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Bulletin News

President’s Opening of School message


President Erik J. Bitterbaum spoke to faculty and staff about the COVID-19 pandemic, campus construction projects and the value of a life-changing education during a virtual 2022 Spring Opening of School Meeting on Thursday, Jan. 20.

On COVID-19, Bitterbaum shared optimistic news about declining cases and rates of hospitalization from the omicron variant in New York. Vaccines and boosters are preventing infection and leading to less severe illness in those who do get sick.

If COVID-19 becomes endemic, SUNY Cortland will still face challenges to keep the community safe, he said. But a new phase of the disease would give the university new options in returning to fully serving students and delivering in-person experiences.

“Endemic disease does not need to dominate life the way a pandemic does,” Bitterbaum said. “It does not need to cause the sort of social isolation and public health problems that COVID has over the past two years. If the United States reaches this point in 2022, as appears possibly likely, this coming year will feel a lot more satisfying than the last two. And I have to remain optimistic.”

In meeting regularly with students, Bitterbaum said that he learned they rely on their face-to-face connections with faculty, staff and other students to get the most out of their college experience. These relationships bolster student academic performance, retain students at Cortland and keep them on track to graduation.

“Students who felt faculty and staff listened to, respected and cared for them had a much stronger sense of belonging to this institution,” he said. “When I ask what classes they’re taking, they’ll mention the class, but they quickly go to the faculty or staff member who’s made such a difference in helping them to belong to this institution.”

Bitterbaum gave updates on several ongoing construction and renovation projects happening around campus, including:

  • Offices originally on the fourth floor of the Miller Building are scheduled to return to that space in February.
  • Offices on the second and third floors of the Miller Building are scheduled to return this summer.
  • Work on Smith Tower has begun.
  • The design phase on the C wing of Van Hoesen Hall has started, which will renovate the former Tomik Fitness Center into the home of the Communication and Media Studies Department as well as several student-facing offices.
  • The design phase on the A and B wings of Van Hoesen Hall is scheduled to begin soon, which will renovate classrooms and offices for the Division of Student Affairs.
  • An outdoor lighting improvement project on upper campus is nearly complete. A similar project on lower campus will begin later this year.

A significant investment into SUNY and CUNY colleges by New York state was announced earlier this month by Gov. Kathy Hochul. Bitterbaum noted that this investment aims to increase SUNY’s system-wide enrollment by 130,000 students over the next eight years, better prepare students for careers and improve the diversity of SUNY’s faculty and student body. SUNY’s comprehensive colleges will receive funding to help establish distinct identities.

“In my 19 years here, I’ve never had a governor who is so interested in SUNY,” Bitterbaum said. “She had a son who went to Geneseo and her parents went to SUNYs. She knows the real value of what we can do for New Yorkers and the whole country.”

The meeting also included an update on the university’s accreditation process through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education by Associate Provost Carol Van Der Karr and Professor Lynn MacDonald. A slideshow was emailed to faculty and staff on Thursday morning.

Bitterbaum closed his remarks by sharing a letter from Shelby Soule ’21, a recent geology major with a minor in geographic information systems (GIS).

He urged faculty and staff to consider their roles as mentors to today’s students and continue to influence and change their lives for the better.

“I have become capable of things that before Cortland, I couldn’t have done in my wildest dreams,” Soule wrote. “I learned so much about geology and GIS. I have also learned how to be a better person and none of this would have been possible without the outstanding community that you have at SUNY Cortland.”

A video recording of the meeting will be posted shortly to the President’s website.