President’s Report to Academic and Professional Faculty

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

Energy and enthusiasm on the campus is high this fall, and many exciting developments are underway.  I wish to update you on some of our institutional initiatives, challenges, and progress.  At this week’s faculty meeting, we will recognize the accomplishments of Chancellor’s Award and Provost Award recipients and welcome those who have joined our community in the past year. Your newest colleagues will be wearing orange carnations so they’ll be easy to spot! Please seek them out and extend them a warm welcome.
I am introducing a new format for my monthly reports, with a quick annotated “table of contents” of key topics, followed by more detailed information about each, to accommodate both those with time only to scan highlights and others who want to learn more detail.

Table of Contents

  • Convocation – Thank you to all who helped welcome and orient our new students during another successful opening ceremony.
  • U.S. News and World Report – SUNY New Paltz ranked #4 among public regional universities  in the North, #24 among publics and privates; we were included for the first time ever in a “Best Colleges for Veterans” ranking, and continue on the list of “A+ Schools for B Students.”
  • Alumni ReunionOctober 2-4, with opportunities for faculty/staff involvement
  • Distinguished Speaker Nell PainterOctober 15; author of Sojourner Truth biography
  • Co-curricular transcript – Faculty can now access for use in writing letters of reference
  • Construction update – Mohonk Walk West opens; work accelerates to open Wooster-Coykendall steps between Arts and Sciences Quad and Excelsior Concourse; Gunk pond footbridge renovated.
  • Provost Search – Process launched, consultants visited campus.
  • SUNY Diversity Initiatives – SUNY task force issues recommendations for all campuses; Board of Trustees votes this week, with implications for New Paltz financial and other planning.
  • Budget and Strategic Plan Priorities – Current budget status with summary of investments made to advance goals of the Strategic Plan. Budget forum set forOctober 7 (2 p.m., LC 102)
  • Merit – new online tool helps publicize student accomplishments
  • MWBE Recognition – SUNY New Paltz recognized for Excellence in MWBE (Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise) participation.
  • Reception for Academic and Professional Faculty – at the Terrace following theSeptember 11 meeting. This annual event also recognizes those who were recently promoted or were granted continuing or permanent appointment. Please join us.

Convocation. I am grateful for the exceptional work and presence of so many people who welcomed new first-year and transfer students at our Fall Convocation ceremony, including the faculty and staff who visited with and got to know students during the picnic. We hope that this continuously evolving event helped them think broadly about the educational opportunities available to them at New Paltz. (Read more here.) I was rewarded to hear several faculty discuss ways that throughout the semester they might remind students of my admonition to think of SUNY New Paltz as a “fitness center for their mind and intellect,” recognizing that they would never think of joining a gym to develop muscular strength or cardiovascular capacity without investing considerable time, energy, and effort in the endeavor.
We already are planning further improvements for next year’s event, including steps to increase participation by first-year faculty.

U.S. News and World Report.  SUNY New Paltz ranked #4 among public regional universities in the North offering both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in 2016 rankings released this week. We follow the College of New Jersey (#1), SUNY Geneseo (#2) and Rowan University (NJ, #3).  SUNY Geneseo was ranked #1 for best undergraduate teaching.
The College is listed #24 among best public and private regional universities in the North, the highest ranking in our history.  New Paltz ranked #18 on the “Best Colleges for Veterans” listing, the first time we have received this distinction, and the highest ranking on this list among SUNY peers. We also were one of only four SUNY schools included on the regional list of “A+ Schools for B Students, reinforcing our values as a top public university.
As I have shared before, we should all be proud of this ranking, but more importantly of the excellent collective work, student achievement, and institutional effectiveness that lead to these accolades. Thank you to everyone in the SUNY New Paltz community whose work contributes to this recognition.

Alumni Reunion, October 3.  Alumni Reunion weekend provides several venues for faculty to connect with alumni and meet your former students (all free of charge!). We especially hope you will attend the All-Class Heritage Luncheon on Saturday, October 3; last year’s faculty participants told us how much they enjoyed this opportunity to connect. This year’s Heritage Award recipients are Professor Emeritus William B. Rhoads (Art History) and Alumni Council Member Onika Jervis ’93 ’05g. The Distinguished Alumni Service Award will be presented to Amber Greene ’03. Further detail about this and other alumni events October 2-4 will be forthcoming.

Distinguished Speaker.  Dr. Nell Irvin Painter, Professor Emerita, Princeton University, will visit campus on October 15 as our fall semester Distinguished Speaker.  Dr. Painter is a historian and prolific scholar and author. Her many books include a seminal biography of Sojourner Truth and “The History of White People” (2011). She received an honorary doctorate at SUNY New Paltz in 1998, and we’re excited about her return to campus in the year that we will dedicate a renovated Sojourner Truth Library.  The title of her presentation is “Sojourner Truth as Historical Person, Photographic Portrait, and American Icon.”  Dr. Painter will meet with students before the evening events.

Co-curricular transcript. Many of you are aware that several years ago – through the great work of Student Affairs/Registrar’s Office – we began implementing a “co-curricular” transcript to document learning outside the classroom – and to help students and employers recognize the value of these learning opportunities. SUNY New Paltz has been recognized for our leadership of this innovation by SUNY and by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).   Examples of the learning objectives validated on the co-curricular transcript are communication skills; cultural knowledge; ethical reasoning; leadership skills; financial management; social responsibility; teamwork.
The co-curricular transcript (read-only version) is available to faculty and advisors for use in writing reference letters for students (stay tuned for email instructions on access).

Construction update.  In addition to the multiple construction and renovation projects I spoke about in my State of the College address, the Mohonk Walk West is now complete and open for use.  The walkway extends from Old Main to van den Berg Hall, and has been improved for pedestrian safety and access – and it’s beautiful! The entrance to the JFT parking lot was relocated to reduce traffic congestion at the entrance to the Old Main parking lot, and to enhance pedestrian safety.
The Wooster Hall contractor is placing a priority on completing and opening the “Spanish” steps that thread between Wooster and Coykendall from the Arts and Sciences Quad to the Excelsior Concourse.  This will enhance pedestrian movement while renovation of Wooster is being completed. Our Facilities staff   just repaired and upgraded one of the pedestrian bridges over the “Gunk” ponds. Many employees contributed to the success of this cost-effective in-house project; Sean Asendorf (Facilities Operations – Auto Shop) warrants a special call-out for his lead role in this work and for his metal fabrication and woodworking on this project.

Provost Search.  Following a May  meeting of the search committee (co-chairs Michael Vargas, Associate Professor of History, and Shelly A. Wright, Chief of Staff and VP for Communication), the consulting firm Academic Search was selected to assist with the process; the two  consultants assigned to our search are familiar with the campus through their work on last year’s dean searches. The consultants recently visited the campus, meeting with the search committee and several groups and individuals, and holding open forums aimed at learning about campus priorities for the Provost position. These insights will be used to assist the search committee in refining the position description and campus profile – the next steps in advertising the position, and in the search consultants’ efforts to help us identify a strong pool of candidates. The current timeline envisions off-site interviews of semi-finalist candidates during January, on-campus interviews of finalists in February, and selection of a next Provost during March.

SUNY Diversity Initiatives. The SUNY Diversity Task Force recently completed a draft report with multiple recommendations for strengthening diversity and inclusion on SUNY campuses.  This report is being considered by the Board of Trustees this week, and it is anticipated that all or much of the resolution will be approved.  See Chronicle coveragehere. Many of the goals and recommendations of the report align closely with SUNY New Paltz initiatives and priorities, including increasing our focus on training and education in cultural competency, developing a diversity committee, and enhancing strategies for faculty recruitment. The SUNY Task Force recommendations include a requirement that each SUNY campus have in place a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) as a senior member of campus administration no later than August 15, 2017.  For the CDO to be successful in their role and for the campus to make significant progress on the recommendations will require substantial investment beyond the CDO position itself. Plans for appointing a CDO must be completed by March 2016, and a campus diversity plan by September 2016. Pending action by the Board of Trustees, we will incorporate planning (financial and other) for this effort into our shared work this year.

Budget and Strategic Plan Priorities.  At last week’s “Wonk” group meeting, Vice President Michele Halstead outlined the status of our budget. We ended up last year in excellent shape, resulting from tuition revenue that was about 2% above projections, and expenditures that are currently estimated to be about 2% below projections (last year’s budget is not yet closed out).  This means that we were able to replenish campus reserves following last year’s substantial commitments of one-time funding, and we may have some funds for similar one-time investment this year. Our current fall semester tuition revenue is strong, and we project a budget for the current year that is nearly in balance, accounting for contractual salary increases, increased financial aid allocation, and other commitments.  Further information about our budget and the process of requesting new allocations (recurring and one-time) will be shared and discussed at a budget forum on October 7 (2 p.m., LC 102).
Vice President Halstead also shared with the Wonks that about three-fourths of our investments of new recurring and one-time funds the past three years (more than $8 million) were in initiatives that advance goals and priorities of the strategic plan. Essential Initiative 1 (Nurture Innovation and the Learning Environment) received the largest financial investment (36%, including all new faculty lines that were assigned to this category).  The second largest category of investment (26% of the total) was in items that could not be assigned to any strategic plan initiative, representing the ongoing, “regular” work of the institution.  The seven other strategic plan initiatives each received 1% to 9% of the allocated funds.
Our 2011 reaccreditation review identified a need for the campus to better link funding decisions to strategic priorities, and we will continue to use the strategic plan as a primary framework for determining the allocation of new funds, along with supporting basic institutional needs. The allocation percentages noted above need refinement (for example, by separating recurring and one-time funding).  This year, we will develop a better way to capture and portray these data, to help the community understand our funding decisions and to be best positioned to report this information in our 2021 Middle States self-study.

Merit. New Paltz is celebrating student achievements through Merit, an online tool that publicizes their accomplishments both in and out of the classroom. Students receive recognition when they make the dean’s list, earn a scholarship, are recognized for an athletic accomplishment, volunteer in the community, study abroad, present research at conferences, and more. Merit offers the additional service of delivering news to hometown newspapers, giving students and their friends and families the chance to read about their accomplishments both online and in traditional print media. Students will be notified via e-mail when the College has shared their accomplishment. They can then share their achievement on social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) and also customize a personal Merit page by creating an online portfolio with activities, including adding photos and additional collegiate achievements. We hope you will be alert to significant student achievements that should be highlighted in this way and will share them with the Office of Communication and Marketing.

MWBE Recognition.  We are excited that SUNY New Paltz will be recognized this month for our successes in conducting business with Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE’s).  Congratulations and thank you to Dave Farbaniec (Director, Procurement), other members of his team, and Elissa Greene (Facilities contract administrator) for their great work.  SUNY’s MWBE program ensures SUNY compliance with state law that strives to assure that MWBE firms around New York State are given equal opportunities to have business with all SUNY campuses in various fields including construction, construction consultants, commodities and consultant/services.
In 2014-15, our MWBE participation rate was above 50% for the year and for each quarter; during the most recent quarter, SUNY New Paltz spent more than $1 million with certified MWBE companies.  This excellent achievement reflects navigating a very complex set of procurement and contracting guidelines, rules, and regulations.
I look forward to seeing you at this week’s meeting where we will welcome and celebrate our colleagues. Please plan to attend the annual reception for Academic and Professional Faculty at the Terrace following the meeting where we also will celebrate those who were recently promoted or granted continuing or permanent appointment.
Donald P. Christian