Though Denise Battles officially assumed the role of president of Geneseo on July 1, the week of Aug. 30 represented a new beginning with most students returning to campus. Since becoming president of the college, Battles has announced her approach to immersing herself in the college, instituting her Deep Learning program and planning the first 100 days of her presidency. “We just had our convocations for faculty and staff and for students within the past week, so I’m making sure that I don’t identify new initiatives absent that conversation and consultation,” Battles said. “I want to make sure I get to know the people, the programs, the place and our position really very well before I get into that mode.”
Now that classes are in session, Battles has spearheaded an initiative she calls “Deep Learning;” a program comprised of two separate efforts to engage in a dialogue about Geneseo.
One aspect of Deep Learning is Listening Tours, which involve direct engagement with questions about Geneseo’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We all know the campus best from our own perspectives and so I’m hoping by having student voice, faculty voice and staff voice there that we can learn from each other,” Battles said. “It’s for my learning but not just for me alone. I’m hoping it’s a communal learning activity that we can undertake collectively.”
The first Listening Tour took place on Tuesday Sept. 8 in Doty Hall. The 14 professors, administrators, staff members and students in attendance discussed issues ranging from student-to-faculty ratio and faculty advisement to air conditioning in campus buildings. Geneseo’s role and reputation as a liberal arts institution was also a prominent topic.
Assistant director and manager for Systems and Networking for Computer Information Technology Kirk Anne was vocal during the meeting regarding Geneseo’s as a liberal arts institution. “We’re at that pivotal curve,” he said. “But are we at a plateau or at the top of a mountain? I think now we’re going to have to make some decisions.”
Similarly, professor of English Graham Drake commented on the perceived role of liberal arts at Geneseo and beyond. “The media has this idea of college as a utilitarian thing. I’m deeply frustrated by this trend,” Drake said. “Geneseo has an opportunity to make its case to the world that the liberal arts and sciences are flexible.”
Battles previously expressed a preference for public liberal arts schools. Battles explained that, “Geneseo looks different from the other places I’ve been to because it’s in a different setting, because it’s in a different system, but also because it’s a public liberal arts college … and that’s always been a model that has appealed to me.”
Part of the challenge of a state liberal arts education is limited funding. “When [tax] revenues are funneled back to public higher education, we really owe it to ourselves and to the whole of the state to be very thrifty, thoughtful stewards of that investment,” Battles said. This means emphasizing efficiency—and at times, cutting departments or allowing student-to-faculty ratios to rise.
Four “Locating the College,” or schola brevis, short course sessions will take place throughout September. These courses will offer specific information about faculty experts on relevant topics, including integrated learning at Geneseo and the college’s financial stability. Each of these 90-minute sessions will include a question and answer period.
According to Student Association President senior Andrew Hayes, Battles is invested in the success of SA and students in general. “She asked us about our goals and I feel like Student Association’s goals kind of align with everything the students want to accomplish,” he said. “She wants to be a part of Geneseo and I think she just realizes how the students are Geneseo ... as are the faculty and staff.”
Senior Sarah Dukler echoed Hayes’ positive sentiments. According to Dukler, Battles plans to attend at least one SA meeting so that “she can utilize [the SA Executive Board] as a tool for communication between the administration and the student body.” Dukler is the SA director of Student Programming as well as the chair of Geneseo Campus Activities Board.
“In President Battles’ faculty convocation, she was talking about looking back in order to inform the future,” Dukler said. “I think it will be really exciting to see how she’s going to build on it.”
Some students have had trouble connecting with Battles, however. Junior Thomas McCarthy attempted to meet with her on the state of LGBTQ+ affairs on campus but could not make an appointment. McCarthy is the president of Pride Alliance and a student ambassador.
“I think there’s a lot of potential for this president to be more proactive with some of the stuff that maybe Interim President Long was less interested in pursuing because she had a shorter tenure,” he said. “I’m really disheartened and I find it really disingenuous when I can’t make a meeting with the president of the college.”
Battles emphasized that her ideal vision for the future of Geneseo, however, is one that involves active engagement from all members of the Geneseo community.
“When we look down the road … what is our vision? Because it’s not going to be Denise Battles’ vision,” she said. “I will articulate it, but it’s got to be a vision that arises out of the collective, out of our community … and so I’m really looking forward to that conversation.”