Christian spoke to societal trends and themes that are being felt on college campuses across the nation: the increasingly adversarial tone of national and global politics; the need to strike a balance between values of equitable free speech and inclusiveness of marginalized populations; demographic and budgetary challenges in higher education; and how rapid societal and technological change affects the College’s core mission of preparing students for successful lives.
The address offered an optimistic vision of how SUNY New Paltz can face and overcome these challenges, through an emphasis on community building and collaboration.
“In a world that is inextricably interconnected and interdependent, we must develop healthy, lasting interdependencies,” Christian said. “Pluralistic communities encourage more rapid social evolution, spurring innovation by drawing on the thoughts and talents of diverse people. Navigating difference and drawing on the positive values of diversity are essential to the function of civil society – and a civil university.”
Christian offered a number of specific measures the College has taken to rise to the challenges of the present moment, including the formation of a Diversity and Inclusion Council, budgetary adjustments designed to sustain high quality academics and student service, and continued reliance on the goals and values articulated in the Strategic Plan as polestars while steering the institutional ship.
He also cited a number of successes achieved at New Paltz over the past year: the welcome addition of new and newly renovated academic buildings to campus; the College’s upward trend in national higher education rankings; the strength of alumni development campaigns and events like the Alumni Reunion Weekend and the 40 Under Forty gala; and, perhaps most importantly, the cross-campus efforts that led to the recruitment of one of the largest and most ethnically diverse incoming student classes in the College’s history – without compromising academic standards for acceptance.
“We are all in this boat together,” Christian said in closing. “I hope we are inspired to use these themes as touchstones for our work this year. Given our successes to date, I have full confidence in our collective ability to navigate the waters ahead.”