUNY and beautifully rehabbed. About 45 of the 64 presidents were there. Since we were seated by geographic region, I was at the table with the various SUNY presidents from the North Country. After a nice dinner, we were all asked to introduce ourselves, say how long we had served as president, and give a sound bite about how our College supported “systemness”—a phrase meaning working together with the rest of SUNY as a system. We were also asked to give some input into how the SUNY system helps us as individual Colleges, and what the system might do better. It probably won’t surprise anyone to know that the top issues were to communicate better and sooner, before decisions were already made. The one bad thing that took place at the party was that I asked Kristin Esterberg, the president of SUNY Potsdam, if she knew what the score had been in the Canton-Potsdam men’s soccer match. She checked, and they had beaten us 4-0. Oh well, we’ll get ‘em next time.

Thursday, we had various meetings on some major issues affecting the system, including Start-Up New York (which we’re approved for, and have started to work with some companies for) and Open SUNY. I had been asked to say a few words about my views on online education, so I spoke about converged instruction (when a course is offered simultaneously in multiple modalities, allowing students to switch back and forth) and how SUNY Canton has been a leader in online degree offerings. An interesting statistic is that 75% of students surveyed see no significant difference between the quality of online and face-to-face courses. Another was that most students are unaware that tuition is much lower for online courses through SUNY than it is for the University of Phoenix and other pure online providers. Both indicate that there are some opportunities for us. The meeting broke up at about 1:00. I got the car and drove home to Canton. The weather looked a bit threatening, but it never got worse than a few sprinkles, and I got home about 6:00.

On Friday, the big event was closing on a house in Canton. I’m now the proud owner of the former Wells House on Judson Street Road, which has a strong connection with the College. More on the house in the next issue. Now I’m waiting for my furniture to come up, in two phases. When we get settled, I’ll have an open house.


No Comments on Pre-Testing?

In last week’s BLAB, I wrote an opinion piece on an article that appeared in the New York Times on pre-testing. I was interested in hearing any SUNY Canton faculty views on the subject, but the only person I heard from was a faculty member from SPSU. So, I’ll ask again—I’d like to hear from our faculty about what they think of pretesting, and if they’ve ever tried it in their classes. Use the “Leave a Comment” box at the bottom of the blog. C’mon—I know you’ve got some thoughts about this…


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with the word rain. Our winner was Rhonda Rodriguez. Others getting all five right included:  Misty York, Carmela Young, Laura Richards, Anne WIlliams, Renee Campbell, Janet Livingston, Melinda Miller, Rajiv Narula, and my sister, Drorit Szafran.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. It precedes “Come Again Some Other Day”. Rain, rain, go away.
  2. Someone stupid forgets to do this. Come in out of the rain or Save for a rainy day.
  3. According to both Longfellow and the Ink Spots, “Into Each Life” this happens. Some rain must fall.
  4. What always gets the Carpenters down. Rainy Days and Mondays.
  5. Movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise about Charlie Babbit’s savant brother, Raymond. Rain Man.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

Staying with our weather theme a little bit longer, things have turned cool as of late. Thus, this week’s trivia contest has answers all associated with the word “cool”. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Stop! Take it easy!
  2. Slang for “jail”.
  3. Vegetable-based phrase meaning “in complete control of his emotions”.
  4. Movie where the sheriff told Paul Newman, the lead character, that they were having “a failure to communicate”.
  5. Classic jazz album by Miles Davis, featuring recordings by his nonet from 1949 and 1950.
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2 Responses to September 15, 2014

  1. Desiree LeBoeuf-Davis says:

    I used pre-testing in the past to demonstrate an increase in knowledge from the beginning to the end of the course (Statistic for the Behavioral Sciences). Student reactions were most informative. They were typically overwhelmed with the pre-test, but reported a sense of accomplishment at the end of the class. I was also able to use the data in class to demonstrate an application of the dreaded course.

  2. Daniel says:

    I would also like to chime in on pre-testing, although I too refer to these devices as “practice tests”. I have used practice tests for several years and consider them to be highly useful, on par with a dress rehearsal for a play. During the period of time when students are learning a topic (in math, let’s say) it is difficult for them to assess exactly how well they know the material. Indeed, in order to solve problems, they typically get help from a variety of sources, such as notes, textbooks, other students, the internet, and of course, from their professors. A practice test is an excellent opportunity to bring into sharp focus a student’s true level of mastery of a subject. A chance for them to see if they really do “know their lines” without a teleprompter.

    I agree with all the benefits mentioned in the article that stem from practice tests. In particular, it is good that students will start to get the idea that we are “on their side.” Because we actually are!

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