President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

Dec. 2, 2019 (in advance of Dec. 4 Faculty Senate Meeting)

As we near the end of the fall semester, I offer updates on several initiatives and accomplishments, and extend holiday wishes to everyone.

Table of Contents:

SUNY Diversity Conference – New Paltz will be well-represented at this week’s conference, and several of us are presenting about “lessons learned” from our building renaming initiative.

Digital Accessibility and Equity – We are making steady progress on increasing accessibility to digital material, thanks to the hard work of many; more remains to be done.

Student Voter Engagement Recognition – New Paltz received a “Gold Seal” award for student voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, the highest among SUNY campuses.

Institutional Learning Outcomes – New outcomes fully approved and posted here.

Energy Conservation and Management – See below for news about grant-funded on-site energy manager, LED project in eight campus buildings, installation of EV charging stations, other sustainability efforts.

Holiday Greetings – Best wishes for the holiday season and look forward to seeing you at upcoming holiday receptions.

SUNY Diversity Conference. Several New Paltz faculty and staff are taking part in this week’s (December 3-5) SUNY Diversity Conference in Albany; we will share key themes and take-homes subsequently. Tanhena Pacheco Dunn (AVP for Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer), Shelly Wright (Chief of Staff and VP for Communication), and I have been asked to speak about our recent building renaming process. Assistant Professor of History Reynolds Scott-Childress, co-chair of our Diversity & Inclusion Council, will be in the audience and available to offer a faculty perspective. In our session, titled “Looking Forward by Looking Back: Acknowledging the Legacies of Slavery in our Campus History,” we will summarize key points of our process with a focus on “lessons learned” that may be helpful to other institutions tackling similarly challenging and potentially contentious issues. These include the importance of:

  • Listening to students;
  • Strategic communication to diverse audiences;
  • Establishing guidelines and expectations for open, respectful dialogue and evidence-based analyses;
  • Involving governance structures and processes;
  • Keeping a clear educational focus;
  • Accommodating multiple values and views;
  • Sharing credit for success.

In preparing this presentation, we drew significantly on the AASCU (American Association of State Colleges and Universities) “Innovations Exchange” synopsis we submitted last spring.

I will be part of a panel at Wednesday evening’s reception honoring H. Carl McCall, SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Emeritus, for his leadership and contributions regarding diversity and inclusion values and initiatives throughout SUNY. I will speak about his inspiring guidance as we launched our review of building names, and the encouragement he provided throughout that process to stay the course, despite the challenges we faced.

Digital Accessibility and Equity. Members of the Committee for Digital Accessibility (Kate Bohan, Senior Instructional Technologist; Matt Skillman, Director of Digital Media; and Shala Mills, Assistant Vice President for Graduate and Extended Learning) reported on our progress at a recent Administrative Council meeting. As most are aware, the College signed a resolution agreement in 2017 with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education regarding digital accessibility. Committee members reported on progress made to date, support available for faculty, next steps, and the importance of ensuring high-quality, accessible digital content as part of being an inclusive campus community. Using the following comic to illustrate, the committee emphasized that steps to increase accessibility and equality for selected members of our community benefit all users of digital information. I am aware and greatly appreciate that many faculty and staff have invested considerable time and effort to make course materials and other information accessible, and that this will be a work in progress over time. The metaphor of how to eat an elephant (“one bite at a time”) naturally applies to this work!

Student Voter Engagement Recognition. SUNY New Paltz received a Gold Seal award from the “ALL IN Campus Democracy” challenge to recognize our 45% student voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections. This was the highest student voter participation rate in the SUNY system, and the only Gold Seal award in SUNY. Seven SUNY campuses received Silver Seal recognition (30-39% participation) and four Bronze Seal awards for 20-29% voter turnout. The 45% figure is about six points higher than the national average for college students in 2018, and significantly higher than the 14% of New Paltz students who voted in the 2014 midterms. That increase paralleled a nationwide trend of record numbers of young people across the country voting in the most recent midterms. Thank you to the students, faculty, and staff across campus who serve on the Student Voter and Civic Engagement Committee. This group works on campus in collaboration with non-partisan, non-profit organizations off campus to build momentum for increasing student voter participation.

Institutional Learning Outcomes. The Institutional Learning Outcomes in the College’s Mission Statement have been revised through several rounds of review and vetting by the Strategic Planning and Assessment Council, faculty governance, and the Cabinet. The final version was shared at the November 6, 2019 Faculty Senate meeting and has my and Interim Provost Lyman’s full approval. The new version is located here. Thanks to everyone who weighed in on updating and refining this statement. The Middle States self-study committee is considering improved ways to integrate the learning outcomes into our Mission Statement.

Energy Conservation and Management. The College – through the efforts of Brian Pine, our Energy Management Coordinator – was awarded competitive funding from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) to secure an on-site energy manager. The energy manager, bringing specialized engineering expertise to complement and extend current capability of our staff, will be on campus about 20 hours per week for the next two years, beginning this week. We are one of the first SUNY campuses to be awarded such funding.The scope of this work will include suggesting facility improvements; helping to plan strategic energy reduction; conducting feasibility studies; and helping drive behavioral changes. The overall focus will be on energy optimization and process efficiency. Both SUNY and NYSERDA are interested in examining the value of a dedicated on-site energy manager in SUNY and other state facilities so that this role becomes standardized. Specific tasks, undertaken in collaboration with SUNY New Paltz personnel including Brian, are:

  • Develop an energy management plan including energy tracking and monitoring;
  • Build a cross-functional energy team;
  • Develop the business case for energy and productivity projects;
  • Provide quarterly savings reports and a final case study & road map.

In other energy news, the campus installed 10 dual-head electric vehicle-charging stations on campus this summer. That project was funded through the “Charge New York” program, another NYSERDA initiative focused on the imperative that we electrify the transportation sector to become carbon neutral. We are starting a nearly $500,000 LED lighting retrofit project for eight campus buildings, supported in part by a nearly $200,000 cost-share grant from Central Hudson Gas and Electric’s Commercial Direct Lighting Energy Program and Lime Energy. When completed, we expect this project to result in roughly $60,000 in annual energy savings.

SUNY New Paltz is working with NYPA (New York Power Authority) to secure competitive funding to update our five-year-old Energy Master Plan. We also are developing our “Clean Energy Master Plan,” part of our compliance with the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) signed into law this summer. That legislation requires that New York State generate 70% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030, with a goal of 100% carbon-free electrical generation by 2040.

These initiatives are part of the successes of the Sustainability Office that have secured $3.25 million in additional resources for our sustainability efforts, in the form of grants, rebates, and electrical “demand response” programs.

Holiday Greetings. I look forward to visiting with academic and professional faculty and management confidential employees (and spouses or partners!) at this Saturday’s (December 7) holiday reception at the President’s residence. And, I look forward to visiting with classified staff at our annual holiday appreciation luncheon on Friday, December 14. These are great opportunities to build the connections that support the spirit of community that is central to our mission, vision, and values.

I wish everyone successful closure on a busy semester, and a safe, happy, and restorative holiday season in the company of friends, family, and colleagues. I look forward to seeing you at the start of spring semester, if not before.

I will be available to respond briefly to questions and comments at this week’s Faculty Senate meeting.


Donald P. Christian