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STATE OF THE INSTITUTE 2021: PRESIDENT FRANCES BRONET ADDRESSES THE PRATT INSTITUTE COMMUNITY

“This has been a time of compelling collaboration and it continues to be an opportunity to leverage our infrastructure investment, our student services face-to-face and online, our own empathy, our COVID chasm response as a people-centered institution. Our students are asking questions, they are crafting investigations, they are setting strategies for this unimaginable time of significant opportunities here in New York City and beyond.” Watch Pratt Institute President Frances Bronet’s State of the Institute address.

Read a Transcript of the Video

Hello, everyone.

Over the last few weeks, I asked members of the senior staff, faculty, staff, and students, what are you most proud of that happened this year? What occurred that was amazing?

Here are a few of your words: the compassion; the collaboration; the enthusiasm to test new processes; the ability to prioritize; the willingness to step up and help; building skills to counter the scale of the issues; the ability to sustain the quality of a Pratt education under dire circumstances; our high retention rate; the ambition to go beyond what it took to survive and use the moment to make ourselves qualitatively better; in a difficult time for diversity, equity, and inclusion, the unique, powerful, high-profile actions from so many constituents; a new understanding of immersive, embodied technology inclusive of tools, techniques, and social systems.

These were truly astonishing but we all know this is not the whole picture. The last few months have continued this past year’s struggles in both intensity and gravitas. Everyone has suffered the loss of loved ones, watched our nation and its citizens commit horrific acts, create hostile environments rooted in racism, carried major shifts in our daily lives, lost time with friends, family, and communities while responding to an extraordinary demand for patience, for compassion, for outreach. We are all saddened.

Pratt, like many around us, has had to address immediate educational, social, and physical demands while still projecting for our bold and accessible future. We base our ongoing decision-making around safety, from emerging virus transmission data and the health of our respective communities to incredibly hopeful vaccination projections and consultations with peer colleges, universities, research, and government agencies. Colleges and universities have faced tremendous financial, political, and student pressure to open campuses, and like our peers in New York City we’ve announced fall plans for as much face-to-face learning as possible.

I am grateful to you, faculty, staff, and students, for the caution and care you’ve taken with us to ensure the health and safety of our community while concentrating on academic excellence and progress. You’ve been actively engaged in developing and sharing best practices for multiple modes of delivery, which have opened up new ambitions in immersive, online, hybrid, blended, and distributed learning.

One year ago, in my State of the Institute address at the very start of the COVID crisis, I thanked you for your incredible willingness to take on new challenges and practices as we faced an unprecedented threat. At that moment, we thought we recognized the incredible impact on your lives and the lives of those around you, around us. In fact, it was really just beginning. Your creative energy, your flexibility, your deep thinking, your generosity, your spirit saw us into the next phase as we met one another in the online learning and work environments. And we continue to thank you for your patience, your grace, your empathy during this unprecedented and challenging time.

It was also barely over a year ago that we wrapped up the first broad strokes of the strategic plan. It prompted ambitious work on the campus master plan, embedded with the core values and organizational principles of the strategic plan as well as three essential ongoing sub plans on energy, on deferred maintenance, on existing and projected real estate configurations. COVID demanded rapid navigation through budget reductions, realignments for safe physical space, and new priorities. I think of the words from our strategic plan: At Pratt, the problems we confront, individually and collectively, challenge us as never before. When that was written, COVID-19 did not exist.

Throughout this year, you took on the most difficult and challenging questions of the moment. And, in daily work with our students, you addressed the pressing reality of growing inequality in our society, investigations about the sustainability of the planet, about our food, about our water supplies, about how we plan our cities, solve transportation problems, share information. These words come from our strategic plan and they are even more now the issues of our time. And it is in this kind of connection that world-class learning and practice take place, that visionary research and creative work advance, and that all of us become partners in imagining the future.

In the plan, we are also asked to build coalitions to solve our complex challenges, to learn how to run institutions with empathy, bring expert knowledge to create equitable environments and policies. You have been doing this. And this year, as units throughout the Institute review the strategic plan to see if it needs adjustment based on our new reality and to develop specific processes and proposals to implement department plans, we have seen the plan flex and communities valiantly go forward. At this point, most deans and vice presidents have shown their detailed plans to the Strategic Plan Operations Committee. And we thank you. And we will be continuing to develop rubrics, metrics, to determine success. 

ON TO THE CORE OF WHAT HAS OCCURRED IN THE LAST MONTHS

Our total enrollment is over 4,000 students. We have over 1,500 students on campus in some face-to-face classes. Studios and labs are open and 125 students are in the residence halls. Since September, we’ve had limited cases. All have been managed well by an extraordinary team of campus leadership, safety and facilities professionals, and expert caregivers.

Much attention has been given to crisis communications clearly and continuously updating our communities about campus access and planning for each semester. And, as you know, information has been changing rapidly.

ADMINISTRATIVE TRANSITIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES

The searches for the new vice presidents, for enrollment management, with WittKieffer, and for student affairs, with Napier, are well underway, and Vice Provost Donna Heiland is set to serve as interim provost while we conduct a search for a new provost in 21-22.

Here, in this State of the Institute, I’m beginning some of the bittersweet thanks in recognition of Helen Matusow-Ayres and Kirk Pillow’s amazing work. When Dr. Helen Matusow-Ayres, Pratt’s vice president for student affairs, retires this summer, after almost 17 years at Pratt, her leaving will be deeply felt throughout our community. Helen has been a key partner for all of us. Her social and intellectual acumen is extraordinary and we rely time and again on her insightful and tireless guidance. As these last months, in particular, have called on everyone to be their best selves, Helen’s specific expertise in student resilience and well-being has been central to our decision-making, and that same expertise has guided the senior team as well.

During her time at Pratt, Helen spearheaded the renovations of the Student Union on the Brooklyn campus, the Student Services Center on the Manhattan campus, as well as the addition of Emerson Place Residence. She led the development of Pratt’s diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan, which became one of the five core pillars of Pratt’s current strategic plan. She brought about the Center for Equity and Inclusion and chaired the search for Pratt’s first Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Nsombi Ricketts.

With student flourishing and wellness at the core of her mission, Helen grew Pratt’s health and counseling services and established the Learning/Access Center, Community Service Board, the flourishing Studio Culture Project, the First-Year Experience Committee, and the Assessment and Care Team. And under her watch, the athletics and recreation program expanded to include a fully-equipped fitness center, fitness classes, and membership in Division III of the NCAA.

By 2018, Helen and her team could own that 97 percent of the class, well above the national average, were gainfully employed or attending grad school within 12 months of graduation. Sharing high satisfaction with being creative, making a difference, and aligned with their studies, our students start positions at some of the most sought after studios and practices. She has made sure that our students are life ready.

We’re deeply grateful to Helen for continually and generously sharing her wealth and expertise and thank her for her immense dedication and service to Pratt and offer our best wishes for her retirement.

And Dr. Kirk Pillow. What can I say? When Dr. Kirk Pillow steps down as provost at the end of this academic year, he’ll begin a much deserved leave, after which he will join the faculty of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences as a tenured professor.

Kirk has been a powerful partner, one with clear vision exemplified by his leadership of the strategic plan, his full consideration of issues, his constant, even hand. He has an unparalleled understanding of action and consequence, both in times that are predictable as well as during moments of extreme stress and transformation. Kirk shared his wise counsel, his deep appreciation for and understanding of our faculty, our students, and staff, and his grace under pressure.

As Pratt Institute’s chief academic officer, he’s guided the overall academic mission of the Institute, including program development, accreditation, assessment. Under his watch, world-class deans, a vice and associate provost, and other great leaders have joined us. And he’s been pivotal in helping us attract and retain talented faculty. He led the completion of the BFA curricular change in Art and Design, along with the related revisions to Foundation and the General Education curriculum. He fostered interdisciplinary curricular innovation, exemplified by the Pratt Integrative Courses and the expansion of minors. He embraced shared governance, fostered rich collaboration with the Academic Senate, including a thorough revision of the bylaws, the adoption of a fully revised faculty handbook, and strengthened constructive collaboration between academic leaders and the faculty union.

Under his leadership and advocacy, major renovations were completed to the Juliana Curran Terian Design Center, the Foundations Lab, and the Pratt Manhattan Center. He created the Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships, appointing its inaugural associate provost and also established Pratt’s dynamic Center for Teaching and Learning.

I will always be grateful for Kirk’s role in making my arrival and transition smooth, enabling me to have a thoughtful and ambitious launch, including his shared leadership for the development of Pratt’s strategic plan with Vice President for Finance and Administration Cathleen Kenny.

And not least, he helped guide Pratt through our very challenging past year of the pandemic and upheaval, opening promising futures for academic continuity, excellence, and innovation.

I wish Kirk the very best in the next part of his academic career.

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Donna Heiland will serve as Pratt’s interim provost for the next academic year while we conduct an international search for our next provost. Donna’s appointment as vice provost was fundamental to the academic team that Kirk built and her contributions to Pratt’s academic mission and planning have been incredibly substantial.

As we examine both changes in leadership and new modes of working, we are actively looking at both the organizational structures of units and how campus space can be examined and occupied over a six-month to two-year transition period, a two- to five-year midterm view, and a four- to seven-year longer framework based on how the social, technological, and the physical demands transform over time. Understanding our footprint and the most effective sustainable way to use space combined with organizational adjacencies are central. We are also examining overall space needs, internal capacities, deferred maintenance, the electrification of the campus, and we continue to review last year’s Sasaki Master Plan and real estate projections.

CIVIC AND ACADEMIC PARTNERSHIPS

With a new administration in Washington, we’re advocating for federal support to increase the role of art and design education in advancing democracy. This includes doubling the maximum Pell Grants, improving widespread access to high-speed broadband, and strengthening the commitment to graduate education.

We also endorse US reengagement in a global society through a commitment to international education and the repeal of travel bans and restrictions, updating the American Industrial Classification System to better reflect current industry fields for work and study, including game arts, data, as well as expanding funding for arts- and design-based research. All will lead to new economic development opportunities.

We’re engaged with local, state, federal agencies, and elected officials, and collaborating with presidents of independent colleges and universities in New York City as well as national higher education associations. This has been a year of unprecedented dialogue and information sharing among colleges and universities  on topics ranging from reopening decisions to funding alignment, and includes emotional support for our communities.

The breadth and depth of our research and external support is growing substantially. As research and strategic partnerships develop, so is our relationship with the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And with much, much appreciated fiscal flexibility from the Brooklyn Navy Yard leadership, the Pratt Research Yard, providing tens of researcher spaces, will be completed by the end of 2021. We have received substantial government funding for this work, including recent support of almost a million dollars for its outfitting. We are also looking at collaborations across colleges and organizations already at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

ENROLLMENT

As you well know, our budget is tightly aligned with enrollment, and the pandemic has caused unpredictability. Fall 2021 admissions applications are strong. Domestic applicants are up substantially, though international applications are down. Aggressive, ongoing international recruitment which will result in additional applications in yield.

Be aware that vaccine rollout in other countries will have an impact on entry and international travel. A fully remote option available for our students unable to attend in person or enter the US, that will help mitigate potential loss in enrollment. In-person options will be available for those who are able to enter the US and are required to take at least one in-person course. We’re also looking at a place-based cohort of students in Shanghai as a possibility this fall, focusing on Foundation and first-year architecture students.

Pratt’s application numbers, consistent with last year, speak to the strength of our brand, our reputation, the quality of the programs, the staff, the faculty, the alumni, coupled with increased marketing, recruitment, and retention efforts with focused social media advertising and targeted audiences.

The undergraduate admitted student pool is currently stronger than last year with an increase in average high school GPA, test scores, and portfolio rankings. As I said, spring 2021 enrollment is good and is above goals set for this year. This is a result, in part, of the new spring term start for first-year, first-semester students, as well as additional graduate programs offering a spring start. For first-year enrollment, our goal is 759. We’re currently projected to come in at 782. For transfers, our goal is 111. We’re currently projected to come in at 130. And for grad students, our goal is 567 and we’re projected to come in at 620. You can write these numbers down, but of course, they will shift a bit each week as we get closer to the deposit deadline.

And while we are projecting an increase in enrollment, we will still not be back to pre-pandemic levels. It’s tough to predict, given the leave-of-absence students, deferred students, uncertainties for internationals, rollout of vaccines, here and other countries, the travel bans, but the leave-of-absence survey and the student responses will be helpful and our budget assumes that 65 percent of the students currently on leave of absence will be able to return. If that doesn’t materialize or international travel proves challenging, we’ll go back, readjust expenditure levels accordingly.

The strength of our brand and our academic reputation was recently affirmed by Moody’s, our bond rating agency. Despite the challenges currently faced by higher education as an industry, Moody’s reaffirmed Pratt’s A2 bond rating and stable outlook. In their opinion, they cited our national and international reputation as strengths that will support the growth of enrollment back to pre-pandemic levels.

Better than anticipated spring enrollment, the reopening of the residence halls, and more federal assistance did have a net positive impact on the budget heading into the spring semester.

The projected deficit from operations, although still substantial, has been reduced. However, the 15 percent reduction in our number of students this year carries forward through the four to five years of the students’ time at Pratt. Again, recovery will be based on the returning leave-of-absence students, a larger incoming class, and transfer students who place out of the first year, as well as our continuing to offer a new spring start and to promote our strong Pratt Munson Williams Proctor and Associate’s Degree program pipelines.

Chairs, we thank you, in coordination with Admissions, are looking at bringing in students where they can to make up for losses in enrollment in the upper years. We hope to have increased demand and bring in larger numbers of transfers and new students in a combination in order to accommodate them from a space perspective as well.

Of course, all of this impacts our budget projections and priorities, and with respect to salaries and the 403(b) restoration, we are contractually obligated to provide faculty with a salary increase effective in September, along with restoration of their 403(b) employer contribution.

For staff, restoring salary reductions and the pension plan contribution is one of our highest, highest budget priorities. But we will need to get a better sense of enrollment before we’re able to make that commitment. At this moment, the hiring freeze will also remain in effect until we have more certainty in terms of enrollment. There are a number of budgets that need to be restored and we are prioritizing current employees. In general, budgets for next year will still be constrained.

With respect to work from home, we will provide additional guidance in May. We envision there will be another set of interim guidelines for remote work taking us through the upcoming academic year.

DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION EFFORTS

Our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are strong. Latinx graduate and undergraduate student applications are each up by 9 percent. Applications from Black students are up 3 percent. This is an overall total increase of 7 percent from last year, with first-year, transfer, and graduate applications all up for Black and Latinx students. Applications from Native, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders, two or more race applicants, as well as Asian Americans are up minimally from last year. For early-action accepted numbers, overall we’re in line with last year, with early-action Black acceptances up 46 percent from last year. Pratt will continue its test-optional pilot into fall 2022 and providing additional data as we consider a test-optional policy beyond that. We continue to develop and implement strategic priorities to address a better and more diverse future. The inaugural meeting of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee of the Board of Trustees was held in November of 2020, led by Committee Chair and Trustee Kathryn Chenault.

In the academic arena, Pratt is developing two interdisciplinary minors focusing on DEI: the Black Studies minor and the Disability Studies minor. In building capacity, over 500 Pratt faculty and staff from both Brooklyn and Manhattan campuses participated in the DEI Allies Training Certificate program. The Diverse Scholars Program, a sociocultural support program for the recipients of the new diversity scholarship, provides incentivized opportunities for engagement, connection, and co-curricular education based on our effective HEOP model. And the commitment to access crosses academic domains, from the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Indigenous Knowledges/Decolonial Pedagogies workshops, to departmental examining of curricular biases, models, examples, histories that they use, and the classroom culture.

The strategic plan clearly addresses access to Pratt with the affordability of a Pratt education a key driver. This year, we announced 25 new donor-supported, full scholarships covering tuition, room and board, fees. Two Balenciaga Black Alumni of Pratt full scholarships, three Kathryn and Kenneth Chenault Scholarships, and 20 Pratt President’s Wallace Augustus Rayfield Scholarships are all committed to excellence and to increase diversity amongst our students and in the disciplines they study.

Counseling, support, health promotion, fitness, community dialogues, peer support, care, and working on resilience, wellness, and well-being have been key for students, faculty, and staff, especially during the pandemic. Student well-being is the shared responsibility of Student and Academic Affairs, and that partnership has been profound.

The Center for Teaching and Learning, in partnership with Student Affairs, has addressed issues from mental health and cultural concerns for Chinese international students studying in the US to examining teaching practices around technology, around time, and around trauma-based learning.

Travel bans continue to impact our students’ ability to arrive in the US. International students who remain abroad continue to be challenged by learning in different time zones. This has been a recurring concern of both our students and the faculty.

REPUTATIONAL CAPITAL

Communicating our value, building reputational capital, visibility and public relations has been key to our communications, our marketing, and indeed our fiscal priorities.

We moved from number 10 in 2019 and 20 to number eight in the 2021 QS World Rankings. Rankings continue to grow. Most recently, within the 2021 Animation School Rankings, Pratt ranked number eight amongst the top 50 nationally, number seven amongst the top 40 private schools and colleges, number three among the top 25 in the East, number two in New York, and number six nationally among the top 50 Animation BFA programs. We have many, many other rankings, but these are the newest.

Examples of our extraordinary faculty work include Assistant Professor Eliza Hittman’s film “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” named as one of the best films of 2020 by The New York Times and The New Yorker, nominated for Best Feature by the Gotham Awards; a British Independent Film Award; seven Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Feature, Director, and Screenplay; New York Films Critics Circle Award for Best Screenplay; and Fusion Film Festival Woman of the Year. Student work similarly garnering national attention, Industrial Design graduate student Jessica Smith, Math and Science faculty member Cindie Kehlet are in the international top 20 in the James Dyson Awards for Carbyn, a compostable and carbon-sequestering bio composite with the potential to replace traditional petroleum plastic.

Three Pratt alumni were named as semifinalists for the 2021 Fulbright US Student Award.

Pratt has made a significant commitment to sustainability. Climate readiness and climate action are the future. Our students are demanding it. Our professionals will have a significant role in leading the planet from zero waste construction in fashion to regenerative cycles in architecture, to design and climate resilience across our minor and embedded studio courses. Our strategic plan priorities for sustainability, biodiversity, and adaptation are being fulfilled and moving towards needed curricular and research comprehensiveness. And as of this February, Governor Cuomo introduced a $3 billion environmental bond act to fight climate change. Sustainability deeply part of our art and design curriculum, of our work in climate change, and in our commitment to getting to zero carbon in our own physical plant. And our first step in achieving our own energy efficiency goals and walking the talk includes reducing our emissions 40 percent by 2030 by transitioning to an electrified physical plant supplying heating, cooling, and hot water for all the buildings on the Brooklyn campus.

I am proud to say we’ve exceeded our Institutional Advancement goal twice this year, which is a remarkable testament to our Pratt donors, especially at a time when other organizations have seen less philanthropic support. Since 2019, active recruitment of five new trustees has garnered the additions of artist and alumnus Derrick Adams, founder and CEO of Curemark Dr. Joan Fallon, General Motors Executive Director of Global Industrial Design Sharon Gauci, CEO and founder of IASG Hospitality David Kim, and former Pratt faculty member Bill Hilson. They join our dedicated, illustrious Board of Trustees under the continued leadership of Chair Bruce Gitlin. Our robust, one-year-old President’s Task Force has 11 thought leaders from around the country joining me in discussions around Pratt and our future plans, inviting even more people to our Pratt table.

And finally, our alumni networks around the country and around the world have been engaged virtually in this time. And I remain grateful to the regional network leaders for all they have done to keep Pratt alumni active this past year.

THE FUTURE

For our nearest future, you have already developed extraordinary new ways to engage pedagogies, space, and time.

Thank you.

In the landscape around us, many questions continue about higher education, from its value proposition to fewer high school graduates to declining international students. Universities had remarkable stability, some, like Cathy Davidson, would say for centuries. Michael Smith, professor at Carnegie Mellon, notes that this stability has bred overconfidence, overpricing, and overreliance on business models tailored to a physical world, identifying that like entertainment before us, higher education writ large moved slowly to adapt digital technologies as a way to enhance work. Online learning and credentialing platforms such as Khan Academy, General Assembly, LinkedIn Learning, Kaggle, and edX are now being seen as flexible, do-it-yourself, stackable approaches. How does this challenge the privilege of learning in studios, in fab labs? What are the opportunities for hands-on, theoretically grounded, practice-based pedagogy in this evolving future?

We are committed, at Pratt, to relationship-rich experiential and innovative learning. We’ve built new partnerships, we’re intensifying our connections to communities, and now we have at our hands creative computing and new and emerging models of delivery.

Planning for Pratt Futures is our initiative addressing short-term future issues, how can we plan most effectively for fall ’21, to medium and larger-term visions. The team, led by Vice Provost Donna Heiland, composed primarily of deans and vice presidents, is looking at basic questions and principles to consider in shaping academic programs, big questions, and blue sky ideas. Anchored in our strategic plan, where excellence, equity, social and civil contracts, sustainability, and wellness are key, the group is examining our goals, from needs and ambitions, interdisciplinarity, collaborative skills, new networks of people, and the amazing potential for partnerships. Looking at student-centered program development includes how to take advantage of what we’ve learned about online education and how continued online classes and even whole degree programs could benefit Pratt if adopted strategically, even as we are reaffirming a commitment to the immersive, hands-on education described just a moment ago. The group is also interested in low-residency programs, an innovative hybrid of online and in-person learning that might be effective for us in the future.

A BFA in Game Arts lies ahead and a Master of Landscape Architecture is in the approval process. And our Game Design and Interactive Media major within Pratt’s Associate Degree Program has already, by the way, totally in advance, been ranked among the top 10 best associate’s in game design for 2021, and will offer a fully online version of the program beginning next year.

Diversifying revenue sources, guess what, also in this project. And this work requires both big thinking and very clear performance modalities. Like our very Institute, we are big thinkers and we are action oriented.

For example, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies has implemented a new registration system for noncredit programming that provides new and returning students with a seamless, accessible approach optimized for use on mobile devices. It will also open up the possibilities for a more aggressive array of engagement to larger communities.

Other improved tools allow students to help themselves. The unified technology platform, onePratt, for students, faculty, and staff provides a personalized set of design applications, information dashboards, and multiple channels for social engagement and collaboration, all in one package. It includes Launchpad, the virtual lab environment providing access to all licensed software titles on and off the campus. Production gives students virtual access to output centers for 2D, 3D, cutting, and milling across both campuses. These new capabilities will be a permanent part of our educational ecosystem, providing resources for students and faculty no matter the time or place. Resources are available through our Center for Teaching and Learning for faculty and students, including guides, video tutorials, self-paced training. From new, collaborative whiteboarding tools to full telepresence capabilities, we now have expanded access and planning to broaden our base of engagement with new communities across all platforms and services seven days a week.

And finally, while Pratt looks aggressively at multiple paths for academic delivery, we are already positioned and partnering with various community, cultural, and political entities. We continue to increase our roles as municipal associates, expert researchers, public artists and scholars, and outreach coordinators for a better New York City and for an equitable democracy. You, we, are truly making a difference during the pandemic and working towards New York City’s recovery. Work in all of our schools is individually and collectively examining how we identify and address issues of public urgency and how we continue to be part of the solution in house, as partners in the city, as partners beyond the city.

These include being climate ready to collaborating very deliberately with neighborhoods in distress, with governmental teams working on city infrastructure, and addressing critical social, economic, political, urbanization and environmental issues with developing art, design, and architecture practices that are rooted in sharing our expert knowledge. From examining how communications enable factual delivery, how truth is conveyed in a time of compromised communications, to developing functional apparel, wearable devices, and personal protective equipment that could help reduce the spread of COVID-19 for hospitality, construction, childcare, for everybody.

Thank you for this critical work anchored in your own commitment, anchored in our strategic plan for productive communications connections amongst the university and its publics.

This has been a time of compelling collaboration and it continues to be an opportunity to leverage our infrastructure investment, our student services face-to-face and online, our own empathy, our COVID chasm response as a people-centered institution. Our students are asking questions, they are crafting investigations, they are setting strategies for this unimaginable time of significant opportunities here in New York City and beyond.

With students who are so deliberate, who are so focused, who are so intentional, hardworking and passionate about their education, we have a powerful base and we have sets of partners who are poised for profound impact.

Thank you. And be well.