In a press release posted last week, Montclair State University announced President Susan A. Cole will be retiring on July 1 following the end of the academic year. Cole has been Montclair State’s president for 23 years, leaving behind a long legacy abundant in progress but not void of criticism.
Cole began her time as president in 1998, becoming Montclair State’s eighth president and first woman president in university history. Since the beginning of her time in office, Montclair State enrollment has grown from 12,000 students to 21,000 students.
A large part of that growth can be credited to the four new schools established since Cole’s occupancy. These include the School of Communication and Media, the John J. Cali School of Music and its Department of Theatre and Dance, University College and the School of Nursing.
The School of Communication and Media and the John J. Cali School of Music have grown rapidly and become nationally recognized institutes of higher learning.
Furthermore, during Cole’s time in office, Montclair State added an estimated 3 million square feet to its campus by opening the new Feliciano School of Business, building the Center for Environmental and Life Sciences and the Center for Computing and Information Science. During her tenure, she also added New Jersey’s first and largest public and private residential and dining complex.
All of these accomplishments, in addition to the many more unnamed, made during Cole’s tenure were included in the press release last week, so why re-identify them again now?
For a university president who has accomplished so much and made Montclair State a powerhouse of New Jersey education, Cole has seldom been popular among the student body.
Because most of the people who become involved with Montclair State only have that firsthand connection for just four years, it is difficult for them to evaluate the progress that is being made around them.
Students often complain how Montclair State’s campus is always under construction. They complain the construction is loud, disruptive to the flow of the campus and unpleasant to look at.
While this construction may be obstructive to students in their short time on campus, those buildings will eventually be the home to thousands of students, all of whom now have the opportunity to earn a financially manageable degree and pursue their passion with a well-equipped mind.
It is important to recognize The Montclarion itself has been critical of Cole and her administration. Multiple editorials have been published scrutinizing her constant raises of both university tuition and her salary while problems remained unresolved within the safety of dining and infrastructure.
While it is important to keep your leaders in check and challenge them to do right on behalf of those they lead, it is imperative to remember that nobody is perfect.
A quote by Albert J. Dunlop reads, “the price of leadership is criticism.”
Cole has certainly paid that price and it is now the responsibility of all university faculty, staff and students alike to familiarize ourselves with her resume and say thank you.
Despite these moments of unpopularity, Cole never stopped developing Montclair State. After her retirement was announced, Cole was asked about her reasons for stepping down.
“The university is organic and ever changing and meant for the ages, not just the decades,” Cole said. “And, as for me, if I stayed here for another 20 or so years, I would still never accomplish what I came to do, because my dreams and goals for the university keep growing with the university.”
Unfortunately, due to the sharp decline in university funds due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of that development is at risk of coming to a halt.
Regardless, Cole’s more than two decades of service to Montclair State and its now impressively vast and capable community has provided the blueprints for years of recovery and decades of advancement and progress.
Thank you, President Cole.