Karen Hitchcock


A celebrated educator who once led the University at Albany, New York passed away this month. She also co-hosted this program for about a decade. Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we remember Dr. Karen Hitchcock.

You can find some of Dr. Hitchcock's commentaries for WAMC here.

We’ll also have a conversation about freedom of speech on campus with the president of a college in Massachusetts…and we’ll spend an Academic Minute trying to define meat.

A pair of researchers traveled the country to find an innovative high school that engaged their students. Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll learn what they found and how they say the U.S. school system can be remade.

We’ll also look at the future of common core and spend an Academic Minute with adults and kids and their thoughts on religion.

Dr. Karen Hitchcock

Former University at Albany President Karen Hitchcock, a longtime WAMC commentator and the former host of "The Best Of Our Knowledge," has died after an illness. UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez made the announcement in an email to the campus community Wednesday morning.

When it comes to the medical field, women have come a long way in 50 years. It’s no longer surprising to see women as physicians and surgeons. However the story remains very different when it comes to medical professors.

Today on the Best of Our Knowledge, we’ll hear about a program at a major US medical school to help groom more women as professors.

Then we’ll catch up with Dr. Karen Hitchcock, a long time co-host of this program, and hear how she’s been in the 10 years since she left us.

We’ll also spend an Academic Minute with beer…cause we like beer.


Earlier this month, Dr. Karen Hitchcock was one of three recipients of the University at Albany Foundation's Citizen Laureate Awards. Here is Hitchcock’s interview with WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas.

Karen Hitchcock: Are Guns The Answer?

Mar 5, 2015

The issue of sexual assault on our nation’s campuses has been much in the news, especially since President Obama’s creation of a Task Force in early 2014 to address this serious issue.  Lawmakers at the state and federal level, as well as law-enforcement officials have been deeply engaged with college and university leaders in attempting to develop effective prevention strategies as well as ways our institutions of higher education should deal with instances of alleged sexual assault on their campuses.

Karen Hitchcock: The Price Of Ignorance

Feb 19, 2015

Mark, a six year-old leukemia patient, was unable to receive the measles vaccine due to his compromised immune system. Given his lack of immunization, he contracted the disease from an unvaccinated playmate and now is in critical condition from encephalitis, a serious, life-threatening complication which can occur with this highly infectious disease. Given the ongoing, indeed increasing, anti-vaccination movement in the United States and abroad, this illustrative scenario is likely to occur more and more frequently.

Karen Hitchcock: Is College-Completion Enough?

Jan 22, 2015

In the January 20th, 2015 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education there was an unfortunate – but quite revealing – juxtaposition of two major articles. The first, by Kelly Field, was entitled, “6 Years in and 6 to Go, Only Modest Progress on Obama’s College-Completion Goal;” the second, by Casey Fabris, “College Students Think They’re Ready for the Work Force. Employers Aren’t so Sure.”

Karen Hitchcock: The Legacy Of Governor Mario M. Cuomo

Jan 8, 2015

Today’s Commentary, of course, begins with deepest condolences to Mrs. Cuomo and the entire Cuomo family.  Our hearts go out to them at this most difficult time, a time when we all mourn the loss of a very special man, Governor Mario Cuomo.   

Early this year, a Report was issued by the White House Council on Women and Girls with the startling finding that one in five of our nation’s female students have been sexually assaulted. Since that time, this oft-repeated statistic has been called everything from “appalling” and “tragic” to “overblown” and “inaccurate.” Wherever an individual falls on that continuum of reactions, I think all would agree that even one incidence of sexual assault is too many.

 Just last week, an eight month- long investigation of academic fraud involving student- athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of our nation’s most prestigious public universities, was released. This investigation, led by Kenneth L. Wainstein, a longtime official at the U.S. Justice Department, revealed a well-orchestrated, long-standing and widespread corruption of the academic program at Chapel Hill. In brief, the Wainstein Report described a “shadow curriculum” that had been developed by  the departmental manager and the chair of the African and Afro-American Studies department to ensure the academic success of “at risk” student – athletes.

 Just two weeks ago, the first case of Ebola in the United States had been confirmed. My Commentary at the time reflected my belief that our nation’s colleges and universities needed to exercise “an abundance of caution” in their reaction to this entry of Ebola to our country. Universities and colleges not only host large numbers of functions where large numbers of people come together in close proximity – concerts, athletic events and the like – but they are also places which welcome thousands of West African visitors – students and faculty – from the very countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak. They also participate in international study programs where their faculty and students visit – often for prolonged periods of time – these very countries. As I stated at the time, I was very concerned by the apparent lack of rigorous protocols for prevention and management at most universities and, perhaps worse, the feeling expressed by many student health professionals that the chance of an outbreak is so low in the U.S. that more aggressive responses are not, at the moment, really necessary.

Yesterday, we all woke up to the news that the first case of Ebola in the United States had been confirmed in Dallas, Texas. A person recently arrived from Liberia, here to visit family, was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and is currently being treated for the disease. Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the “CDC”, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has stated that he is confident that this single case will be contained.

Across the country -   in Wisconsin, California, Illinois, Vermont, Massachusetts, and on and on -  economic development experts are paying increased attention to the creative organizations which add so much to the vibrancy, productivity and quality of life of their regions.  New York is no exception; and, a particularly strong initiative in this regard is ongoing right here in the Capital Region, embracing such industry segments as design, media, museums and preservation, performing arts, visual arts and hand-crafted products.  

Karen Hitchcock: The Many Faces Of The Common Core Debate

Jul 24, 2014

Over the last several months, discussions of the Common Core State Standards have been eclipsed by the public’s reaction to major issues which have arisen in their implementation – issues such as declining student test scores, and the role of such test scores in teacher evaluations, evaluations mandated if a state was to receive its share of federal money from the “Race to the Top” funds. The Common Core, we remember, is a set of standards or goals which has been developed to describe what our students should achieve at various points in their education. Accepted by some 45 states and the District of Columbia, these standards are meant to ensure that our young people will be prepared for whatever futures our rapidly evolving society creates, that they will be college-ready and employment-ready, that they will be globally competitive.

Karen Hitchcock: In Honor of Dr. James J. Gozzo

Jun 26, 2014

On June 30th, this coming Monday, an era will end at one of the Capital Region’s most respected institutions of higher education, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. President James Gozzo will leave the helm of this exceptional college – turning its leadership over to the new president, Dr. Gregory Dewey. I have been fortunate to have known President Gozzo for virtually all of his 16-year tenure at the college, a college which has been transformed by his presence.

Each year, graduates of our nation’s colleges and universities participate in an ancient ritual known as “commencement.” They don medieval garb and participate in a ceremony designed to honor their accomplishments and be celebrated by their final “teacher”, the famed “commencement speaker.”

In a recent commentary, I raised the question of whether the United States is losing its global competitiveness in the area of scientific research. And yet, despite the fact that major reductions have been made in our research infrastructure and productivity due to cuts arising from sequestration and over a decade of federal research budgets which have not exceeded inflation, I was startled to learn that “only 38% of Americans feel science [research] is getting too little funding” (reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Strapped,” February 28, 2014). Why isn’t the message getting out? Why do so few Americans see the risk in falling behind in areas of research critical to understanding disease processes, to addressing environmental issues, to developing alternative energy, and on and on?

On March 26, 2014, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board, Peter Sung Ohr, issued a ruling which has sent shock waves throughout the world of big-time college sports.  In short, he ruled that football players receiving full scholarships at the Big Ten school, Northwestern University, qualify as employees and are, therefore, able to unionize under federal law. Northwestern, as expected, has formally requested a review of this decision, a ruling which has engendered spirited debates around the country. On the one hand, Northwestern football players cite the requirements and restrictions applied to them as scholarship-holding  athletes, conditions which they feel render them de facto employees, while Northwestern contends that  college athletes are students, first and foremost, and therefore do not qualify as employees. 

On a number of occasions over the last couple of years, I have shared my concerns with you regarding the decreasing level of support provided by the federal government for research at our nation’s universities. Indeed, as reported in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, entitled “Strapped”, by Paul Basken and Paul Voosen, the budget of the National Institutes of Health hasn’t exceeded inflation for more than ten years. This lack of growth in the N.I.H., and other federal granting agencies, coupled with the major cuts related to the recent “sequestration” process, endangers this nation’s  research infrastructure and the productivity of our research scientists. To quote the authors, “Budgets are tighter than ever. In [a survey administered by the Chronicle], more than half of the researchers who had led a lab for more than six years said this year was the toughest” …. 62% had reduced lab staff, 78% had reduced the recruitment of graduate students and fellows and 47% had had to drop an area of inquiry that was central to the scientist’s research programs.

Over the last several weeks, the media has been filled with news of the revised SAT to be implemented in the spring of 2016 by the College Board. Championed by the relatively new President of the College Board, David Coleman, this newly-conceived SAT has received praise as well as criticism in terms of content, design and potential impact on college admissions.

Karen Hitchcock: A Renewed Call To Action

Mar 6, 2014

In late January, President Obama announced the creation of a special task force to examine and, as necessary, coordinate federal enforcement efforts regarding rape and sexual assault on our nation’s campuses. This White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault will provide leadership for colleges and universities as they work on developing more transparent and more effective campus procedures to decrease and/or investigate incidents of sexual assault.

Karen Hitchcock: A Threat to Academic Freedom

Jan 23, 2014

Early in my tenure as head of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, I – like many other university presidents – was asked to support the agenda of a Palestinian initiative known as B.D.S., a call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, given the organization’s belief that Israel was not complying with international law and Palestinian rights. Specifically, they were asking for our university’s participation in a boycott of Israeli universities ... a request I unequivocally rejected as being antithetical to the concept of academic freedom which is at the very heart of the mission of a university -           institutions devoted to unfettered inquiry and discovery. 

Karen Hitchcock: Will Our Colleges Survive?

Dec 23, 2013

Scott Carlson, a writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, recently wondered whether “… American higher education is the proverbial frog in a slowly warming pot of water, not realizing that it’s about to be boiled alive.” Mr.

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Bill Keller began with what the author called a “caustic aphorism:”  “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t  teach, teach teaching.” He went on to give an inspirational exception to that rule in the work of one Bill Jackson, a teacher doing exceptional things in a Harlem classroom. And, I know each of us could give many examples of truly inspiring teachers who have made a difference in our lives. However, Mr. Keller’s bottom line is that, notwithstanding these many exceptional teachers, overall, the quality of teacher preparation in this country has been, at best mediocre, with obvious deleterious effects on the quality of learning in our nation’s schools.  As recently as this past summer, Mr. Keller points out, the National Council on Teacher Quality labeled teacher education in this country  “an industry of mediocrity” … the title of his opinion piece.

Late one evening not long ago, I had left the TV tuned to the David Letterman show while I finished up some writing.  As the former president of two different public universities – one in the United States and one in Canada – imagine my shock when I heard the following: “I’m dumb, I went to a state college.” Let me repeat that:  “I’m dumb,” said Mr. Letterman, “ I went to a state college.”

In recent weeks, there has been much reaction, both positive and negative, to President Obama’s plan to make college more affordable. The plan involves creating a ratings system for colleges and universities based on access, affordability and a variety of outcome measures and, eventually, linking levels of federal student aid to these measures. In order to implement such a ratings system, accurate data would need to be collected in such areas as tuition levels, graduation rates, student demographics and graduates’  earnings – a tall order, indeed, as one contemplates the extreme diversity of our nation’s system of higher education.

Fifty years ago, a tiny newborn struggled for life. Born five and a half weeks premature, the son of then President John F. Kennedy was one of some 25,000 infants who succumbed annually to Respiratory Distress Syndrome, or RDS, the then leading cause of death in premature newborns.

On July 16th, the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York voted to separate CNSE, the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering, from its university, the University at Albany. Many opinions have been voiced, both pro and con, since the possibility of such a split was “leaked” this past March. As the president of UAlbany when the nanotechnology initiative was begun and moved through critical phases in its growth, I have expressed my opinion regarding this decision in a recent interview with The Business Review. Indeed, an editorial expanding on my deep concerns will appear tomorrow in the August 8th edition of this same publication.

Karen Hitchcock: An Important Step In the Right Direction

Jul 25, 2013

A recent article by Larry Rulison in the Times Union posed the question, “Research Triangle found the right formula -- can we?”  As the article acknowledges, there is no simple answer to this question.   Champions of the concept of university–driven innovation made it happen: creative faculty and administration at North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; a committed state government; and, industry leaders who saw the competitive advantage of partnering with faculty at research-intensive universities in areas of research and development relevant to their particular product lines.