Karen Hitchcock

Karen Hitchcock: Are Guns The Answer?

Mar 5, 2015

The issue of sexual assault on our nation’s campuses has been much in the news, especially since President Obama’s creation of a Task Force in early 2014 to address this serious issue.  Lawmakers at the state and federal level, as well as law-enforcement officials have been deeply engaged with college and university leaders in attempting to develop effective prevention strategies as well as ways our institutions of higher education should deal with instances of alleged sexual assault on their campuses.

Karen Hitchcock: The Price Of Ignorance

Feb 19, 2015

Mark, a six year-old leukemia patient, was unable to receive the measles vaccine due to his compromised immune system. Given his lack of immunization, he contracted the disease from an unvaccinated playmate and now is in critical condition from encephalitis, a serious, life-threatening complication which can occur with this highly infectious disease. Given the ongoing, indeed increasing, anti-vaccination movement in the United States and abroad, this illustrative scenario is likely to occur more and more frequently.

Karen Hitchcock: Is College-Completion Enough?

Jan 22, 2015

In the January 20th, 2015 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education there was an unfortunate – but quite revealing – juxtaposition of two major articles. The first, by Kelly Field, was entitled, “6 Years in and 6 to Go, Only Modest Progress on Obama’s College-Completion Goal;” the second, by Casey Fabris, “College Students Think They’re Ready for the Work Force. Employers Aren’t so Sure.”

Karen Hitchcock: The Legacy Of Governor Mario M. Cuomo

Jan 8, 2015

Today’s Commentary, of course, begins with deepest condolences to Mrs. Cuomo and the entire Cuomo family.  Our hearts go out to them at this most difficult time, a time when we all mourn the loss of a very special man, Governor Mario Cuomo.   

Early this year, a Report was issued by the White House Council on Women and Girls with the startling finding that one in five of our nation’s female students have been sexually assaulted. Since that time, this oft-repeated statistic has been called everything from “appalling” and “tragic” to “overblown” and “inaccurate.” Wherever an individual falls on that continuum of reactions, I think all would agree that even one incidence of sexual assault is too many.

 Just last week, an eight month- long investigation of academic fraud involving student- athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of our nation’s most prestigious public universities, was released. This investigation, led by Kenneth L. Wainstein, a longtime official at the U.S. Justice Department, revealed a well-orchestrated, long-standing and widespread corruption of the academic program at Chapel Hill. In brief, the Wainstein Report described a “shadow curriculum” that had been developed by  the departmental manager and the chair of the African and Afro-American Studies department to ensure the academic success of “at risk” student – athletes.

 Just two weeks ago, the first case of Ebola in the United States had been confirmed. My Commentary at the time reflected my belief that our nation’s colleges and universities needed to exercise “an abundance of caution” in their reaction to this entry of Ebola to our country. Universities and colleges not only host large numbers of functions where large numbers of people come together in close proximity – concerts, athletic events and the like – but they are also places which welcome thousands of West African visitors – students and faculty – from the very countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak. They also participate in international study programs where their faculty and students visit – often for prolonged periods of time – these very countries. As I stated at the time, I was very concerned by the apparent lack of rigorous protocols for prevention and management at most universities and, perhaps worse, the feeling expressed by many student health professionals that the chance of an outbreak is so low in the U.S. that more aggressive responses are not, at the moment, really necessary.

Yesterday, we all woke up to the news that the first case of Ebola in the United States had been confirmed in Dallas, Texas. A person recently arrived from Liberia, here to visit family, was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and is currently being treated for the disease. Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the “CDC”, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has stated that he is confident that this single case will be contained.

Across the country -   in Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Vermont, Massachusetts, and on and on -  economic development experts are paying increased attention to the creative organizations which add so much to the vibrancy, productivity and quality of life of their regions.  New York is no exception; and, a particularly strong initiative in this regard is ongoing right here in the Capital Region, embracing such industry segments as design, media, museums and preservation, performing arts, visual arts and hand-crafted products.  

Karen Hitchcock: The Many Faces Of The Common Core Debate

Jul 24, 2014

Over the last several months, discussions of the Common Core State Standards have been eclipsed by the public’s reaction to major issues which have arisen in their implementation – issues such as declining student test scores, and the role of such test scores in teacher evaluations, evaluations mandated if a state was to receive its share of federal money from the “Race to the Top” funds. The Common Core, we remember, is a set of standards or goals which has been developed to describe what our students should achieve at various points in their education. Accepted by some 45 states and the District of Columbia, these standards are meant to ensure that our young people will be prepared for whatever futures our rapidly evolving society creates, that they will be college-ready and employment-ready, that they will be globally competitive.

Karen Hitchcock: In Honor of Dr. James J. Gozzo

Jun 26, 2014

On June 30th, this coming Monday, an era will end at one of the Capital Region’s most respected institutions of higher education, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. President James Gozzo will leave the helm of this exceptional college – turning its leadership over to the new president, Dr. Gregory Dewey. I have been fortunate to have known President Gozzo for virtually all of his 16-year tenure at the college, a college which has been transformed by his presence.

Each year, graduates of our nation’s colleges and universities participate in an ancient ritual known as “commencement.” They don medieval garb and participate in a ceremony designed to honor their accomplishments and be celebrated by their final “teacher”, the famed “commencement speaker.”

In a recent commentary, I raised the question of whether the United States is losing its global competitiveness in the area of scientific research. And yet, despite the fact that major reductions have been made in our research infrastructure and productivity due to cuts arising from sequestration and over a decade of federal research budgets which have not exceeded inflation, I was startled to learn that “only 38% of Americans feel science [research] is getting too little funding” (reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Strapped,” February 28, 2014). Why isn’t the message getting out? Why do so few Americans see the risk in falling behind in areas of research critical to understanding disease processes, to addressing environmental issues, to developing alternative energy, and on and on?

On March 26, 2014, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Sung Ohr, issued a ruling which has sent shock waves throughout the world of big-time college sports.  In short, he ruled that football players receiving full scholarships at the Big Ten school, Northwestern University, qualify as employees and are, therefore, able to unionize under federal law. Northwestern, as expected, has formally requested a review of this decision, a ruling which has engendered spirited debates around the country. On the one hand, Northwestern football players cite the requirements and restrictions applied to them as scholarship-holding  athletes, conditions which they feel render them de facto employees, while Northwestern contends that  college athletes are students, first and foremost, and therefore do not qualify as employees. 

On a number of occasions over the last couple of years, I have shared my concerns with you regarding the decreasing level of support provided by the federal government for research at our nation’s universities. Indeed, as reported in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, entitled “Strapped”, by Paul Basken and Paul Voosen, the budget of the National Institutes of Health hasn’t exceeded inflation for more than ten years. This lack of growth in the N.I.H., and other federal granting agencies, coupled with the major cuts related to the recent “sequestration” process, endangers this nation’s  research infrastructure and the productivity of our research scientists. To quote the authors, “Budgets are tighter than ever. In [a survey administered by the Chronicle], more than half of the researchers who had led a lab for more than six years said this year was the toughest” …. 62% had reduced lab staff, 78% had reduced the recruitment of graduate students and fellows and 47% had had to drop an area of inquiry that was central to the scientist’s research programs.

Over the last several weeks, the media has been filled with news of the revised SAT to be implemented in the spring of 2016 by the College Board. Championed by the relatively new President of the College Board, David Coleman, this newly-conceived SAT has received praise as well as criticism in terms of content, design and potential impact on college admissions.

Karen Hitchcock: A Renewed Call To Action

Mar 6, 2014

In late January, President Obama announced the creation of a special task force to examine and, as necessary, coordinate federal enforcement efforts regarding rape and sexual assault on our nation’s campuses. This White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault will provide leadership for colleges and universities as they work on developing more transparent and more effective campus procedures to decrease and/or investigate incidents of sexual assault.

Karen Hitchcock: A Threat to Academic Freedom

Jan 23, 2014

Early in my tenure as head of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, I – like many other university presidents – was asked to support the agenda of a Palestinian initiative known as B.D.S., a call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, given the organization’s belief that Israel was not complying with international law and Palestinian rights. Specifically, they were asking for our university’s participation in a boycott of Israeli universities ... a request I unequivocally rejected as being antithetical to the concept of academic freedom which is at the very heart of the mission of a university -           institutions devoted to unfettered inquiry and discovery. 

Karen Hitchcock: Will Our Colleges Survive?

Dec 23, 2013

Scott Carlson, a writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, recently wondered whether “… American higher education is the proverbial frog in a slowly warming pot of water, not realizing that it’s about to be boiled alive.” Mr.

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Bill Keller began with what the author called a “caustic aphorism:”  “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t  teach, teach teaching.” He went on to give an inspirational exception to that rule in the work of one Bill Jackson, a teacher doing exceptional things in a Harlem classroom. And, I know each of us could give many examples of truly inspiring teachers who have made a difference in our lives. However, Mr. Keller’s bottom line is that, notwithstanding these many exceptional teachers, overall, the quality of teacher preparation in this country has been, at best mediocre, with obvious deleterious effects on the quality of learning in our nation’s schools.  As recently as this past summer, Mr. Keller points out, the National Council on Teacher Quality labeled teacher education in this country  “an industry of mediocrity” … the title of his opinion piece.

Late one evening not long ago, I had left the TV tuned to the David Letterman show while I finished up some writing.  As the former president of two different public universities – one in the United States and one in Canada – imagine my shock when I heard the following: “I’m dumb, I went to a state college.” Let me repeat that:  “I’m dumb,” said Mr. Letterman, “ I went to a state college.”

In recent weeks, there has been much reaction, both positive and negative, to President Obama’s plan to make college more affordable. The plan involves creating a ratings system for colleges and universities based on access, affordability and a variety of outcome measures and, eventually, linking levels of federal student aid to these measures. In order to implement such a ratings system, accurate data would need to be collected in such areas as tuition levels, graduation rates, student demographics and graduates’  earnings – a tall order, indeed, as one contemplates the extreme diversity of our nation’s system of higher education.

Fifty years ago, a tiny newborn struggled for life. Born five and a half weeks premature, the son of then President John F. Kennedy was one of some 25,000 infants who succumbed annually to Respiratory Distress Syndrome, or RDS, the then leading cause of death in premature newborns.

On July 16th, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York voted to separate CNSE, the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering, from its university, the University at Albany. Many opinions have been voiced, both pro and con, since the possibility of such a split was “leaked” this past March. As the president of UAlbany when the nanotechnology initiative was begun and moved through critical phases in its growth, I have expressed my opinion regarding this decision in a recent interview with The Business Review. Indeed, an editorial expanding on my deep concerns will appear tomorrow in the August 8th edition of this same publication.

Karen Hitchcock: An Important Step In the Right Direction

Jul 25, 2013

A recent article by Larry Rulison in the Times Union posed the question, “Research Triangle found the right formula -- can we?”  As the article acknowledges, there is no simple answer to this question.   Champions of the concept of university–driven innovation made it happen: creative faculty and administration at North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; a committed state government; and, industry leaders who saw the competitive advantage of partnering with faculty at research-intensive universities in areas of research and development relevant to their particular product lines.  

The recent release of a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences entitled, “The Heart of the Matter,” has inspired much discussion in the halls of universities and the halls of Congress regarding the importance of the humanities versus the sciences in the education of our nation’s young people. As stated by Jennifer Schuessler in the New York Times, this report, commissioned by a bipartisan group of legislators is “…  intended as a rallying cry against the entrenched idea that the humanities and social sciences are luxuries that employment-minded students can ill afford.” 

Karen Hitchcock: Investing In The Future

Jun 7, 2013

In 1972, The United Negro College Fund, now known as the U.N.C.F., adopted what was to become one of the most widely recognized slogans in the country.  That still well-known slogan was : “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”  And now, this statement is being expanded upon in an effort to focus on the return people who donate to the fund can expect … to focus on such donations as investments in our country’s future.

Around the country, thousands upon thousands of young people are graduating from colleges and universities, eager to enter the next phase of their lives – the world of work.  They are looking forward to obtaining employment which will make good use of their particular areas of study; and, in many cases, allow them to begin to pay off the often staggering amounts of debt they have accrued.

Karen Hitchcock: Passages

May 9, 2013

Each year at this time, thousands and thousands of young people across our country are readying themselves for one of life’s major passages:  graduation from college.  Two-year or four-year, public or private, our nation’s institutions of higher education have, once again, provided a learning experience which has profoundly changed the outlook of and prospects for our nation’s students.  These graduates leave their alma maters more confident, more poised and more knowledgeable. They appear ready to undertake new challenges and new opportunities, to advance their education or to join the world of work.  Most have the maturity necessary to move forward with clarity of purpose and, hopefully, the self-awareness required for personal growth and advancement. They appear, by and large, to be ready to fulfill their own unique potential.

Ben Nelson, former CEO of Snapfish, an online photo service, is determined to stand higher education – at least part of it - on its head.  His goal is a simple one: provide large numbers of intellectually-gifted students with an education which will challenge them and prepare them to be the “thought leaders” of tomorrow.  The approach Mr. Nelson has laid out to do this “breaks the rules” in many ways, and has been variously described as daring and innovative by some, and ineffective, reckless  and over-reaching by others.

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