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December 27, 2013

Colleges saw year of growth, changes

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Awards for excellence, changes in leadership, contract negotiations and national recognition are some of the things that put area colleges in the news in 2013.

Sometimes the local SUNY schools — State University College at Oneonta, State University College of Technology at Delhi, and State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill —  shared some or all of the headlines.

In late February, a new contract was announced between the state and the United University Professions union. The pact was approved in the spring.

UUP, which has more than 35,000 members on SUNY campuses and system administration, including about 1,400 in the area, had been without a contract since 2011. Under the proposal, members would receive a zero-percent wage increase for the three years, 2011 to 2013, and 2-percent increases in 2014 and 2015. Contributions toward health coverage would increase.

In early April, a number of college scholars with local connections received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

The annual awards recognize students for academic achievement and integrated accomplishments in other areas, such as leadership, career achievement, campus involvement, athletics, community service or creative and performing arts.

At SUNY Oneonta, Emily Hunter from Cooperstown, and Dylan Nealis from Delhi were honored. Meghan Wallace of Roxbury was honored by SUNY Delhi.

Celina Furman of Norwich, a student at the State University College at Potsdam; Gwendolyn Nieves of Sidney, a student at Broome Community College; and Shane Delameter of Arkville, a student at Herkimer County Community College; were also recognized.

In mid-June , fifteen faculty and staff at the three schools were awarded the 2012-13 Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence.

At SUNY Oneonta, seven staffers received the recognition, while five at SUNY Delhi and three from SUNY Cobleskill were honored. The awards are presented in six categories — faculty service, librarianship, professional service, scholarship and creative activities, teaching, and classified service, and local recipients were honored at recent on-campus events.

In late June, a member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet spoke to an audience of about 50 people at SUNY Oneonta about a program to encourage job creation, including all SUNY colleges. START-UP NY had been recently signed into law. A state official was at SUNY Delhi earlier in the month to explain the program. It's designed to stimulate upstate economies by allowing SUNY colleges and four-year college or universities to create tax incentives in partnership with prospective businesses.

In April it was announced that ESPN correspondent Sal Paolantonio had been chosen to deliver the May 18 commencement address at SUNY Oneonta, his alma mater.

The longtime broadcaster also received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the SUNY Board of Trustees during the event. He presented the commencement address in 2000, but this was the first honorary degree he has received from the college.

Other graduations took place later that month. The centennial graduating class of the SUNY Delhi was greeted with music as members proceeded into the Clark Field House.

The college was founded as an agriculture and domestic science school. Since then it has added such departments as nursing, construction, veterinary science technology and culinary arts.

“You are the alumni that graduated in the centennial year,” SUNY Delhi President Candace Vancko told the students, “and are now a part of the illustrious history of this college.”

It was part of a yearlong celebration of the college for its 100th anniversary that featured several events during the year.

Dr. Deepak Chopra gave the commencement address.

“It is imperative for the future of humanity that wisdom becomes the new criterion for sustainable life on this planet,” Chopra said to the 303 graduates.

In early June, a high-tech collaboration between three regional colleges, including a state grant award for $15 million, was announced. SUNY Cobleskill and SUNY Delhi will join with SUNY Morrisville to create biodigesters on their campuses.

The program, which is expected to create more than 200 jobs, is one of four projects funded by the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program.

In a September issue of U.S. News and World Report, all the area colleges were mentioned in the annual “Best Colleges” ranking. SUNY Oneonta was among the top 100 colleges in the Northeast for the eighth consecutive year. Hartwick College was included on the first-tier of best national liberal arts colleges, with a No. 161 ranking overall, up three spots from the 2013 edition. SUNY Delhi was ranked No. 29 on the best regional colleges list, which was its highest position to date. SUNY Cobleskill ranked among the best regional colleges in the north at No. 36, moving up two spots from last year’s ranking.

A new year began for all area schools in late August or early September. Classes started at SUNY Oneonta with an enrollment of about 6,000 students, including about 1,100 freshmen and 525 transfer students. At Hartwick College, about 540 freshmen were scheduled to start the year with enrollment at about 1,600.

At SUNY Delhi, about 3,725 students were expected, including 995 freshmen. The opening of Sanford Hall was planned. It was described as a community conference room, café and state-of-the-art learning laboratory for business and nursing.

At SUNY Cobleskill, more than 1,000 freshman and transfer students and a total enrollment of a little more than 2,500. A notable development was a growing interest in bachelor’s degrees, with about 45 percent of students currently seeking the four-year degrees.

Other news was specific to each school:

SUNY Oneonta

The year started with the college being ranked among the “100 Best Values in Public Colleges’’ by Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine.

On the list of 100 schools, SUNY Oneonta ranked No. 59 for in-state students and No. 45 for out-of-state students. It was among 10 SUNY institutions included on the list.

In July the college announced that it had been re-accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education Association for another 10 years.

A range of learning opportunities, fiscal management and improved graduation rates among Hispanic students at SUNY Oneonta were among factors applauded by an academic assessment group.

“Such a resoundingly favorable assessment affirms SUNY Oneonta’s overall excellence, the aspirations of our strategic plan and the dedication of the entire campus community in serving our students,” college President Nancy Kleniewski said.

Shortly before the start of the fall semester, she outlined the “ambitious, strategically critical plan to advance teaching, learning and scholarship” by restructuring academic affairs from a three-division to a five-school arrangement.

Hartwick College

In March, it was announced Hartwick College would soon start a $3.4 million project month to renovate and expand its Dewar Union student center to meet social and fitness needs of the campus community, a spokeswoman said.

The 14,800-square-foot project will include remodeling the current Stack Lounge in Dewar Union and adding a state-of-the-art exercise facility.

In April, Hartwick College English Professor Thomas J. Travisano has been named a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow in the category of “Creative Arts — Biography.” Travisano is the first Hartwick faculty member to receive the recognition.

In August, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand stopped at Hartwick College to tout her proposal to bring greater broadband access to rural areas. It was included in the version of the Farm Bill passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this year.

Gillibrand said at the event, “Expanding broadband access creates jobs and helps communities grow.”

In mid-October, college President Margaret Drugovich addressed hundreds of students, faculty and staff at a State of the College address. She spoke about continued financial accessibility to a Hartwick education and re-emphasized the institution’s focus on students.

“This is why we’re here,” Drugovich, who joined Hartwick as president in 2008, said. “They are where we must continue to focus our energy every single day.”

Highlights of the past year included the receipt of nearly $500,000 in grants to support research, academic programs and campus improvements. Drugovich also noted about 26 capital improvement projects totaling almost $650,000 to the campus during the summer and past year. The projects included paving improvements, interior and exterior painting and building upgrades, tile and carpeting, the Center for Student Success and technology projects. The college raised $22.2 million in its Campaign for Hartwick Students, more than half of the $35 million goal.

SUNY Delhi

In March, the college’s two-year culinary arts program had its accreditation renewed by a branch of the American Culinary Federation Inc. The organization, established in 1929, is the premier professional organization for culinarians in North America. The achievement shows the college program has maintained the strict standards the organization requires since SUNY Delhi was first accredited in 2004, officials said.

In late August U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited SUNY Delhi to lend her support to the college’s proposed water conservation initiative. The Energy Efficient Subsurface Disposal and Irrigation project was developed by the college in response to the village of Delhi’s waste-water treatment plant approaching maximum capacity under current state permitting, while two local businesses continue to grow and expand.

Said Gillibrand, “You have my commitment to work with our local leaders and to make sure this gets done.”

SUNY Cobleskill

In May, a change of leadership was announced at SUNY Cobleskill, effective June 1.

Debra Hollar Thatcher began as acting president, while a national search got underway. She has served as chief operating officer, provost and vice president of academic affairs at SUNY Cobleskill since January 2011.

A long-running federal suit against the college ended in July. Thatcher said she was “thrilled” that a federal court jury has determined there is “no factual basis” to claims by tenured professor Thomas Hickey that the college has racially discriminatory admissions policies.

In 2009, Hickey initiated his lawsuit against SUNY Cobleskill and two of its then-administrators, after he was stripped of his deanship. He argued he was punished for calling attention to what he says was the administration’s effort to qualify for more state funding by enrolling students who didn’t belong in college.