President’s Report to Academic and Professional Faculty

Read President Donald P. Christian’s December 2016 Report to Academic and Professional Faculty.

As we enter the final days of a busy and eventful fall 2016 semester, I write to update you on recent news and developments.


  • Middle States Accreditation – As I shared last week, our 2016 Periodic Review Report (PRR) was accepted by our regional accrediting body, our accreditation reaffirmed, and the quality of our PRR commended.
  • Mumps – In the midst of the largest U.S. mumps outbreak since 2006, new cases continue to be diagnosed on our campus. Because the infection rate has passed 5 cases per 1,000, the College, New York State Health Department, and Ulster County Health Department are partnering to offer a free clinic for a third dose of vaccine to raise immunity among students. We hope that this step, along with the holiday break and continued diligence in avoiding behaviors that spread the disease, will disrupt the outbreak during spring semester.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) – I reported last month on new federal rules regarding overtime pay that would require salary increases or other changes for some employees. Those changes are on hold pending outcome of a federal court injunction.
  • Graduation and Retention Rates – Our latest 4-year graduation rate (59.6%) is highest ever; 6-year graduation rate and first-year retention rates down slightly but still very strong. “Gaps” in 6-year graduation rate by race and economic status are notably small.
  • Diversity and Inclusion Plan – We await SUNY approval on our plan. Some members of Diversity and Inclusion Council have been appointed, and met with Dr. Steven Jones on Nov. 30 to begin plan implementation.
  • Free Speech Task Force – Thank you to the faculty Free Speech Task Force for its excellent work this year planning and organizing events and developing resources on free speech, viewpoint diversity, and related topics. The task force has agreed to continue next spring.
  • Vice President for Student Affairs Search– Search consultants met with the search committee and members of campus community. Recruitment will begin soon, with a target timeline of March for screening applicants, early April for campus interviews, late April for final selection.
  • Sanctuary Campus – National conversation continues; American Council on Education has provided a clear Q&A/brief.
  • Divestment Resolution – Discussion of this issue by the Finance Committee of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation has begun.
  • Holiday WishesBest wishes to all for the holiday season and the New Year!

Middle States Accreditation. As I wrote to you recently, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, our regional institutional accrediting body, has accepted our Periodic Review Report and reaffirmed our accreditation. The Commission commended the College for the quality of the Periodic Review Report.  Our last “comprehensive” accreditation review was in 2010-11, and our next self-study evaluation and review will be in 2020-2021. The Periodic Review is a “mid-term” assessment of our continued institutional improvement. I again thank Associate Provost Laurel M. Garrick Duhaney for her leadership of this work, and the other members of the College-wide Periodic Review Report Committee for their excellent work.

Middle States is transitioning from a 10- to an 8-year cycle in which institutions submit annual updates. The new process will emphasize mission centrality and increased focus on the student experience and assessment of that experience.

Mumps. The number of diagnosed and probable mumps cases continues to rise among our students.  It has now passed the “attack rate threshold” of 5 cases per 1,000 (roughly 40 for a campus population of about 8,000). As you read last week, that mark has led the New York State Health Department to recommend a third dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to help raise immunity among students who have not yet been exposed, and to help prevent further spread of the disease. This next step is based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that a third dose may be a helpful control measure during mumps outbreaks in settings where people are in close contact with each other (as on residential college campuses), and where transmission is sustained among inoculated people in several “waves” (the case on our campus).

Accordingly, the State Health Department, Ulster County Health Department, and SUNY New Paltz are partnering to offer a free booster clinic from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. this Tuesday (Dec. 13) and from 8 a.m. to 5 .p.m. Wednesday (Dec. 14).  This clinic is recommended for students, as they are most at risk.  But no member of the campus community will be turned away. Registration is required. The campus has been communicating the availability of this service widely and by multiple means among students, parents, and employees.  Online registration for the immunization is strong.

The U.S. is in the midst of the largest mumps outbreak since 2006, with mumps reported in 45 states and the District of Columbia. As of Nov. 5, nearly 2,900 people were infected by mumps across the country, more than double the number reported in 2015; New York is one of five states reporting 100-299 cases. New Paltz is one of a number of colleges and universities reporting outbreaks; as of last week, 128 cases had been reported at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. It is worth reminding the community that, while we speak of more than 40 confirmed cases, many of those infected early in the outbreak are recovered and back on campus; at the end of last week, for example, only nine students were sequestered off-campus with active mumps.  And it may be reassuring to employees to know that only one of the cases diagnosed on campus has involved an employee; all others are students.

We are hopeful that the holiday break and the additional step of this immunization clinic will break the cycle of infection and we can have a healthy spring semester. In the meantime, we hope that students and employees will remain vigilant and take steps to reduce the spread of infection through frequent hand-washing and avoiding sharing beverage containers, utensils, or other means by which saliva may pass between and among individuals.

We are grateful for the cooperation and support that faculty and staff have been providing to facilitate as much as possible the successful completion of this semester’s work (or issuance of incompletes) by students infected with mumps or directed to leave campus because they were given religious or medical exemptions from vaccination. We have been in full communication with new transfer students joining us this spring semester, to be certain they are aware of the outbreak, have vaccinations in order, and provide the College with proper documentation of immunization.

I also want to express my gratitude to the staff and administrators, on the Emergency Management Team and beyond, who have come together since late last week to collaborate so well with each other and with state and county health officials in planning and implementing this immunization clinic, and the extensive communication about it. These employees accomplished much in a very short time, and I am very proud of the way our community comes together as a team to respond to situations such as this. Thank you!

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). I reported last month on new federal rules regarding overtime pay that would require salary increases or other changes for some employees. Those changes are on hold pending outcome of a federal court injunction. On Nov. 22, a U.S. District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction postponing the effective date of December 1 for the U.S. Department of Labor’s overtime rule, based on a legal challenge brought by 21 states. There is no further action for the campus to take until this issue is resolved legally.

Graduation and Retention Rates. Our latest 4-year graduation rate (59.6%) is the highest in our institution’s history, up from 55.2% last year.  Our 6-year graduation rate is 72.4%, down fractionally from last year’s 72.8%; this figure compares with national averages of 58% and 65%, respectively, for public and private institutions.  These are the federally calculated graduation rates based on full-time students who begin at New Paltz. First-year retention rates were 87.2%, down slightly from our record 89.5% but still highly respectable.

Reducing or eliminating “achievement gaps” in retention and graduation rates by race/ethnicity or economic status remains a key imperative for higher education. This goal is a prominent theme in our Diversity and Inclusion Plan, our SUNY Performance Improvement Plan, and our campus Strategic Plan.  While any achievement gap warrants careful attention, we should be proud of the relatively modest achievement gaps for New Paltz students, compared with national patterns.  For example, 6-year graduation rates span a narrow 68.5% -73.1% for first-generation, Pell-grant recipients (a measure of financial status), Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic, and white students. First-year retention rates for these same groups of students range only from 84.2% to 90%. We have more work to do to continue closing these gaps.

We of course are interested in the success of transfer students.  The 4-year graduation rate of transfers who came to us with a 2-year degree or at least 60 credits is 81.1%, well above the comparable 72.4% 6-year rate for first-time/full-time students.  The 3-year graduation rate (71%) of such transfer students is nearly identical to the 70.1% 5-year graduation rate for first-time/full-time students.  The 1st-to-2nd year retention rate for transfers with a 2-year degree or 60 or more credits is an admirable 87.7%, but there is a notable gender gap (93.5% for females, 75% for males) that warrants our further attention.

With an incoming class of about 1,100 first-year students, a 1% difference in retention or graduate rate reflects the persistence (or failure) of 11 students.  Each student’s educational experience is personal, and the large and small things that faculty and staff do to influence the success of each individual student play out in these key measures of our performance as an institution and the lives we touch.

Diversity and Inclusion Plan. We await SUNY approval of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, but are beginning our work on this initiative. Dr. Steven Jones, the nationally known diversity thought leader, facilitator, and organizational psychologist who has worked with our campus for several years, was here Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. He led an evening discussion titled “Are you ready for inclusive excellence? Moving the New Paltz Diversity and Inclusion Plan to Action.”  Dr. Jones spoke about the individual and institutional roles of implementing a diversity and inclusion plan; he also shared valuable insights on respectful and civil post-election conversation. Dr. Jones also conducted two “cultural competency” training sessions with faculty and staff.

Taking advantage of his presence on campus, we asked him to meet with initial members appointed to the Diversity and Inclusion Council to help prepare them to lead and guide the implementation of our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan.  We will be appointing students and a few additional members. The Council will, where appropriate, draw upon expertise from other members of the community encouraging broader participation in this work. We want to keep this working group reasonably small; current members were asked to serve because of their functional roles at the College, because they served on the Diversity and Inclusion Plan task force and provide connectivity between planning and implementation, or because of special expertise. They are:

  • Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer
  • Jessica Purcell, Advisor, Educational Opportunity Program
  • Lynn Spangler, Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Robin Cohen-LaValle, Dean of Students
  • Deborah Gould, Assistant Provost, Academic Affairs
  • Julieta Majak, Assistant Vice President, Administration and Finance
  • Amanda Norton, Complex Director, Residence Life
  • Jean Vizvary, Director, Disability Resource Center
  • Mark Colvson, Dean, Sojourner Truth Library
  • Emma Morcone, LGBTQ Coordinator, Deputy Title IX Coordinator
  • Lisa Jones, Dean of Admissions
  • Reynolds Scott-Childress, Assistant Professor, Department of History

Free Speech Task Force. Provost Arnold and I met recently with members of the Free Speech Task Force – Glenn Geher, Lew Brownstein, Lisa Phillips, Dan Lipson, Patricia Sullivan, and Eugene Heath.  We again thanked them for their dedicated work this fall with the President’s Office staff, planning, organizing, and implementing several events, and for developing an excellent set of resources on free speech, viewpoint diversity, and related topics.  Given the continued interest in these topics among faculty and students of varying viewpoints, and the current national context, we all agreed that there is wisdom in keeping this group together for the current academic year; the task force will remain intact through the spring semester. The members work together well (not always agreeing!), have established a strong foundation for this work that we do not want to lose, and are willing to serve as a resource that the campus community and campus administration might call upon as need arises. They are thinking about possible future programming as well as possibly proposing a long-term mechanism for the campus to address issues of free speech and intellectual diversity in a continuous way.

Vice President for Student Affairs Search. On Dec. 1, search consultants from Isaacson Miller, who were hired by the campus through the procurement process, met with the search committee and members of campus community throughout the day to learn more about our campus and the opportunities and challenges that await a new Vice President for Student Affairs. The search committee, led by Associate Professor Andrea Varga and Vice President and Chief of Staff Shelly A. Wright, will work with the consultants to finalize a job advertisement and a position profile for use in recruiting a diverse pool of viable candidates. The consultants will spend 6-8 weeks sharing this New Paltz leadership position with their vast network of higher education professionals. The committee, which has 11 members, including two student representatives, will screen candidates in March, interviewing 8-10 semifinalists off-site with a goal to bring 3-4 candidates to campus for finalist interviews in early April. I then hope to choose a new VP in mid- to late April after thorough reference-checking. We are projecting a July start date for the successful candidate.

Sanctuary Campus. Our commitment to build and sustain a campus community where all members feel safe, supported, and encouraged in their academic endeavors and personal lives remains undiminished. We will voice our advocacy for the BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy) act introduced late last week in the U.S. Senate. This act would allow those who have applied for temporary relief from deportation and for work authorization through the DACA program to continue to live in the U.S., work legally, and attend school without fear of deportation.

Additionally, I, along with college and university presidents from across the country, signed a statement encouraging President-elect Donald Trump to abandon his campaign commitment to end the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program that has been so meaningful in creating educational opportunity for many. I have also signed a letter from college and university presidents to the President-elect urging him to forcefully “condemn and work to prevent the harassment, hate and acts of violence that are being perpetrated across our nation, sometimes in your name, which is now synonymous with our nation’s highest office.”

As I shared recently, any action on designating New Paltz or other SUNY campuses as “sanctuary” campuses for undocumented students will originate with the SUNY Board of Trustees. The national conversation about this topic continues. This Q&A/brief prepared by the American Council on Education provides the clearest description and analysis of the complexities of these issues that I have read.

Divestment Resolution. At its Nov. 17 meeting, the Finance Committee of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation discussed possible approaches to acting on the recently passed faculty governance resolution asking the Foundation to divest from fossil fuel companies; this resolution grew out of the effort and commitment of a group of students, and was brought forward by the Sustainability Committee. I support the spirit of this resolution. At the same time, I recognize and respect the fiscal responsibility of the Foundation and its Finance Committee to protect and grow our endowment. The concern that I expressed about a May 2017 deadline for eliminating all direct investment (rather than blended investment) in fossil fuel companies remains the most problematic element of the faculty resolution. I will keep you posted as the Finance Committee continues its work on this initiative.

Holiday Wishes. It was great to see so many faculty and staff – current and emeritus – at the holiday reception at the President’s residence on Dec. 3.  Sandy and I both enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with so many people, and to again celebrate the spirit of community that is so central to our mission and vision. I heard from several emeritus professors how much they enjoyed and learned from their conversations with early-career faculty. Thanks for being there.

I wish everyone a safe, happy, and rejuvenating holiday season. I hope that we all take time to celebrate the blessings of the season and the accomplishments of the year despite its many challenges and difficulties, and to enjoy the company of friends, family, and colleagues.  I will look forward to seeing you at the start of spring semester.

Until then, I anticipate I will see many of you at Wednesday’s faculty meeting, where I will be available to respond briefly to your questions.


Donald P. Christian