A message from President Donald P. Christian

A message from President Donald P. Christian

June 15, 2011

Dear Colleagues:

By now you have likely read or heard the news that yesterday I was appointed the eighth President of SUNY New Paltz, starting today.  It was 50 weeks ago that I was confirmed as interim president, a role that I took on with every intention of supporting the presidential search this past year and of returning to the Provost position when a new president joined us.  I never would have imagined at the time that the new president would be me, or that I could be so excited about this opportunity to lead such a special institution.  I recognize and respect the legacies of previous Presidents who have set us on such a positive course, and am honored to follow them.  I appreciate and am humbled by the confidence placed in me by so many people on and off the New Paltz campus, and am grateful for the many messages of support I have received since yesterday’s announcement.  I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to advance our institution and the many exceptional contributions that we make to our students and to New York.

There is much to be done in the coming weeks. In addition to the regular work of the President’s office (no sign yet of a summer slack!), we are working hard to identify an interim provost to serve during the current year after Laurel Garrick Duhaney returns at the end of June to her previous position.  My goal is for the interim provost to join us as early as possible in July.   Many of you are aware that Sandy Hess, long-time secretary to several presidents, is retiring and we are in the process of identifying and hiring a successor.  I will ask your patience in advance with these transitions in Academic Affairs and in the President’s office, especially since these offices work together so closely on many matters.

At a personal level, this summer my wife Sandy and I will move into the President’s house, a requirement of the position.  Also during July, I will attend the AASCU “Summer Council of Presidents” in Seattle, an important networking and professional development conference, and we may schedule an event while there to meet with some of our many alumni in the Northwest.  We will try to couple a short vacation with that trip.  After a few days back in the office, I will travel to the Midwest to take part in the AASCU “New President’s Academy,” a 5-day intensive professional development program that many sitting presidents and others have strongly urged me to attend as an important foundation for beginning a presidency.  Key topics include essential skills for new presidents, organization/team building, facilities and financial management, communication, development and fund-raising, and external relations.  These efforts will occupy much of July.

I have received the sage advice to regard the coming year as the first year of my presidency, and not the second year because of my service as interim president.  My year as interim gives me a good head start on knowing the campus and the duties of President, and, as summarized in my letter of application for the presidency, I have many thoughts about an institutional vision and future direction.  But it is important that I take time, as any new president would, to continue getting to know the campus and your collective concerns and aspirations that need to be considered in charting our course. While I am eager to see us continue advancing as an institution, such “stock-taking” is an essential precursor of action.

The recent Middle States self-study report included many suggestions and areas of possible improvement and innovation identified by the community during the self-study process.  These and suggestions made by the reviewers in their report provide a rich “road map” that needs to be core to our thinking about the future.  Our budget decisions this past spring necessitate early discussion and action on issues such as faculty workload, performance evaluation standards, and curricular organization. The above ideas provide a starting point for some parts of our agenda for the coming year.

Several other agenda items warrant specific comment.  I believe it goes without saying that a top priority for the coming year will be a successful national search for a new Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs.  Another unquestionable agenda item is to continue our work on a first-ever comprehensive fund-raising campaign focused on our greatest strategic needs.  This effort has been in the planning stages, and will take perhaps two more years of “quiet” work before a visible campaign is launched.  Today’s meeting of the Foundation Board in NYC will include an update on the progress we have been making on the campaign case statement.  As I have written before, it is perhaps unavoidable that I focus more effort internally during the coming year in support of an Interim Provost than any of us might wish, but I am committed to simultaneously advancing our external goals, of which fund-raising and development are central.

The Middle States self-study process, the reviewers’ report, and my letter of application discuss the need and desirability for us to undertake a careful planning process that will guide and prioritize future directions and our day-to-day work.  As I have written, rather than beginning with a blank slate, such a process needs to build on our vision points, refining our understanding of them and “operationalizing” them in every unit; we must also consider articulation of campus goals with those of The Power of SUNY system plan.  While such planning will be consultative and collaborative, a good strategic plan cannot be a consensus plan.  I will be giving thought to the right time to undertake such planning, the right structure and process, and the merits of working with an outside consultant on this process.

We will take up conversations about these and other topics at the start of the fall semester.

Again, I am honored and excited to lead such a great institution, and look forward to your support, engagement, and contributions as we work together to continue building SUNY New Paltz as the best public, liberal-arts-based comprehensive college in the Northeast.  We have much exciting and fun work to do, and many great opportunities that will require our collective focus, attention, creativity, and energy.


Donald P. Christian