SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum delivers State of the College Address

Erik Bitterbaum, president of SUNY Cortland, addresses faculty and staff in Corey Union Thursday morning  (Photo provided by SUNY Cortland)

Editor's Note: The following article is a media release from SUNY Cortland issued Thursday, Jan. 18, 2017.

SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum emphasized the College’s commitment to community during his State of the College address on Thursday, Jan. 18.

The new SUNY Cortland Cupboard pantry for food-insecure students and the 2017 appointment of James A. Felton III as chief diversity officer were highlighted as ways in which the College remains dedicated to helping its students both in and out of the classroom.

Bitterbaum shared the story of a 2017 graduate who came from an underprivileged background. This student had never read a novel or written a paper longer than three pages before arriving at SUNY Cortland.

A pair of faculty members, however, offered encouragement and support and also helped the student make the personal transition into an academic environment.

“His message was that you have to be intrusive,” Bitterbaum said. “That is the greatest gift you can give a student; by being intrusive in their lives. It shows that you care. They may not want you to write all over their paper, but if you can be intrusive in their lives, that can make such a difference.”

One quarter of SUNY Cortland students come from historically under-represented groups. That is an increase of 22 percent since Bitterbaum took office in 2003. He urged faculty and staff to continue to reach out to students who may be struggling to adapt to college life, both academically and socially. Minority and international students are all striving to enculturate, the process by which people learn the requirements and values of their surrounding culture.

“We want this place to be a welcoming institution for everyone,” Bitterbaum said. “As we become more diversified, we have to be aware of a number of issues. Think of our international students, who are experiencing the same issues.”

Continued expansion of the College’s international programs, which have grown significantly since 2010, will also create a greater diversity of people and ideas at SUNY Cortland. President Bitterbaum spoke about his visit to Cuba in June 2017 and the connections he’s forged with Cuban ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez. SUNY officials, including Bitterbaum and SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall, will return to Cuba in February to sign additional agreements to expand academic opportunities between the two nations.

Bitterbaum also addressed a number of challenges facing higher education, including the public perception of colleges and universities, changes to tax law that may impact charitable giving and the uncertainty surrounding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that may put 700,000 undocumented young people at risk of deportation. He stressed the importance of college education and how it significantly increases lifetime earnings and economic security and how college graduates are much more likely to volunteer, vote and have fewer health problems than their peers with just high school educations.

College enrollment across the country dropped by 2.6 million students between 2011 and 2017. Bitterbaum noted that SUNY Cortland has bucked that trend, as the College received 11,900 freshmen applications in 2016-17, an increase of more than 1,000 from 2015-16.

A number of recently awarded grants will help SUNY Cortland grow and expand its academic offerings. A $277,000 award will allow the College to develop the Institute on College Teaching, which will serve as a centralized resource for faculty from all 64 SUNY campuses. Online and in-person professional development programs and faculty learning communities will aid faculty from across the state in becoming better teachers. SUNY Cortland was chosen for the grant based on its history and expertise in teacher education.

Faculty and staff will develop and pilot a developmental writing program with a $20,000 grant. SUNY’s Developmental English Learning Community aims to improve student writing through the co-requisite Accelerated Learning Program (ALP). New courses will be developed this coming semester to be offered in Fall 2018.

Bitterbaum noted a number of grants and awards earned by faculty members during 2017, including the $1 million grant for milkweed study on which Steve Broyles, biology department chair, serves as co-principal investigator.

He also touched on the following topics:

  • The Corey Union dining renovations are ongoing and will be completed by the start of the Fall semester. In addition to expanded food and beverage options, a living room space also is being built.
  • The City of Cortland received $10 million from New York state as part of its Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which will bring a number of exciting changes to Cortland. A separate $2 million Regional Economic Development Council award will be used to construct bicycle and pedestrian connections between SUNY Cortland and I-81 Exit 11. SUNY Cortland was named a Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists in 2017. The City of Cortland was named one of the top 30 safest college towns in America and one of the top 10 “Best Small Cities for New Grads.”
  • SUNY Cortland was ranked No. 23 nationally in com’s list of the 50 best values for teaching degrees earlier this month. The College was the highest-ranked among SUNY colleges.
  • The College will continue to invest in capital equipment for academic departments, campus activities, environmental health and safety, facilities operations and services as well as outdoor education and recreational sports.
  • The College is considering creating a series of academic camps, based on the success of the SUNY Cortland summer sports camps. Programs in math, creative writing, art, history and many other subjects would help introduce children to the idea of higher education and familiarize them with the campus.
  • History Department faculty members Kevin B. Sheets and Randi Storch, as well as Amy Henderson-Harr, assistant vice president of research and sponsored programs emerita, are working on an illustrated book detailing the College’s history from 1990 to 2017.

Lastly, President Bitterbaum shared a number of thank-you notes faculty have received from former students.

Brittany Chambers ’11, a senior development manager at the Good Food Institute in Washington, D.C., wrote to Randi Storch, chair of the History Department, to share her gratitude for the role SUNY Cortland’s faculty played in her academic development.

“I cannot quantify the pride I feel in reminiscing on the quality of my education,” Chambers wrote. “Your work as a researcher, professor and mentor is incredibly important. Please, please relay my sincere gratitude to the entire History Department for their tireless work guarding facts and empowering students. Superheroes exist in real life and for me, they are disguised in plain clothes as history professors.”

Following Bitterbaum’s remarks, Peter Perkins, vice president for institutional advancement, discussed the upcoming capital campaign. The fundraising effort will publicly launch in 2019 and will run through 2023, with a significant portion of the proceeds going toward scholarship programs.

Erin Boylan, executive director of alumni engagement, and Mary Kate Boland ’06, associate director of leadership and community development, spoke about SUNY Cortland’s plans to celebrate its Sesquicentennial in 2018 and 2019. The Cortland Normal School was founded in 1868.

A number of anchor events will link up with the College’s 150th birthday, including Commencement, C-Club Hall of Fame inductions, Cortaca, Transformations and Spring Fling 2019. Storch is working with a class to select 150 moments from the College’s history to build a digital timeline. Proposals for grants for activities, lectures and workshops to coincide with the Sesquicentennial will be accepted through March 9.

The hope is that by celebrating SUNY Cortland’s history, current accomplishments and expected future growth, the College can deepen its relationships with alumni, parents, students and members of the Cortland community.