President holds first Fireside Chat for faculty and students

The first of President Denise Battles’ Fireside Chats was held on Friday Dec. 4 in the Fireside Lounge of the MacVittie College Union. These chats are open to all members of the college community to engage with Battles in a casual environment. “It seemed timely to have another opportunity for folks to come and just informally engage, and so [from] that was born the idea of fireside chats,” Battles said. “There’s no scripting here. It’s just a time where if you want to come and listen, if you want to come and just chat, this is your opportunity to do that.”

Sponsored Research Associate Patty Hamilton-Rodgers ’85 started off the chat by asking if Battles could share some of her observations so far about the college.

“We’ve got just outstanding people across the board. Our students are just exemplary. We’ve got very committed faculty, staff and administration,” Battles said. “There’s a deep commitment to our mission as a public liberal arts college.”

Battles also added that she plans to revisit Geneseo’s mission statement and develop a vision statement.

“I told the strategic planning group that I have no expectation of a major revision to that mission statement, but whenever you’re doing planning, you really need to start there,” she said. “One thing we don’t have is a vision statement and if the mission statement says who we are and what we do, a vision statement says who we want to be, where we’re going, what our sense of direction is, how we want to be known, say, five years out.”

Battles continued to speak about her observations regarding the amount of activity on campus.

“People are around and participate and it’s just a very active environment. All that said, I think there’s always opportunities to improve and enhance,” she said. “That’s where these conversations with the students I’ve met with—both in the Student Association and the Integrated Council and other settings—have led and that was part of the point in the listening tour sessions and locating the college sessions.”

Instructional Support Specialist Edward Beary voiced his concerns about the equipment problems on campus to Battles.

“I think somebody’s got to get to Albany and push, pressure them a lot more,” he said. “Whether they like it or not, SUNY is still a business as well as an educational facility … and has to be run like a business, if nothing else to replace old and obsolete equipment. And I haven’t seen that happening, ever.”

“I don’t think it’s a lack of advocacy in Albany,” Battles said. “If you’ve been following the chancellor’s Stand with SUNY Campaign, that is a good part of the point—ensuring that the campuses have the funding so that we do have the wherewithal to replace things on the schedule.”

Battles added that keeping up with infrastructural changes can be challenging with such a low tuition cost.

The chat continued with a question from professor and Chair of the English Department Paul Schacht asking Battles how she plans on making Geneseo more visible. One of the strategies Battles explained that she will employ is moving the Assistant Vice President for Communication position—originally in the division of advancement—to part of the cabinet.

“It is elevating that role, putting that person at the table for the cabinet discussions for when we are having conversations about initiatives that we wish to undertake,” she said. “It is important at the college level that that person is present and can help with that messaging.”

Battles also cited the importance of student advocates as well as Geneseo’s website in promoting the school.

Dean of Residential Living and professor of English Celia Easton noted that there is a lack of participation and of a welcoming environment for the community of Livingston County on the Geneseo campus.

“For the most part, I think one of the things that we forget is that the village of Geneseo, the town of Geneseo, are the wealthy part of Livingston County,” she said. “Livingston County goes way beyond this area and the majority of people in Livingston County don’t step onto this campus because they are afraid to do so.”

One of the solutions Battles proposed was to create “either a science café or world café where … you have a faculty or staff member who picks a timely intriguing topic, does a brief presentation on that topic to a mixed off-campus/on-campus audience and then has a facilitated discussion.”

“The difference is, instead of having it on campus, you develop a partnership with a local area business,” she added.

As the discussion with Battles continued, assistant professor of military science at the Rochester Institute of Technology Joshua Wade proposed a program in which Geneseo could send RIT information from Geneseo’s admissions to attract students who meet the prerequisites for recruitment into the Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

Student Employment Service and Community Outreach Paula McClure also brought up challenges that Geneseo has with transportation—especially within the education department, hoping to find a resolution for the problem.

At the close of the first fireside chat, Coordinator of Student Organizations and Activities Kristina Barsema expressed her appreciation for the periodical interaction with the President. “I hope in the future that attendance will continue to grow, to become more well-known around campus and there will be a greater interest,” she said. “I think it’s really good that Battles is making these strides to connect with not just students but faculty, staff and just the Geneseo community in general.”