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Moving Forward: Forging a New Direction

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

From major publications like the Wall Street Journal and the Chronicle of Higher Education to local interviews with cable TV’s NY1, St. John’s drew widespread media attention this past year for new initiatives that President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., has spearheaded to strengthen the University’s commitment to student success.

Interviews with students, faculty, administrators, and alumni revealed a distinctly personal approach to management under Dr. Gempesaw, who became the 17th president on July 1, 2014. Last fall, for example, he and his wife, Clavel, joined 2,400 students, employees, and alumni for University Service Day. The president participated in many student, alumni, and athletic events throughout the year. He is often seen walking around campus, talking to students, faculty, and staff.

Underscoring his leadership style, Dr. Gempesaw has introduced a number of initiatives to strengthen the quality of the St. John’s experience. These measures reflect the mission that has guided St. John’s for 145 years—transforming students’ lives through knowledge, values, and service. It is this objective, rooted in the University’s Catholic and Vincentian identity, that Dr. Gempesaw is dedicated to strengthening now and in the years ahead.

“It is not enough,” Dr. Gempesaw has observed, “that we provide access to education. We must also ensure student success starting from their first steps on campus as freshmen until their graduation.” It is a common cause in which the president will continue to enlist the efforts of the entire St. John’s community.

Strategic Priorities: A Grassroots Effort

At his October 2014 investiture, Dr. Gempesaw identified four strategic priorities based on extensive discussions with diverse University constituencies: 1) ensure student success; 2) recruit, recognize, and retain the best faculty, staff, and administrators; 3) enhance our teaching and learning environment; 4) expand global and community partnerships.

The president launched a grassroots effort to involve the entire St. John’s community—starting with the formation of a Strategic Priorities Working Group (SPWG) comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, a student, and a member of the Board of Trustees. Co-chaired by Michael Simons, J.D., dean of St. John’s School of Law, and Gina Florio, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and physics, the 15-member SPWG was charged with engaging the University community in creating an overall framework for implementing these priorities.

During the fall and winter, the SPWG held listening sessions on the Queens, Staten Island, Manhattan, and Oakdale campuses. More input came from SPWG focus groups for students and faculty; meetings with Student Government, faculty, and administrative councils; and interviews with unit leaders. The SPWG compiled their findings in reports to the University Senate, President’s Advisory Council (PAC), Board of Governors, and Board of Trustees. Over the summer, unit leaders throughout the University identified ways in which their areas can contribute to each priority and developed measures to evaluate the success of their efforts. The SPWG co-chairs and PAC will incorporate the information in an integrated proposal for discussion at the Academic and Administrative Assembly. Further discussion will culminate with Board of Trustees endorsement of the implementation plan in fall 2015.

Making College More Affordable

At a time when soaring costs make it financially challenging for many students to pursue a higher education, St. John’s is offering a bold tuition-savings initiative for the upcoming academic calendar year.

For the 2015–16 academic year, St. John’s froze tuition, fees, room, and board for all undergraduate and graduate students at its Queens, Manhattan, Oakdale, and international locations (except the School of Law). Instituting these measures instead of an originally projected three-percent increase, the University has given back over $14 million to the student body. For incoming freshmen, the savings will equal about $1,140 per academic year, or $4,560 over the next four years.

At the Staten Island campus, the University reset undergraduate tuition by $10,370 for 2015–16, along with a freeze in room, board, and fees. Administrative restructuring and the nature of academic offerings at the location made the tuition reset possible.

President Gempesaw (r) signs agreement with East China Normal University

Building Partnerships, at Home and Abroad

As indicated in the University’s strategic priorities, the expansion of “global and community partnerships” is crucial to St. John’s continuing success. Dr. Gempesaw has taken a variety of steps this past year to realize this goal.

Locally, the president has met with government officials including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, US Senator Charles Schumer, and visited with several members of the New York State Assembly. In addition to engaging students and representatives from area Catholic schools, Dr. Gempesaw has also met with the leaders of Queensborough, Kingsborough, and Suffolk County Community Colleges.

The president has been especially active on the international level. This past year, he traveled twice to China working to develop strong partnerships with secondary schools and universities. Dr. Gempesaw traveled to Melbourne, Australia, in July to attend the General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities. He was a speaker at the panel discussion, “International Engagement Models – Opportunities for Collaboration” at the Presidents’ Roundtable session which explored models of international networking and collaboration adopted by leading Catholic universities, such as St. John’s innovative global programs. He also visited St. John’s Rome and Paris locations this past summer.