President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

April 1, 2019 (in advance of April 3 Faculty Senate Meeting)

We are in the home stretch of a busy, eventful, and productive academic year. I share several updates and reminders of upcoming events and activities. I will issue my final report of the year before the May 1 Faculty Senate meeting.

Table of Contents:

Budget Update – The New York State budget for next year was approved on March 31. The broad outlines are shared below as we await further detail.

SUNY Distinguished Professor – Congratulations to Professor Louis Roper, Department of History, on earning the title of SUNY Distinguished Professor, the highest academic rank in SUNY.

Mandatory Employee Training – To begin next year. Hold Thursday and Friday, January 16 and 17, 2020.

Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce Presentation – Opportunity for you to attend my presentation and represent the College at the April 17 breakfast meeting (7:30-9:00 a.m. Poughkeespie Grand Hotel)

Hasbrouck Building Name Changes – Our process is being recognized as a model for civil discourse on complex, contentious issues. Working group of students, faculty, and staff is developing ideas for a “contemplative space” and building plaques.  My “point of view” (here) discusses our commitment to tell local and campus history more fully, including recognizing the many positive contributions of Huguenot descendants.

Free Speech and Viewpoint Diversity – My perspective on President Trump’s executive order on campus free speech and our commitment to uphold our values and responsibilities as a public university.

Middle States Reaccreditation ProcessForum with Middle States Liaison on April 11, 9:30-10:25, SUB 62/63.

CommencementSee below for information about dates, commencement speakers, Faculty Grand Marshals, and special ceremonies.

Budget Update. The 2020 New York State budget was finalized on Sunday, March 31. We await further details on the budget, but can share broad outlines now and may have further insights to discuss at the Faculty Senate meeting. The budget includes a mechanism to offset one-time costs associated with contractual salary increases. This will reduce the draw we must make on campus reserves but will not address base funding needs and true maintenance of effort. Those have been primary emphases of our and SUNY’s advocacy with elected officials, but were not supported in the final budget.  The Governor’s Executive Budget reduced funding for EOP but full funding was restored in the final budget (as typically occurs).  Requested increases for EOP were not funded, continuing the decades-long flat funding for this valuable program. The budget includes increased funding for the Excelsior Scholarship Program, increasing eligibility based on adjusted gross income from $110,000 this year to $125,000 next year and thereafter. Campus-based funding for critical maintenance of existing facilities was reduced for New Paltz and all other SUNY campuses, at the same time a system-wide pool of critical maintenance funding was increased. It is not clear how funds from that pool will be allocated to campuses.

The final budget also includes a “funding floor” for community colleges that mitigates year-to-year fluctuations in funding driven by enrollment changes. To the degree that we depend on community college transfer students, this move to stabilize resources for the community colleges is welcome.

The Senator Jose R. Peralta New York State DREAM Act was approved this year, after having been considered each year since 2013. This act makes students without lawful immigration status eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship, Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) awards, the Enhanced Tuition Award, and other State financial assistance programs offered to New York State resident college students. This bill is named for José Rafael Peralta, former member of the New York State Assembly and New York Senate, where he represented Queens neighborhoods. Mr. Peralta passed away in November 2018.  Senator David Carlucci, a Senate co-sponsor of the act, said that this “legislation is about leveling the playing field for all New York high school students seeking higher education. Passing the DREAM Act removes financial barriers to college and will benefit all New Yorkers.” This is a great step forward in ensuring a brighter future for some of the most politically and economically vulnerable New York residents.

SUNY Distinguished Professor: Dr. Louis Roper. Congratulations to Professor Louis Roper, Department of History, on earning the title of SUNY Distinguished Professor, the highest academic rank in SUNY. He is the 15th New Paltz faculty member to earn this title. I wholeheartedly supported the campus committee’s recommendation of Lou for the Distinguished Professorship in recognition of his exceptional and innovative scholarship of early Atlantic history. He is the author or editor of seven books and numerous peer-reviewed publications and invited presentations. Dean Laura Barrett wrote “Professor Roper’s stature in his field is impressive for any scholar, but it is particularly noteworthy for someone working in a comprehensive public institution whose primary role is as a teacher with a robust service commitment. His distinguished scholarship has enhanced his discipline and the institution in which he serves.” In addition to the extent and quality of his scholarly productivity, Dr. Roper has been instrumental in creating new and influential venues for scholarship, editing collections, supporting and mentoring rising scholars in his field, and organizing conferences with a global scope. Beyond that, he is known as a passionate educator and generous colleague. Well done, Lou! And thank you to Department Chair Heather Morrison and members of the Distinguished Professor Committee who assembled such a clear, thoughtful, and well-documented dossier.

Mandatory Employee Training. This coming year, we will institute mandatory employee training sessions, a practice common at several other SUNY campuses. We hear from many employees about a desire for more training on a range of topics, including how to manage difficult conversations or interactions in the classroom. Conversations with our students highlight the importance of such training focused on diversity and inclusion. Further, such training will help fulfill multiple compliance requirements and ensure employee knowledge of important policies. The training days will be held while UUP members are on contract. We’ve discussed this change with UUP campus leadership.

We will hold training sessions on Thursday and/or Friday, January 16 and 17, 2020, before spring semester classes begin on January 21. Please plan your travel schedules accordingly. More detail will be provided early in the fall semester.

Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce Presentation. I am invited to speak on occasion at area Chambers of Commerce, and always seize these opportunities to showcase the College and our many points of pride. I will present at the April 17 breakfast meeting of the Dutchess Chamber (7:30-9:00 a.m.). I will support up to ten (10) academic or professional faculty to attend and represent the College at this event. If you are interested, contact Lisa Davis (, or 3291) by close of business on Friday, April 12 (first come, first served). My presentation will focus on topics that I believe are of particular interest to the business community and regional leaders, tailored to Dutchess County. For example, nearly 200 of our employees reside in Dutchess County, and about 700 of our students are from Dutchess. I will share insights on subjects like the following:


  • Success in fulfilling our educational mission, including development of new programs;
  • Improvements in campus physical environment (a visible marker of our rising profile);
  • Rankings and key statistics;
  • Financial matters (focus on increasing awareness of trends in state funding);
  • Regional engagement and partnerships;
  • Economic impact;
  • Our overall work to create a model public university.

Hasbrouck Building Name Changes. I again want to express my gratitude to the members of our campus community who engaged in and supported our long process to review the names on Hasbrouck Complex buildings. I am grateful to the campus community for serving as a role model for civil discourse on a complex, contentious issue. Our process has been recognized and applauded by SUNY leadership as a model for taking on such difficult issues, and we are being asked to develop a “toolkit” for other campuses to use. I believe that other SUNY campuses will be asked to review potentially problematic building names. In the meantime, the working group of faculty, staff, and students continues to develop ideas for 1) a contemplative space where our history can be told more fully and openly, and 2) plaques to install in each of these buildings about the history and change in building names.

I have written a “point of view” titled “SUNY New Paltz Committed to Recognizing Huguenot Educational and Civic Contributions. It is published online (here) and will appear in this week’s print edition of The New Paltz Times. I am aware that some community members, including Huguenot descendants, do not know that a significant part of our decision — beyond removing and replacing the building names — is to take concrete steps to tell our local and campus history more fully than we have in the past. Students told us during the forums that we had done a poor job of integrating our campus history into their student experience. Our efforts will include the many positive contributions of the Huguenot patentees and their descendants, including building and sustaining the New Paltz educational institutions that preceded SUNY New Paltz. I also clarified that it is not our purpose to discredit, humiliate or shame Huguenot descendants, nor – as suggested in a recent news story – to “redefine [the Huguenot families] solely by the fact of enslavement.” Continuing to bridge the different viewpoints and positions on this change is one of our important ongoing responsibilities.

Free Speech and Viewpoint Diversity. I believe that my support and advocacy for free speech and sustaining a climate for the expression of diverse viewpoints are clear and well-known, long before President Donald Trump’s recent executive order threatening to withhold federal research funding from public universities that do not support free speech. I share the assessment of American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell that this action is “a solution in search of a problem,” and is “unwelcome and… unnecessary.” It’s what we already do as a well-run public institution. It is not clear how this executive order will be implemented, but it raises concern about escalated federal micromanagement of higher education campuses.

That federal action aside, it is important that we remain vigilant in upholding these values and responsibilities as a public university. I want to be crystal clear that in supporting free speech I do not give equivalency to all views, especially those that are offensive or that marginalize members of our community.  How we respond to such expressions is a major challenge in sustaining these fundamental values. I hear from students that for the most part they feel supported by faculty in expressing their views on controversial topics in the classroom, but sometimes feel inhibited by fellow students. Students have expressed interest in exploring this broad topic in more detail, including participating in assessments of the climate for free expression on our campus. To that end, a new collaborative effort by Academic Affairs and Student Affairs called “Beyond the Echo Chamber:  Conversations that Matter” will invite students to discuss a series of controversial topics. The objective is to build critical thinking and empathy. The program was adapted from the “Hot Topics” program at West Point that a group of New Paltz students participated in last spring. A pilot of the New Paltz version will tackle the issue of vaccinations this week. The program will continue next year and include students from Marist College to help ensure viewpoint diversity.

Middle States Reaccreditation Process. Last week, you received invitations to participate in an open forum with Dr. Sean McKitrick, our Middle States Commission on Higher Education Liaison. This meeting is on April 11, 9:30 a.m. – 10:25 a.m. in SUB 62/63. I will reiterate and underscore that invitation here. Campus participation in all phases of this process is essential, from this initial meeting to the development of our self-study to the campus visit by the review team in spring 2021. Those who participated in our previous reaccreditation review (2010-11) may recall that we received multiple commendations that grew out of faculty and staff engagement with our process, at the same time we received great feedback that has helped us continue to grow and improve as an institution.

Commencement. I hope that we will have a substantial representation of faculty at this spring’s commencement events, the culminating ritual that means so much to our students and their families. The Graduate Ceremony will be on Friday, May 17, at 6 p.m. in the Athletic and Wellness Center; Dr. Glenn Geher, Professor in Psychology and 2016-17 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, will be Faculty Grand Marshal and macebearer.

The Undergraduate Ceremony for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will be held on Saturday, May 18, at 10 a.m. Healthcare advocate Jane Delgado ’73 (Psychology) will be the Saturday commencement speaker and will be awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin will participate in the ceremony. Delgado is among the most accomplished alumni of the College. She is a researcher, author and clinical psychologist, recognized for her leadership in improving health outcomes and quality of life for members of underserved populations. Delgado is president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, a non-profit community-driven organization whose members and affiliates provide services to more than 15 million Hispanics throughout the United States every year. Dr. Ilgu Ozler, Associate Professor of Political Science and 2017-18 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Service, will be Faculty Grand Marshal and macebearer.

The Undergraduate Ceremony for the Schools of Business, Education, Fine and Performing Arts and Science and Engineering will be on Sunday, May 19, at 10 a.m. Nina Smiley, director of mindfulness programming and formerly director of marketing at the Mohonk Mountain House, will serve as Commencement speaker. The College will award the President’s Medal to Nina and, posthumously, to her husband, Albert K. “Bert” Smiley. These awards recognize the Smiley family’s special place in the New Paltz community as the stewards of Mohonk Mountain House, the iconic Hudson Valley resort celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and the many strong ties with SUNY New Paltz. Bert passed away in 2018, having served for many years as president at the Mountain House. Bert and I served together on the Mohonk Preserve Board of Directors for many years. The Faculty Grand Marshal and macebearer is being determined at this time.

First World Graduation will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, and the Honors Program ceremony on Sunday, May 19, at 1:30 p.m., both in Studley Theatre.

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. I hope you are enjoying the breakthrough of spring-like weather.

Donald P. Christian