President Christian looks to foster “a sense of belongingness” in 2019 State of the College Address

President Donald P. Christian delivered the 2019 State of the College Address on Aug. 23, 2019, before an audience of SUNY New Paltz faculty, staff, alumni, students, College Council members and Foundation Board members.

President Christian introduced his remarks by looking back at one of the most memorable moments of the 2018-19 academic year: New Yorker columnist Jelani Cobb’s public address as Ottaway Visiting Professor of Journalism.

“Cobb spoke eloquently about diversity and inclusion, reminding us that they are not the same, and don’t always happen together,” President Christian said. “He said, ‘Becoming inclusive means the institution has fundamentally become something else, with the adaptation of new customs and new ways of listening to each other.’ Cobb went on: ‘Diversity creates guests, while inclusion creates stakeholders, and builds participation in a democracy.’ The challenge for vital institutions, he concluded, is to choose to do things differently.

“Today, I want to focus on inclusion, learning to change and leading that change, as our most important work in the coming year. I will touch on several priorities, but will emphasize our need to come together to best serve an increasingly diverse student body and to meet Jelani Cobb’s challenge – to help all students feel included as full members of our campus community.”

Before continuing, President Christian led a moment of remembrance for two faculty members, Professors Peter Kaufman and Pauline Uchmanowicz, who passed away in the last year.

Selected excerpts from President Christian’s address are transcribed below; the full text transcript and slideshow presentation of the 2019 State of the College address is available via this link.

On increasing diversity in the student population: “The new students we will see at Convocation later today and in your classes and office hours next week will include a first-year class with 48% of its members – almost half – from historically underrepresented groups. We will see more black and brown and fewer white students than ever, including more first-year black students than any year since 2000.

“These will be some of the visible differences, but significant dimensions of our diversity will be hidden from view. Those include gender and sexual orientation, immigration status or national origin, economic background, level of academic preparedness, veteran and military experience, disabilities to be overcome and political viewpoint, among others.”

On working toward a more inclusive campus: “Creating a more inclusive community that supports diverse students and employees is not a set-aside or peripheral ‘nice-to-do’ effort. It is a pervasive goal and touches on multiple strategic priorities. It is essential to fulfilling our core educational mission as our student body evolves. This work demands time and energy. I hope we can embrace working together as campus partners on these priorities this year, doing things differently to advance excellence through inclusion.”

On the culture of SUNY New Paltz: “Our students and alumni see us as a ‘come as you are’ college, where people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, abilities and ambitions are welcome. New Paltz embraces its culture of encouraging and supporting students to learn and function as scholars, in the classroom and beyond, through independent study and research activities, study abroad and other international experiences, and other diverse opportunities. They develop skills, build relationships, and apply learning in different settings. I hope that each of us sees our role in that achievement.”

On the fall 2019 incoming class: “Our undergraduate enrollments remain strong at a time that many other campuses struggle, and we have done this without lowering our admission standards. The largest incoming undergraduate classes in our institution’s history have been the last four years. As of end of the day yesterday, we had exceeded our goals of increasing undergraduate enrollment by 120 over last year and graduate enrollment by 40.”

On progress made toward balancing the budget: “We will continue our multi-year effort to bring our budget into balance, reducing expenditures and increasing revenue at the same time as we sustain our advocacy for increased direct taxpayer support. Last year, we spent less than $600,000 of campus reserves, far less than we anticipated, thanks to a shift in the timing of state funding and to the hard work of units across campus to hold vacancies open and trim spending.”

On capital advocacy and campus improvement: “We will continue making our campus more attractive to prospective and current students, supporting our academic mission and the working environment for employees, and becoming more efficient. Thanks to our successful advocacy, we received about $27 million in additional capital to fund several projects including renovating the Lecture Center lobbies, replacing the roof and renovating the fourth floor of the Student Union Building, replacing windows in Jacobson Faculty Tower, and rehabilitating the exterior of the Fine Arts Building. Work on these projects will begin in summer 2020.”

On moving toward becoming a tobacco-free campus: “Vice Presidents Stephanie Blaisdell and Michele Halstead last year led a diverse task force of faculty, staff, and students that studied this issue in depth and from many angles and solicited extensive community input, including from employee union representatives. They developed a thoughtful analysis that led to the recommendation that we take this step. I have accepted and strongly endorse their recommendation. Multiple other SUNY campuses have already done this, and have sorted through ways to address employee concerns in advance, as we will do as well. The SUNY New Paltz Clean Air Campaign, as we are titling this effort, will be a multi-year process; you will hear more soon.”

On recent philanthropic successes: “Before 2014-15, we raised an average of about $1.5 million annually. That year, we launched a three-year ‘major gift’ initiative with a goal of doubling that amount. We reached that goal, and sustained that success for the next two years. The impact of this support is even more gratifying than the dollars. The SUNY New Paltz Foundation – through many generous donors – has built and enhanced numerous programs such as student research endowments, emergency funds to help students stay in school after encountering unexpected financial challenges, and support for students studying abroad in non-English-speaking countries.”

Use this link to view the full text transcript and slideshow presentation of the 2019 State of the College address.