New SUNY Oneonta President Discusses Goals For 2021-2022
SUNY Oneonta has tapped Dr. Alberto Cardelle as its new president. He was most recently the provost at Fitchburgh State University in Massachusetts, and officially starts at SUNY Oneonta on September 6. The college experienced a COVID-19 outbreak impacting hundreds of students in the fall of 2020, and is navigating a new semester amid the rise of the delta variant. The new president — who takes over for interim president Dennis Craig — spoke with WAMC’s Jesse King.
What drew you to SUNY Oneonta?
So I've been in higher education for a little bit over 22 years now. I've always worked at regional, comprehensive universities such as SUNY Oneonta, I started as a faculty member down in Pennsylvania, moved up to chair and dean and now provost, or vice president, here in Massachusetts. And SUNY Oneonta is always a school that I had always heard about – [its] strong academic program, strong student support. So it's very much the type of institution that I believe in, providing real opportunities for students, high quality education at a good value.
And so what are some of your goals as president?
Well immediately, I think that the goal for my first year is really to complete, [to] be able to wrap up this academic year without any major disruptions. Clearly, the college had a little bit of a rough semester in the fall semester of last year. So therefore, I think it's really important that we are able to demonstrate to the broader community that we can provide high quality education in a safe environment. So that's priority number one for this year. Two is working with the students, and making sure that we give them a nurturing environment, community, which is one of the missions of the campus, having been a nurturing community that allows them to thrive. And then finally, based on those two things, we hope to be able to bring in a large class, freshman class, the following year.
You mentioned the outbreak last year – I wanted to get an update from you about what SUNY Oneonta is doing differently this year, because I know that the outbreak was a traumatic experience for students, staff, and the surrounding community. What do you think the college learned from that situation? And how is it approaching the new semester differently?
Well, I have to give, you know, hats off to Acting President Craig, who came in and, I think, really provided the leadership to institute some real specific and detailed protocols, on everything from testing, to social distancing, to masking. And that really allowed them to have a very good spring semester. [There were] fewer students, but nonetheless, I think it was, for those students that were on campus, it was a safe semester. Building on that now with the vaccine, and the support of the SUNY= system and the SUNY vax mandate. They are have been very good at communication, at working with the community. And I think that that has been a major change. The university has established various committees and various groups that work closely with community stakeholders, including the mayor’s office and the local government, to ensure that we are not only keeping an eye on what is happening with the pandemic on campus, but with the community as a whole. You know, without a doubt, the ability to have a vaccine for this coming year helps. And I know that the campus has done a fantastic job in implementing the vaccine policy.
Are all students coming back on campus this year? Or is there still going to be a hybrid model?
Yes. We'll still have online courses, and there are some online courses and remote activities that will remain. But by and large, the attempt is to have as many in person events as possible.
And what has been the response from teachers and staff on that so far?
Again, I've not been there, so it's a little bit hard. But from what I understand, from both President Craig and his staff, folks have been very cooperative. Both with the vaccine mandates and the mask mandate. I know that one was one that probably had a little bit of more work to do with, but everybody is complying with the mask mandate that took effect I believe back in August ninth. From my understanding, both faculty and staff are all very happy with the precautions and the preventive measures that have been taken, that have been put into place.
You also mentioned nurturing the community for students and bringing in higher levels of freshmen next year. What are some of your plans to do those things?
Well, we have to demonstrate to, you know, the incoming class, for those that are looking to college next year, that SUNY Oneonta is able to provide them the same high quality education that they had before, the same student support that we had before – but now in a safe environment. I imagine that the negative press out there that the university received during the last academic year may have had an impact in students’ choices. So we need to demonstrate to all incoming students that are looking for their college choices that SUNY Oneonta is once again a very good place to come and complete their education. So it’s gonna be a lot about messaging, about getting out in front of guidance counselors about all that's positive that's going on in SUNY Oneonta. In other words, that there's a lot more going on in SUNY Oneonta than just COVID.
Lastly, Oneonta is obviously a college town. That town-gown relationship is very important. Have you spoken with the mayor yet?
Well, I don't know if you know, but Mayor [Gary] Herzig was on the search committee that hired me. You know, the first series of meetings were on zoom. And then [during] the campus visits, he gave me a tour of the city. So I have met with Mayor Herzig. I'm going to meet with him next week when I arrive on campus. And we even penned an op-ed piece in the local newspaper, showing how we're collaborating together to make sure that we can complete the semester safely.
The university, last year, established a new position, external outreach coordinator. And that person has been working not only with the community, but also with parents and students who live off campus. Our COVID steering group has membership of from our local, I believe it's the local public health director. And then we've also established another group that includes the city, Hartwick College, as well as SUNY Oneonta. So there are multiple different groups now that are addressing town-gown relations within the context of COVID, and just in general.