2023 SUNY State of the University Address by Chancellor John B King Jr
2023 SOTU Full Text

2023 State of the University Address Full Text

Thank you so much to Governor Hochul for joining us this morning, for her thoughtful remarks, for her deep belief in SUNY's role in the future of New York, and for her leadership on ensuring state investment in SUNY. I know I speak for the Board of Trustees and the whole SUNY family when I say we are profoundly grateful.  

Thank you all for being here. Before I begin this morning, I want to especially recognize my amazing partner in all things, my wife Melissa, and my phenomenal older daughter, Amina, who just finished her sophomore year of college. Her younger sister, Mireya, a high school junior, is in class as we speak.  

Many of you have heard me share my personal journey. The fact that my mom came to New York City from Puerto Rico as a child in the 1940s, learned English in public school, was the first in her family to go to college, and became a teacher and school counselor. That my African-American father grew up in a deeply segregated New York City and found his path as a teacher and principal. That my parents, both of whom spent their careers in New York City public schools, passed away when I was little, my mom when I was 8, my dad when I was 12.  

That school was my refuge.  

What I don't often share is that on that cold November morning in 4th grade when I was told my mother had died, I insisted on going to school.  

It was the only place I thought might offer a sense of safety. As I struggled with a profound, unspeakable loss, the one place I wanted to be was Mr. Osterweil's classroom at P.S. 276 in Canarsie. The classroom where I discovered every book in Frank Baum's Oz series. The classroom where I felt loved and nurtured and supported. If not for Mr. Osterweil I would not be Chancellor at SUNY … and I probably wouldn't be alive today. I am so honored that he is here with us - and I would like to ask him to stand and be recognized.  

Mr. Osterweil saved my life, and he changed my life. He showed me the transformative power of education, and that revelation has driven my whole career. From becoming a classroom teacher to serving as President Obama's Secretary of Education to my role as Chancellor, I have been driven by the simple aspiration to do for others what Mr. Osterweil did for me.  

Having begun my tenure in January, this State of the University speech is an opportunity to reflect on the amazing journey of my first semester as Chancellor, my tour of our 64 wonderful campuses, the conversations with campus leadership teams, faculty, staff, community members, employer partners, and most importantly, students, that inspired me so greatly. It is a chance to share the opportunities and challenges we face as a community of institutions, and to describe how the Board of Trustees and I envision the work ahead. But I want to begin with the pledge to always endeavor to ensure our campuses are places of excellence, of safety and support, empowerment and belonging, and paths to opportunity, just as public education was for me.  

Visiting each of our 64 campuses was an extraordinary experience.  

We saw incredible diversity, from the 30,000 students at University at Buffalo to the 1,000 students at Clinton Community College, and from the intense focus on climate and conservation at the Environmental Science and Forestry School to the passion for the arts at SUNY Purchase.  

We heard story after story, of hometowns missed and majors picked, of novels loved and plays performed, of research projects completed and lifelong friendships built, of what students like best and wished they could change most about college.  

The hardest thing about every campus visit was leaving. In fact, the team will tell you I extended every meeting and ran long on every visit because I so appreciated all I got to see and learn.  

There were so many extraordinary stories of triumphs achieved and passions found, mentors encountered and hurdles overcome.  

We are here today to speak of the state of this extraordinary system, the State University of New York, of all that it does so well, and of the areas where we will grow and lead together.  

A primary reason SUNY is so strong is the support we get from our outstanding Board of Trustees and our Chair, Merryl Tisch. What these tireless educational advocates have worked with me to define are the four pillars that form the foundation for our future.  

* * * 

The first of these pillars is, as it must be, student success, our primary reason for being, our “why.” And for students to succeed, we must employ every ounce of our passion and missionary zeal to show every New Yorker there is a place for them at SUNY. From microcredentials and certificate programs to associate degrees, on to four-year degrees and through masters and PhDs, not to mention degrees in law, medicine, and optometry, SUNY's 64 campuses truly offer a program for everyone.  

Getting students into these seats and keeping them on track to complete their chosen programs enriches and even saves lives, just as failing to do so is an inexcusable lost opportunity.  

In the next weeks, we are sending individualized letters to every 2023 high school graduate in every area served by a SUNY community college, informing them by name that they have been admitted to that college.  

We have also launched programs that match students who apply to our most competitive four-year colleges, but fail to gain entry, with acceptance to other SUNY schools offering the same degree programs.  

Now they know they have a place.  

The work being done on campuses to carve out spaces for students of every variety is awe-inspiring.  

At Jefferson Community College, a dedicated veterans support center is just the most visible aspect of a deep commitment to military-connected students, a crucial component of enrollment growth and a segment of the population which deserves and desperately needs these supports.  

Crucially, the Prior Learning Assessment Program, expanded there and systemwide this year, assigns college credit for military experience, along with other civilian learning like professional certifications and workforce experience.  

And that's the kind of program that makes students understand “You have a place here” isn't just a bromide.  

On a visit to SUNY Oneonta, students confided that the learning center, with its writing supports, peer and professional tutoring, and study-skills workshops, was keeping them on track for graduation.  

And at SUNY Westchester Community College, the Viking ROADS Program provides personalized advising and financial and academic supports modeled on CUNY's ASAP program. This is a program that has been shown in randomized controlled trials to nearly double on-time completion rates. And Viking ROADS is lifting full-time enrollment and speeding degree attainment for more students every semester.  

To be truly successful, SUNY must be a place of welcome for all, for 18-year-olds and 48-year-olds, for parents returning to school and young people cheered on by parents sacrificing for their education, for new immigrants and students who are the first in their families to go to college, for LGBTQ students, for military veterans – and for prospective doctors who want to implant new-age medical devices and the prospective engineers who want to design them.  

But too often, obstacles – academic and financial – stand in the way.  

There are deeply committed faculty, dedicated advisors, and significant academic supports, and yet too many students still don't make it across the graduation stage for want of the right guidance on course selection, the right help in addressing gaps in foundational skills, or the right connections between coursework and career advancement. 

There are food pantries on many of our campuses, and yet food insecurity persists.  

There are programs to provide emergency funding, but housing insecurity and financial struggles remain.  

There is mental health counseling, but often far too little to fill the needs of student bodies grappling with climbing rates of anxiety and depression, or the national crisis of loneliness and social isolation intensified by technology, or more severe traumas in their lives outside of school.  

In the coming year, we will leverage the state's new SUNY transformation fund and the historic operating aid increase in this year's budget to redouble efforts to ensure student success by introducing proven, cost-effective supports to help students stay on track; addressing housing and food insecurity, and helping campuses eliminate transportation barriers.  

We will make unprecedented investments in supports for our students with disabilities by providing greater course accessibility, faculty training, and transition help from high school to college to careers.  

We will provide campuses with more resources to hire additional mental-health counselors and build safe, supportive climates that engender wellness for all students.  

And we will engage campus leaders, faculty members, staff, and students to develop a comprehensive strategy – leveraging models of success like the Binghamton Advantage Program – for making transfer work even better for students, easing their academic and financial path to degrees.  

Some of these programs are pilots. Others are ready for full system-wide rollouts. All are crucial building blocks for improving access to SUNY and smoothing the path to success for students once they arrive.  

And all of it is made possible by the relentless leadership of Governor Hochul. We are grateful to her; to Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Heastie, Senate Higher Education Chair Stavisky, and Assembly Higher Education Chair Fahy; to all of our champions in the legislature; and to the executive and legislative staff.  

* * * 

The second pillar of our plan involves addressing an area of consistent triumph, that of research and scholarship, with a driving ambition to make it stronger. It would be impossible to recount all the wonders we saw on our campuses, but a few highlights included:  

Even as we celebrate SUNY's legendary legacy of research, we will fight to double the number of research dollars we receive. Even as we revel in the fact that SUNY's scholarship is world-class, we will raise that bar even higher, a goal Governor Hochul set out in her State of the State speech last year and empowered us to reach with the inclusion in this year's budget of a $1.5 billion state-matched endowment fund and critically needed capital investments in new labs.  

And today we announce our goal that every undergraduate will complete a meaningful research or other real-world internship before they receive their SUNY degree.  

This year we seeded that field with a new summer undergraduate program of 150 paid research internships at five campuses that is already garnering accolades.  

Leveraging SUNY's operating aid increase, we will provide our campuses with the support needed to scale up their internship programs, starting with more than 1,400 additional internships next year.  

* * * 

The third pillar of SUNY's success is one that suffuses every aspect of campus life: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Today, when these bedrock principles of fairness and justice are under attack across the nation, along with the free speech and quality scholarship they support, SUNY is proud to say diversity, equity, and inclusion are a part of everything we do, factors in every aspect of our operations, and are essential to every student's education. As we celebrate 75 years of SUNY, nothing makes me prouder of that heritage than the inclusive goals that were present on the day of our creation and served as a primary justification for our founding.  

And yet. 

In Florida, Texas, and other states, craven politicians now seek to ban Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is to say, they are banning truth. They are engaged in an egregious assault on academic freedom, the mission of higher education, and the strength of our democracy. In New York, at SUNY, we know that uncomfortable truths are often the ones most deserving of discussion, and we understand that this nation's historical and continuing struggles with systemic bigotry, prejudice, persecution, and exclusion must be reckoned with to be overcome.  

Touring our campuses was an exercise in being uplifted by the ways in which SUNY is undertaking this crucial work every day – with integrity, with honesty, with humanity.  

At SUNY, the work of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is an ongoing commitment, and a promise.  

Starting this fall, most newly entering students will be required to have some exposure to diversity, equity and inclusion in their coursework to earn a degree. By next fall, that requirement will be a part of every degree. From the computer scientist who ought to grapple with the ways in which seemingly neutral algorithms can reinforce bias to the future nurse or doctor who ought to understand the painful reality of persistent racial health disparities, our students will enter diverse workplaces and participate in a diverse democracy and we owe it to them to ensure they are prepared to succeed.   

To help faculty successfully incorporate such content into their existing courses, SUNY is naming 15 faculty fellows to support their peers in this important work.  

The creation of a Black Leadership Institute will capitalize on the successful model of the Hispanic Leadership Institute to create a pipeline of diverse academic and staff leaders for SUNY's campuses.  

Most importantly, we will embrace this work head-on, understanding that “every student has a place at SUNY” will never be an entirely fulfilled promise until every student can be fully accepted, comfortable, and empowered on our campuses.  

* * * 

The fourth pillar of SUNY's plan to grow its accomplishments, its reputation and its services takes us out of the process and toward the product: Economic Development and Upward Mobility.  

Part of our challenge includes asking ourselves: Do graduates have fulfilling and well-paying jobs once they leave campus? How can we help the industries which desperately need our graduates to be competent, skilled and motivated employees to thrive?  

In the realm of careers and industry, SUNY's work to develop the state as a hub of advanced manufacturing, and most particularly, a source of prime employees for the semiconductor industry, promises to lift our colleges, our students, and our state immeasurably. IBM, Global Foundries, Wolfspeed, and others have found their home here and made New York a leader in the semiconductor industry. And now, Micron coming to NY – thanks to the leadership of Governor Hochul and Senator Schumer – presents an extraordinary opportunity to truly make us the Silicon Valley of the semiconductor industry. From Onondaga Community College to SUNY Poly to the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at UAlbany, with SUNY partnering with industry leaders on facilities, training, and employee pipelines, there is no limit to the prosperity we can deliver.  

Just as importantly, we will keep working to overcome the growing shortages of nurses and other health professionals across the state. In communities across New York, hospitals are relying on SUNY to relieve a shortage of nurses currently predicted to grow to 40,000 by 2030.  

Among the many fascinating labs we saw on our tour were the ones featuring animatronic models used in clinical nursing simulations which can simulate everything from heart attacks to childbirth. After tireless lobbying by SUNY, CUNY and the state's independent colleges and universities; in partnership with the New York State Education Department; and with thanks to Governor Hochul and our allies in the Legislature, a law passed this year allowing nursing students to get a third of their clinical experience through such simulated labs. Mitigating the shortage of clinical placements will greatly enhance our efforts to address the shortage of nurses. 

* * * 

So where is SUNY today? At the forefront.  

We offer the highest-quality educational bargain for New Yorkers, and present a tremendously affordable value proposition to students in-state, across the nation and around the world. We are a leader in research; in diversity, equity and inclusion; in student success; and in economic development and upward mobility. Even as we redouble our work across these four pillars, the effort expended is not motivated by a need to play catch-up, but the drive to stay on top,  

Indeed, with our 64 campuses stretching to every corner of the state, outstanding faculty and staff, and strong partnerships with federal, state, and local elected officials, SUNY is incredibly well positioned to help New York State meet the moment – from training the next generation of optical technicians at Corning and Monroe Community Colleges, to preparing the next generation of diverse teachers at Cortland and New Paltz, to helping New York lead on climate action. 

That's why I appointed SUNY's first ever Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive Director of Climate Action. With 40% of the state's public buildings, New York State won't meet our ambitious net zero targets without SUNY doing our part. As we rapidly expand solar, wind, geothermal, resilience efforts, and more, New York won't have the workforce we need, unless SUNY is preparing students for these careers – like the new Offshore Wind Institute led by Farmingdale and Stony Brook.  

And what about the research the planet and the country need to meet the climate challenge?  SUNY is the answer – with nation-leading battery technology research at Binghamton, cutting-edge work on sustainable agriculture at Cobleskill and Morrisville, the exciting partnership between ESF and Cornell's SUNY College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to transform upstate NY into an innovative bioeconomy, and the truly awesome potential of the new $700 million Climate Exchange campus on Governor's Island led by Stony Brook University. 

So we will lead the way on sustainability on our campuses. We will lead the way preparing the green economy workforce. And we will lead the way in cutting-edge research to discover and deliver the climate solutions our world needs. 

* * * 

Where will SUNY, celebrating 75 years of educational excellence, be 75 years from now?  

Everywhere, I hope and believe.  

It will be in the hearts of New Yorkers, who know SUNY offers a world-class education to all at highly competitive prices, supports the values they hold dear, bolsters New York's communities and industries, and innovates and invents the future.  

It will be on the tongues of our nation, which will understand SUNY is the finest public system of higher education in the country, academically, socially, and environmentally.  

It will be a touchstone for the world, respected for the quality of our research, the caliber of the education SUNY confers and the welcome SUNY offers.  

SUNY will continue to be a place of excellence. A community of institutions where learning is valued for its own sake, where the liberal arts have as much a place as the STEM fields, where every student can discover their passions, their calling, and themselves. A place where we reject the false dichotomy between preparation for careers and preparation for civic participation and fulfilling lives. We know our students need and deserve both. 

SUNY will be in its next 75 years, as it is now, a home and a refuge.  

I know there is a place at SUNY for everyone. I know that place is comfortable, inclusive, welcoming, and designed to help students grow and succeed. And I know attending our colleges is the best decision a prospective student can make.   SUNY will be, for people of all kinds, pursuing every imaginable calling, the same kind of home I found in Mr. Osterweil's class 40 years ago. It will provide a place that generates the same kind of comfort, passion and purpose that led me to make my life's calling the public education that saved my life.  

The state of the university is strong. With our work together, it will only grow stronger.  

Thank you.