Mercer Notes Ongoing Initiatives in State of the College

Photo by Pauline Park

President Peter Mercer began this semester’s State of the College address, which took place last Wednesday in a packed Friends Hall, with two words from the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. He returned to this tradition after last year's address, which required a more serious introduction. This jovial beginning set the tone for the rest of the address, with intermittent jokes and shout outs to the faculty members in attendance making their way into Mercer’s semesterly update.

After a lighthearted introduction, Mercer went on to remind his audience of the complicated nature of the issues facing education, before highlighting many of the College’s developments and goals.

Ramapo’s sexual assault policy, which has been a hot-button issue on campus, and campuses across the country, continues to adjust and expand, according to Mercer. Currently, phase two of the Stafford Report, the assessment done of Ramapo’s sexual misconduct procedures, is available online, and focuses on programming. He explained that the College has continued to work with the Mahwah Police Department and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office with regard to sexual assault on campus. He also went on to note that Ramapo offers free transportation to The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood and Hackensack Planned Parenthood in cases where a survivor of sexual assault needs medical attention. The taxi company selected for this is also used by healingSPACE, Bergen County’s sexual violence resource center, and all drivers are subject to criminal background checks.

Ramapo’s Haven program, which addresses sexual assault, will be available to faculty and staff beginning in the spring. Haven will be offered both online and through face-to-face training, a feature that, according to Mercer, has been highly requested.

“We are responding directly and actively to the request, and, indeed, the demand, by our staff and faculty for training,” said Mercer.

Mercer also noted that Ramapo will be hosting the Association of Title IX Administrators’ regional investigator training conference in late May, which will span two days and involve more than 100 Title IX professionals. Ramapo, being the host of the event, can have up to 20 individuals participate in the training free of charge.

“We’re not alone on this front, as we navigate Title IX. But I believe we’re not just level with our peers, but generally ahead of them,” said Mercer. “And as you will see, the issues are very much alive.”

Mercer went on to speak of the College’s budget adjustments, explaining that Ramapo will work within its means this year.

Photo by Pauline Park

“We now need to focus on the money we have and the budgetary parameters that we now have established and examine them carefully to see if they will be suitable for the future. We are not going to be able to do all the things we have done in the past,” he said.

Mercer boasted of the increasing interest of high school seniors in Ramapo College, with 5,910 applications in at the time of the address – the highest number of applications Ramapo has seen at this time of year.

Other topics Mercer touched on include the upcoming renaming of the Bursar’s Office to the Office of Student Accounts, Ramapo’s payroll going green with an electronic W2 form, the proposed $50 million renovation to the library, which he described as a “high priority” goal but one that is “definitely overreaching,” and Public Safety’s recent community outreach efforts and its training sessions to advance communication between the Mahwah Police Department and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.

As is custom, Mercer dedicated the latter portion of his address to the achievements of Ramapo’s students, faculty and staff over the past semester and finished with a question and answer session. During the Q&A, he was questioned about the functionality of the Blue Light call boxes on campus and the inadequate cameras in the CPA parking lot, which he assured he would look into, and was asked about the steps he has taken toward advancing issues of diversity on campus. Mercer also expressed an interested in instituting a philosophy major, prompted by a question regarding his goals for the future.

The ongoing faculty contract issues were also mentioned during the question and answer session. Danielle Catona, a professor of communication arts, called the unresolved contract issues an unfortunate situation, explaining, “the faculty were saying that this was not the first time we’ve worked without a contract and that’s a shame that it continues to happen … The state has to be willing to negotiate with the staff because if you expect people to do the job that you want, you have to compensate them accordingly or show them respect accordingly.”

With regard to the rest of the State of the College address, Catona said that Mercer was “very optimistic for the future of the college.”

Additional reporting by Pauline Park