President’s Report to Academic and Professional Faculty

President Donald P. Christian’s February 2017 report to the Academic and Professional Faculty:

I hope everyone’s semester is progressing well. I share the following updates about recent developments and information about pending events and activities.


  • Distinguished Speaker – Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. will speak on “Our Environmental Destiny,” March 13, 7:30 p.m.
  • Women’s Leadership Summit – Career advice, networking for all students, all majors, Wednesday, March 1.
  • Accepted Students Open Houses April 1, 8 – Faculty and staff engagement with prospective students and their families is strongly encouraged.
  • Mumps – One case since the semester began; personal precautions remain warranted.
  • Commencement – This year we will have two undergraduate commencement ceremonies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Saturday, May 20 (10:00 a.m.), Schools of Business, Fine and Performing Arts, Education, and Science and Engineering on Sunday, May 21 (10:00 a.m.). Graduate School commencement ceremony will be on Friday evening, May 19 (6:00 p.m.).
  • Budget –At Feb. 14 budget forum, we outlined background and scope of adjustments we must make; below, I summarize some steps underway or in consideration. Suggestions to increase revenue and reduce expenditures due by March 10. Summer session 2017 course offerings to date are a serious concern.
  • Outside Speaker Policy – Revisions in policy language and implementation are being considered in response to feedback from faculty and staff. Stay tuned.
  • VPSA search – Search is progressing on schedule, applications are strong, off-site interviews scheduled for late March with campus interviews of finalists to follow in April.

Distinguished Speaker. This spring’s Distinguished Speaker Series, sponsored by the SUNY New Paltz Foundation, will feature Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaking on “Our Environmental Destiny,” Monday, March 13, 7:30 p.m. in LC100 and LC 102. Kennedy was on campus last fall and spoke movingly at the memorial service for Professor Emeritus of Biology Heinz Meng, with whom he had a longstanding friendship centered on their common interests in falcons and falconry. He will speak about the role that natural resources play in our work, our health, and our identity as Americans, and about our responsibility to protect and preserve our planet for future generations.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and president of Waterkeeper Alliance. He was named one of Time Magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet” for his role in helping Riverkeeper restore the Hudson River, and has been recognized for his many other major environmental and sustainability contributions. Kennedy graduated from Harvard University, studied at the London School of Economics, and received a law degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in environmental law from Pace University.

Women’s Leadership Summit. The College will host the third Women’s Leadership Summit, also supported financially by the SUNY New Paltz Foundation and organized by Development and Alumni Relations. This event, on Wednesday March 1, is open to all students in all majors. New Paltz alumnae and thought leaders will offer career advice and network with our students. Previous years’ Summits were extremely well received by students, alumnae and other participants.

Accepted Students Open Houses will be held on Saturday, April 1, and Saturday, April 8. Similar to last year, we are expecting about 600 students at each event and about 1,600 total guests each day, including parents, siblings, and friends.

Given our budget challenges, we will make every effort to exceed our enrollment targets next fall to increase our tuition revenue. We will do so not by admitting more and less-qualified students, but instead by increasing yield – the percentage of accepted students who ultimately choose New Paltz over another institution. Your contributions to this effort matter a great deal to this success.

Admissions staff have changed the event program in an effort to improve yield. We have shortened welcome remarks in the Athletic & Wellness Center to allow accepted students more time in their chosen academic sessions, and to meet faculty members during mock classes and/or academic program presentations. We know from past feedback that prospective students and their parents find these conversations with professors and staff tremendously meaningful in their college choice. Your work makes a real difference in successfully recruiting the caliber and number of students we want.

More academic enrichment programs have committed to participate this year, including some of our Living-Learning Communities. We will showcase new buildings on campus, including Wooster Hall and Science Hall. Departments will meet their accepted students in these new spaces and offer tours.

This year we will have a Facebook ‘Meet & Greet’ for students who have joined the Class of 2021 official Facebook page, replacing the previous “Café New Paltz” panel. Finally, in addition to handing out New Paltz T-shirts to the accepted students, the Office of Alumni Relations will hand out T-shirts (in the Welcome Center) to any alumni parents or friends who have accompanied accepted students to the event.

This week the Admissions staff will send to academic department chairs and deans a detailed set of suggestions for ways that faculty and staff can support our yield activities.

Mumps. Following two cases during the semester break (one student, one staff member), we have had one case of mumps since the semester began, a student residing off campus who has returned to classes since recovering. We have notified students exempt from immunization for medical or religious reasons, and they will pursue their studies off campus until the health department approves their return, currently slated for March 9 provided we have no other cases. We urge continued precautions until we are mumps free, including frequent hand-washing and sanitizing and attention to avoiding the primary mode of transmission via saliva. These also are good precautions against flu, which is currently widespread on campus and elsewhere.

Commencement. I reminded the community in a Feb. 2 email about the decision to move to two undergraduate ceremonies beginning this spring. Because this is a substantive change from past practice, we want to be sure it is on everyone’s radar. We are making these changes because of concerns that our single ceremony was too long to provide a meaningful experience for all of our graduates and their families, along with worries about safety and security and community concerns about traffic gridlock. We made this decision after careful consideration of alternatives including other locations.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 20 (10 a.m.), and the Schools of Business, Education, Fine and Performing Arts and Science and Engineering on Sunday, May 21 (10 a.m.), both on the Old Main Quad. First World Graduation, a longstanding tradition at New Paltz, will be held Saturday afternoon following the LA&S ceremony, and the Honors Program ceremony on Sunday afternoon. The Graduate School ceremony will continue to be held on Friday, May 19 (6 p.m.) in the Athletic and Wellness Center.

As always, the presence and involvement of academic and professional faculty is essential for making these complex ceremonies run smoothly, and to convey to our graduates and their families the significance of this day in their lives and the life of the College. I hope you will respond positively to the recent email solicitations for marshals and for faculty to participate in the academic processional for these three ceremonies. I thank you in advance for your participation.

Budget. Thank you to everyone who attended the budget forum on Feb. 14, where we shared information about the nature and scope of the challenge we face in aligning expenditures and revenue. The budget presentation and audio are available in the Budget Information section of for those who could not attend or want to review that discussion. We have faced budget challenges before, twice in recent history, and I am confident that we can make the necessary adjustments in a way that sustains our quality, strength and reputation.

Our budget adjustments must focus on our recurring, base budget – the funding we rely on for ongoing expenses year after year. In addition, we must think about ways that we can reduce or delay one-time expenditures that help us maintain central cash balances that give us more latitude in planning our expenditures.

As Provost Arnold, Vice President Halstead, and I shared in a Feb. 16 email message, we are soliciting your suggestions to reduce expenditures and increase revenue, by March 10. Steps currently underway include:

  • A 90-day hold on all vacant positions, with each vacancy to be reviewed by Cabinet; reduction in re-hiring is one of our clearest paths to reduce expenditure. The Provost and I have agreed to let all current faculty searches proceed, while alerting the deans that doing so increases pressure on identifying other ways to reduce expenditures.
  • The restructuring of leadership of extended learning, graduate education, assessment and strategic planning, led by Provost Arnold, has reduced the number of administrative positions from three to two.
  • Administrative units, including the President’s division, are scrutinizing vacant positions to assess impacts of eliminating selected positions, or of delaying filling them.
  • We are all looking at ways to eliminate travel and supplies expenses during the remainder of the current year to increase our end-of-year cash balance.
  • We must aggressively pursue new approaches to increase summer session enrollment, beginning this summer. In the face of the many messages we have been sharing the past few weeks about the need to increase revenue (along with reducing expenditures), I was stunned to learn this week that by current count we are offering 13% fewer courses than last year (about 90 fewer courses) – moving in exactly the wrong direction than we should be. In addition to increasing course offerings and incentivizing student enrollment, we must increase the focus on offering courses that students want and need, less on those that faculty wish to teach, even if that means calling on adjuncts to teach these courses if tenured/tenure-track faculty are not available or are unwilling to teach. In the coming weeks, we will have more conversation about the imperative for change in this and other realms.
  • Each dean is evaluating course offerings during the academic year to identify possible efficiencies that will allow us to reduce instructional costs.
  • Several good ideas for increasing summer and winter session enrollments and graduate enrollment were offered during our most recent Administrative Council meeting, and these are being explored.
  • As noted above, we will make every effort to increase “yield” to grow our incoming fall 2017 class of first-year and transfer students beyond projections – but with the recognition that increasing undergraduate (largely resident) enrollment cannot compensate for declining graduate (especially international) enrollment, and our housing challenges exacerbate this issue.

We strongly encourage you to share ideas and suggestions that we can incorporate into our planning.

Outside Speaker Policy. Provost Lorin Arnold, Vice President/Chief of Staff Shelly Wright, UPD Chief David Dugatkin and I met recently with a group of faculty and staff arranged by Presiding Officer Anne Balant on their behalf, to discuss concerns surrounding the “Outside Speaker” policy announced last semester. We heard concerns about censorship and workload creep for faculty who invite speakers to campus. We tried to allay those concerns and reiterated the institutional and faculty interests that we intend such a notification process to address. We reinforced that censorship is emphatically not our purpose or intent, nor is there any evidence that this has been our practice. Our goals remain to:

  • assist organizers in hosting successful events;
  • facilitate effective and appropriate promotion of events;
  • ensure that external visitors have the best possible experience while on our campus;
  • coordinate event scheduling such that events do not overly strain our ability to provide the necessary support;
  • position campus leadership to proactively (rather than reactively) support controversial speakers to whom students or other members of the community may object; and
  • consider appropriate steps needed for the safety of all participants.

This was a productive discussion, even though I believe the faculty were not fully persuaded about our motivation, and we (“the administration”) did not abandon our position that a clear procedure on outside speakers is warranted. I believe we all share the commitment to a community of learning characterized by thoughtful and vigorous discussion of the full range of questions that occupy our intellectual, civic and social lives. We value the freedom of speech and academic expertise that contribute to such an environment. This type of engagement is best served when our community can benefit from the knowledge and experience of experts both internal and external to the community. Additionally, we understand that campus events must be managed with careful attention to issues of public safety and the well-being of community members and speakers.

We are taking some time to evaluate the policy, how it is prefaced and how it will be operationalized, so that the faculty concerns are addressed more fully.

VPSA search. Our search for a Vice President for Student Affairs, led by search committee co-chairs Shelly Wright (Chief of Staff and Vice President for Communication) and Andrea Varga (Associate Professor, Department of Theatre Arts) is progressing on schedule. The search committee and consultants met recently to review procedures, criteria and applications. Off-site interviews of semifinalists will take place in late March, with on-campus finalist interviews in April.

I will look forward to responding to your questions and comments at this month’s faculty meeting.

Donald P. Christian