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Transcript of the State of the College Address


Susan H. Fuhrman

President Susan H. Fuhrman delivering the State of the College address.


President Susan H. Fuhrman's Fall 2007 State of the College address:

As advertised, my subject today is "the State of the College." A little later on I will address our academic initiatives, our programs with the surrounding neighborhood and the city, and more. But first, I want to talk for a few minutes about the state of the Teachers College community.

The past week has tested our community like no other in recent times. On the most personal level, the hanging of a noose targeted Madonna Constantine, one of our distinguished African American faculty members and someone who has devoted her career to charting the complex subtexts, interactions and conflicts that so often attend relationships in the context of race. It also embroiled Professor Suniya Luthar, whose renowned studies of developmental psychopathology and resilience among children and families also deal with gaps between perception and reality, and who herself became the target of a wrongful and vicious press campaign.

On a broader level, the noose targeted all African Americans, reminding us that ignorance and hatred are to be found in even the most enlightened of institutions. It targeted all of us who believe in diversity -- not only of race and class, but of experience, thought, inquiry and opinion. And thus it targeted education itself -- education in its truest sense, as we have always defined it here at Teachers College -- because those are the four pillars on which true education is built, and without which it is not possible.

So we have been tested. And if there is one genuinely positive thing that has come out of the past week, it is this: Those pillars, those core values of education, are enduring and strong at Teachers College.

I say that knowing -- as so many members of our own community pointed out at the Town Meeting last Wednesday and in the days since -- that, pillars or no, there is much in our house that needs strengthening, reaffirming, renovating and simply building anew.

Does this community include a sufficient number of faculty and students of color? No, it does not.

Could we do more to make our curriculum an instrument of change and understanding? Could we improve our efforts at fostering dialogue and inclusion? Yes and yes.

Most broadly, is Teachers College a place free from what Professor Constantine and her colleague Derald Wing Sue call "micro-aggressions" -- the range of unintended slights, indignities, misunderstandings and other insults that well-intentioned members of a dominant group regularly visit upon members of minority groups? No, it is not.

But are we also a place that is committed to changing that picture? Yes. And are we a place that is committed at its very heart to diversity of experience, thought, inquiry and opinion? Yes. And that commitment has been in evidence during virtually every moment since this awful act occurred.

We have seen it in the reaction of students, faculty, staff and members of our extended community who protested out in front of the College -- as early as the evening of the incident and again, in much larger numbers, the day afterward.

We have seen it in the outpouring of support for Professor Constantine from friends, colleagues and so many others who have never met her.

We have seen it as well, in the expressions of support for Professor Luthar. I regret that, in an effort to protect her privacy, and under legal advice not to comment about her in response to any questions about the incident, even when asked specifically about her -- we didn't offer her the public support she deserves. To top that off, a family emergency among us led to a communications breakdown with Suniya as we were in the midst of dealing with the policy, the district attorney, the state attorney general, federal officers, elected officials and the press. Professor Luthar is an eminent and cherished member of our faculty and deserves the embrace and support of this community

And finally we have seen TC's commitment to diversity writ large in the flood of emails that have simply protested and lamented the act itself, and we are seeing it again in the "listening sessions" now planned by the TC Student Senate.

So the community has spoken, and continues to speak. It is saying that an act like this has no place at Teachers College and never will. And in saying it, in conducting the discussions and self-scrutiny that must accompany such a statement, it is demonstrating the kind of institution we really are.

And so I say, to people inside Teachers College who believe there are things wrong with the environment here that need to be fixed -- things that make an act like this possible -- I say, you are absolutely right, I agree, and we will do our best to fix them.

We are trying to make immediate impact in at least one area. Over the past few days, we have been in conversation with Clement Price, Distinguished University Professor of History at Rutgers and one of the country's great experts on how to talk candidly about racial issues. When I was at the University of Pennsylvania, we had Clem come and work with our faculty on just that issue, and I think perhaps the time is ripe for similar work here. Whether it will be Clem who does that or someone else, I don't yet know, but the need to talk is there, and we will do it.

Taking a somewhat longer-range focus, yesterday, TC's Committee on Community and Diversity met and created a plan -- still, obviously in its infancy -- that will build upon and expand our sense of community by addressing functional and cultural issues across a number of broad areas of the College. The focus of this effort will range from historical reeducation on racist symbols to how faculty connect with each other, students and staff, to the simple act of how we all break bread with one another and celebrate ourselves on a daily basis. I will be sure CCD has the resources to accomplish its plan.

I want to switch gears now and talk for a little while about some of the other important new initiatives that are underway at TC. In truth, though, I won't really be switching gears, because so much of this work is aimed at achieving the kind of stronger, more connected community I have been talking about. Indeed, almost all of it is specifically intended to create better opportunities, outcomes and lives for people across all segments of society. So I see it all of it as a piece, and when I'm done talking, I want to open the floor to comments and discussion -- in essence, to continue the very productive work we began at the town meeting last week.

When I attended Teachers College 30 years ago, one of the best parts of my experience was the opportunity to partner -- together with colleagues inside the institution -- with people outside the institution. We worked with political leaders, educators and others to help them solve the problems they face in their jobs. That same focus, I have since learned, links the great thinkers of TC's past and present. The legacy of Dewey, Thorndike, Russell, Isabel Maitland Stewart, Edmund Gordon, Maxine Greene and others is that they, too, forged partnerships in the very broadest sense, equipping generations of educators, health officials, psychologists, nutritionists and others with ideas that have improved the lives of millions of people.

That legacy is alive and well at TC. The past year alone has seen a remarkable profusion of partnering efforts, including:

  • The work of Margaret Crocco and her colleagues as they partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation and HBO to create and launch our "Teaching The Levees" curriculum, which uses the recent Spike Lee documentary "When the Levees Broke" to address civic issues raised by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath;
  • The establishment here at TC of the federally funded National Center for Post-Secondary Research, which elevates the scope and impact of the critically important work that Professor Tom Bailey and his group are conducting on community colleges;
  • The new Policy internships that are enabling TC students to work with a host of national and New York City organizations, including the Mayor's Office, the American Civil Liberties Union, Child Care Inc, NY Lawyers for Public Interest and others;
  • The recent visit by 11 Jordanian teachers, who enrolled in our summer TESOL certificate program;
  • The dedication of our newly renovated Dean-Hope Center, a service, training, and research facility that offers a wide range of educational and psychological services to the greater New York community at affordable rates;
And a host of new research by TC faculty that includes:
  • The most detailed assessment to date of how the federal No Child Left Behind Act is and isn't meeting its own goals
  • Analysis of the economic benefits to taxpayers of investing in proven strategies to boost high school graduation rates
  • The creation of an online national clearinghouse for research about Latinos and education
  • A study that demonstrates a promising public health strategy for boosting screening for colon cancer among at-risk populations
  • A comparative study that offers new insight into why Chinese math teachers achieve better results with their students than their American counterparts
  • Studies of the impact of post-9/11 attitudes and prejudices on Arab-American students in New York City schools.

Quite clearly, that list -- which is only a sampling of all we do -- is not the mark of an institution that is indifferent to racial injustices.

The less good news, however, is that, too often, these exemplary efforts exist in isolation from one another, meaning that, at best, they can accomplish only so much, within a limited sphere, and at worst, that they sometimes function at cross purposes.

My single greatest priority for this institution is to increase these partnership efforts and bring greater unity to them so they can be as consequential as possible -- and thereby to make us, in a very real sense, education partners to all who need us, beginning here in our neighborhood and extending around the world.

Let's start with our academic goals, which are the responsibility of Provost Tom James, who joined us in July. As you heard Tom mention at least week's town hall meeting, we are engaging, under his lead, in a process of self-study and collegial visits across our nine academic departments. These self-studies provide an opportunity for faculty to envision new potential in our research, teaching and service at Teachers College. The collegial visits will bring teams of distinguished faculty from other top research universities to discuss our planning ideas with us and offer their insights.

Let me emphasize that there is no preconceived plan here, no hidden agenda. Instead, this planning process reflects our strong drive to grow in strength and vision -- to keep building this College as the pre-eminent source of knowledge and professional training in the fields we serve.

It is possible that the self-studies could result in shifts in our formal department structure. I don't rule that out if we find ways to increase our productivity and further enrich our students' learning experience through organizational changes.

But there also many other ways of bringing people together. We have a great model for that in the excellent work that's already been done in policy studies here at TC. The many policy-related courses in different departments are now bridged by a policy students' network, a policy studies web site, brown bag lunches on the work of different faculty members, policy internships and fellowships, and much more.

As discussed, much of the focus of these reviews will be on identifying new connection points and fostering greater cross-fertilization. But they also are an opportunity for looking at course content and emphasis on overarching themes -- including multiculturalism. As I said last week, we currently offer 32 courses with multicultural focus and content. But maybe that's not enough, and maybe the issue here isn't numbers. Maybe instead we need to think harder about richness and depth of content, and just as importantly, about taking "multiculturalism" out of a silo and looking for ways to connect it to all subjects. All of that will be part of the focus of these self studies.

We're also working to strengthen the infrastructure that supports research at TC. We lead all graduate schools of education in total research dollars, but we need to do a better job in freeing up faculty time, creating research assistantships for students, and otherwise boosting student financial aid. We need better systems to help faculty become aware of and pursue grant opportunities. And perhaps most pertinent to issues of community and mutual understanding, we need to create venues that bring together our expertise across different areas of the College, so that we can compete effectively for larger grants that sustain our work over longer periods of time.

Why is this a community issue? Because collaboration of this kind entails true awareness of and respect for one another's work. It requires all of us to expand our horizons and look at research questions through the lenses of other cultures, paradigms and view points. It requires us, ultimately, to be surprised by what we learn because we have stepped out of our comfort zones and willingly engaged others whose approaches we don't understand and may even fear and distrust.

A tremendous example of a research initiative that is accomplishing this is the one set in motion last year by TC's Campaign for Educational Equity, under the direction of Michael Rebell and Amy Stuart Wells. Through this effort, TC faculty from all areas of the College are writing "white papers" that summarize current knowledge and highlight the most fruitful directions for future inquiry in 12 equity-related areas, ranging from early childhood education and English Language Learners to after school programs and the impact of class size. Taken together, these papers will ultimately constitute a road map for the future of educational research in the U.S., one that builds on the documented successes of recent decades.

Now to another area I am hugely excited about: our collaboration with schools here in New York City. For me, this work began almost the moment I started in this job, when I received the encouragement of two very important people. Chancellor Klein told me that TC could count on his support for anything we wanted to do to help improve schools. Our local Congressman, Charles Rangel, who after a very long and distinguished career was about to become Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told me that, at his age, he was very anxious to leave a legacy of improved schools in his district, and that he, too, would give me all the help I needed. Right after I arrived, he hosted a welcome breakfast for me with Harlem community leaders at the state office building on 125th Street.

It was a nice way to start out -- and since then, we have made some very rapid progress:

Step one was creating an Associate Vice President's position to liaison with the city schools, something the College had never had before. Step two was hiring Nancy Streim, an expert on university-public school relations with whom I have worked closely in the past, to fill it.

Almost immediately thereafter, we held two meetings here at TC with nearly all the principals of schools from Congressman Rangel's district. These were town meetings at which we listened more than we talked, with the goal of learning what the schools really need and want from us.

I'm happy to say that we have now identified a small group of schools from the district that want to partner with us very closely, to the point where we will be helping them on a range of curricular, instructional, professional and community related issues -- a new kind of role for TC. We are very intentionally placing ourselves on the hook for how these schools and their students perform -- and in doing so, we intend to put the best resources of our faculty and students at their disposal.

At the same time, we plan to consult in a more general way with a wider network of schools from the district, acting as a hub for advice and expertise.

We expect to announce these partnership arrangements before the start of the new year.

Like the Campaign for Educational Equity's research initiative, I not only expect but am counting on our city schools work to bring us all -- students, staff and faculty -- together at TC. This is a huge undertaking, and it will require all kinds of expertise and person power. We can't do it unless we reach out to one another here at TC to find the best minds for each of the vast number of problems and challenges we will be tackling.

That's equally true as we work closely with Columbia's School of Engineering in assisting a network of nine science-and-technology oriented high schools around the city. And our faculty also are lending their expertise to the new Columbia High School that opened a few weeks ago. The principal of that school, Jose Maldonado-Rivera, is a TC graduate.

Now I'll spin the globe for a moment and put my finger down in a very different location: Jordan. As many of you know, I visited there last winter at the invitation of Jordan's Queen Rania along with Lee Bollinger, Columbia's President, and a group of TC faculty. We were there to get a read on some of the most pressing needs of the Jordanian school system and to look for ways that we could help meet those needs on a long-term basis.

We learned a tremendous amount in a very short period, but it was very clear that one area where we could immediately make a difference is in improving the way Jordanian education schools train teachers of English as a second language. English is vitally important in the Middle East -- a key to increased commerce, global exchanges and much more.

Out of that trip came this past summer's visit to TC by the 11 Jordanian teachers -- an exchange that was an absolutely unqualified success. I met with the students near the end of their time here, and I was tremendously impressed with their sophistication and their desire to learn -- and also with their observations about how we can do more to help them in the future.

We will be making more visits to Jordan in the future to plan teacher education collaborations in other subjects as well as English, and are currently in the early stages of a similar venture in Tanzania. Meanwhile, TC initiatives in other countries continue apace -- particularly in China, where a large number of our faculty are doing work, and in Japan, where we will be launching a new art education program during the coming year and where I will go next week to preside over the TC program's commencement.

These are the most obvious examples of our efforts to create cross-cultural exchanges, but they are by no means the only ones, or even the most important. I often speak of our "other curriculum" here at TC -- the incredibly rich array of symposia, lectures, colloquia and other events that go on a daily basis, and which contribute so much to our common understanding of one another.

It would be impossible to list them all, but a few deserve special mention.

In November, The Campaign for Educational Equity will be holding its third annual symposium, this year titled "Equal Educational Opportunity: What Now?: Reassessing the Role of the Courts, the Law, and School Policies after Seattle and CFE."

This could not be a timelier or more relevant event, given the uncertainty, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in June, that surrounds efforts to ensure diverse classrooms in U.S. public schools. Even more importantly, it will bring together a diverse group of thinkers ranging from Harvard's Lani Guinier and Ted Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institute and at least two judges who have played critical roles in state adequacy lawsuits.

Another upcoming event, of a very different nature: On November 9th and 10th, TC will host a conference titled "Conversations Across Cultures: Community Arts Education -- Exploring Possibilities." The speakers will include two of TC's own great luminaries, Professors Emeriti Edmund Gordon and Maxine Greene, along with Geoff Canada, President of the Harlem Children's Zone; Raphael Montanez-Ortiz, Founder of El Museo Del Barrio; Sharon Dunn, Director of the Office of Special Projects and the Arts for New York City Department of Education, and many others.

I want to close with one additional thought. You have heard me talk a lot about partnership this morning. In past years, you've heard other words emphasized -- particularly the goals of achieving excellence and equity in education. The point I want to make is that those goals remain unchanged. They are and always have been core values for Teachers College. If anything is being adjusted or tweaked here, it's how we work to achieve them. We have been historically known for the direct collaboration of many of our faculty members with practitioners and policymakers. It's that kind of concerted, outward focus that I believe TC must bring to bear with passion and intensity in the future.

If we can do that -- if we can make "Partnership" our watchword in our dealings both with the outside world and each other -- then I think we will be doing our utmost to live the ideals of this institution.

We are fortunate because, as this past week showed us, we have the pillars on which to build. But as it also showed us: the urgency to build upon them has never been greater than now.

Thank you, and now I want to open the floor up to questions about any aspect of what I've said. We extended this meeting to an hour and a half to accommodate questions. To facilitate that process, I'm asking Janice Robinson to come back up here now and moderate the discussion, and for Provost Tom James to join me.

I also want to introduce Ayanna Epps, Community Relations officer from the Department of Justice and a TC alum who studied conflict resolution here. She can answer questions as well, if they are relevant.

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