We are back. Fall 2016 school year has started. Students are still finalizing class schedules (drop-adds and re-registrations and other changes will continue for a few more days) but in another week or so we will all have settled down to a more regular routine.
Here at William Paterson, we are just a couple of days into the new fall semester (and thankful that we have been spared any wrath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm/(and as of this writing, now officially a post-tropical Cyclone Hermine–will leave it to the meteorologists to parse the distinctions). We have officially welcomed our new students, the President has welcomed the community, and I have just finished my fall all-faculty address and welcome.
Fall is a new beginning for academics, with plenty of promise: New students (we have about 2600 new students–new first year and transfer) and new faculty ( we just welcomed 21 new tenure track faculty at a new faculty orientation on September 2–and it is really good to be able to say that we are still hiring sizable numbers of tenure track faculty).
However, even with beginnings we have recurring challenges. It is very disappointing to note that almost all of our faculty and staff remain without a contract. The state of New Jersey has settled with one union, but negotiations have not yet resulted in a settlement for faculty and most of our professional staff. Having spent almost all of my career at collective bargaining institutions (and having served on two statewide bargaining teams, including one that took almost two years), I am aware of the difficulties of bargaining, but also aware of the need to have an agreement in place.
As we move through the 2016-17 academic year, we, along with most every other public regional state university, will also continue to face financial pressure, enrollment pressure, and pressure to improve retention and graduation rates. This may seem like another verse of the same old song, but the refrain is as real as the pressure.
So as we start the year at William Paterson, we are excited and happy to be back. We have a good number of new students and a great crew of new (and of course veteran) faculty. The state has not reduced our budget (and in today’s new normal that becomes something to celebrate) and we are in pretty good financial shape. We are looking to continue to improve our metrics, and we are looking at how we can grow our enrollments, especially at the graduate level.
So is our future perfect? Of course not, but there is room for growth and reason to think we can grow. There is plenty of doom and gloom about higher education out there (I sometimes think both The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed should come wrapped in shrouds), but fall for academics is like spring for lovers–we can both be as giddy as a baby on a swing (thank you Rodgers and Hammerstein).
Welcome to fall 2016.