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NYSCC Annual Meeting, June 2012

New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists Annual Meeting
Thursday, June 28, 2012 12:00 pm
Dubinsky Student Center

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome you to FIT—and to New York City. I know how important this annual meeting is to youhow important it is to have the opportunity to work together, to talk, to share ideas, even to socialize a little bit. I know too that because we are all SUNY—and all so deeply interconnected—that we communicate constantly and do it at the touch of a button. But I think its good, occasionally, to transcend the virtual and actually meet the old-fashioned way; in person, face-to-face or as they used to say, up close and personal.

You have already started your work and have a full agenda for the rest of today and tomorrow. So I will take as little of your time as possible so that you can enjoy each others company during this break. But since I do have you as a captive audience, I thought I would take advantage of this time to tell you a little bit about FIT. And I want to do that because—no matter where I go—be it right here in New York City, in Albany, in other parts of the country or the world, I find that most people do not really know what FIT is all about. The misconceptions are many: we are only about fashion; we are a private college; we are part of CUNY; we are a cultural institution; we are an art school, a vocational school, a junior college.

Well, we are none of the above. First of all, we are not all about fashion. This is one of the most common misconceptions about FIT, which, given our name, is understandable. But like the industry we were created to serve, we have expanded into a multitude of related disciplines that now make up what I think of as the lifestyle industry. While fashion design remains our signature program, in fact we offer 45 other degree programs ranging from cosmetics to computer animation, home products development to package design, advertising to international trade, interior design, illustration, fashion merchandising, textiles, toy design, jewelry, photography...the list goes on and on.

Primarily, however, FIT is a public college—proudly part and parcel of the SUNY system—and perhaps more important—FIT is a community college. Our origins are deeply rooted in industry—committed to the mission of accessibility, career opportunity and community. Indeed, you will note that this conference is taking place in the David Dubinsky Student Center. If you are old enough—and I suspect many of you are not—you may know that David Dubinsky was a labor movement hero, the longest serving president of the old International Ladies Garment Workers Union. It is no accident that his name adorns one of our buildings.

In fact, FIT was formed by a group of apparel industry tradesmen, manufacturers and labor leaders who, in the early 1940s, were facing a dwindling number of qualified people to carry on their business. Their own—very fickle—children were defecting to the world of law and medicine. These visionary leaders concluded that for the industry to survive, they needed a trade school to educate high school graduates for careers in fashion. An MIT for the fashion industries, they called it—and rallied support from educators and public officials. Soon they established a private foundation made up of industry representatives, and with the collaboration of the city and state of New York, FIT was born.

The year was 1944. Like so many of SUNY's community colleges, we started out in borrowed facilities: in some cases, it was antiquated hospitals, in others, run-down supermarkets. For us, it was the top two floors of a public high school just a few blocks south of here. We had 100 students and two programs.

It was during this time that the entire nation was starting to seriously re-examine its higher education prioritiesraising questions about its purpose and whose interests it should serve. And in 1947 a report on higher education was issued—it was, in fact, a landmark report, one requested by President Truman, that called for the establishment of a network of low-cost public community colleges to enable and encourage every citizen, youth and adult to pursue higher learning.

One year later, New York State established its own network of community colleges and in 1951, FIT became one of the earliest in the system, following by just a year Orange County and Jamestown Community Colleges. Given New York's pioneering spirit, its surprising to learn that we were the very last state in the country to establish a community college system. But once we did—we didn't stop. Today, as you know, there are 30 community colleges in the SUNY system serving almost 250,000 men and women. FIT itself has 10,000 full and part-time students. I am sure that each of your colleges has evolved over the years to better reflect the economic needs of your community. We evolved in such a way that by the 1970s, the expanded industry we served was now demanding four year and advanced degrees for many of their entry-level employees—and FIT was authorized as a community college to grant baccalaureate and graduate degrees in addition to the associate degree.

But our basic mission has never changed—no more so than any of the community colleges that you represent. At the moment, the country is once again in a debate about the purpose of higher education, a debate that has occasionally—and unhelpfully— spilled over into the overheated rhetoric of the election season. But about one thing everyone seems to agree: community colleges. Indeed, community colleges are enjoying their celebrity moment—their 15 minutes of fame. President Obama placed a special spotlight on them not long ago when he called them the unsung heroes of America's education systemand one of the keys to the future of our country. Here in the state of New York, we know that.

We know that especially in these troubled economic times—community colleges are more important than ever. They are the most affordable segment of America's higher education system: the steadfast, stalwart and noble gateways to opportunity. As community college business officers, you have daunting responsibilities. You are the guardians of our fundsthe men and women who crunch the numbers so that we can continue on our mission of producing an educated citizenry and a skilled workforce. You are the unsung heroes—the men and women who make it all possible. I think I can speak for all of SUNY's community college presidents in thanking you. We know how demanding your jobs are and how much we rely on you.

I thank you for allowing me to convey some of my thoughts on our shared mission. I hope you continue to have a very productive conference and to enjoy each other's company.  

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