New Baruch provost talks improving student services during the pandemic


Baruch College

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

Baruch College President S. David Wu announced that Linda Essig, MFA, Ph.D., would be the new provost and senior vice president for academic affairs through email blast and press release on May 3, with her term beginning on July 1.

Essig was selected after a national search to find a new provost after former Interim Acting Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs James McCarthy resigned from the role before his term was expected to come to an end. McCarthy stepped down from the position due to medical reasons.

The provost handles all things related to students, student success and advancing the college’s mission statement.

“I’m responsible for all the academic work, the research work, the creative work of the college; responsible for student success; and academic excellence — both yours’ as students and the faculty’s,” Essig told The Ticker in a Zoom interview. “I’m also sort of tasked with delivering on the strategic goals of the college, including increasing effectiveness through streamlining academic operations . . . enhancing student success through integrated student services; increasing our research vitality and productivity through interdisciplinary collaboration; elevating diversity, equity and inclusion across the college.”

Additionally, the provost works closely with others in the administration, but Essig said she also loves talking with students and hearing their points of view as part of the job.

“It’s a broad job that I do in collaboration with many other people and most importantly, perhaps, is my partnership with President Wu in advancing the mission of Baruch to deliver on transformational education for its students.”

Prior to joining the Baruch administration, Essig started her career as a theatrical lighting designer in New York City before creating an over 30-year long career in academia.

After working in lighting, she began teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an assistant professor, working up the ranks to become an associate professor, professor and finally a department chair.

Essig then went on to work at Arizona State University as the director of the School of Theatre, Film & Television.

Later in her career, she was recruited to be the dean of the College of Arts and Letters at California State University, Los Angeles, which she called a “similar institution” to Baruch.

“It’s an urban institution serving a really diverse student body — lots of immigrants in the student body, lots of English-language learners in the student body — so that position, I think, prepared me well, in addition to my disciplinary expertise that extends across the three schools, to step into the role of provost here at Baruch,” she said.

In The Ticker’s Zoom conversation with Essig, she discussed her goals, plans and updates for the 20212022 school community as provost.

The No. 1 goal is to minimize risk of COVID-19 transmissions within the campus community, which is why the school decided on a mix of in-person, hybrid and online classes for the fall 2021 semester.

Student life, Essig said, will remain remote for this semester, but will hopefully be able to transition into some form of an in-person format in the spring.

However, one thing that Essig wants students to know about returning to all in-person classes and club life is that it will be more likely to happen sooner if more people get vaccinated.

“CUNY policy requires students to be vaccinated,” she said. “Students may, or I would even go so far as to say will, receive academic consequences if they’re not fully vaccinated.”

As the provost said, CUNY Central put forth a vaccine mandate for students that states that students may even be dropped from classes if they have not uploaded proof of their full vaccination to CUNYfirst by Sept. 27 and had this proof confirmed by Oct. 7.

“Because colleges need 10 days to verify and approve the vaccination documents after students upload them, the documents must be uploaded by September 27 to the latest,” the mandate reads in part. “Students taking in-person or hybrid classes who fail to upload their proof of vaccination by September 27 (so the documents can be approved and verified by October 7, the 45-days mark) will be subject to potential academic withdrawal that could also impact their financial aid and make them ineligible for refunds for the courses.”

While there is a CUNY-wide vaccine mandate for students — except for those who have an approved medical or religious exemption — there is not one for professors. Essig said that the decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for faculty and staff would have to come from CUNY Central, not Baruch.

As of right now, faculty are required to either be vaccinated or to show a recent negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the building.

Another one of Essig’s goals for the school year is to work with Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Art King and Vice President for Enrollment Management and Strategic Academic Initiatives Mary Gorman to improve student services.

An example of this is to set up a one-stop-shop for students, both online and in-person, where they can access academic advisement, coaching, financial aid and counseling all in one place.

“We hear that students really like that and there’s research that shows that that’s more effective, so that’s one example,” Essig said.

Essig also said that she wants to allow professors and students to be more innovative in classes and research, such as the new Provost’s Innovation Fellows and Faculty Innovation Seed Grants. These both incentivize students to integrate research with faculty research.

Essig talked about how she  wants to improve the college’s online learning capacities to make it a more viable option for students, including through the creation of a new task-oriented council that will outline “best practices” for hybrid and online education. The council will be polling students soon to get their input.

In terms of announcements, Essig said that there is still renovation ongoing in the Lawrence and Eris Field Building, more commonly known as 17 Lex.

The school wants to put new, quieter air conditioners into the building. There will also be a ribboncutting ceremony for the renovated Clivner=Field Plaza on Oct. 13.

Overall, Essig said that her main goal as provost is to do everything she can to give students a great education at Baruch.

“When somebody asked me what my priorities were as provost, I said, ‘Well, students first, students second and students third,’ and that’s not a lie,” she said. “Everything we do is in order to deliver on our mission of a really high-quality, transformational education of our students.”