It has been said "Success was his tradition" and what a story of success he has been! Shortly, the State University of New York Fredonia will bid farewell to Dr. Dennis Hefner, our president.
He gave us everything that a university president has to offer. It will be a very difficult "goodbye" for hundreds upon hundreds of students, alumni, faculty, staff, community and friends. Many of us do not look forward to that "goodbye" day. For you see, President Hefner and Mrs. Hefner are what they are ... "truly genuine folks: with, for, and so much, a part of the people." And we will not forget!
It was 1996 when President Hefner came to Fredonia. He is the longest serving president in the history of the modern Fredonia campus, as well as second longest serving current president among SUNY's four-year institutions. And he carries with that record of longevity, a record of extraordinary achievements without ever giving up on integrity. For you see, President Hefner is indeed, a gentleman of uncompromising integrity.
Dennis and Jan Hefner, with Homecoming King and Queen Chris Reybrouck and Kaylene Dunning in October 2007.
Dr. Hefner directed a period of tremendous growth at SUNY Fredonia, highlighted by undergraduate enrollment growth of more than 1,300 students, or 25 percent; a doubling of its graduate student enrollment; a tripling of its international students; and a 600 percent increase in the diversity of its student body. In addition, during Dr. Hefner's administrative tenure, SUNY Fredonia has been rated highly by expert entities, including its current ranking of 12th among all public regional universities in the North by U.S. News and World Report, and one of Kiplinger Personal Finance's 100 "best values" in U.S. public higher education for both in-state and out-of-state students.
SUNY Fredonia stands out as an institution of academic excellence. During the past 16 years, the average SAT scores of incoming freshmen have risen from 1076 to 1102. The selectivity of students, based on percent of applicant pool enrolled, has improved by 16.6 percent. This happened at a time when there was a decline in the region's number of high school graduates and we have experienced challenging economic times for both students and for the University. Further, through President Hefner's efforts, the "Fredonia in 4" program moved Fredonia as high as seventh in the nation for its four-year graduation rates. Truly, all of this is indeed, an extraordinary accomplishment.
Additionally, President Hefner has in aggregate, secured $360 million, from both state and non-state sources, for capital construction and renovation projects These include: the campus' Natatorium, University Commons, Rosch Recital Hall, University Stadium, Campus and Community Children's Center, Business Technology Incubator, and the Robert and Marilyn Maytum Music Rehearsal Halls, as well as the new $60 million Science Center, now under construction. Notable renovations include the campus' iconic Maytum Hall, Williams Center, and the planned $40 million expansion of the Rockefeller Arts Center. Again, what a significant accomplishment!
President Hefner is highly respected across the state and in the SUNY Central offices in Albany. In particular, he is recognized as one of the SUNY system's most tireless leaders in a variety of "main spring" significant issues related to higher education. One such issue was his advocacy for a rational tuition plan, which finally became law when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law last fall. It is an action that has, for Dr. Hefner, literally been 15 years in the making. Indeed, again, what an accomplishment!
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said it so well: "Dennis Hefner has transformed the college into an economic powerhouse for the region and an academic jewel for the state. ...When President Hefner steps down, SUNY will lose a great leader ... and a great friend."
As distinguished campus colleague and Senior Development Director Karen West stated, "He helped us envision what we could become, and then led us there."
That says it right there.
The final test of a leader is, when the leader leaves behind in others, the will and conviction, to move on to the next level of transformational accomplishment. Truly, there is no doubt, that is precisely the case at SUNY Fredonia. When a leader's enthusiasm is guided by reason, sound theory, reflective confidence, it is then inspirational to others and, develops genuine trust within and without the organization ... it then generates momentum for continual institutional advancement. That is precisely what has happened at Fredonia. Indeed, what a lasting contribution Dennis Hefner's leadership has left with all of us!
We are moved to make a special note in this piece. How extremely fortunate we are to have Dr. Virginia Horvath as the successor to President Hefner and as the 13th president of SUNY Fredonia. Dr. Horvath, a most talented educator and highly skilled and experienced administrator, is uniquely qualified to carry on the great progress of this university.
Indeed, her personal and professional expertise and enthusiasm match well the expertise and enthusiasm the campus has for the furtherance of SUNY Fredonia's tradition of excellence. Truly, we must note here, with Dr. Virginia Horvath's expert leadership qualities, to follow the unique leadership expertness of President Dennis Hefner as President of SUNY Fredonia, it just cannot get much better than that!
We will always remember Dennis Hefner as a creative, caring, and compassionate individual, indeed, a most genuinely ordinary person who has genuinely accomplished extraordinary things! Thank you President and Mrs. Hefner. The two of you have carried with dignity, warmth, and brilliance, the torch of dynamic excellence in the best of transformational leadership. What a positively remarkable legacy! We shall always be exceedingly grateful that your and our paths crossed for sixteen extraordinary years. So we say: "Farewell Dennis and Jan Hefner, what a remarkable inspiration you have been "... and WE WILL NOT FORGET
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia and distinguished professor at Capella University in Minneapolis. All of the past columns can be viewed on www.fromourperspective.net/ Send comments to: Rheich@aol.com