President’s Report to Academic and Professional Faculty

Donald P. Christian’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty, October 19, 2017

I hope that you are settling into the rhythm of the semester despite all that is going on beyond the borders and control of our campus. I certainly am excited about the continuing impressive accomplishments of faculty and staff, the inspirational work of our students (like the performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird” that I witnessed this past weekend), and the many other positive things happening on our campus. In this report, I will update you on recent happenings and work in progress.

▪ Alumni Reunion – Last weekend’s event was well-attended, the spirit was enthusiastic, and ribbon-cutting for the “Walk of Honor” inspiring.
▪ Distinguished Speaker Series – Alumna Janus Adams spoke on October 12 about “Know When It’s Time to Leave the Plantation.” Your input sought on keeping this series relevant.
▪ Vice President Reports – Vice Presidents will be reporting to the campus periodically about accomplishments and initiatives in each of their divisions.
▪ Federal Update – Brief updates on Title IX policies, DACA advocacy.
▪ Campus Safety, Emergency Management, and Free Speech – We have reviewed policies, and are working on better coordination of room scheduling and ensuring that campus leadership has adequate information about planned events to manage safety and security.

Alumni Reunion. Our Alumni Reunion last weekend was well attended by alumni from as far back as the class of 1954 and as recent as the class of 2017. Attendance was higher than any year since 2008. Again this year, I experienced great interest and engagement of alumni in the College’s success and our progress. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the “Walk of Honor” that features (so far) more than 500 engraved pavers was a high point. Those pavers honor beloved former professors and coaches, the memory of a classmate, roommate, or teammate who has passed away, great friendships, the discovery of lifelong love, and other sentiments. After the unveiling, I was moved and uplifted as I watched alumni and others who donated pavers interact with each other and share New Paltz stories. I encourage you to visit the Walk if you have not done so (east of the northern-most Gunk pond, between the Student Union and Hopfer House).

Alumni honored at the All-Class Awards Dinner included Neyooxet Greymorning ’73, a political anthropologist at the University of Montana who has made major contributions to revitalizing and preserving indigenous languages and developing new approaches to language acquisition. He was awarded the Alumni Professional Achievement Award. Camille Jacobs ’91 received the Distinguished Alumni Service Award for her work in organizing First World Reunions, planning alumni panel discussions, and volunteering for alumni networking events.

Heritage Awards went to Susan Najork ’67 and ‘70g, a member of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board and active philanthropist in the Hudson Valley; Robin Cohen-LaValle, ’77 and ’82g, Dean of Students and long-time SUNY New Paltz Student Affairs professional who has managed orientation and other student development and alcohol prevention initiatives, including the local Tavern Owners Agreement; Dr. Louis Saraceno, professor emeritus, and Frances Saraceno, for their support of study abroad programs in Spain; and Dr. A. J. Williams-Myers, professor emeritus, for his many contributions to understanding African American history in New York and beyond.

Distinguished Speaker Series. Janus Adams, a 1967 New Paltz alumna, Emmy Award-winning journalist, and best-selling author of 11 books and more than 500 articles, essays, and columns, spoke last week in our Distinguished Speaker Series (DSS).  Her compelling presentation, titled “Know When It’s Time to Leave the Plantation,” drew on her personal experiences, including being one of four African-American students moved into an all-white New York City school in the first steps of desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education; participating in the historic 1963 March on Washington; and being one of very few black female students at New Paltz in the early1960s. She wove together the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era, and continuing issues of racial and gender inequity in America. Hers was one of only two DSS presentations in my memory to receive a standing ovation.

It is regrettable that more students and faculty did not hear her speak. It is possible that the overlap of this presentation (schedule driven by her limited availability) with the opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was a factor in the limited faculty and student attendance. Janus has agreed to return to campus to speak again on this topic; we will record this presentation for broader use, and will apprise you of the schedule and take further steps to be certain that more students can benefit from her knowledge and insights.

We make every effort to select speakers for this series who can address diverse contemporary and future issues of relevance to the lives and futures of our students, and of broad interest to members of the community. Robert Kennedy, Jr. spoke last spring about energy and the environment, and our spring 2018 speaker is an international expert on global climate change. While community interest remains strong, we have noticed over time a general decline in student and faculty attendance at DSS events (even with free student attendance sponsored by the Foundation). We welcome your feedback on this series, how we can keep it relevant and ensure strong interest, and how we should best advertise these opportunities. You may send comments to Vice President Erica Marks ( or to Lisa Sandick, Program Director for Special Events and Sponsorships (

Vice President Reports.  You received a report last week from Shelly Wright, Vice President for Communication and Chief of Staff, about recent achievements and work in progress in the Office of Communication and Marketing. L. David Eaton, Vice President for Enrollment Management, will report next week on enrollment trends, new student recruitment (including Fall Open House on October 28), Excelsior Scholarships, and other work underway in his division. This is the start of an effort to enhance community understanding of the work of each division by having Vice Presidents report directly to you on a periodic basis. These reports will supplement my monthly reports, and will allow me to focus on other topics (and/or shorten my reports!).

Federal Updates. We are following federal higher education actions (in one instance inaction) and advocating as appropriate for favorable outcomes for our students and our institutions. In his report next week, Vice President Eaton will discuss implications of the failure of Congress to extend the Perkins Loan program, a significant source of financial support for our lowest-income students.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s statements last month signaled the current administration’s interest in curtailing standards and expectations for managing and responding to campus sexual assault spelled out in the 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter.” State laws like New York State Education Law 129-B (the 2015 “Enough is Enough” legislation) and the federal VAWA (the 1994 Violence Against Women Act) provide some protection against efforts to significantly relax federal standards. About half of New York’s 129-B law is devoted to due process and equity of process, the basis for much of the criticism Secretary DeVos has voiced. Our best guidance to date from SUNY legal counsel is that no immediate change is expected, even as we continue to monitor developments. This past summer’s audit showed our campus in full compliance with expectations of “Enough is Enough” legislation, reflecting our continuing commitment to uphold the highest standards of policy and practice. Congratulations to the Student Affairs and HR, Diversity and Inclusion staff who worked hard to achieve this outcome. There will be no change in our commitment to the campus’s Consensual Relations Policy approved last spring. That local policy bars romantic or sexual relations between employees and students when a power differential exists.

We are all aware of the Trump Administration’s announcement on September 5 that it would end the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months. I know that many faculty and staff have been supporting students who will be affected by these changes. SUNY has updated the Frequently Asked Questions on Immigration Policy and Law Relating to Students to include the DACA update information ( Higher education groups like the American Association of State Colleges and Universities have been working to address the plight of “Dreamers” through congressional action. I have signed on to a letter developed by the American Council on Education being sent this week to Republican and Democratic leadership in the House and Senate. This letter, carrying signatures of more than 400 institutional leaders, reminds them of survey results showing that 62% of Americans say it is extremely important for Congress to pass legislation to address this issue. The letter also cites survey results that 69% of adults support allowing these individuals to stay in the United States if they arrived as a child, completed high school or served in the military and have not committed a serious crime. We will continue our efforts to influence the outcome of these federal actions.

Campus Safety, Emergency Management, and Free Speech. In my 2017 State of the College address, I noted the violent events at Charlottesville, Virginia, this past summer and the tensions and possible conflicts between free speech and safety, and free speech and inclusivity, highlighted by those events. I also noted that our Emergency Management Team and the Cabinet were assessing our preparedness for incidents like those at the University of Virginia and other campuses. That work has included reviewing Virginia’s post-incident assessment and the recommendations for improving preparedness and responsiveness, including ensuring full understanding of existing policies (like one barring open flames on campus). At the same time, university leaders nationwide have expressed a need to recognize we are living and working in a radically changed environment. We have gathered our applicable policies, and are considering the best way to make these policies better known to members of the community, especially those planning events that may draw large attendance and generate controversy. One general theme emerging from our assessments is the critical need for campus leaders (including University Police) to have key information about planned events, so that we can adequately prepare for safety and security and to ensure that potentially controversial speakers are not disrupted in ways that compromise campus safety. Our decentralized room reservation system (which we are addressing for large events) and the hesitation by some to provide information about events so that we can plan for large crowd sizes, safety and security are perhaps our biggest challenges to overcome. To be clear, our goal is not to limit the expression of free speech, but to be certain that we have access to full information about planned events that increases our ability to protect you, our students, and others at events that you organize or host. I am also committed to protecting the exercise of free speech by students and faculty that may generate objection or protest from other members of our community or from outside groups.

I look forward to seeing you at this week’s meeting, where I will be happy to respond to your questions. Be sure to join us to recognize Dr. Susan Lewis of the History Department as we present her with her Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Donald P. Christian