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Monday, November 8, 2021

From the President

Posted: Monday, November 8, 2021

Response to Campus Culture and Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey

I. Administrative Summary

The Buffalo State College Campus Culture and Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey was released to the campus community in spring 2020. The survey was developed at my direction to allow for an accurate understanding of “Buffalo State’s collective workplace, campus culture, and employee engagement/satisfaction, as well as how these factors impact institutional performance.” As we all witnessed, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected the timing for response and required everyone’s attention as we handled the ongoing health crisis.

Over 900 employees responded, and those results were shared with the campus community in November 2020, while most of the campus community was working remotely. Focus groups were consulted between November 2020 and February 2021 to help determine what information in the report remained pertinent, what changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what ideas focus group participants had for “leveraging institutional strengths, furthering institutional opportunities, and addressing institutional challenges.”

I directed each cabinet member to thoroughly review the report, along with the additional information submitted from the focus groups. At the president’s cabinet’s annual retreat, we discussed the report findings in depth, along with strategies to implement the findings campuswide in a meaningful and authentic manner that would allow the campus community to identify its strengths and leverage them to create a collaborative synergy. Additionally, action items and areas for improvement were considered to help inform short-term cross-divisional initiatives and long-term strategies.

I wish to thank the 928 employees who participated in the survey and the 246 employees who participated in the focus groups and gave valuable feedback and insight that reflects the experiences, both pre-pandemic and during the COVID-19 health crisis, of the college’s most valuable asset—its workforce! We will work together on the ideas that have been presented in order to maximize our students’ potential and continue to create transformative opportunities that will make an impact on our students’ lives and the lives of their families for generations to come.

The college’s challenges and strengths provide information to better support what is most important—our students. While we may not agree on every aspect, what is true is that we all share a common desire to positively influence the lives of our students. This dedication, coupled with intentional and deliberate collaboration, will ensure that our individual and collective responsibility to transform the lives of our students through education is realized for the betterment of students and the entire campus community.

We must all help create a caring environment on campus and within departments and other units, for our students and for one another. In order to create an environment where everyone feels supported and where individual opportunities for growth exist, collaboration and communication are fundamental. Additionally, continuing to build on our record of community engagement is vital. We need to explore new and innovative ways to accomplish this.

Nationwide, the realm of higher education is changing, and we must change with it. Campus community concerns must be expressed, and a safe place must be created where everyone can feel free to express themselves while also clarifying challenges, generating ideas, developing solutions, and planning for implementation. This is where we find ourselves now: looking forward to what can be done to cultivate more dynamic spaces where we all feel a part of something greater than ourselves, where we all are accountable and we all are invested.

Opportunities to improve on the realization of critical institutional outcomes and employee satisfaction can be developed through collaboration and collective embracement of the college’s shared vision and goals. Through continued investments like faculty and staff development, looking at ways to expand efficiency, and aligning our goals with our vision and mission, we can improve on what we have.

We look forward to the opportunity to work together to implement what is needed for all members of our community to thrive.

II. Organizational Agility

The success of an organization can be measured by its renewal, adaptation to change, and agility. In agreement with the report, one way we can succeed is by empowering the campus community with the important information it needs to fully participate and enhance collaboration and participation across campus.

Many things have happened during the pandemic that have demonstrated the need to improve on and expand communication channels. While use of the Daily Bulletin is encouraged for the campus community to keep abreast of current events and important announcements, we must create additional spaces that allow for delivery of important information. The current shared governance task force, convened by the College Senate, is reviewing themes and feedback related to communication and related mechanisms. Recommendations are expected that will also address communication tools in a broader way.

In addition, the following ideas have been discussed:

  • Scheduled town halls
  • Greater use of the website to make announcements
  • Development of division and school “channels” focused on more specific announcements, events, and information
  • Asking the campus community how they prefer to get their information

COVID-19 has helped us all develop habits we may not have had before the pandemic. For example, we all fill out daily health forms before coming on campus. We also know that use of the Daily Bulletin has increased as we all recognize this vehicle as an important way to obtain information. The Daily has already expanded information shared and has become an important way to deploy important information. Each division has also added new communication mechanisms that serve to share up-to-date information with community members both in person and virtually. Meetings with expanded leadership groups, campus forums, and leadership retreats will enhance communication and take advantage of all perspectives. Some specific ways this has begun to occur since the survey include the following:

  • Bengal Business Forums
  • Cross-unit continuity group meetings related to COVID-19 and adapting this model to other efforts
  • Campus town halls for students, faculty, and staff during spring and summer 2021
  • A weekly refresher in the Daily Bulletin related to COVID-19 with potential for the format to be adapted to other information

We are in the midst of strategic planning, and there are a number of ideas regarding communication in this area that have already been discussed. It’s important to mention that there is a committee currently charged with spearheading our Strategic Plan, and there will be numerous ways for campus constituents to add their voices to our future directions.

Recognition is important to overall morale, and ideally, a culture of widespread nomination and recognition of colleagues needs to be further developed. Current awards for which Buffalo State employees can nominate deserving colleagues include the following:

  • Caring Bengal Awards
  • Faculty and Staff Awards for Excellence
  • Various SUNY Recognitions
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awards
  • Student Affairs Partner of the Year Awards
  • President’s Awards

We know that COVID created a quasi-disconnection across campus, and now we have an opportunity to think of innovative ways for us to get to better know each other across divisions. Annually, multiple calls go out to the campus community by email and the Daily Bulletin asking for nominations to serve on campuswide advisory committees to ensure diverse representation across campus. We encourage all members to be involved in these aspects of campus life.

III. Pathways for Innovation

Change is inevitable. Our campus must identify our strengths and recognize current limitations in order to create our pathway to innovation. I have charged all vice presidents with including innovation in all the work they do and motivating their respective divisions to help build an innovative climate. Part of the fabric of who we are involves continuing to move forward while meeting the needs of our entire community. Given the ever-evolving environment in which we live—statewide and nationally—we must acknowledge that the status quo is unacceptable, and we must continue to emphasize innovation as our path to future success and stability.

The Strategic Resource Planning Process (SRPP) allows departments to be engaged in the resource planning. Additionally, the announcement of a newly created “Innovative Bengal Award” is forthcoming and will further describe how we can encourage and reward innovation together. The Bengal Business Forum is another place where innovative ideas can be discussed and where an understanding of budgetary issues and the importance of agility are discussed.

Innovation is occurring across all divisions, and we have elevated the importance of collaboratively working together to advance the college. We are seeking agility and innovation in every corner of the campus, demonstrating our willingness to evolve as we are faced with the changes around us. This agility and innovation are the responsibility of all members of the campus community.

IV. Institutional Effectiveness Planning

In an effort to organize evaluation, assessment, and improvement initiatives so that the institution can use information and make data-based decisions, we have developed the new office of Institutional Effectiveness and Planning. The college has hired Kim Barron to lead these efforts. Additionally, Institutional Research was realigned under Ms. Barron so that institutional data is readily available as we pursue greater effectiveness.

V. Employee Engagement and Satisfaction

For any institution to thrive, employee engagement and satisfaction must be at the forefront of any strategy. Our greatest asset, along with our students, is our workforce.

To ensure that our incoming workforce is highly qualified and diverse, we have further defined and updated our search process. The offices of Equity and Campus Diversity and the Vice President for Finance and Management collaborated on the entire process, which now includes a full description and support to help committees cultivate a diverse candidate pool and gives them tools to ensure that candidates are adequately screened and interviewed. Included in this update will be explicit requirements for the search process, including the use of search waivers, in cultivating our workforce.

For the workforce family we already have, COVID gave us an opportunity to develop our leadership and professional development programs in an effort to provide support for employees carrying out current job duties and desiring to create a plan for advancement. In process are plans to use BizLibrary as a place where employees can take advantage of various training development opportunities that help them advance, gain mentorship, and create a structure for feedback.

Examples of engagement activities as we returned to campus last year that we will continue moving forward include the following:

  • Coffee with the Cabinet
  • Jump Back into the semester events and staff luncheon
  • Joint wellness events between Human Resource Management and the Weigel Wellness Center

VI. Moving Forward

While higher education and Buffalo State College face many challenges moving forward, because of the reflective feedback from the campus community and the skilled work by the IIAC, we are well positioned to improve on our weaknesses and enhance our strengths. This work has undoubtedly exposed areas for improvement, and we are committed to making those critical changes. In addition to the steps outlined above, the findings, ideas, and work of the report have also been shared with leadership of the Institutional Planning Advisory Committee (IPAC) to inform our next Strategic Plan as appropriate.

Over the course of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have collectively shown incredible resilience and a willingness to adapt—and adapt quickly—to support our students. Our focus must be unified on our efforts to find new ways to retain our students and help them persist to graduation. We are pleased to see the enthusiasm of many on campus who have been asked to assist with our newly approved Retention Action Plan, in conjunction with the President’s Advisory Council for Undergraduate Retention.

In 2019, I planned a full retreat of leaders across campus, and this summer retreat was derailed by the pandemic. If conditions allow, this will be rescheduled for summer 2022. This retreat will provide an opportunity for a wide range of campus leaders to discuss campus priorities, share perspectives, and plan for the upcoming year.

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary and reflect on the amazing contributions of the faculty, staff, and administrators who helped make Buffalo State what it is today, the campus is energized by the future opportunities. Together, we will continue to anchor our wonderful city of Buffalo and transform the lives of our students. My leadership team and I thank you for your continued collaboration and dedication to Buffalo State College.