President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty
November 6, 2018 (in advance of November 7 Faculty Senate Meeting)

This is the third consecutive year that I write my November report with painful awareness that events and actions beyond the College’s boundaries are having significant impact on many members of the SUNY New Paltz community, including our students. My messages of the previous two years remain relevant in 2018:  how important it is that we not lose focus on building and sustaining strong community as a foundation to weather change and uncertainty; that we sustain a shared commitment to our educational mission and the academic and human values at the core of our work; and the critical importance of patience, empathy, and support for each other.  And, that we and our students exercise our civic duty to VOTE!

Here, I report on several key happenings, work in progress, and upcoming events.

Table of Contents:

Hasbrouck Building Names – College Council postponed action on renaming until the spring meeting on February 21; I remain committed to the name changes and will continue to advocate for this action.

Student Leaders and Issues of the Day – We have been discussing with student leaders how to lead authentically and balance free speech rights with inclusiveness.  We support student activism and are working to help students increase their effectiveness while keeping their safety and the safety of other community members a priority.  As always, we are working to improve our communication with each other, such as making the most of forums such as my monthly Hot Chocolate sessions in the residence halls, which allows students to bring whatever is on their mind to my attention.

Fall Open House – Thank you to all who helped last month to showcase our campus and programs for prospective students and their parents. The wet, cold and windy weather did not dampen our hospitality.

Student Opinion Survey (SOS) – Below, I share selected results of the spring 2018 SUNY-wide Student Opinion Survey capturing student views on areas of strength and needed improvement, and how we compare with other SUNY campuses.

Holiday Receptions – Save the date. Dec. 8 for academic and professional faculty reception at President’s residence, and Dec. 14 for Classified Holiday Luncheon.

Hasbrouck Building Names. As I wrote last week, the College Council at its November 1 meeting postponed action on the resolution to rename the Hasbrouck Complex buildings until its next meeting in the spring semester, now scheduled for February 21, 2019. This resolution has the overwhelming support of student government, Faculty Senate, the College’s senior leadership, and me as president. I will again share my pride in our students who spoke so passionately at the Council meeting about the imperative to change these names, and my gratitude to the faculty who voiced their support for this change and for our students. The heartfelt and clear messages from students about the impact of the current names and the value of alternative names certainly reinforce my commitment to continuing this effort.

I have been clear that our process asked the College Council first to consider the decision to change the names, then, with that approval, to consider specific replacement names. I suggested at last week’s meeting that the College Council consider both the postponed motion and the next essential step of replacement names for these buildings at its next meeting. They have agreed, and I believe this is a hopeful sign. We have already discussed with the Interim Chair of the College Council the formation, composition, and direction of a sub-committee of the Council to solicit community input about replacement names.

I ask that those who support this change not despair about last week’s outcome. I certainly will continue my work to advocate for changing the names. In the meantime, we can act on the other recommendations of the Diversity and Inclusion Council that are within our purview, advancing other ways to recognize a more complete history of the Huguenots and their contributions, the Africans who were enslaved here, and the Munsee, who were displaced from their New Paltz homes.  It is my hope that our institutional support of this change – indeed, the fact that our community is engaging in these difficult conversations – will help prospective students recognize the exceptional learning community that  SUNY New Paltz has to offer students of diverse racial backgrounds, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and interests.

Student Leaders and Issues of the Day. For decades, the President’s Cabinet, selected student affairs staff, and the Executive Boards of the Student Association and Residence Hall Student Association meet monthly to discuss key issues of student concern – an apparently unusual practice among our peer institutions. We use these meetings to hear from our students and also to guide their leadership development. This longstanding practice has been sustained through four presidencies and we are glad to have this opportunity to connect with student leaders.

This fall, we have been discussing with student leaders how to lead authentically and to balance free speech rights with inclusiveness. We have reiterated our strong and full support for peaceful protest as an effective way to draw attention to important issues, and as a long tradition at SUNY New Paltz. We have also discussed a recent campus demonstration/protest that brought students into several campus buildings. We shared with students the sentiments of different constituents across campus, including employees and students who were troubled not by the content of the protest but by disruption to classes, interference with students taking special accommodation testing, and intrusion into private offices (all behaviors prohibited by policy) during that demonstration. We are working to help students understand how they can undertake legitimate protests and demonstrations while respecting and showing empathy for others in the community.  In turn, we hope that faculty and staff will recognize and support the rights of students to protest, and strive to understand the causes they support.

Like most good community leaders, our student leaders are struggling with how to respond to important complicated issues when their constituencies have different perspectives on these issues. As the Student Association’s own survey results of their student constituency showed, the issues at hand are complex, create passionate responses among many, and call attention to the tension between free speech and inclusion.  Expectations about how these issues should be managed or responded to become more complicated when they involve individual students and employees. We shared that we and other college and university leaders struggle with such issues as well, that they often entail competing values, and there are no easy answers. We have been talking with students about how to broaden the campus dialogue about such matters in the coming months.

We are working with student leadership to improve our communication with each other, such as making the most of forums, like my regular Hot Chocolate session in the residence halls that allow students to bring matters of concern to my attention.  We also discussed how as student leaders they can take steps to ensure that they are hearing from students (their “constituents”) about matters of concern and how they should feel free to bring such matters to our attention for discussion and mutual problem-solving.  We are listening to student leaders to learn how we can be more effective in our communication with them and believe that these efforts will be beneficial to the entire campus community

Fall Open House, Saturday, Oct. 27. I want to add my thanks to that expressed by Dean of Admission Lisa Jones to everyone who worked to make our Fall Open House such a success (despite the weather!). It was rewarding to observe the way our faculty, staff, and students engaged prospective students and their parents and family members, and to hear from Lisa about the positive feedback and the high frequency of respondents who indicated they will apply to New Paltz after their Open House experience. Thank you!

Student Opinion Survey (SOS). The SUNY-wide Student Opinion Survey is administered every three years, and measures student views and satisfaction with their institution and educational experience. We can track trends in student responses over time, and compare our scores and ranking with other SUNY campuses. Sharing and using such data to inform our decision-making and is consistent with our culture of assessment and the goal of continuous improvement. That includes celebrating areas of real strength and identifying areas where we must improve.

Here, I highlight selected spring 2018 survey results. The results show an overall trend of relative improvement: in rankings among 12 SUNY comprehensive campuses, our rank improved since 2015 for 65 questions, fell for 22 questions, and stayed the same for 10.  In rankings among 26 4-year campuses, our rank improved for 62 questions, fell for 28, and remained the same for 6.

We rank in the top 3 among the comprehensives and/or the top 5 of all 4-year campuses for many items that reflect the high quality of the education and services we provide for students and important underlying educational values. There is much here to applaud and celebrate:

  • Overall impression of quality of education
  • Quality of Instruction
  • Library resources
  • Library services (ranked #1 and #2)
  • Acts of prejudice based on sexual orientation are rare
  • Acts of prejudice based on gender identity are rare
  • Student dishonesty when completing assignments or exams is rare (#1 among comprehensives)
  • Disruptive classroom behavior by other students is rare
  • Financial aid services
  • Condition of buildings and grounds other than residence halls
  • Campus center/student union
  • College computing network (ranked #1 and #2)
  • Access to computers and technology
  • Understanding environmental and sustainability issues
  • Understanding and appreciating ethnic/cultural diversity and other individual differences
  • Understanding political and social issues
  • Availability of instructors outside of class
  • Low frequency of instructors who did not communicate effectively in class
  • Recreation and intramural programs

I will also point out several selected items on which we rank in the bottom 3 among the comprehensives and/or the bottom 5 among all 4-year campuses. Some of these are areas where we have already been directing specific attention, while others point to areas of concern that we must address:

  • General academic advising
  • College tutoring services
  • Availability of courses in the major and availability of general education courses
  • Availability of internships, co-ops, and practicums
  • Availability of online courses
  • Low frequency of:
    • involvement in community service
    • engaging in research or other creative projects under guidance of a faculty member
    • developing a mentoring relationship with a faculty member
  • Low satisfaction with:
    • course registration processes
    • help finding jobs during college
    • educational programs regarding alcohol and substance abuse
    • services to support transfer students, commuter students

The SOS results are being shared with the Strategic Planning and Assessment Council to inform their work and are being reviewed by Cabinet to identify particular areas where we must direct further attention.

Holiday Receptions. 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, Dec. 8, 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, Dec. 14, in the Student Union Multi-Purpose Room.

Best wishes to each of you (and our students) as we approach the “semi-frantic” phase of the academic semester. I look forward to seeing senators and visitors at this week’s Faculty Senate meeting, where I will respond to your questions and comments.


Donald P. Christian