October 23, 2021

SUNY president points to bigger concerns in 2018

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum gives the State of the University address Thursday in Corey Union.

College is about pursuing a dream: finding it, preparing for it, chasing it, Erik Bitterbaum said Thursday. But today, reality threatens those dreams.

Bitterbaum delivered the state of the college address in Corey Union’s Function Room, noting a national climate of anti-intellectualism poses a particular challenge for colleges, undermining the value of a college education and promoting a scorn of colleges for being liberal. Colleges must respond, he said, by growing.

According to figures Bitterbaum cited from the National Student Clearinghouse Center, there were 2.6 million fewer students in college in the fall of 2017 compared to the fall of 2011.

“We have to worry about that,” he said.

The college will increase recruitment, though the number of applicants remains strong, Bitterbaum said, with about 1,000 more applicants this year than last. The college got about 11,900 applications for 1,300 spots.

The federal tax reform adopted in December creates more concerns, he said. Fewer taxpayers will itemize deductions, removing the incentive for charitable giving. SUNY Cortland uses $1 million in donations for scholarships.

In the larger picture, the tax reform and its elimination of tax deductions for state and local taxes over $10,000 will create a $41 billion deficit in New York — a deficit that SUNY may have to share.

Bitterbaum also said the threats to deport people brought to the United States as children without proper documentation, the so-called “Dreamers,” worry students, some of whom fall into this category.

Despite this, Bitterbaum pointed to the college’s successes:

• The college has been praised by the League of American Bicyclists as being a bike-friendly campus.

• It will host a professional development seminar for other SUNY colleges.

• A new course in the fall will expand the English Department’s reach to students who need help learning to write.

Bitterbaum shared anecdotes from graduates like Joseph Constantino, a business economics major who left a career on Wall Street to follow his heart and now works for Tesla in Fort Lauderdale.

Another student, whom Bitterbaum didn’t name, came to SUNY Cortland from an under-resourced school in New York City. The student told Bitterbaum that his experience at SUNY Cortland turned his life around.

“He said he didn’t fall through the proverbial cracks because of the faculty and the message was, ‘You belong here,’ ” Bitterbaum said. “It was the most powerful thing he ever heard at Cortland. I care about you.”

Bitterbaum said no-one should be afraid to speak their mind in light of something that is objectionable.

“We all have to be leaders,” he said.