You're listening to The Academic Lowdown, a podcast brought to you by the Division of Academic Affairs at SUNY Oneonta.
Well, Hello, everybody. Hello, Hello, Hello. This is Rob Thibault, Director of the Hunt College Union, our guest host today on The Academic Lowdown, and I'm happy to be in the high chair with a Provost. That's right. The Provost, Dr. Richard Lee, Vice President of Academic Affairs. And we're going to talk a little bit today about some important stuff for our faculty and staff, particularly our faculty.
But I'm also excited dr Lee, about the opening. I think we've had a really great open freshmen, sophomores, the rest of the students coming in to play and get engaged. We've had some great opening week events. Things have been looking good tomorrow exposed. So today is Expo Eve. We're getting excited about jumping in, and it feels like we're together again. So with that in mind, we're in the second week of classes now and you're in your new role and our President starts next week. How have you been spending your time and how are you steering the ship forward there?
Dr. Richie Lee
Thanks, Rob. It's a real pleasure being here. And thanks for all of the support staff and making this possible. Well, it's I'm honored by having been asked to do this. I have an extraordinarily strong team and academic affairs, and for us all, it's people. First, people will be focused on a number of things, especially things that are involving supporting faculty and staff to support our students. I've been at this institution for about 25 years, and now, more than ever, we really need to understand our students experiences, and the experience is on the front line of those on the front line with our students.
We want to do this, of course. Frankly, we can't afford not to. In my role, I have to be attending to the fact that we're down 800 students since last fall. Now, we know the vast majority of students have been away from campus since March 2020. In one respect, we really have two years of first-year students in terms of their social expectations, and they're learning and classroom kinds of expectation, and we need to pay attention to that. No doubt they're experiencing a wide range of emotions about being back.
We want to engage students. We want to support their mental well being, make sure that safety and equity and privacy are front of mind, and make this a place that we know we can continue to be proud of. And faculty with concerns about those student behaviors because we're all relearning how to reengage or students missing multiple classes should use the concern for student form. The triggers follow up with the student by student development. Now, while faculty may not hear further about what they report, rest assured that our student development colleagues are in fact, providing appropriate supports.
And I'm asking us to be attended to that as well, because we need to really be intentional about supporting students and not just hoping that they're getting what we're doing. So a little bit of heightened attention to the excellent pedagogies of our faculty is also front of mind. And there's a kind of a second big answer to your question. Robb, thanks for asking it. There's still lots of uncertainty, but the vaccination rates are high, and by September 27, all on-campus campus students will need to be fully vaccinated.
We nevertheless need policies, procedures, plans to handle whatever comes our way. And the COVID Response Team and the excellent group in Academic Affairs have all been shouldering this work in this planning so that we can plan for different contingencies and do the best we can to adapt to the needs of the moment. And a matter of fact, we're building out the Provost website just a little bit, so it's a key resource for faculty and staff. There's an FAQ set of accordion question and answers there that will be updated when and if conditions change for better or for worse.
And those FAQs point to a number of scenarios, including what happens if you fall by the wayside or your student gets sick. And we'll cover some of that, perhaps later. Robb, so thanks.
All right. Well, thank you. Dr Lee. Hey, the faculty are so key to this reopening and no doubt, have classroom and other COVID related questions. You did mention those FAQs on your website. Is there anything you want to highlight or clarifications you wish to make?
Dr. Richie Lee
Well, you really hit on a key point here. Robb. First, it's my commitment to keep updated information flowing to faculty and staff. We know this is still a transitional period. This is a semester in flux. We didn't have FDA approval, for example, until very recently, to be able to activate SUNY mandated policies. And that information to faculty and staff is crucial because we are all part of this community. Of course, the campus spoke loudly and clearly about the deficits and communications last year's, so we're paying attention to it.
In fact, the President's Cabinet set up an internal communications task force from last year to try and address this. And we're moving forward with plans to make sure that there's an advisory Council on communications to help us all take advantage of the fact that in some respects we're overwhelmed by information and we need to be directionalized to get the information we need. Also, as we're doing this podcast, one way of sharing information will also be holding an open forum next Thursday, September 9 at 04:00pm.
That open form will be for more active engagement, questions, concerns and to try and make sure that we continue keeping these lines of communication open. Now, one of the questions that is surfaced is about faculty responsibilities when a student gets ill or must quarantine. Here's a reminder, Instructors cannot ask about students health conditions nor their vaccination statuses. This is protected information under FERPA. Students, of course, sometimes full freely share it, and that's perfectly fine. Instructors should fall back on the planning they have been doing, and we're asked to do with their good colleagues at the Department level and their Deans in their chairs to enable continuity of learning.
That's a really key term, Robb. Continuity of learning. We always know that students sometimes will miss classes. We have an excused absence policy, so the exact pedagogies that instructors choose to continue to make sure that students are engaged, they should activate more now than ever. So build upon those strategies. Use the excused absence policy that's in place. Hopefully we'll see few infections. So I'm sure we'll see some and exposures will come and we'll have to deal with them in the next few weeks. Again, all students on campus will need to have shown proof of full vaccination by September 27.
So I guess what I'm trying to get out here in terms of my trust and respect for the teaching faculty and the professional faculty and academic affairs is to get them to use their creativity to make sure that they're attendant more than ever before the continuity of learning our students are committing to. And per CDC guidelines, individuals with symptoms are required to quarantine. Fully vaccinated individuals who are exposed to covet but have no symptoms do not need to quarantine. And we have a build out of the FAQs will be doing specific to this.
But let me be clear, there should be no pivoting of entire classes. In fact, faculty must secure approval to make any changes to their schedule classes because we've made a promise to our students. And it's one that also, as part of our compliance to New York State ed and regulations, Department chairs and Dean should be notified. Modality changes are not currently being permitted. Note that this isn't a local decision. Information about course, modalities must be established in the schedule of classes according to the state Department of Ed and the federal government.
So we are doing what we need to do, Robb, to stay in the Boulevard of compliance and enable faculty and departmental innovation where it's appropriate.
Thank you, Dr Lee. I think in the end, we both agree it's all about wanting to help each other, whether it's employees or students. We're all in this together, so helping each other is really critical. The FDA granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine last week. So how does this affect SUNY Oneonta?
Dr. Richie Lee
It's a nice way to put a period on this point, Robb. The full approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the FDA just last week allows us to fully implement the SUNY policy mandate that anyone with any physical in person presence on campus must in fact, be vaccinated or file an exemption either religious or medical, according to the protocols available. We're hoping that as time goes on, we'll have greater and greater ability to resume typical residential campus living and working because that is who we are, and that's how we are a documented impact.
Or if I may make up a word on faculty' lives, for example, we are getting back to that normal scene. And for our first theater production in a year and a half, full live in person theater production will take place in October. Students and faculty are working on it right now. And this past weekend, the center for Social Responsibility and Community had some 70 or 80 volunteers, maybe more, partnering with our community members downtown again as they do so often during our regular academic year. I'm also hoping that faculty feel freer to participate in disciplinary meetings in their departments and programs and other scholarly pursuits as vaccination rates throughout the country increase and we all have a greater sense of shared safety.
In fact, I'm pleased to say we have significant faculty development funding this year. Thanks in large part to our advancement colleagues in the foundation under Vice President Paul Adamo, and to the excellent stewardship of monies through our finance and administration, Vice President Julie Piscatello. In fact, this is the highest amount ever, and I'll announce it publicly here for the first time. We will have $100,000 in faculty development that will be allocated through the Deans and chairs in a process that the faculty and chairs and Deans are familiar with from previous years.
That's a huge deal. And it thanks in large part to the stewardship and commitments I just referenced. Now an email about this funding went out this past Monday and the amounts haven't been announced, but the allocations have, and we'll be working on this. Thank you.
Thank you, sir. Hey, all we seem to talk about lately until recently, is COVID COVID COVID. So aside from COVID, which is really like walking through deep snow at this point. What do you have planned for the year, what is the focus of academic affairs, my friend?
Dr. Richie Lee
Thanks. Thanks. And it's nice to talk about something other than COVID for a change. When I was asked to take this position on back in April, I was just coming out of a couple of semesters where I was teaching dual modality courses and came to a renewed appreciation for students commitment and work. And it's that which made me decide to accept the position, frankly, the chance to have a thumb on a scale at a wholesale level. And it is that that matters far more to me than the COVID disaster planning, which I'm honored to do with some extraordinary colleagues in CRT.
And I wanted to give a shout out to Daniel McMullen, especially Julie Piscatello, my co -chair on the COVID Response Team. But at upcoming meetings, the Senate meeting coming up on the 13 September, the Open Forum I mentioned on the 9th, I'll have a chance to elaborate on the divisions priorities, which are all about people and student learning. I can tell you the focus will be on ensuring that we re engage students and rebuild our academic community. There are three real takeaways, and I'm going to give a little detail on each one.
It's really about advisement seen at its widest conceptualization. Second, experiential learning in all of its possible instantiations and staffing and planning, but not in the cold textbook. Just searching the need to resource and make sure that our human capital, as well as our financial capital, is there for the good of student learning. So I'll take the second one. First s, because why not experiential learning? And I want to give a little shout out here. We have a new center, multiple units, and my extraordinary special assistant, Dr Theresa Russo, and she's the special assistant to the Provost for pretty much anything I can think of that's related to applied or experiential learning.
I think that's the actual title, pretty much anything we can think of related to. She is co-located in an office next to what was very recently called New Student Services. So we're building bridges here always and rebuild in good bridges that were already there with student development. For example, orientation connections, a sophomore initiative we're very excited about, and we're facilitating and scaling up working with academic departments, as well as doing some buildouts of a couple of things related to internships and other applied credit and non-credit bearing activities.
The first thing I mentioned was advisement. So we're going to strengthen advising and not just the up staffing if I can coin a term of Career Development and Academic Advisement, not just making sure that they get all the support they need, and especially in the case of Career Development, making sure we have a strong hub there to support faculty activities as they're doing it. But we're still working to prepare for the move to our new remembering system in 2022. So we have to be attended to making sure that those back offices and excellent staff have the support they need.
But we're also working on department level advisement. We'll be talking about trainings to help faculty feel more comfortable with this part of their faculty obligation. There's nothing more important to students. The data are clear then their connections to the human beings on the faculty, professional faculty and teaching faculty. And we want to give every opportunity for advisement as mentorship and guidance and modeling of becoming an adult so we can continue our transformative work. Next, I mentioned the re numbering system, which has taken many hundreds of human hours to get done, that we're really rationalize and make transparent a lot of things we do.
But I also want to mention something that's behind the scenes for a lot of people, but not the 80 to 100 faculty and staff who are working on our Middle States reaccreditation. Now that crucial accreditation is coming up in Spring 2023. It continues, and over 80 members, as I just mentioned of our campus community, are committed in various subcommittee and focused efforts on this. So everything we're doing is tied to also celebrating what we're doing. And we're seeing the Middle States re-accreditation operation as a chance to explain the transformative possibilities of SUNY Oneonta, so even though it's behind the scenes in some respects, for some people, it's front of mind.
For us is a chance to really focus on why we do, how we do, what we do, and how successful we are at it. Also, we have to align what we're doing for campus kinds of guidelines and attributes with this forthcoming SUNY guidance that will be a re attribution and a redefinition of SUNY general education. For me, that's a curriculum, and we don't pay enough attention to it as a curriculum. Next, we're doing a number of things that are cross divisional. I refer to a couple, and by divisional, I mean Student Development, Academic Affairs, the foundation fundraising side that is so gracious and generous with their funding for our faculty development, student support, and, of course, Finance and Administration.
One of my my key goals and my priorities is to make sure that I am doing the best I can to help people to be aware of what we're doing, how we're doing it, and why we're doing it so we can work as a unit through the President's cabinet, not just an individual standalone silos. We're also trying to be very careful in those cross divisional efforts to promote and support mental health and wellness for all students, faculty and staff. There's nothing more important than that.
We can't help students if we don't help the people who support the students. And that means in all aspects of the humanity, mental, emotional, spiritual to a degree, and also, of course, in terms of our learning outcomes. Next, I want to come back to our most pressing challenge. Retention issues. Our undergraduate enrollment, as I mentioned, is down 800 students from last fall. There will be a year long, if not multi year long focus on an engagement, enrollment strategies and enrollment management, and frankly, an enrollment recovery.
And a few committees are working already to better understand the retention data. And, for example, the retention between first and second year is down from a high in the late well, usually the high 80s. We're very lucky that our first years to students come back at about 80% to 87%, 85% to 87% issue. We're down to about 77% in that move from first to second year students now partially pandemic related, but partially also a paradigm issue. We have to attend to the number of new students being down 800.
Combined with that retention problem means it's not just an admissions issue. We are all in admissions. We are all in the enrollment management, if I may, business. We are all in the business of being committed to the institution. So there is there is no separate admissions Department in Academic Affairs Department and financial aid Department. It's all about admissions and retention and student support for the entirety of their College career. So our institution has work to do. To reengage students, rebuild our reputation as a residential campus with quality learning opportunities and impactful faculty student interactions of all sorts in and out of the classroom and ultimately, strong campus support for students.
It's an honor to be ahead of this and leading a team where I mostly just watch extraordinary people do great work and get to sit back and awe and watch them. And that includes you Robb, the good people up at the Haunt Union. As you might remember I might have had something to do with some poetry slams up there over the years. and I believe that Oneonta is a transformative place. And I say that as a proud Alum and someone who, even though he was too dimmed to realize it long ago, had only ought to help to shape his life, I think in many respects, for the better.
Thank you, Provost Lee.
Mostly, I just want to remind folks on campus that the Hub, formerly the information desk in the middle and library and reference desk, I believe, are checkpoints. So folks who are looking for masks can pick those up. And a reminder at the Hunt College Union to all our people listening to this now, you always have a place here. Thank you so much for joining us today. Dr. Lee, you're a rocker.
Dr. Richie Lee
Thank you very much, Robb. It's great to see you again.