DO Questions From Michael Burke

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  1. At a University Senate meeting last fall, a faculty member asked you for your perspective on whether there is a difference between being a veteran-friendly campus and a military-friendly campus. At the time, you said you wanted some time to think it over. Have you had time to consider that question and, if so, how do you perceive the difference? In our view, the focus should be on individuals not on institutions, which is why our priority is supporting those who have served and are serving, and their families.  As you know, part of our strategic vision for Syracuse University is a distinctive excellence in providing post-service educational opportunities for veterans and military families. We have an opportunity and a capacity to continue being nationally recognized as the best university for veterans, to attract new students with diverse backgrounds and global experiences, and to grow in stature because of our commitment. We recognize the special talents and unique contributions of those who have served in the military (and their families). 2. Relating to the above question, there is concern among some faculty that the strategic plan incentivizes research/teaching that supports the United States military and the national security state, and that the seeming prioritization of that type of research will have the potential to silence anything that would be perceived as being critical of veterans or dissent as it relates to U.S. military policies. What would you say to faculty who have expressed that type of concern?  Academic freedom, including freedom to express differing points of view on policy matters, or to pursue research in a chosen area, is crucial to the mission of an R1 research institution like Syracuse University, and is a right guaranteed by the Uni versity’s Faculty Manual. The research being conducted by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families provides valuable insight into the post-service educational needs and professional opportunities for veterans and their families. What we learn from that kind of research helps to shape effective educational programs and services that prepare veterans and their families for professional and personal success. That approach is consistent with our commitment to research and teaching for all students — to prepare them for professional and personal success. 3. It has been stated that the University's prioritization of veterans programs stems from its historical commitment to veterans. How does the University's admittance of veterans post-WW2 represent a historical commitment to veterans? With the return of veterans from WWII, this university embraced the spirit and intent of the GI bill, welcoming 10,000 veterans to the campus, more than doubling the size of the student body. These GIs had earned an education through their sacrifice, and they transformed Syracuse University into an even greater place, bringing with them leadership skills and a hunger for knowledge. Our commitment to these veterans and their families is a commitment to furthering their education and professional success. 4. What level of influence did Steve Barnes have over the decision to make a commitment to veterans/military-connected communities a pillar of the strategic plan? The short answer is none.   During my inaugural address in 2014, I shared that being the best place for veterans would be a strategic priority of mine. Since then, the Board, including Chairman Barnes, has supported this priority. And, like all members of the Board of Trustees, Chairman Barnes ensured that the development of the strategic vision and the Academic Strategic Plan was accomplished through the principles of shared governance, and that all voices were heard and all suggestions were considered. 5. In what ways do you believe Steve Barnes' experience as an executive at Bain Capital has qualified him for the position of chairman of the Board of Trustees? To be clear, I believe the Board of Trustees unanimously elected Chairman Barnes for reasons beyond his professional experience.  As a Central New York native, a graduate of Syracuse University, a long-time supporter and trustee, Chairman Barnes has a unique understanding of and respect for the culture of Syracuse University. Chairman Barnes brings significant board experience to his position, having served on six non-profit boards and serving as chair of one. He has deep appreciation and respect for shared governance. Chairman Barnes is steadfastly committed to ensuring a high-functioning board that ultimately supports students, faculty and the University’s academic and strategic priorities  as identified collaboratively by our campus community. He recognizes and appreciates the bright line between his role as board chair and my role as Chancellor. 6. What has Barnes' role been in the strategic planning process and in the management of the University over the past 3 years? Chairman Barnes’ participation in the academic strategic planning process has been similar to past board chairs. The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the University, responsible for overseeing the educational mission and fiscal policies of the institution. As such, the board is ultimately accountable for the education the University provides to its students. The Academic Strategic Plan is an example of shared governance at its best. Beginning in 2014, well before Steve Barnes was chairman, a 27-member academic strategic plan steering committee, including faculty, staff, administrators and students, structured and guided the planning and fact-finding process, assessed preliminary findings, elicited campus input, formulated final recommendations and goals, and ultimately drafted the plan. The Academic Strategic Plan reflected the findings of several working groups, comprising 93 faculty, staff and student representatives. The University developed new vision and mission statements through a collaborative campus effort guided by the steering committee. The group received hundreds of comments from the campus community during two open comment periods, and used those comments to guide revisions. In all, the public review of the Academic Strategic Plan garnered 1,300 distinct pieces of feedback.  With Chairman Barnes at the helm, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the final version of the mission and vision statements and the draft Strategic Plan in May 2016, without a single change to the version they received from the steering committee. From May 2016 to the present, Provost Wheatly has worked collaboratively with the deans, faculty and staff of the University’s schools and colleges to implement pri ority initiatives in the six thematic areas around which the academic strategic plan is structured. 7. In what ways has the Bain & Co. diagnostic report informed the decisions you have made as chancellor? What specifically was the role of the executive committee for that report? The Bain & Co. report, which as you know was commissioned by my predecessor, is just one of thousands of pieces of input used to inform my decision-making during my four years here. As a new leader in 2014, it was helpful to understand where we were at the time as a University. 8. How do you think the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program has affected campus life? I know it is not easy to make changes in the way that we operate by reducing staff. I greatly appreciate the challenging decisions that our leaders and managers made, and furthermore, I recognize that some of our faculty members remain disappointed in the process. I must note that given the success of the program and the careful stewardship of the work force, we were able to avoid institution-wide involuntary terminations. To me, that is the clear sign that it was a successful, albeit difficult, decision. Let me remind you of the overall context for why the University offered the program and why it was considered successful. In April 2014, an independent analysis, which was shared openly with the University, indicated that the University needed to identify areas of improvement and efficiency, including staffing levels, to better align with our peers and our goals. The most expedient way to do that would have been to institute a series of involuntary staff terminations across schools, colleges and administrative units. However, working with many University stakeholders, including deans, faculty, academic leaders and the Trustees, we chose a more thoughtful alternative path we hoped would result in the least disruption to operations and a far lower number of separations being necessary. Ultimately, the voluntary separation incentive program allowed deans and other unit leaders to have the flexibility in making decisions about appropriate staffing levels in line with our effort to have resources available to address our academic priorities. Today, we continue to invest the savings in implementing our academic strategic plan, better aligning our workforce with our vision and mission and enhancing the student experience — both inside and outside the classroom. 9. What do you make of the commentary from Syracuse Graduate Student Employees United that has been critical of the administration's plans to change their healthcare plan?   The new health insurance plan for graduate students came out of a truly collaborative process among faculty, graduate students and administrators that spanned more than two years. By all accounts, the new plan will offer graduate assistants and fellows better coverage than they currently have, at a much lower cost. I believe that is why the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) supported the new plan overwhelmingly and why GSO leaders worked so fervently over the last several years to advocate on behalf of their peers. 10. Could you provide any further details on the university's financial crisis that was described in the Bain & Co. report? I don't have access to the University's budget, but my records (the University's most recently available 990 and Syverud's public comments) indicate that the University's endowment has grown pretty steadily over the past five or six years, from $890 million to now over $1.25 billion. First, the University’s financial reports are publicly available , as they’re posted on the Comptroller’s website. Having reviewed the Bain & Co. report in great detail, I can tell you that nowhere did it indicate the University was experiencing a financial crisis. What it made clear, though, was that unless significant changes were made to our day-to-day operations, operating expenses would outpace our resources.  Additionally, it’s worth noting that the endowment is just one of many indicators of fiscal health. The prevailing measure of financial distress is a deficit in the annual operating budget, resulting in decreases in net assets. I am pleased to say, as I have several times publicly, we are running a genuinely balanced budget, which in turn allows us to pursue and achieve our ambitious but attainable goals.
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