Thank You for an Amazing First Year
May 18, 2022
Dear Baruch Community:
As my first academic year as your provost draws to a close, it is a fitting time to reflect on the past year, while looking to the future. Last Friday, I spent the day and the evening at two events that exemplify Baruch: the Inaugural Cross-College Faculty Research Symposium and the 50th Anniversary Percy E. Sutton SEEK Awards Ceremony. That event’s subtitle says so much about Baruch as an institution: Five Decades of Access, Equity, and Excellence. The academic excellence of the faculty and the students was made visible throughout last week, first during the student Creative and Scholarly Inquiry Expo, where 57 undergraduates showcased their original research, and then at the Faculty Research Symposium, where faculty—and some students—shared work that is truly on the cutting edge of the creation of new knowledge.
The Biggest Challenge
In consideration of the joys of last week, this week, which kicked off with our annual Student Achievement Awards event on Monday, and next week’s Commencement, I am still processing how it all began. Thinking back to my first months at Baruch, and reviewing my earliest communications with you, causes me to remember how much time and attention—almost every waking minute—was devoted to helping us transition slowly and safely to in-person activities and on-campus work in August. Covid-19 recovery activities were the most significant challenge of the 2021-22 year, not just for my office, but for all of us. Our phased re-entry to campus life is still ongoing, but the signs of campus vibrancy abound—an in-person vibrancy that will climax next week at the Barclays Center.
The Opportunities of Online Education
Prior to the pandemic, online teaching was not widely adopted across Baruch College. Fewer than 10% of course sections were offered in an online format. As we know, the pandemic forced faculty to teach remotely, advisors to advise remotely, staff to work remotely, and students to learn in circumstances that were not designed to be learning environments. Nevertheless, we persisted and now can approach online and hybrid teaching and learning with intention and design. Building upon the recommendations of last year’s Hybrid/Online Instruction Programming Working Group, I convened the Hybrid and Online at Baruch Advisory Council (the Council) to make clear and actionable recommendations on how to effectively advance high-quality online instruction at Baruch College. I also engaged with an external consultant to develop a business model for fully online programs.
As a result of this work, on the recommendation of the Council, and in collaboration with Vice President for Information Services and Dean of the Library Arthur Downing, Baruch will be launching a Digital Learning Hub. The Digital Learning Hub will be our internal Online Program Management unit and a physical location for the production of instructional media. The search for the inaugural director and Assistant Vice President for Digital Learning is well along, with candidates visiting last week and this.
Every academic department now has a plan in place for the assessment of all new online courses and all courses that will be part of fully online programs. This oversight process will occur at the department level, with support from the Digital Learning Hub.
The Baruch One-Stop Shop
In the fall, after extensive staff consultation and a comprehensive review, we made the difficult decision to sunset the Division of Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS). While a challenge, this step created an opportunity to quickly stand up a physical Baruch One-Stop Shop, aka the BOSS, in the former CAPS space. Two CAPS staff members, Sonji Chambers and Marilyn Taylor-Charles, who had provided frontline student services to continuing education students, transitioned their expertise over to the BOSS. They are joined by cross-trained staff from the Offices of Financial Aid, the Registrar, and Academic Advising. The BOSS is led by Natalie Velazquez and staff from Enrollment Management and Strategic Academic Initiatives (EMSAI) and is a joint effort of EMSAI, the Division of Student Affairs, and the Division of Academic Affairs. BOSS operations have ramped up such that the physical location served more than 600 students in April alone, with additional students using the robust online services. The emergency food pantry will also be co-located in this space.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are core values for both the daily and long-term work of the Office of the Provost. We have partnered with OECDI and Executive Chief Diversity Officer Elliott Dawes to fundamentally change the way full-time faculty are recruited to diversify the hiring pool and advance a more inclusive and equitable search process.
To support faculty who are already at Baruch, the College has joined the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development, as described in an earlier message. A vacancy in the Office of Academic Administration provides us with the opportunity to redesign the activities of that office to include additional faculty support activities, such as a mentoring program. The search is underway for the new Director of Academic Administration.
Leveraging Intellectual Horsepower
We launched two programs to engage faculty with the College’s strategic goals—in other words, programs that leverage our faculty’s intellectual horsepower. Three Provost Innovation Fellows were appointed to lead efforts toward advancing inclusive teaching, cross-College and undergraduate research, and hybrid and engaged teaching and learning. The Faculty Innovation Seed Grant program provided incentives for cross-College teams of researchers to develop proposals for external funding and engage undergraduate student researchers. As I mentioned above, this work was presented to the College community in a lively showcase of faculty research last week.
We hired a new Associate Provost for Assessment, Accreditation, and Institutional Effectiveness, Dr. John Osae-Kwapong, who began his work February 28. He is mapping academic assessment activities across the College and will be working to develop a College-wide assessment plan.
As part of the assessment process, I meet with external program review teams. For 2021-22, this included the Marxe School’s NASPAA accreditation team, as well as program review teams for the Departments of Psychology and, upcoming, Journalism and the Writing Professions.
Budget Planning and Enrollment
Throughout the 2021-22 year, the Office of the Provost has worked with the Office of Planning and Budget to prepare the move toward an incentive-based, or activity-based, budget. I have made presentations on the topic to the Baruch Faculty Senate and other groups. Data analysis is still underway. While we don’t have the data and scenario planning completed to fully move to an incentive-based budget for next year, some budget adjustments will need to be made to accommodate increased undergraduate enrollment anticipated for Fall 2022.
To better align enrollment planning with teaching capacity and academic planning, Mary Gorman, Vice President for EMSAI, and I established the Enrollment Strategy Working Group, which began meeting monthly in March. This group of admissions, enrollment, and academic leaders is charged as an internal “think tank” for identifying enrollment and academic planning issues and proposing solutions.
Some Provost Professional Development Too
Faculty and staff professional development is an important part of your work so that you can remain current in your fields, understand best practices, and share your own work with peers. The same is true for administrators in leadership roles. During the past year, I have participated in two programs for provosts sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU): The AASCU Academy for New Provosts and the AASCU Strengthening Democracy Project. Through the former, I have received mentorship and participated in peer-to-peer conversations that have helped me be a better provost for Baruch College. Through the latter, I have given thought to our significant responsibility as a public institution of higher education to educate not only for our academic disciplines but also for ethical civic participation.
A Path Ahead
As our College-wide strategic planning process gets underway, I want to underscore that it will provide us, as a community, with the opportunity to forge a path ahead together. To adapt a line from my remarks at the SEEK Awards last Friday, when the door to opportunity opens, we can all excel. I look forward to walking through that door with you to help Baruch continue to excel as an institution and all of you as members of the Baruch community to excel in your professional roles in the years ahead. In the short run, I hope the slower pace of the summer class schedule provides some time for respite, renewal, and recreation.
With warm best wishes,
Dr. Linda Essig
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs