"When I arrived at Ramapo College of New Jersey in 1985, I was back home in the county where I was born."
By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University
When I arrived at Ramapo College of New Jersey in 1985, I was back home in the county where I was born, but that was not why I accepted the invitation. I had been Assistant Commissioner of Higher Education in Indiana and had come to believe that public institutions were instruments for democracy. This belief, together with my commitment to liberal, or liberating, education in and of itself and in support of professional studies, was what motivated me. Ramapo was the perfect setting for me philosophically.
In addition, I was attracted by the people I met, especially students, some of whom are still friends, but also the faculty and staff. Many of them were pioneers in higher education, embarking on a vision expressed by Founding President George Potter, and based on his experience in England, an adult learner attending Oxford on a labor union scholarship.
While Ramapo was young, with few alumni, I believed that the broader environment was ripe for private support as well as public commitments. We developed partnerships that flourished and friendships that continue to this day.
The state introduced a capital facilities program which would provide two dollars for every one dollar raised. The proposed Performing Arts Center, known in planning as the C-CAT Building, was estimated to cost $9 million, for which we had to raise $3 million. After many attempts, and with the assistance of Elaine Adler, I met entrepreneur and philanthropist Russ Berrie in his office. Knowing that I had only a few minutes, I said that we had a $3 million goal, that we had raised $1 million, that I knew where we could get the third million, but that I needed his advice on where to seek the second million. After several minutes of discussing his expertise in fundraising, he asked, “Are you asking me for $1 million?” I gulped and said “yes”. He said he would consider it, and then he provided that essential $1 million toward our $9 million goal.
We also engaged in several strategic planning phases during those fifteen years. In each case, we developed themes for planning. After all, strategic planning is about principles for decision making and priorities for action. We wanted to be able to express these priorities and we did: the “College of Choice for a Global Education” was the theme for our Challenge Grant to infuse a global perspective; New Jersey’s “Public Liberal Arts College” was the theme for our commitment to collegiate education when other institutions were seeking university status; from “regional gem to national jewel” was the theme for strategic planning related to student selectivity and the percentage of students in residence.
In each of these phases, we made decisions about enrollment, admissions selectivity, academic programs and student services, facilities, and staffing. We developed the joint Nursing Program with UNDMJ; the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies and other masters programs; and a rigorous system of reviews of academic program quality.
I recall a time when we were still thinking we were poor, after the auditors required that we set aside about 40% of our unrestricted funds to offset newly defined obligations for sick leave and vacation time. After two big decisions which we made “thinking poor”, Millicent Anisfield pointed out that we were in fact in much better financial health, and should provide up front the funding necessary for an energy management system. In this way, we would receive 100% of the savings instead of sharing 50% with a vendor.
Millicent was also a stalwart during a period when, due to state budget cuts and the underfunding of state-mandated commitments, we decided to cancel the football program. Even after three full board discussions and a commitment to the action, two trustees became upset. It was Millicent who calmed them down.
When I arrived, the board chair gave me a list of actions to take, including a reduction in the number of tenured faculty. That was one goal I decided not to achieve. Then, the faculty voted against implementing the change in curriculum the board had approved the previous spring, and I was told by faculty leaders that I should not take this personally. Of course I had to work with all parties to find a suitable resolution.
My very first day in June, 1985, was at a Board or Trustees retreat in Montclair. That weekend, I stayed with Millicent and Richard Anisfield before moving into a residence hall where I stayed for a month while my family was still in Indiana.
Visiting campus today, I think about decisions and events: the delay in the completion of Pine Hall and the creation of “room scholarships” to recruit students; the radio call-in show we held for students at various locations on campus; the constant theme of “students first;” housing students at near-by motels; the formation of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC); the creation of a new “U.S. News” category, and designation of Ramapo as “New Jersey’s Public Liberal Arts College”; and the Student Trustee Law, among many others. One of the most memorable occurred in April 1986, when Pat Kozakiewicz told me that Professor David Welch had something to show me. As I entered a music room, David said “stop,” and went to the piano to play a new composition. He said, “President Scott, this is the “Alma Mater,” a gift to you for your Inauguration next week.” For these memories, the friendships I made, and my personal growth, I will be forever grateful.
I will end with a poem I wrote as part of a State of the College Address in 1999.
A Place Where Poems and Trees Are Entwined1
Robert A. Scott
“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.”2
Inspired, it’s said, by our own Beech,
These words challenge a student’s reach.
Kilmer evokes three measures he knew,
The Good and Beautiful as well as the True.
He spans the heart and the mind,
In his verse, both science and art we find.
We also note a humanist’s soul,
Pithy comparisons make knowledge whole.
I believe that we are enshrined,
As a place where poems and trees are entwined.
For Ramapo’s mission, to liberate all,
Is to focus on questions, that is our call.
1 Presidential State of the College Address, February 17, 1999, Ramapo College of New Jersey.
2 “The Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, 1914. Mr. Kilmer lived in Mahwah for a few years. The Copper Beech on the Ramapo College campus was dedicated to Joyce Kilmer in 1980.
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