President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

February 4, 2019 (in advance of February 6 Faculty Senate Meeting)

Welcome to the start of what I hope will be a rewarding and productive spring semester for each of you. The semester promises to be busy, with several challenges to be addressed and many exciting developments to pursue.

Table of Contents:

Elevating Chief Diversity Officer to Cabinet Membership – Tanhena Pacheco Dunn to join Cabinet.

Budget Advocacy – Key elements of current advocacy, progress on our plan to regain financial solvency.

Retirement Programming – Human Resources, Diversity, and Inclusion will be offering a series of sessions to help interested employees prepare and plan for retirement.

Hasbrouck Building Names – Updates on: 1) process to identify alternate names for these buildings; 2) next College Council meeting, including bases of my support for name changes; 3) steps being taken to “not erase history.”

Spring Semester Presentations – “Save the date” alerts for spring semester presentations related to our goals of inclusion.

Elevating Chief Diversity Officer to Cabinet Membership. I am appointing Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer as an official member of the President’s Cabinet, effective immediately. This change underscores the elevated attention that enhancing our institutional culture and climate warrants, along with our increased attention to diversity and inclusion efforts. This appointment is consistent with that at many other colleges and universities where the Chief Diversity Officer serves on the senior leadership team. Tanhena has been attending Cabinet meetings regularly this year, and we’ve observed that her expertise and areas of responsibility bear on many of the decisions and actions that the Cabinet takes, reinforcing the value of the integrated human resources-diversity-inclusion structure we have been building since 2016. Please wish Tanhena well in this expanded role!

Budget Advocacy. System leaders invited me to speak at a recent meeting of the Finance and Administration Committee of the SUNY Board of Trustees about financial challenges facing SUNY comprehensive sector campuses. One president from each of the other sectors (university centers, technical colleges, and community colleges) also addressed the committee. The primary purpose of this session was to provide the Trustees with information and perspective for their advocacy for SUNY needs and interests at the State (especially) and Federal levels. SUNY continues to advocate for one-time funding for the retroactive part of the UUP contractual salary increases. Such support would help reduce the draw we must place on campus reserves, even if it does not address ongoing base needs.

The State of New York rightfully claims that taxpayer support for SUNY has increased – in the form of indirect support for employee fringe benefits and debt service. But those are not part of our operations budgets at the campus level. A common theme in the presentations to Trustees is that campus-level budgets, funded through direct taxpayer support and tuition, have not grown to match increasing costs mandated outside our campus decision-making sphere, and that closing that gap is among our core challenges. We will continue our advocacy efforts for true “maintenance of effort” that would support regular, ongoing year-to-year cost increases. At the same time, we are taking active steps to close that gap.

In a recent meeting with deans, Cabinet, and other campus leaders, we discussed the plan we have developed and are implementing to gain financial solvency over a multi-year period, and the steps we need to take to be successful. In the coming weeks, we will share this plan with faculty and staff through budget forums, in Administrative Council, in meetings with deans/chairs in each of the schools, and with the Executive Committee of faculty governance. In general, the plan involves a combination of increasing enrollment (including undergraduate, online and hybrid, graduate, and improved retention), decreasing expenditures (one-time and recurring), and drawing down cash reserves until we balance revenue and expenditures. We are well on track with our plan goals to date this year, and will share that progress. In addition, our spring semester enrollments are on target, and early signs for fall semester recruitment are positive – both important for reaching tuition revenue goals.

We should be proud of what we have built as a top-tier public university: the diverse, innovative, and high-quality programs and opportunities that we provide, the well-documented success of our students, and the prominent role we play in the vitality of the Hudson Valley. I hope that we can keep our focus on the importance of everyone doing their part to sustain the quality we have achieved over many years. Our success in working through these financial challenges demands that we work together as a community. No one individual can overcome this difficulty, nor is there a single magic solution. As we share the budget plan with you in the coming weeks, we will discuss actions that individuals, departments, and units can take, and the importance of prompt action in areas like developing new programs and bringing them to market quickly. I will welcome your involvement, your ideas, and your actions. Our overarching goal must be not to diminish our offerings, even as we change to sustain our economy.

We have scheduled a campus visit with newly elected New York State Senator Jen Metzger, an opportunity for me to meet with her, help her learn more about the College and our strengths and challenges, and advocate with her for increased state taxpayer support for public higher education in New York.

Retirement Programming. Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion (HRDI) will be rolling out a new “Retirement Ready” training series this semester that focuses on retirement preparation and planning. The training series was developed to address questions raised by community members nearing retirement. Retirement, like all professional transitions, is a time of excitement and uncertainty. The Retirement Ready series is designed to support holistic retirement planning and resource-sharing across the campus community. The series includes support for planning for the social, emotional, intellectual, physical and financial aspects of retirement. The breadth of the training topics allows individuals to self-select the trainings they believe would be most useful for supporting their unique retirement preparation journey. Information about upcoming Retirement Ready training topics was recently shared via email and will be posted on the HRDI online training catalog.

Hasbrouck Building Names. I report here on three themes: 1) the process to identify alternate names for these buildings; 2) the upcoming College Council meeting; and 3) steps being taken to “not erase history” by implementing other Hasbrouck report recommendations within our purview.

Alternate Names. Thanks to everyone who provided input to the study group that is recommending alternate names for buildings in this complex. I understand there has been robust survey participation from students, faculty, staff, alumni and Historic Huguenot Street members. The group is reviewing survey results now and will recommend a slate of alternate names to the President’s Cabinet. We will have these ready for consideration by the College Council, should the Council decide to recommend to the SUNY Board of Trustees that the names be changed. The Council voted in the fall to form such a study group. If the Council supports the name change, we would present a single resolution for consideration by the SUNY Board of Trustees – that the names change, along with the recommended new names.

College Council. The College Council is expected to take up the Hasbrouck naming again at its meeting on February 21. We have learned that students were surprised to learn that members of the administration seated at the table at the last College Council meeting (me, the Vice Presidents, the Associate Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion) are not voting members of the College Council. To clarify, only the Student Association President (N’della Seque) and community members appointed by the Governor vote on Council business.

This confusion led some students to question why campus administrators do not support the name change. To the contrary, I have been clear that I strongly support the recommendation of the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council that the names should be changed. Other members of the President’s Cabinet overwhelmingly support this change as well, as do the Faculty Senate and the Student Senate. As you speak with students in the coming weeks, I would appreciate your assistance in helping them understand these distinctions. The decision on whether to change the names now rests with the College Council.

The College Council has had considerable time to reflect on the clear and heartfelt messages from students about the impact of the current building names and the value of changing them. We are scheduling the next meeting on February 21 in the Multi-Purpose Room of the SUB so that interested students, faculty, staff, and community members can observe the Council discussion. Certainly N’della Seque, the voting student member of the Council, will have an opportunity to share further insights and perspectives from students at the meeting.

At the February 21 meeting, I will again make clear my strong recommendation to the College Council that changing these names is the right thing to do, and I will again outline the primary bases for my viewpoint. Those include my admiration and respect for the thoughtful, inclusive, evidence-informed process that the D&I Council led and in which students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members participated, openly and frankly. In my judgment, the caliber of the process itself should be a significant factor in how the outcome is considered, beyond the broad base of support for change. Indeed, this process is worthy of emulating when we consider other knotty, contentious issues.

Throughout our process, I have tried to keep my focus on students and on the future of SUNY New Paltz as a learning environment for an increasingly diverse student community. My empathy (and I know that of others) grew for current and future students who are asked to live, eat, and sleep in buildings named for those who enslaved others, perhaps especially when that history has not been portrayed openly. I have been disappointed at the unwillingness of some to consider the different life experiences of others, or to dismiss this whole issue as trivial and unworthy of the time and effort we have invested. Current and future students deserve better.

Wrestling with this issue was for me a case study of white privilege: our nation and our organizations have a long history of decisions and actions that consider primarily (or solely) the perspectives of white America, or that favor or benefit white people. Documents from the early 1950s, when the College Council first assigned the names of the original Huguenot patentees to campus buildings, note the bravery of the Huguenots in coming to America to escape religious and political persecution in Europe. There is nothing in the record to suggest that the College Council considered or recognized the reality that those same individuals enslaved Africans, or that their settlement had permanent impact on indigenous people. This process has also had me thinking about how addressing issues of race and racism – as this endeavor surely does – often triggers the privileged to claim a loss of their own story. Such thinking shifts the focus of discrimination away from those who have suffered under it, and creates a narrative used to defend a status quo that is harmful. We cannot meet our mission if we view seeking truth and enriching our understanding of each other as a loss. We have an opportunity to take action now based on a broader and more inclusive consideration of history and contemporary issues, such as that reflected by another local institution, Historic Huguenot Street. I want to be clear that many white members of our community, students, employees, alumni, and some Huguenot descendants, are allies in supporting the name change.

I remain hopeful that the College Council will support the name change and agree promptly on alternate names, and that we can carry a resolution to the SUNY Board of Trustees to finalize this action. Should the Council vote against the name change, the formal campus process for this will have been exhausted but I will continue my advocacy to change these building names and advance more fulsome understanding of history and its contemporary legacy, consistent with our core educational mission.

Not Erasing History. I have heard the frequent criticism that changing the building names – even if they are linked to slavery – would mean we are “erasing history.” Indeed, the D&I Council’s clear recommendation, in addition to changing building names, is explicitly that we “not simply replace one history with another,” but that we depict history more openly, fully, and honestly. The D&I Council suggested that we develop a “contemplative space” on campus where future students and visitors can gather to reflect on and discuss the many elements of our history, along with related educational programming and materials. This suggestion is consistent with the frequent feedback from students that they want to know more about local history and the history of campus building names. To advance that goal, I am establishing an ad hoc, short turnaround working group of about 10-12 faculty, staff, and students to develop recommendations about such a space on campus. Key “histories” to be included are:

  • The history and legacy of slavery, in particular northern slavery, and the role that enslaved labor played in the economic success of European settlers and the region;
  • The lives of Africans enslaved by Europeans during the slave era in New York and their descendants;
  • The history of the Munsee and other indigenous inhabitants;
  • The many positive contributions of the Huguenot settlers and their generations of descendants, in abolition, the Civil War, the establishment and generations-long support of educational institutions in New Paltz, including SUNY New Paltz, and civic life in the Hudson Valley.

In addition to this contemplative space, I am asking the working group to recommend content for interior signage in Hasbrouck Complex buildings summarizing the history of these building names, including the link to slavery, and the 2017-19 campus efforts to change these building names. We will install such signage whether the building names change or not. The Office of Communication and Marketing has begun developing a short video about a full campus history to be available online and shown at faculty, staff and student orientations and to make available online for visitors. These endeavors do not require College Council approval and will allow us to recognize a fuller New Paltz story. We plan to implement these projects next year, and I am already in touch with possible donors who might provide financial support.

Spring Semester Presentations. I call your attention to several upcoming campus presentations that relate to our goals of inclusion. Save the dates!

  • February 5: Dr. Virginia Eubanks, University at Albany, will present “Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor.” This talk will highlight how automated systems control which neighborhoods get policed, which families attain needed resources, and who is investigated for fraud. This presentation is part of the Series “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts” of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and co-sponsored by the Benjamin Center.
  • February 12: Dr. Jelani Cobb, Ottaway Visiting Journalism Professor. He will speak on “The Half-Life of Freedom: Race and the Evasion of American History.”  Dr. Cobb is a staff writer for the New Yorker, Professor of Journalism at Columbia, and frequent commentator on MSNBC. He writes about race, politics, history, and culture.
  • March 28: Dr. James Patton will speak about his work on inclusion and access in education. He is professor emeritus at the College of William and Mary in the Departments of Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership and Special Education and a Tribal College Associate for the Monarch Center, based at the University of Illinois-Chicago Circle. His presentation is part of the School of Education Dean’s Distinguished Scholar Series.
  • April 1: Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis will present “Deep Poverty: More Hope, Less Blame” in the College’s Distinguished Speaker Series (title TBD). She is President of the American Psychological Association, and her scholarly focus is on the power of inclusion, living well in a diverse society, and similar topics. Her talk will include insights on poverty among college students, and what psychology has to offer in addressing this societal problem.
  • April 10: Dr. Laura Dugan, professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, will present the Gary A. King Lecture, sponsored by the Benjamin Center (title TBD). Her work focuses on the link between federal government actions and the occurrence of hate crimes.
  • April 11: I will interview Dr. Cobb in the Honors Center, a regular feature of our Ottaway Visiting Professor Program. This will be an opportunity for him to share more of his ideas and analyses and respond to questions from students, faculty and community members.

I look forward to seeing you at this week’s Faculty Senate meeting where I will be available to respond to your questions and comments.

Donald P. Christian