The address touched on a number of topics, ranging from thoughtful commentary on the state of U.S. higher education to more meticulous budgetary updates, but all were underscored by the central importance of people in defining and vitalizing SUNY New Paltz.
“I have now been in this role for six years,” Christian said, “and I find myself writing and speaking often about budgets, enrollment targets, fund-raising and strategic plan priorities – all things that as president I must care about. Yet the lesson that ‘people always matter most’ still resonates. Individually and collectively, we are responsible for everything good that happens here. That’s why each year in this State of the College Address, I thank you for the dedication and hard work that makes New Paltz such a high-quality learning environment. Once again, I thank you for all that you do.”
After welcoming new and returning members of the faculty and staff to the 2016-17 academic year, President Christian pivoted to a discussion of the values that guide and unite students and employees across campus: a personalized, residential college experience; a rigorous academic landscape and spirit of discovery in teaching and learning; a commitment to equity and inclusion; an educational vision that considers each student as a whole person; and service to the Hudson Valley as an intellectual and cultural resource.
“We have carved out a notable record of institutional success by adhering to these values, by reflecting them in a set of carefully constructed strategic plan priorities, and by being attentive to the changing world of higher education,” he said.
President Christian also spoke of how the climate and discourse at the College may be affected by recent violent and upsetting news events, especially those apparently motivated by resentment based on race or other identity attributes.
“We must talk honestly about these broader events and their impacts, always remembering that people have different levels of comfort and experience with these difficult conversations,” Christian said. “Every individual, no matter their position, has a role in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. Even if the course you teach or your formal role has no apparent relationship to diversity, the students you teach or work with come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, deal with different forces that impact their learning, and need different support to achieve their goals. With a slight shift in thinking like that, we all become Chief Diversity Officers in our spaces, and diversity becomes everyone’s business.”
President Christian outlined some specific steps that have been taken to address these challenges, such as the formation of a student, faculty and staff task to develop a Diversity and Inclusion Plan, with the overarching purpose of enabling SUNY New Paltz to continue to serve as a transformative passage for students, in both their social mobility and their personal growth.