Annual Dinner & Awards Presentation

The Department of Geography
Hunter College of the City University of New York
2016 Annual Dinner and Awards Presentation

~~ Welcoming Remarks ~~
Allan Frei
Professor and Chair
Department of Geography

Dear Students, Colleagues, and Friends,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2016 Hunter College Department of Geography Annual Dinner and Awards Presentation. It is my honor to be chair of this department with so many fine faculty, staff, and students. I will say a few words before we allow you to pick up your meals. Before I get started, I want to thank the staff who make the department function smoothly all year. Martha, Tiffany, and Dana make the office run smoothly; Amy makes all our software run smoothly and provides other means of support to students and faculty; Nguyen keeps our computers running; and Tom keeps the computers running, is advisor extraordinaire, teaches and organizes our W&C sequence, and takes students on field trips. Of course, there is Dana, the assistant to the chair, who is absolutely indispensable to the department and to the chair. It would literally be impossible for me to do my job without her, or for me to list all the things she does for the department. Dana is sadly unable to attend tonight, but is represented by her husband Richard. Lastly, I’d like to thank Dana, Martha, Tiffany, and Amy for organizing this evening. Dana in her usual fashion, while out of town and dealing with other time pressing matters, is busy on her phone doing what she can from afar; and particular thanks to Martha, Tiffany, and Amy for stepping up to the plate in Dana’s absence.

I’d like to mention one group that is generally underappreciated, the adjunct instructors. And, even more so, the long term adjuncts, people like Doug, Jack, Henry, Kim, Faye, Shruti, Tom, Peter, and others… Will all the adjuncts, whether long term or not, please stand up? Due to the way the economics of academia has evolved in general, here at hunter, as well as in our department, we have come to rely more on adjuncts to cover our teaching commitments. While the professors in the department would like to hire more full timers, we do not have that option. We really could not survive without adjuncts, and the long termers in our department have been wonderful teachers and mentors for our students. So I want to thank all of the adjuncts for your excellent work in support of the department.

Will all students please stand? We have about 150 BA students evenly split between Geography and Environmental Studies, 50 MA and GIS Certificate students, as well as a few other students getting joint degrees with the school of education. A number of our students are honors students in one of the honors programs at Hunter. I can tell you personally that having the honor and pleasure of getting to know students a little better than from normal classroom activity on field trips and by having students work with me on research projects is probably my greatest source of job satisfaction. Our students are smart, mature, self-motivated, and have so much potential to do great things. They honestly keep me going emotionally when I am stressed out by bureaucratic problems. You will see some of them this evening.

Our department is always changing on a number of fronts. First of all, we are in a perpetual state of evaluating and revising our curriculum, as we should be. As the student body changes, the job market changes, and the world changes around us we have to be flexible. For example, we spent the last three years planning for a new MS degree in Geoinformatics, or MGEOi. We expect to begin offering credits towards this program next fall, and are very excited about this!

Which brings us to some unfortunate news. I don’t want to sugar coat it for you. Many of you are aware that CUNY has been experiencing some financial problems, including a continuing failure of the union, the administration, and the state to agree on a contract that expired 6 years ago. Compounded with the governor’s decision earlier this year to reconsider about a third of the CUNY’s budget, the system is under a bit of stress. This has resulted in belt tightening and the loss of faculty across CUNY often without replacement, and our department has not been immune to this. We lost two young hotshot GTECH professors these last two years. We will be hiring a one-year temporary replacement for next year, during which time we will be searching for a permanent replacement (if we are lucky we will be able to hire 2).
Another example of a serious loss is the departure of our long time and much beloved full time Geology Instructor Teodosia Manecan who recently retired, and her husband Cornell. Teodosia and Cornell. Thank you for your great contributions to our geology program. And, our long term adjunct, and recipient of this years most prestigious award from our department, Jack Eichenbaum, is also retiring and irreplaceable. JACK STAND UP. We will hear more from him later.

These losses come on top of other faculty members who have moved on in recent years without replacement by the administration. Thus our faculty has been pressed ever harder to meeting the multiple demands put on us not only to teach and advise students, but to bring in research funding, publish research results, and provide administrative service to the college. I have found in discussions with staff and students over the years that many do not understand that the role of professors in addition to educating is to be active in and publish research (our promotions and salaries depend on it). So I want to thank all my faculty colleagues who have worked hard to contribute in many ways.
The last major item I’d like to mention is that we completed our self study and external evaluation, which happens every seven years. This entails the department writing an honest self evaluation about every aspect of itself, followed by a team of three outside experts (professors) read the self evaluation, and then visit for a couple of days and speak to faculty, students, adjuncts, and staff. They then write their report. This may sound like a bad thing, but while stressful and extremely time consuming for us, it is actually very good for the department. If the administration has an honest appraisal of our strengths and weaknesses, they can then make informed decisions about how to allocate resources (regardless of how scarce they may currently be). We are now waiting to receive the external evaluators report, expecting it in the next month or so.

I am sure that there are many things and people that I have forgotten, and I apologize, but I will stop here. There are many others to thank for support of our department, including the Society of Woman Geographers who we will hear from later, the names listed on the back of your program, and in fact everyone in this room is by definition a friend and supporter of our department. So, thank you all and lets eat!


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