President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

Donald P. Christian’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty – Nov. 16, 2017

I have reflected on the opening to my November 2016 report, sent at the end of last year’s election week. Some of my comments then seem fully relevant a year later: the ongoing challenges to our abilities to live with ambiguity and change, the need for patience and tolerance with each other, and the continuing shared commitment to our educational mission and the academic and human values at the core of our work. I have been impressed with the strong sense of community I witness daily among students, faculty, and staff, and applaud your collective efforts to sustain a vibrant living and learning community in difficult and distracting times.

Here, I am sharing several updates and news items about our continuing progress, and wish everyone well for continued success this semester.

Table of Contents:

Fall Open House – Thank you to all who contributed to making this critical student-recruitment event so meaningful for prospective students and their parents.

Chancellor Visit and Engineering Hub Ground-Breaking – Chancellor Kristina Johnson participated in ground-breaking for the Engineering Innovation Hub and toured campus on October 31.

Heinz Meng Memorial — The College celebrated the late Dr. Heinz Meng, Professor Emeritus of Biology, November 2 and established the Dr. Heinz K. Meng Environmental and Conservation Education Fund.

Hasbrouck Complex Building Names – Diversity and Inclusion Council invites input from campus community about the process.

Hot Chocolate with the President – My regular meetings with students in the residence halls continue, provide valuable insights into student experience.

Web and Instructional Material Accessibility – U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights mandates compliance with online accessibility of information and instructional materials.

Downtown Revitalization Initiative-Kingston – I have been appointed to serve on the local committee helping plan the most effective investment of a $10 million award to the City of Kingston.

Holiday Reception – Save the date for December 2 academic and professional faculty reception at President’s residence and December 15 for Classified Holiday Luncheon.

Fall Open House. I will add my thanks to the recent note of gratitude from Lisa Jones to faculty and staff who contributed to a successful Open House for prospective students and parents on October 28. This is a key event in our student recruitment efforts. Your work to prepare for the day, welcome students and parents, and help them learn about the many opportunities at New Paltz contributed to a great experience. Thank you!

Many of you saw the “What Can I Do With This Major?” fact sheets that were “rapid-prototyped” to be available at Open House. A collaboration of the Career Resource Center, Admissions, and the Office of Communication and Marketing, these materials were designed to highlight special features of New Paltz programs, and share the vast array of career and advanced-education paths that graduates with particular majors often follow – questions very much on the minds of students and parents. These will be refined over time with further input from faculty, and made accessible on department webpages for current and prospective students.

Chancellor Visit and Engineering Hub Ground-Breaking. SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson (who joined SUNY on September 5) visited campus for the first time to participate in the ground-breaking ceremony for the Engineering Innovation Hub on October 31. This event was attended by students, faculty and staff; members of the community; representatives of contracting, architectural, and engineering firms; elected officials; and representatives from the offices of Governor Cuomo, State Senator John Bonacic and Assemblymember Kevin Cahill. Speakers included the Chancellor, legislative representatives, and mechanical engineering student Garrett Noach of Brewster, N.Y. The engineering building is scheduled for completion in 2019 and is funded largely by a competitive award from the Governor’s NYSUNY 2020 program and his Consolidated Funding Application process, both programs designed to advance economic development.

I had an opportunity to spend additional time with Chancellor Johnson, sharing highlights of strengths at SUNY New Paltz and giving her a brief tour of campus. She seemed especially taken by the level of afternoon activity in the Sojourner Truth Library, and the DASH Lab! I learned about some of her priorities, which include increasing extramural research funding, increasing the number of full-time faculty, and partnering with campuses to increase philanthropic success. She shared her general idea of seeking state funding to expand renewable energy resources on campuses, with savings in energy costs accruing to campus budgets. At her request, I have shared data and analyses documenting the tremendous positive impact that financial support from our “emergency funds” has on student retention and graduation – one of her fund-raising interests.

Heinz Meng Memorial. The College honored the late Dr. Heinz Meng, Professor Emeritus of Biology, at a special celebration on November 2 that  included a plaque dedication, screening of a wonderful short film “The Legacy of Heinz Meng” produced by two recent graduates, and a special lecture by alumna Susan Cardillo ’94, Central Park Zoo Animal Curator. The College also announced the establishment of the Dr. Heinz K. Meng Environmental and Conservation Education Fund at SUNY New Paltz to continue his legacy of connecting students and the wider Hudson Valley community with the natural world.

Dr, Meng, who died in 2016, was a beloved teacher, and pioneered work to breed peregrine falcons in captivity for successful release into the wild. That species had virtually disappeared from eastern North America in the 1960s, and was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970. Its subsequent recovery and eventual removal from the list in 1999 is regarded as “one of the most dramatic success stories of the Endangered Species Act” – made possible by Dr. Meng’s research. In recognition of this work, he was named by National Audubon Society as one of the 20th century’s “100 Champions of Conservation.”

Hasbrouck Complex Building Names. The Diversity and Inclusion Council wrote earlier this week to update you about the process underway to engage in a dialogue about the names on Hasbrouck Complex buildings, solicit your early input and ways you would like to receive information, and outline a general timetable for this process. I encourage you to participate in this important process, the outcome of which will be recommendations initially for my consideration, and eventually by the College Council and the Board of Trustees if name changes are recommended.  The D&I Council has also posted information about the process, my initial charge, and key guiding questions on the Diversity and Inclusion website.

“Hot Chocolate with the President.”  I continue this series (nearly 50 sessions since winter 2012!) of meetings with students in the residence hall complexes three or four evenings each semester; sometimes a vice president joins me. These conversations give me an opportunity to connect with students, gain insights into their experiences at SUNY New Paltz, and remain grounded in our core mission of educating students. I usually speak for a few minutes about topics of interest to students: major initiatives underway (like divestment, the Hasbrouck Complex building names discussion, other diversity and inclusion efforts), budget, updates on construction and renovation (always with the reminder that the bonded monies that support major projects cannot be used for operations, salaries, scholarships, etc.), or our rankings. I hear from students how much they learn from these conversations.

I then respond to student questions that touch on a diverse array of topics about the College and our operations, broader issues in higher education, my professional path and what it’s like to be a president, and others.

When students’ questions slow, I flip things around and ask “What do you like best about being a student at New Paltz?”  I am deeply rewarded by their thoughtful responses. I always hear about knowledgeable, caring professors who are interested in students and their learning, in and out of the classroom, and staff who do so much, often going the extra mile, to support students. I hear about the many opportunities the College provides to learn and grow, how fun the village is, and the rich outdoor recreational options. Students always speak about how easy it is to make friends here, the positive way that people treat each other, their sense of safety on the campus, and the opportunity to learn from people from different backgrounds. Frequently I hear about valued programs like SMP, EOP, and Honors. Students sometimes draw extremely favorable comparisons with the experiences of friends or siblings who attend other colleges and universities. The perceptions of our students strongly mirror our institutional values and priorities, and reinforce my pride in our collective work.

Web and Instructional Material Accessibility. Consistent with our campus commitment to ensure that people with disabilities have an opportunity equal to that of non-disabled peers to participate in our programs, benefits, and services, including those delivered through electronic and information technology, we are embarking on a campus-wide compliance effort, mandated by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR). This compliance mandate has grown out of a recent major advocacy effort resulting in formal action by OCR about ADA accessibility of online materials.  Similar efforts are underway at colleges and universities across the nation. SUNY, including New Paltz, is included in the OCR complaint. Working with legal counsel, we have agreed to create a policy, audit existing content, propose a collective action plan, remediate materials (including materials on Blackboard and all other third-party sources of online content), and train employees within a set time frame for how to create accessible online materials. We will also place public notices about how to notify the campus about inaccessible material on our site.

Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) – Kingston. I have been appointed by New York Secretary of State Rosanna Rosado to serve on the Local Planning Committee for the City of Kingston Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The DRI program, established by Governor Cuomo to help revitalize neighborhoods across the state, provides a competitive $10 million award to one community in each of the state’s ten economic development regions. Kingston is this year’s awardee in the second year of this program, selected from more than 25 proposals submitted from communities in the seven-county Mid-Hudson region. The committee will provide input into strategic planning for the best investment of these funds.

My service on this committee is an extension of my work as a voting member of the Mid-Hudson Region Economic Development Council that solicits, reviews, and recommends proposals for state economic development funding. My involvement in these efforts supports our institutional goal of engaging with and supporting the region. Supporting the growth of our nearby city, our county seat, is certainly in the College’s long-term interests and consistent with our mission. Many of our employees and alumni live in Kingston, and many are aware of Kingston’s wonderful growth trajectory in the arts, technology, the film industry, and other areas that relate closely to some of the College’s academic strengths. We certainly want to be sure that well-qualified Kingston students are aware of the outstanding opportunities at SUNY New Paltz, either to join us as first-year students or as transfers from SUNY Ulster and other regional community colleges.

Holiday Party. Please save the date for the annual Holiday Reception for all Academic and Professional Faculty, Retired Faculty, and M/C employees at the President’s residence, Saturday, December 2, 2:00-4:00 and 4:30-6:30 p. m. Sandy and I hope that you will take time out during this busy season to join us and your colleagues for fellowship and conversation.

Our Classified Staff Appreciation and Recognition Holiday Luncheon begins at noon on Friday, December 15, in the Student Union Multi-Purpose Room.

Best wishes to each of you as you approach the end of another busy academic semester. I look forward to seeing you at Friday’s faculty meeting, where I will respond to questions.


Donald P. Christian