President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

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

Spring break is only a few weeks away and I’m sure many are looking forward to a pause in the daily rhythm of the spring semester. In deference to our departed colleague Peter Kaufman, whose life we celebrated last Friday, I hope we can all draw inspiration from his example and make space for generosity and patience in our daily words and actions when stress pushes in on us.

Table of Contents:

Peter Kaufman Celebration of Life – This moving ceremony was a compelling community celebration of a life well-lived, by a beloved colleague who touched many people with his generosity, knowledge, and care.

Budget – Budget forum is scheduled for March 14, 2:00-3:30 p.m., to share information about fiscal challenges, our plan to resolve them, progress, and roles that all can play in our success.

Enrollment – Growing our undergraduate and graduate enrollment is essential to addressing our budget constraints; at the budget forum, we will discuss growth targets and recent progress. Faculty and staff are encouraged to take part in Accepted Students Open Houses on March 30 and April 6.
Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration – I have joined this advocacy organization, described more fully below.

Hasbrouck Complex Building Names – Following recent College Council vote to rename buildings in the Hasbrouck Complex, the Council will vote March 6 on alternate names. Next steps are to take a resolution to the SUNY Board of Trustees, address infrastructure issues before name changes can be effective, and continue planning for a “contemplative space” and related programming.

Legislative Advocacy – I met recently with newly elected New York State Senator Jen Metzger to share the College’s many strengths, notable quality, and contributions to the region, and to advocate for increased funding. Visits with New York State Assemblymember Kevin Cahill ’77 and U.S. Congressman Antonio Delgado are being planned.

Athletics Accomplishments and Inspiration – This has been a banner year with a record three SUNYAC championships in the fall (women’s tennis, field hockey, women’s volleyball); the best men’s basketball season record in more than two decades; and a recent extended winning streak by the men’s volleyball team. Women’s basketball recently won both the SUNYAC championship and the NCAA regional tournament to enter the “Sweet 16” ranks.

Upcoming presentations – Dr. Jelani Cobb, Ottaway Visiting Journalism Professor, will speak on “The Half-Life of Freedom: Race and the Evasion of American History”, on March 11. Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis will present “Deep Poverty: More Hope, Less Blame” in the College Distinguished Speaker Series on April 1.

Peter Kaufman Celebration of Life. I know I’m not alone in being deeply moved by last week’s celebration of the life and contributions of Peter Kaufman, professor of sociology, who passed away after a heroic battle with cancer in November at the age of 51.  Peter’s friends, colleagues, family members, and current and former students spoke about the sense of generosity, gratitude, and joy that defined the way he lived; his impact on those he engaged with; his advocacy and his scholarly, educational, musical, athletic, and spiritual values and achievements. Peter’s suggestion that this event be a celebration of life itself, not just his own life, was surely fulfilled.  Several people have shared with me in the days since the celebration – and I agree – that it was a compelling reflection of the exceptional sense of community that defines SUNY New Paltz, and that is not found at every college and university.  Even as we are inspired by and celebrate Peter’s life, he was taken from us too soon and is sorely missed. Let him be a model for us all about how to live life to its fullest and in its best form – full of generosity. I dare say he made such an impression on so many of us that he will be with us for many years to come.

I wish to thank Peter’s family for donating a bike repair station for the campus that will be installed soon with a plaque to commemorate one of Peter’s beloved and sustainable pursuits. Thanks, too, to his colleagues for organizing this gift to future campus community members and visitors and for organizing his celebration of life so well.

Budget. Vice President Michele Halstead will share her report next week on budget as well as other work and accomplishments within the Division of Administration and Finance.  Her report will provide background for the budget forum scheduled for March 14, 2:00-3:30 p.m. in LC 100.  We hope you will attend the forum to learn about factors underlying our current fiscal challenges; the multi-year plan to resolve them and our excellent progress to date this year; and the roles that all employees can play in our success. Of course, we will allow ample time in the forum for questions and discussion. If you attended the Faculty Senate meeting or the Administrative Council meeting where we discussed budget, this is not a repeat presentation, but will include new information so we hope you’ll try to attend. Our purpose is to right our financial situation while sustaining our high quality and continuing to grow our stellar reputation.

Enrollment. At the budget forum, you will hear that growing our undergraduate and graduate enrollment is essential to addressing our budget constraints as well as specific ways the provost, deans and Office of Graduate and Extended Learning hope to do this. At the forum, we will discuss growth targets and recent progress in program development and will share insights both about causes for optimism about our ability to grow enrollment and about some of the key challenges.

Recent newspaper coverage (a regional daily, and The Oracle) emphasized declining enrollments across SUNY. While we and other campuses face challenges, we find the tone of this coverage misleading. The information shared with the reporter emphasized the steady state of our undergraduate enrollments over the past decade, while acknowledging post-recession declines in graduate enrollment. The latter stemmed largely from declining demand for education graduate degrees that is beginning to reverse as Baby Boomers retire and teaching jobs open up. As I have shared, the last three years saw the three largest groups of new students. Our spring 2019 undergraduate enrollments are slightly ahead of last year and graduate enrollment this semester is nearly 20% above last year. We must continue to build on these trends to maintain our economy.

Vice President for Enrollment Management L. David Eaton will provide a more complete report of these and other enrollment matters in his report to be issued the week of March 18.

Accepted Students Open House, March 30 and April 6: These two days are key to our success in helping accepted applicants decide to enroll at SUNY New Paltz. We don’t need more applications; we already receive 15,000 applications for 1,250 seats. But we do need to convince the best and brightest 1,250 to choose New Paltz. Faculty and staff presence and participation at these key events is critical for helping prospective students and their parents understand the tremendous educational opportunities and programs that SUNY New Paltz provides. We know this from feedback in other years. For some accepted applicants who have never visited the campus, this is an opportunity for us to create a first impression.  Others may have visited the campus before (some multiple times!), but this visit is an opportunity to learn more as they wrestle with multiple choices, or sometimes to affirm that New Paltz is where they want to be.  I hope that you will be able to participate, and I thank you in advance for your contributions this year.

Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. I have joined this organization of “American college and university leaders dedicated to increasing public understanding of how immigration policies and practices impact our students, campuses and communities.  We support policies that create a welcoming environment for immigrant, undocumented and international students on our campuses.”  Three other SUNY presidents are part of this organization.  I am using my membership to learn more about issues surrounding DACA and Dreamers, international students and scholars, and immigrant students and families. You may find information about the alliance, its advocacy, and resources here. As I learn more about the work of the alliance and the opportunities presented by membership, I will share information with the Diversity and Inclusion Council and others.

Hasbrouck Complex Building Names. The College Council’s 4-3 vote on February 21 to rename five residence halls and a dining hall in the Hasbrouck Complex was historic, and a welcome critical advance in our long, thoughtful process as a community to review and reconsider names on these buildings.  The College Council will now vote on alternate names at its meeting on Wednesday, March 6 (3 PM, College Terrace). The alternate names to be considered were recommended by a study group of College Council members, faculty, staff, students, alumni and a community member/Historic Huguenot Street Board member. They drew on the responses of more than 3,000 respondents to a campuswide survey. The study group’s report to the College Council indicated strong preference for names with local meaning, and that will be the focus of the resolution the College Council will consider on March 6.

Following that action, next steps include:

    1. We will develop a single resolution to the SUNY Board of Trustees to remove current names and assign new ones to these buildings. We expect that resolution to be reviewed by a Board of Trustees committee before consideration by the full Board. We will make every effort to bring this matter to the Board as early as possible, hopefully this spring.


  1. Assuming the Board of Trustees endorses the College Council actions, we have begun addressing the many “background” infrastructure issues that must be managed before the new names can be effective.  For example, fire safety systems, 911 addresses, room inventories, and other data bases must be updated. We must consider the impact of the name changes on mailroom and residence life functions and campus tours. We want to give these matters the time and attention they deserve to avoid confusion or chaos and hope to schedule a renaming ceremony this fall.

The working group of faculty, staff, and students I charged with developing proposals for a contemplative space has been meeting to guide approaches to telling a more expansive and complete history of our campus and community. They will recommend ideas for interior signage in Hasbrouck Complex buildings summarizing the history of these building names and our 2017-19 campus efforts to change them.  Such educational outcomes may in the long run prove as meaningful and significant as the name changes themselves.

N’della Seque, president of the Student Association and a voting member of the College Council, has been a champion of this effort in her leadership role.  Her strong voice in College Council meetings represented student interests and concerns well and helped build understanding of the broader significance of the name changes for our students and society. N’della helped educate and mobilize students to be involved and guided them in how to do so effectively. She and I are planning an evening session with students to share our perspectives on the process we have been engaged in, as an additional way of using this endeavor as a teachable moment for our students.

I again want to express my gratitude for the contributions (and patience!) of so many members of the campus community in helping us achieve this outcome.  Anne Balant, as Presiding Officer of the faculty and non-voting member of the College Council, was a strong voice in support of this endeavor, both through her words and actions on the Council and her leadership in bringing forward and gaining passage of the Faculty Senate resolution in support of the change.  Eli Basch, interim chair of the College Council and a community volunteer, gave an eloquent speech in support of this change and guided the Council through a difficult issue. This was a stellar example of shared governance with students, faculty, the Diversity & Inclusion Council, college leadership and College Council members. Thank you.

From the start, I have been clear that I have never expected we would have unanimity of opinion on such a complex and potentially controversial change. I have received messages both applauding and criticizing the change, and I will continue to reach across difference to understand and create space for opposing views – an essential mission of the academy.  I share here one very thoughtful column from The Poughkeepsie Journal that expresses support for the decision to change names and captures some of the essential tension around that decision.

Legislative Advocacy. Newly elected New York State Senator Jen Metzger visited campus recently. I shared with her the College’s many strengths, notable quality, and educational, civic, and economic contributions to the region. We discussed the fiscal challenges that we face, and impact of current funding levels, tuition increases, and changes in financial aid on the ability of students and families to afford a college education. We also spoke about capital needs and the constraints that our space limitations place on our ability to expand our contributions to the region and the state. I was impressed with her interest, insights, and ready grasp of issues, and look forward to continuing to build a solid working relationship with her that benefits the College. As I have done with other legislators, I let her know the broad array of expertise among our faculty and encouraged her to call on us as she seeks to understand the complexity of issues that she and other elected officials wrestle with. She is also eager to have our students serve as interns in her district and Albany offices.

We have an ongoing, positive relationship with New York State Assemblymember Kevin Cahill ’77, have shared information about our capital needs with him, and look forward to meeting with him soon.  I also spoke with U.S. Congressman Antonio Delgado at a recent Chamber of Commerce breakfast and he will be visiting campus soon to learn more about our role in his legislative district.

Athletics Accomplishments and Inspiration.  I was pleased to catch several men’s basketball games in the best season that this team has had in more than two decades.  Congratulations, Coach Kenney and your players! The men’s volleyball team is doing very well, with a recent four-game winning streak. I am impressed at the way these players treat a teammate after a missed return, muffed serve, or spike that lands out of bounds. I never see even a hint of recrimination, but always actions that express attitudes of “that’s okay,” or let’s move on; can’t fix that,” or “we’ll do better next time.” These are lessons that could inspire all of us in our daily lives!

Last fall’s athletics accomplishments included a record three SUNYAC championships, in women’s tennis, field hockey, and women’s volleyball.  Congratulations to Coaches Rob Bruley (tennis), Shanna Szablinski (field hockey) and Matt Giufre (women’s volleyball) and team members for these successes.

More recently, the women’s basketball team added a fourth SUNYAC championship, beating Geneseo 63-57, after overcoming a 13-point deficit with about 6 minutes remaining, to tie at 52 all with 17 seconds left in regulation time and go on to dominate in overtime. I am inspired by the enduring belief among these players that they would win, and the impact that team members had on each other to keep a forward-looking focus.  Coach Jamie Steward was selected as SUNYAC Coach of the Year!  Those successes have continued as New Paltz hosted the NCAA regional tournament, with New Paltz winning in the first round over Rutgers Newark (65-36) and in the second against Emmanuel College (80-49). They now move into the Sweet 16 against No. 2 nationally ranked Bowdoin College, a team New Paltz defeated during its 2017 Sweet 16 run.  The game will be at Bowdoin on Friday evening, March 8.

At these events, I have a chance to meet and speak with parents of our student-athletes and (wearing my assessment hat!) often steer our conversations to my question “How has your child found the experience at SUNY New Paltz?” I am proud that the responses are virtually always glowingly positive.  That praise certainly includes their athletic experience and the support of coaches and teammates, but always goes beyond. I frequently hear positive assessments from student-athletes about their coursework and interaction with professors and staff, and how they value being part of a supportive, engaged community. Parents often tell me that their child is a better student because they are also an athlete, reflecting the athletic program’s philosophy that student-athletes are students first, athletes second. Thank you to all who contribute to these stellar student experiences.

Upcoming presentations.  I remind you of two important college-wide presentations before my next monthly report:

    • Dr. Jelani Cobb, Ottaway Visiting Journalism Professor, will speak on “The Half-Life of Freedom: Race and the Evasion of American History”, on March 11, 6:30 p.m., LC 102. Dr. Cobb is staff writer for The New Yorker and professor of journalism at Columbia University. He writes about race, politics, history, and culture.


  • Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis will present “Deep Poverty: More Hope, Less Blame” in the College Distinguished Speaker Series on April 1, 7:30 p.m., LC 100.  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.

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