President’s Report to Academic and Professional Faculty

Read President Donald P. Christian’s March Report to Academic and Professional Faculty.

As we enter the home stretch of the semester and the academic year (and hopefully the end of a long, cold, snowy winter!), I have much news to share about the College’s recent activities and accomplishments, upcoming activities and efforts, and challenges.

Accepted Students Days are scheduled for March 28 and April 18. We will retain last year’s format, including an official welcome and one-on-one interaction with faculty and staff.  I appreciate the work of departments and faculty and staff to ensure that accepted students and their families are welcomed to the campus and able to learn as much as they can about our programs.  We receive frequent feedback about how greatly students and parents value these conversations with professors and staff – your work makes a very real difference in recruiting bright and capable students.

We are tracking our application and fall enrollment numbers closely and while application numbers are strong, yielding those students is the challenge we face between now and the start of fall semester. This year, there is heightened concern across the higher education landscape about declining enrollments because of demographic, economic, and other forces that I have written about previously. Those forces are perhaps especially apparent in the Northeast.  Recent conversations with colleagues at other SUNY campuses underscore the deep worry about budgetary and programmatic implications of enrollment shortfalls.  A candidate in one of our dean searches spoke about the palpable downturn in academic quality at their institution because they lowered admission standards to meet enrollment targets.  The New Paltz reputation, growing recognition, and welcoming campus environment are true assets in recruiting the right numbers of well-qualified students, yet we must remain vigilant to these recruitment challenges.  We rely on your collective action to ensure that prospective students and their parents learn about the tremendous opportunities available to students at New Paltz.

I am grateful to deans, chairs, faculty, and departmental staff for your contributions to Accepted Students Day programs and for your direct outreach to accepted students who have expressed interest in a particular major.  The university and our prospective students are best served if this work (data extraction from Argos; scheduled meetings and events; development of materials) is coordinated with the Offices of Admission and Communication and Marketing.

Budget Update.  Cabinet has reviewed requests for recurring budget items, including new faculty lines as prioritized by Provost Mauceri in consultation with the Deans.  Throughout this process, we have tried to be clear that we are uncertain about the budget for next year, and that new funding, if any, will likely be limited.  Discussions and one-house budget bills during the current legislative session have not eased our concerns.  It is now uncertain whether the fifth year of the current five-year “Rational Tuition Policy” will be approved, along with the SUNY request to extend that policy in some form to 2020.  In addition, it is not clear whether SUNY will receive increased state taxpayer support for contractual salary increases and other expenses.  And, of course, with tuition representing about three-quarters of our core instructional budget, our budget is very sensitive to enrollment.

Vice President Michele Halstead and her staff have developed budget projections for three scenarios that help us understand possible impacts of these factors on our budget for next year, accounting for current commitments.  Each of these projections includes no new state taxpayer funding, and assumes that contractual salary increases (about $1.5 million) are covered out of existing resources.  In one, with a slight (65 student) enrollment increase and no new tuition, we face a $1.85 million budget deficit.  In another, with next year’s enrollment identical to the current year and a $300 tuition increase, we would experience a deficit of about $157,000.  In a third scenario, with both a 65-student enrollment increase and higher tuition, we project a positive balance of $310,000.  Obviously, in the best of all worlds, our enrollments would be strong, the state would increase its support (to include contractual salary increases), and we would have another year of tuition increase.

We continue to advocate with legislative leaders, local media and their editorial boards for enhanced support for public higher education in this year’s state budget process.  I encourage you to reach out to our legislators to encourage their support.

It is also worth noting that there seems to be less certainty than in the past two years that the budget will be finalized by the on-time target date of April 1, which may mean that our financial picture will continue to be unsettled for some time.

My response to students and others who ask about my support for further tuition increases is that 1) I would much rather have increased taxpayer support to sustain high-quality educational programs and student success than rely on further hikes in tuition; 2) the state should be able to do more because its financial picture is rosier than in 2011, when the five-year tuition plan began; 3) we have added more than 50 new faculty and staff positions and enhanced financial aid for students with the tuition increases of the last four years; and  4) our students are not well-served if we face budget deficits because we have not received either new state taxpayer support or increased tuition revenue.

Fund-raising and Alumni Relations.  This fiscal year’s fund-raising total as of March 15 is $1,626,002, and does not yet include two bequest agreements of $1.5 million and $200,000.  Because the signatories of these bequests are younger than 70, their pledges will be included in our fund-raising totals at lower values (approximately $800,000 and $124,000, using standard protocols).  These bring our to-date fund-raising total to more than $2.5 million, compared with last year’s March 15 total of about $974,000.   The inclusion of bequests in our fund-raising totals – standard practice in the philanthropic world – emphasizes a point I have spoken about before: while some of the private funds generated by our current work will bring immediate and near-term return to our programs and students, others will bring benefits that only our successors and future generations of students will experience.

Examples of recent development and alumni engagement initiatives are:

  • Hosted several outstanding “President’s Roundtables” that bring successful alumni or other supporters together with students, helping our students gain important career and life guidance as we build new relationships with people who may support the College. Three additional Roundtables are scheduled for this spring.
  • Added several new members to the Tower Society (our planned giving society), which recognizes those who have named SUNY New Paltz in their wills, and re-designed materials about this program.
  • Identified at least six potential new members of the Foundation Board, who will be asked this spring to join this volunteer organization that supports and guides our fund-raising.
  • Launched a “100 Days Senior Celebration” on February 6 to help graduating seniors think about sustaining connections to the College after graduation, including an “Ask Alumni” table, information about graduation activities, and recommended actions to pursue before leaving campus.
  • Alumni Relations, partnering with the Career Resource Center, placed 29 first-year students in internships with alumni-employees. The two units are planning an “Alumni Discovery” program in which a select team of students will conduct up to 500 interviews with alumni during summer 2015 to gain insights into alumni perceptions of their New Paltz education and help connect them to the College. Students will receive compensation and a great experience.
  • Planning March through June alumni gatherings, some with my involvement, in San Francisco/Oakland, Seattle, Austin (TX), Atlanta, Washington, DC, Fort Lauderdale, Naples, and Manhattan.
  • Planning a Scholarship Reception on Sunday, April 26, to which more than 900 donors and 85 recipients have been invited.

Clearly, we are making excellent strides on the priority initiatives of our strategic plan to engage alumni more effectively, increase our fund-raising success, and begin to build a stronger culture of philanthropy.

George Kuh Visit. Thank you to everyone who took the opportunity to learn from Dr. George Kuh during his recent visit to campus.  Dr. Kuh is a leading higher education researcher (Indiana University professor emeritus) who founded the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and has conducted ground-breaking work on “high-impact” educational practices and their influence on student learning (see link).  He met with Deans, Cabinet, the Strategic Planning Council, and faculty and staff engaged in such practices, and gave a presentation on March 6 entitled “High-Impact Learning Practices.”

Dr. Kuh cast his presentation in several contexts, including the importance of the “Essential Learning Outcomes” identified in the AAC&U LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative that are at the heart and soul of our mission:

  • Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World, through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts;
  • Intellectual and Practical Skills such as Inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, quantitative and information literacy;
  • Personal and Social Responsibility including civic knowledge and engagement, intercultural competence, ethical reasoning and action;
  • Integrative and Applied Learning, including synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies.

He emphasized a framework of “Reflect-Integrate-Apply,” highlighting the importance of practices and curricula that encourage students to “think about their thinking,” to integrate their learning across different courses and experiences, and to reflect on how it can be applied now and in the future.

Dr. Kuh shared research findings that high-impact practices have positive impacts on retention and graduation rates, grades, and student satisfaction; that the effects cumulate across multiple high-impact learning experiences; and that students from traditionally underrepresented groups and transfer students may experience disproportionately positive effects, but often participate at lower frequencies.

Faculty have told me that Dr. Kuh’s comments and perspectives helped sharpen their focus on the importance of the many active, hands-on, collaborative, and inquiry-based learning opportunities that we now provide, and opened their eyes to how we might expand such opportunities to benefit more of our students – outcomes fully supportive of priorities of our strategic plan.  A number of faculty and staff were particularly struck by his emphasis that these opportunities do not have to be part of a formal program but can be integrated into what we already do in and outside of the classroom – without the need for additional resources.

The Strategic Planning Council looks forward to working with all departments, academic and administrative, to further integrate these practices into the experience of our students inside and outside the classroom, perhaps especially in incremental ways.

Diversity Consultant.  We are excited that Dr. Steven Jones, a strong leader in diversity and inclusion initiatives, will be visiting campus next month as part of programming by Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, Executive Director of Compliance and Campus Climate.  Tanhena and others have been exploring ways to bring both individual and institutional action to the work of diversity and inclusion. Our mission to prepare students for a diverse and global world calls upon all of us to develop (and enact) language and competencies that will deepen our understanding of diversity and inclusion and support respectful, informed dialogue. Likewise, an informed campus is better prepared to understand, identify and implement structural support and actions that will guide sustained conversations, education, and change. Dr. Jones’ work will help us advance these goals.

Dr. Jones will conduct workshops (limited capacity) for students and faculty on April 16 and 17. Participation will be by invitation, and we hope to create future opportunities for broader involvement. He will return to work with administrative leadership this summer.

Dr. Jones holds a master’s in Multicultural Counseling and a Ph.D. in Industrial / Organizational Psychology and is an author, speaker, and national expert on diversity, inclusion, change management and leadership development. He brings 23 years of experience working with K-12 schools, universities, community organizations, and companies.

Sustainability News.  I’m pleased to announce that SUNY New Paltz has earned a “Silver” STARS rating (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System), a program of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).  STARS assesses sustainability performance in academics, campus and public engagement, operations, and planning and administration.  The breadth and depth of elements in STARS show that sustainability crosses division lines; all faculty, staff, and students can help foster a sustainable campus.  The STARS data give us the opportunity to track development of sustainability initiatives over time, and benchmark our work to other institutions, providing a path for us to move towards STARS Gold. Periodic STARS submissions also represent the de facto report for the Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

The STARS assessment showed that 5% (42) of undergraduate courses and 4% (6) of graduate courses offered in 2014 were sustainability or sustainability-infused courses, offered in 24 of 38 departments.  At least 60 faculty engage in sustainability efforts inside and outside the classroom, and 24 conduct sustainability research.  Notably, the college earned full points for the “campus as a living lab” credit, reflecting the extent to which faculty and students use the campus itself as a sustainability teaching tool.

This spring, the Office of Campus Sustainability and the Sustainability Committee are co-organizing a series of meetings for students, faculty and staff to discuss specific sustainability topics including energy, zero waste, food, trees, biodiversity, water and green infrastructure, and biking.  These sessions will (1) highlight how SUNY New Paltz rated in each of these areas, (2) identify current research, projects, and programming in operations, academics, and campus life, (3) brainstorm future opportunities, and (4) identify funding opportunities to move initiatives forward.  The College allocated one-time funding this year to advance this work during the next two years, by supporting paid campus student internships, sustainability research, professional development and conferences, and materials and supplies.

Thank you and congratulations to Lisa Mitten of the Office of Campus Sustainability and the Sustainability Committee for their great work on STARS.

Chancellor’s Awards for Student Excellence.  Five New Paltz students have been selected for this statewide recognition, based on their distinctive academic, athletic, leadership, service, and other achievements and contributions.  The awards will be conferred in a ceremony in Albany on April 2, which Vice President for Student Affairs L. David Rooney and I will attend.  The award recipients are:

  • Brittany K. Noble, Early Childhood and Childhood Education B-6
  • Alyssa Stock, Adolescent Education in Earth Science
  • Miriam Ward, History and Digital Media Production
  • Anne E. Jacobs, Communication Media – Media Management
  • Fatima Ismail, Mathematics

I hope you will take the opportunity to congratulate these students when you see them on campus in the coming weeks.

Women’s Mini-Summit.  The College recently hosted a summit titled “Successful Women: What Does it Take?” We welcomed 32 women scholars and business leaders, most of them New Paltz alumnae, who spoke with students and responded to their questions in five panels organized by the five academic units.  For many of the panelists, this was their first engagement with the College. Students had the opportunity to hear the panelists reflect on their academic, professional, and personal successes, and to gain advice about entering the workforce.  Shared themes among the panels were the importance of mentors and mentoring, hard work, “raising your hand,” and not selling yourself short.  Our students, women and men, engaged actively in these discussions and flocked to speak individually with the panelists during the informal ice cream social. I have heard from several panelists how impressed they were with our students, and how rewarding they found this experience, including their interactions with each other.  We almost certainly will make this a regular event.

I’m grateful to staff in Development and Alumni Relations for conceiving and organizing this event, to the faculty and staff who served as emcees for the panels and helped in other ways, and to each Dean (Professor Sue Books filling in for Education Dean Michael Rosenberg) for their brief lunchtime synopses of exciting news from each of the Schools.

Commencement. Please mark your calendars for this year’s commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 15, 6 p.m. (graduate) and Sunday, May 17, 10 a.m. (undergraduate). The presence and participation of significant numbers of faculty helps everyone – our graduates, their parents and families, and other members of the public – understand the scope and size of our institution that deserves public support, and also underscores the critical role of faculty in the educational experience of our students.  Guidance on participation by faculty and staff will be distributed soon.  Professor Jan Schmidt (English) will serve as Faculty Grand Marshal and Macebearer for the graduate ceremony, and Professor Ann Lovett (Art) will fill this role at undergraduate commencement.

Our honorary degree recipient and undergraduate commencement speaker will be Bre Pettis, co-founder and former CEO of MakerBot, a Brooklyn, N.Y. – based global leader in desktop 3D printing.  Bre is known as one of the most influential minds in technology today, a rock star among makers, and a leader in the do-it-yourself movement.  He has helped propel SUNY New Paltz to the forefront of the 3D Printing revolution when he launched the nation’s first MakerBot Innovation Center at SUNY New Paltz in February 2014. As an innovator, teacher, artist, maker and advanced manufacturing pioneer, he promises to be an inspirational speaker for our graduating students.

We will again welcome our graduates as members of our new Alumni Association, and we have invited a member of the Alumni Advisory Council to join the platform party – part of our strategic plan initiative to engage alumni more effectively.

Ottaway Visiting Journalism Professor.  Mark your calendars for the public presentation by Alissa Quart, award-winning journalist and this year’s Ottaway Visiting Journalism Professor, at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 13, in LC 100.  The topic of her presentation will be “Truly Social Media: Social Justice Reporting in the Digital Age,” which will include remarks from one of her current collaborators, documentary photographer Alice Proujansky.  See linkfor more information.  The lecture will be followed by an 8:15 p.m. book signing and reception.

This lecture provides an opportunity for the broader community to learn and benefit from the experience and insight of the Ottaway Visiting Professor.  I hope you can join us.

Severe weather forum.  New Paltz is one of seven SUNY campuses partnering with the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government to host an event on April 23 at 9:30 a.m. (SUB 62/63) titled, “Facing the Storm: Severe Weather Challenges Confronting New York State in the 21st Century.”  The Rockefeller Institute, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the New York State Emergency Management Association will join the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at University at Albany to share insights about recent severe weather events and what they hold for the future.  Campuses will view the webcast forum, then participate in local discussions. Although the forum may be of particular interest to students and faculty in geography, geology, and biology, the entire campus is encouraged to attend.

I look forward to joining you at this week’s faculty meeting and responding to your questions and comments.


Donald P. Christian