Maintaining Binghamton University’s core values was a major talking point when the third presidential candidate spoke at an open session on Wednesday.
Jonathan Alger, the current senior vice president and general counsel at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, spoke to a nearly full room of approximately 150 faculty and staff members and a few students standing in the back.
In addition to his position at Rutgers, Alger is part of the American Association of University Professors. He started his career in academia at the University of Michigan where he was assistant general counsel. Before working at the university, he represented major Fortune 500 corporations at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
“It has been a very important part of my life at Michigan and Rutgers to be a teacher and scholar,” Alger said. “Now I have the opportunity in this role to serve as a mentor for students, to give back as many have done for me. I would bring that sense of importance and understanding to the external role of the president.”
After introducing himself to the audience, Alger went on to present what he sees as the 10 challenges and opportunities BU faces in the 21st century. The first on his list, which he said they were in no particular order, was the importance of having a clear vision and mission for BU as a public research institution.
According to Alger, “preparing citizens for active democratic citizenship” is the second challenge and opportunity BU will face. Alger mentioned Rutgers student Tyler Clementi and the trouble with cyber bullying to show how it is important for students to respect each other in this age of new media.
Alger also said that it is important for BU to have a holistic learning environment.
“Athletics need to be incorporated into the academic environment,” Alger said.
However, he also mentioned that music, theater and the arts were very important to him as well.
Alger said that preparing students for a global market, taking leadership on sustainability and green initiatives and honoring the educational benefits of diversity were all important strengths that BU already has and that he would be a champion for.
“Overcoming the image of an isolating ivory tower with an active community engagement” is another important mission that Alger said he would work for as president. “The community needs to be invited in and faculty and students need to be out in the community.”
Alger acknowledged that financial challenges are happening everywhere, from Rutgers to Binghamton, and any public university cannot assume state funding will cover it.
“We need to look for new sources of revenue and grow the endowment,” he said. “‘Bold. Brilliant. Binghamton.’ is certainly a great success but future dreams have to be a lot bigger.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, a faculty member brought up what she said was the “big elephant” in the room: the law school.
“I’ve read the background, a lot of folks think it’s a strategic priority,” he said in response. “I think you have to ask those hard questions about timing, strategy and identity of starting a law school here. What is the special value that a law school here at Binghamton could bring?”
The final two questions of the session came from two BU students — the first a senior majoring in English and the other, Joey Fruchter, a senior majoring in accounting. The first student asked how Alger would work with students as opposed to presiding over them. Fruchter’s question regarded how Alger would improve rankings of the institution.
“Students are the life-blood … you are not coming here to be a passive recipient of knowledge, you are gonna participate in the powerful environment through activities and organizations,” he said in response to the first question. “Students are going to be alumni, that relationship lasts a lifetime and responsibility starts when you step foot on campus as a freshman.”
Alger mentioned that he stays involved with the student body at Rutgers through fireside chats, similar to BU’s current town hall forums with administration, but less formal.
In regard to rankings, Alger said that the best thing he could do as president would be to “tell the story of Binghamton University.”
The Presidential Search Committee welcomes those who attended the session, as well as those who could not, to provide feedback through a survey available at www2.binghamton.edu/presidential-search/input-and-feedback.html.