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President's Post 120: Fall 2017 State of the College Address

On October 11, 2017, President Mercer delivered his State of the College Address. Below is a summary of that address.

Over the years, these addresses have been shaped, in part, by the political and economic climate. The Newfoundland phrase “stunned as me arse” is used by my fellow Newfies to imply incredible stupidity or foolishness. While the expression is apropos of nothing in particular, it is interestingly being used more frequently these days.

Over the course of the last decade, we have made considerable progress on several of our goals while remaining true to our liberal arts mission. For example:


In undergraduate enrollment, this year’s freshmen class is 41% non-white.

2007 Total Headcount/% Non-white 2017 Total Headcount/% Non-white
5393/20.2% 5618/31%

In graduate enrollment, we have also made tremendous strides.

2007 Total Headcount/% Non-white 2017 Total

Headcount/% Non-white

309/11% 502/23.8%


Our endowment has nearly tripled during the last decade. Our endowment is small in light of our youth, but in 2007 it was valued at $6.5 million, now it is $18.2 million and our scholarship program continues to grow as a result of excellent investment returns and new endowment gifts. Our endowment supports 424 scholarships and awards this year. Students, get your scholarship applications in by the deadline of November 6th. Also, the Ramapo College Campaign for the Learning Commons continues to advance as a result of the generosity of our Board Members and Alumni. The most recent gift of $750,000 from alumnae, Marilyn J. Clark, brings the current total to just over $7 million. There is an additional $2.3 million in pending gifts. The Case Statement for the Learning Commons Campaign will be available in November and will allow us to reach more constituents to secure their support.

Value of Liberal Arts

It is difficult these days to hear such scrutiny of our sector and of our mission. But it is so satisfying when prominent people counter that narrative. For example, Guy Berger, a LinkedIn economist said, “There is a real concern that these labor-market-oriented degrees that focus on specific technical skills are not (as) durable.” Quartz magazine reported that Berger believes that “cross-functional skills” like management and analytical know-how are more adaptable across a range of work environments. As technology changes the nature of work across nearly every industry, it’s important to have a wide range of such talents, rather than a narrow subset applied only to a particular sector that may not look the same in the near future (or, indeed, exist at all).


Over the past decade, higher education rankings outfits have also grown. We went from really just US News and Princeton Review to now Colleges of Distinction, College Choice, Military Friendly, Kiplingers, Niche, and many others.

Operational Transformations

Among the many ways the College has responded to and even anticipated change over the past decade, we can look to the emergence and/or transformations of some areas. For example:

  • Human Resources is now home to Office of Learning and Development
  • Graduate Admissions & Adult Degree Completion
  • Center for Student Involvement
  • Honors Program
  • Office of the Ombuds
  • Roukema Center for International Education
  • Grants and Sponsored Research
  • Alumni Affairs
  • Center for Reading and Writing
  • Krame Center
  • Government Relations
  • Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance

Title IX

Kat McGee, Director of Title IX, participated in a meeting on September 15 with Senator Menendez discussing Title IX, campus sexual assault, and the short/long term impacts of revoking current Title IX guidance. The meeting with the Senator was also attended by our partners with NJCASA, Family Service League/SAVE of Essex County, and representatives of Rutgers University’s Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance Initiative and Center on Violence Against Women and Children. During the meeting Kat shared that Colleges handle many other campus safety concerns (stolen laptops, roommate brawls, arson) and we use the same the “preponderance of the evidence” standard for all policy violations. Regarding Title IX and the news from the DOE, campus received a message from Director McGee, Chief Morgan Agard, Dean Van Der Wall, and Vice President Romano yesterday reinforcing our policy to use the preponderance of evidence standard and detailing our support services.

VP Romano has been invited to serve as 1 of 10 individuals across the country to sit with the acting director of the Office of Civil Rights, Candace Jackson, to discuss the future of Title IX since the rescinding of the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter where the Acting Director can hear directly from practitioners.

Provost Search

Yvette Kisor, Professor of Literature, inb the Salameno School of Humanities and Global Studies will chair the search and we anticipate bringing finalists to campus in late March.

Strategic Plan

While we have made much progress on our current Strategic Plan, there is remaining work to be done. Rather than develop a new plan, I feel strongly that a refinement and extension of our current plan will serve the College well.

Shared Governance Task Force

The Shared Governance Task Force will be presenting its preliminary findings and recommendations to multiple audiences later this month including the Faculty Assembly, Communications Meetings for faculty, staff, and managers, and the Student Government Association, among others. All of us are encouraged to participate in those presentations by asking questions and proving feedback.

Board of Trustees Officers

At its September meeting the Board of Trustees elected a new slate of officers. It has been rewarding for me to work with a Board that is so dedicated to advancing the mission of the College. Chair Ruotolo’s term expired and succeeding him is William “Bill” Dator as Chair, Susan A. Vallario as Vice Chair, Gary L. Montroy as Secretary, and David G. Schlussel as Treasurer.

College Faculty and Staff Recognition

Culling together the good news and achievements of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni for these addresses is such a rewarding experience as well. A few examples follow of how our colleagues are making their marks in the state and beyond.

NJ: Finalists for the NJ March of Dimes Nurse of the Year have been announced and among them are four members of Ramapo. Congrats to Professor Elaine Patterson, and alumni Wendy Dabney, Stefanie Giddens, and Olga Barry.

NJ: Tamika Quick, Assistant Director of Equity and Diversity Programs, has been named to the Board of Directors for the ACE Women’s Network-NJ.  According to ACE, the group is a diverse group of women committed to the goals of identifying, developing, encouraging, advancing, linking, and supporting women’s leadership in higher education.  Tamika is lending her efforts to the Communications and Programming Committee.

NJ: The Russell Berrie Foundation awarded VP Davey and JoAnne Zellers a $1 million grant to design and create an Institute for Making a Difference at Ramapo College which will provide many opportunities for our students to have paid internships at not-for-profit organizations.

NJ: Last month, the Governor appointed Gina Mayer-Costa, Director of Environmental Health and Safety, to the Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board. The Board assists the Commissioner of Labor in establishing standards for the occupational safety and health of public employees. Gina is the sole representative for higher education.

NY, NJ, PA: Barbara Harmon Francis, Director of EOF, was elected as the 1st Vice President for the Tri-State Consortium of Opportunity Programs in Higher Education.  This is a two year position.  Barbara has been serving on the Tri-State board for 10 years.  The Tri-State Consortium of Opportunity Programs in Higher Education is a not-for-profit association of volunteer members in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.  It represents educational institutions, state education agencies and others involved in the administration of state-supported educational opportunity programs in post-secondary education. At these institutions, the opportunity programs serve tens of thousands college students from educationally and financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

TX: Professor Ira Spar has been appointed to the Advisory Board of the Terrorism Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University. Professor Spar will work with Dr. Neil Brodie, Senior Research Fellow, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford and Dr. Nathan Elkins, a numismatist from Baylor University in identifying and documenting the likely geographic provenance of specific looted Mesopotamian artifacts, he will also review team findings concerning the current status of antiquities trade and strategies to disrupt it.

NY: Ben Neill headlined with Carol Szymanski ​“New Sounds Live” presented by Arts Brookfield  from Oct. 6-11 at The Winter Garden in New York.

NY: Distinguished Concerts International New York City announced in the spring that Dr. Lisa Lutter and the Ramapo College CantaNOVA were invited to participate in a performance of The Music of Eric Whitacre at Lincoln Center on Monday, April 16, 2018. Dr. Johnathan Griffith, artistic director for the concert series, said “CantaNOVA received this invitation because of the quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers as well as the exceptional quality of their audition recording. It is quite an honor just to be invited to perform in New York. These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community. This is an event of extreme pride for everybody and deserving of the community’s recognition and support.” Canta NOVA will spend 5 days and 4 nights in New York City in preparation for their concert.

WASHINGTON, DC: The Center for Student Involvement was selected for the fourth consecutive year as a Lead Institution by NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.)  Ramapo is one of less than 100 colleges and universities which have earned this recognition for making civic learning and democratic engagement a part of every student’s college education.

WASHINGTON, DC: Professor Amruth Kumar joined Ramapo in 1993.  He has been named a Distinguished Member by The Association for Computing Machinery in recognition for his individual contributions to the field of computing, and for having advanced the science and education of computing in a significant way. In 2008, he was awarded a roughly $401,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. In less than 10 years, Amruth has managed to double that amount. This year, as the Principal Investigator, Professor Kumar secured a nearly $1 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to provide scholarships to Computer Science students who demonstrate academic talent and have a strong financial need.

WASHINGTON, DC: Ramapo’s American Chemical Society Student Chapter (aka the Chem-Biochem Club) won the Outstanding Student chapter award from the ACS.  This is a national award and is the highest honor given to student chapters.  This is a first for Ramapo.  They also were given the “Green Chapter Award” by the ACS for the second year in a row.

CA: Beth Walkley was invited to serve on a roundtable for Adaptive Insights. Participants learned from Beth and others how to implement the system further into our financial planning processes.

ONTARIO: John Woods joined the College in 2006. As Ombudsman he has spent the past decade working quietly, unobtrusively, but effectively in mediating conflicts and disputes. I am pleased to share that at the National Bar Association’s 92nd Annual Convention in Toronto in late July, John was awarded the Association’s Presidential Award for Outstanding Service in dispute resolution.

Student/Alumni Leadership and Engagement

There is never enough time in any address to cover the breadth and depth of our student’s engagement. A few examples follow:

The Student Emergency Relief Fund Committee which is led by the Student Government Association but comprised of faculty, staff, administration, and students is a wonderful demonstration of Ramapo Values. As a campus wide initiative, it was established in collaboration with the Civic and Community Engagement Center and the Office of Equity and Diversity Programs. The Student Emergency Relief Fund Committee was established to assist currently enrolled students who are facing issues of food insecurity. The Committee has already raised $2,250. Applications for these emergency relief funds are accessible through the SGA and through Equity and Diversity. The Committee is also keen to establish a food pantry on campus in the spring and that request is currently under review by the Space Management and Allocation Advisory Committee.

Leaders in Service turned 8 this year. The fall 2017 cohort includes 44 first-year students who participated in the off campus civic engagement activities including volunteer service on environmental and home building projects, social engagement with residents of health facilities, and mentorship with migrant agricultural families.

Student Affairs is proud to announce the opening of the Office for Violence Prevention, located in C215 and C216 (across from the Women’s Center).  The office focuses on education and prevention activities for students related to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

As part of Disabilty Awareness Month, The American Sign Language Club and Young Leftists and Progressives have collaborated to deliver “Who Did Helen Keller Grow Up To Be? A Conversation About Disability Activism” on October18 at  5:00PM . Disability Awareness Month & Queer and Trans History Month Keynote Speaker: Kay Ulanday Barrett will speak on October 25, 2017 – 2:00 PM Friends Hall

Today is Pride Fest. In celebration of National Coming Out Day today marks Ramapo’s first ever Pride Fest.   LGBTQA+ friendly and advocacy groups joining us today at 3pm at the Arch include Garden State Equality, the Pride Network, Ramapo Pride, The Women’s Center, Office of Equity and Diversity, Diversity Peer Educators, and others.

Also on display today in the Grove is the Clothesline Project, a visual display dedicated to raising awareness about the reality of violence in our society. It is composed of t-shirts created by survivors of violence, or in honor of someone who has experienced violence. Each t-shirt reflects the personal experience of its creator and may occasionally have some graphic material on them.  The Clothesline exhibit follows last month’s Send Silence Packing Display, a national awareness campaign facilitated by Active Minds.  Send Silence Packing was an exhibition of 1,100 backpacks representing the college students lost to suicide each year.  Since 2008, Send Silence Packing has been displayed at over 200 stops and traveled to more than 38 states across the country reaching almost 1 million students.  Ramapo, which has its own Active Minds chapter celebrating its 10th year on campus, was honored to have been selected for a second time to host the exhibit.  The program included remarks from immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees George C. Ruotolo and the presentation of a Senate Resolution by the State of New Jersey by Senator Sandra Cunningham that praised Ramapo for its service, leadership, and commitment to programs committed to mental health and suicide prevention.

Athletics has taken a lead and has implemented NCAA Drug Testing for athletes this year.

Our Men’s Basketball Team is ranked second in the nation.

Social Science contract major Mindy Gorin just began her study of law at Michigan Law School.  She intends to research aspects of discrimination as it pertains to gender and law.

International Studies major Jimmy Grissman was selected to receive a Global Health Fellowship with the UN Foundation.

Students Reeve Olivia Harden and Cassandra Fenton will be presenting their work at COPLAC this weekend at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.  Once again, our students are showcasing their intellectual talents across the country.

Alison Banks-Moore, the Chief Diversity Officer for Blue Cross-Blue Shield and alumna, is chairing a new Foundation Mentorship Program that invited student scholarship recipients to be paired with a member of the Board of Governors who will serve as their mentor for junior and senior year.

Best friends in Disney’s “Descendants 2” are at a relationship crossroads halfway through the musical when they break out in song – “Space Between” – co-written by North Arlington native and alumnus Stephen Conley. Also, Samantha Simone, Theater program alumna from the class of 2015, in her third year of the MFA program in Acting at Columbia University, was cast recently in CBS television’s series “Blue Bloods,” for which she received SAG (Screen Actors’ Guild) membership.

Ramapo’s Student Health Center is now an HIV testing site as designated by the Department of Health.  The College can now routinely offer free HIV testing to students directly in the Student Health Center as opposed to scheduled visits from off campus agencies.  The funding for the service comes from the Federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act of 2006.  Ramapo College is one of only 5 colleges in New Jersey to offer this service.

Counseling Services is pleased to launch its new ENHANCE program. The Program provides additional services, beyond what is required by disability law, to students who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  An increase at Ramapo in students with Autism Spectrum Disorders prompted Counseling Services, with assistance from the Office of Specialized Services, to create a program that aims to establish a dedicated way for more strategic attention to be directed to students.  The program is led by Ms. Suzanne Calgi, LCSW.  Students who enroll in the fee-based program experience support with social challenges, coaching around communication difficulties, individualized therapy without any session limits, tools for building healthy relationships, mentoring, skills for working within a group, and adjustment coaching for those students living on campus.

The College is providing all students, faculty, and staff with the LiveSafe app – a safety tool that provides a quick, convenient, and discreet way to communicate with Ramapo College Public Safety.  The app provides for emergency contact to Public Safety, allows for sending messages to the Public Safety Desk, and allows for tracking of a person while on campus to and from locations through the assistance of a person in the Contacts of the subscriber in the form of a buddy.

All first-year students now have three advisement meetings in their first year with their assigned advisor starting at Orientation and continuing until they transition to faculty advisors as sophomores. In our first year of implementation in fall 2016, the Center for Student Success had 618 more student appointments, which was a 36% increase over the prior year. As part of the Academic Advisement Council, the Center for Student Success looks forward to continuing to foster Ramapo’s culture of academic advisement for student Success.

Curriculum and Faculty

Among some of the curricular advances and many faculty achievements, I’m pleased to highlight the following:

The College launched the MS Accounting Program this fall and exceeded its targets in its first year.  The goal was to enroll 13 students in the first year and we have 24 students enrolled.

The Eastern Economics Association has returned to ASB, and it represents an interdisciplinary effort, with ASB Professor Alex Olbrecht as Executive Director and SSHS Professor Kristin Kenneavy serving as Conference Coordinator.

This past summer ASB became a signatory on Principles of Responsible Management Education, a United Nations Global Compact initiative to promote ethics, social responsibility, and sustainability in business education, as manifest in curricular, extra-curricular, and faculty research activities

Recipients of the 2017 Foundation Faculty Research Challenge include:  Professors Nikhil Varma, Gilad Cohen, Lisa Cassidy, Naseem Choudhury, and Thomas Owen.  This evening at my home, my wife, Jackie, and I will have the opportunity to recognize all of the many faculty and staff members who have applied for grants last year to support our students, fund special programs or advance research. You should know that 66 individuals applied for grant funds last year both internally and externally thru the Foundation.

Professor. Sandra Suarez’s TRIO Grant for Upward Bound to prepare at-risk high school students for college success in math and science was funded for 5 years at nearly $1.4 million.

Professor Angela Cristini was awarded a $200,000 grant from Reed Academy for “Greens Do Good” that will involve research by Professors Yan Xu, Ashwani Vasishth and Mike  Edelstein, as well as a conference with Professor Julie Norflus-Good and her education students.

Professor Dean Chen (Political Science/International Studies) was awarded a Fulbright and is teaching in China at Jilin University for the 2017-18 year.

Professor Stephanie Sarabia has soon to be published, Impact of Adult Roles on Maturing Out of Substance Use Among Sexually Diverse Women in the Journal of Mental Health in Social Work;

Professor  John McTighe has a new book coming out entitled “Narrative Theory in Clinical Social Work Practice”, published by Springer.

Professor Kathleen Ray has in press, “Developing a problem-solving treatment for gulf war illness: Cognitive rehabilitation of veterans with complex post-deployment health concerns” in the Clinical Journal of Social Work.

Professor Peter Heinze recently published “Teleology and the Collective Unconscious” in Semiotics 2016.  It compares Jungian and Freudian perspectives while also critiquing some aspects of contemporary relational analysis.

Professor Eileen Klein published, “Using Social Support for LGBTQ Clients with Mental Illness to be Out of the Closet, in Treatment and in the Community” in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services.

Professor  Henri Lustiger-Thaler edited a 2017 book, “Witnessing Unbound.”  The work helps inform our cultural understanding of the multiple experiences of the Holocaust.

The Law & Society faculty worked to recently publish the spring 2017 Ramapo Journal of Law & Society, a journal that allows undergraduates from across the country to publish their research.  The faculty are working with the student editors on the fall 2017 issue – please look out for it.

Business and Infrastructure

In September, the Department of Human Resources launched the Learning, Development & Performance website and developmental training opportunities for all employees.  Our Learning and Development initiatives are focused on (1) cultivating Ramapo’s workforce and enhancing Ramapo’s organizational culture through professional development programs; (2) assisting individuals in developing their interpersonal and supervisory skills; and (3) improving the quality of work life and job satisfaction for employees. Learning & Development opportunities are available for individual employees or can be scheduled as a group or unit-based developmental opportunity.

The Budget Office completed the transaction detail implementation pulling detailed information from Banner into Adaptive, and continues to train users. The office has also begun the implementation of helpful dashboards in Adaptive Discovery.

ITS has been navigating the College through a series of upgrades and implementations. As a business partner, our ITS Team:

  • started the implementation of moving from Banner 8 to Banner 9
  • implemented Handshake, the replacement of the Archway in Cahill
  • implemented AIM online software with OSS
  • is implementing uAchieve  and uAchieve Planner degree audit and planning software with Registrar and Student Success
  • with Financial Aid, upgraded AppWorx (Automic) and automating Financial Aid Daily Banner Job Processes
  • Developed Spaceman online space planning application in concert with Planning and Facilities

For client services, major projects completed over the summer by ITS included:

  • Upgrades of the computers in 7 labs, swapping out slower hard drives for SSD drives, replacing monitors
  • Working with facilities to provide desktop power outlets for student laptops and other portable devices.

During the “summer vacation” our facilities team was hard at work:

  • Nicole Jones refreshed the Campus Classroom recycling plan.
  • Ed Roessler and Joe Castoro implemented a new wildflower meadow at the north end of the athletic fields.
  • James Sanders is rebuilding the veggiewatt from the ground up using his diesel mechanic skills.
  • Also, with an enhanced level of cooperation between facilities and Student Involvement, this year’s new students were greeted with a “Welcome” sign for move-in day painted on the hill by the Bradley Center. I’m told that facilities, and more specifically our Grounds crew members, were excited to be involved, and recognized for their efforts. The team also helped lay out the plan for the class picture on the band shel
  • Chuck Jurgensen and Doug Lawrence hiked a 100 mile section of the Appalachian Trail in Maine.
  • New exterior seating has been installed near the arch and in the grove.
  • Capital is seeing the wrapping up of the Padovano Commons project, slated to open in late November, and the finalization of the programing for the Library Learning Commons project. The group is now turning its attention to the transitional plan for the Library and other spaces while we transform the existing Library.
  • We also saw the retirement of Dick Roberts after 47 years with the College this summer. Dick’s legacy will persevere, as he has been integral to the foot print of the College and much of its development over those many years.



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