President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

Feb. 3, 2020 (in advance of Feb. 5 Faculty Senate Meeting)

Welcome to the start of spring semester and what I hope will be a rewarding and productive second half of the academic year for each of you.

In my welcome back message to students on MLK Day, I noted the discord and division that mark our world. Here, I offer brief comments about the role of higher education in a world where assault on knowledge is rampant. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) last month released a compelling statement “In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education” that carries important messages about our teaching, scholarship, and advocacy in this climate ( I encourage you to read this 5-page statement; indeed, you may find it worthy of discussion with students, perhaps especially passages that address distinctions between freedom of speech and the academic standards by which expert knowledge is produced and shared.

The statement takes the position that “Colleges and universities are disciplinary, not political, institutions,” a principle that guides my actions as a campus leader. Colleges and universities “exist to serve the common good in the production and distribution of expert knowledge, as well as in the pedagogical inculcation of a mature independence of mind. Research and teaching are sites of critical thinking.” In 1915, the AAUP founders pledged “to safeguard freedom of inquiry and of teaching against…attacks and to guarantee the long-established practices and principles that define the production of knowledge.” The 2020 statement affirms that pledge, and ends with the cautionary note that “It is up to those who value knowledge to take a stand in the face of those who would assault it, to convey to a broad public the dangers that await us – as individuals and as a society – should that pledge be abandoned.”

It remains a fine-line challenge to advance these fundamental arguments without being, or seeming to be, political. I find the language in this statement useful in straddling that balance, and will draw from it in my continuing advocacy for our work and our mission, at a time that so many question the value of higher education and see our positions as partisan.

Table of Contents:

Vice Presidential Searches – Semifinalists for Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs and Vice President for Enrollment Management positions will be interviewed this week. On-campus interviews will be in late February-early March.

Dorsky Museum Director – Applications for the Director of the Dorsky Museum are being reviewed with on-campus interviews planned for late February/early March with an anticipated July 1 start date.

Training Days – Our first two-day campus-wide training and professional development was very successful:  335 employees attended. Other on-line and in-person options for mandatory and other topics available this spring.

Social Mobility Index – SUNY New Paltz is #39 – top 3% – in a 2019 ranking of impact of 1,458 campuses on socioeconomic mobility of graduates.

Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) Accessibility Officer – Kate Bohan appointed to this role, with shifts in assignments and staffing within Office of Instructional Technology to sustain support for faculty and our teaching mission.

Enrollment Update – Spring enrollment consistent with spring 2019; tuition revenue forecast still unclear. Applications for fall 2020 first-year and transfer admission are down from last year, while first-year acceptances and paid deposits for fall are well ahead.

Where Will Our Future Students Come From?  — Projected demographic trends for traditional-aged and older prospective students through 2040 provide fundamental reason for us to broaden our thinking about programs to include degree-completion and online offerings.

Spring Semester Presentations. See below for introduction of next Ottaway Visiting Professor of Journalism; Distinguished Speaker Series on “Truth, Trust and the Future of Journalism” featuring prominent journalism leaders; and lecture on “Gaining Voice: Black Seat Share and Policy Representation in States.”

Vice Presidential Searches. The searches for a new Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs and a new Vice President for Enrollment Management are moving ahead with the support of search firm Academic Search. The committees have been busy screening applications, and the search committee chairs report that both searches have yielded fulsome and diverse pools of candidates. We will interview 10-11 semifinalist candidates for each search off campus this week. I will meet with each semifinalist candidate, therefore will not be able to attend this week’s Faculty Senate meeting.

From those off-site interviews, each search committee is expecting to bring 4-5 finalists to campus. Provost finalists will visit during the two-week period of February 17-28. VP for Enrollment Management candidates will visit during the two-week period of March 2-13. Faculty and staff input on the candidates is essential, and we will share interview schedules as soon as possible so that you can plan your involvement.

After the campus visits, each search committee will provide me an unranked list of finalists to consider along with their strengths and any areas of concern. My hope is to complete hires by the end of March and no later than early April with start dates in summer 2020. Thanks to members of both search committees and the office staff supporting these important leadership searches.

Dorsky Museum Director. A search is underway for a new Neil C. Trager Director of the Dorsky Museum, to replace Sara Pasti who is on phased retirement after her long tenure in that role. The Director oversees the work of a 6-person staff and all collection, exhibition, education and related artistic programs and activities. The Director also manages finances, fundraising, audience development, communication and staff development. The Director draws on the advice of an engaged 16-member Advisory Board and works closely with campus units such as Development and Alumni Relations, Communication and Marketing, Facilities Management and Instructional Technology, among others. Initial review of applications will begin on February 2, with on-campus interviews planned for late February/early March and an anticipated start date of July 1. Members of the campus community will have an opportunity to meet with finalist candidates. The collections, exhibitions, and public programs of the Dorsky enrich our academic offerings, and the museum’s contributions as a premier arts organization in the Hudson Valley and beyond advance the College’s strategic plan priority of supporting and engaging the region.

Training Days. Prior to the start of spring semester classes, we launched our first campus-wide training and professional development initiative. In two days, 335 employees participated in 33 training sessions on 17 different training topics facilitated by 30 subject matter experts from our campus. Only two of the 17 topics offered were mandatory: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for everyone; and Clery Act training for UUP-represented employees. Other sessions offered opportunities for campus community members to grow professionally or personally from the expertise of their colleagues. Examples of sessions included “Feed Your Future,” a session on how dietary choices can shape long-term health; “Philanthropic Storytelling,” which focused on giving attendees the tools for sharing their New Paltz story to prospective donors; and “Teaching as Advising,” which bridged the vital work faculty undertake in advising students. We are very grateful to those who proposed and presented workshops, and for the enthusiasm from members of the campus community who participated. Many took time to express appreciation for the opportunities to be included, to learn about the work of their colleagues, and to build connection with colleagues they may not engage with routinely. For members of the campus community who were unable to attend, additional on-line and in-person options will be made available across the spring semester for the mandatory portions as well as other trainings. Please stay tuned for information on those opportunities.

Social Mobility Index. In the latest CollegeNet ranking about our impact on upward socioeconomic mobility of our graduates, SUNY New Paltz is #39 — in the top 3%, up from the top 5% last year!  Among SUNY campuses, we are outranked only by University at Albany (#30), Buffalo State (#32) and Stony Brook University (#33). We are one of 14 SUNY campuses in the top 100. Key factors in the ranking are tuition, percentage of low-income students, graduation rate, median early career salary, percentage of Pell recipients, and the percentage of Pell Grant awards allocated to the most affluent one-half of students (At New Paltz, the latter is 15%. At some lower ranked and highly prestigious institutions that figure may be 40% or higher.). Our success on this measure reflects the excellent and dedicated work of faculty and staff across the institution, our students’ hard work, the great appeal of our campus to diverse students, our program array, and our policies and practices in admissions and recruitment, financial aid, student support, and others. You can learn more about the methodology and its rationale at

Electronic and Information Technology (EIT) Accessibility Officer. I have appointed Kate Bohan to the role of EIT Accessibility Officer for our campus. She will take on this role while continuing to lead the Office of Instructional Technology (OIT). We have shifted assignments and staffing within OIT to sustain support for faculty and our teaching mission. This action is taken in response to a SUNY mandate that each campus president designate an EIT Accessibility Officer, and draws on the assessments and recommendation of John Reina, Chief Information Officer and Assistant Vice President for Information Technology, and Vice President Michele Halstead.

As EIT Accessibility Officer, Kate’s primary responsibilities will include staying informed about SUNY and federal policy changes; working with the campus to develop, follow, and amend our Accessibility Plan; overseeing accessibility in the areas of the web, digital content, the classroom, the library, and procurement; chairing the Accessibility Committee; providing accessibility training; continuing maintenance of the Accessible Classroom Blackboard Community; and reporting back to SUNY System on our campus progress.

Our success in this endeavor demands that we regard it as more than one person’s responsibility and, instead, recognize that it requires support, cooperation, and sharing of information across the campus. In addition to the responsibility of each individual faculty and staff member to meet accessibility guidelines, collaborations across the campus will be essential. These include partnerships with Communication and Marketing relative to web resources, Sojourner Truth Library, Instructional Media Services and Disability Resource Center relative to classroom technology, and procurement. Ongoing accessibility efforts will also result in an increase in the participation of schools and academic departments, as faculty liaisons are trained by the EIT Accessibility Officer to be resources within their respective areas.

This work will continue to advance the progress reported by our “Committee for Digital Accessibility” that I wrote about in my last report. In our efforts to be an inclusive community, it is vital that we increase accessibility to digital information, recognizing that these actions support all members of our community. I recognize and appreciate the significant investment of time and energy that this work has required and will require as we continue our steady and incremental improvement in a long-term effort,

Enrollment Update. I believe we all understand that even as we advocate for increased direct taxpayer support for SUNY, we depend heavily on tuition revenue for the financial resources to sustain the scope and quality of our educational offerings. This is a veritable “knife edge,” and the failure to recruit or retain even a few students has a much bigger impact on our fiscal well-being than in the past when tuition was a smaller portion of our revenue.

As a result, we pay close attention to student recruitment and enrollment, especially in an era of declining community college enrollments (which impact transfer student numbers) and of high school graduates (see next section). Our total headcount enrollment for this spring is slightly ahead of last year for undergraduates; graduate student numbers are still in flux but appear to be down slightly. It will be some time before we know how that translates into tuition revenue, as that will depend on the mix of full- and part-time and resident and non-resident (perhaps especially international) students. Current indicators are healthy.

We continue to lead the SUNY university colleges in numbers of applications for fall 2020, for first-year admission and total admission including transfers, though several others have slightly more transfer applications than New Paltz. It is sobering that applications for first-year admission to New Paltz are down by 4.7% from the same date last year, and transfers are down by 8.4%. Those figures are slightly less than the average declines for the comprehensive sector, likely reflecting our strong reputation and geographic proximity to population centers in New York City and Long Island.

Of course, yield – the percentage of accepted applicants who ultimately decide to attend New Paltz – is a much more important factor than number of applicants. We will have enough first-year applications to yield our target enrollment while remaining selective, if we can sustain our yield rate. The spring accepted open houses and academic department outreach to accepted applicants are our most important yield activities.

Even though application numbers are down, numbers of first-year acceptances and paid deposits are well ahead of last year. This is true for all first-year applicants and for applicants from historically underrepresented groups. It is too early in the transfer student recruitment season to draw any conclusions about trends, although deposit numbers are slightly ahead of last year, both overall and for general-admit underrepresented transfer student acceptances.

A key factor is that we have implemented the use of Slate, a “customer relations management” software package that many of our competitors and institutions nationwide have been using for several years. Slate facilitates regular communication with applicants to address missing information, has streamlined processes that previously were manual and tedious, and has helped admissions staff accelerate application processing and notification of acceptances. Numbers of applications processed, acceptances, and paid deposits are ahead of the same date last year by more than 50%! We are hopeful that earlier acceptance will spur more applicants to select New Paltz. Certainly, more paid deposits this year affirms that trend.

Thank you and congratulations to the Admissions and IT staff who have implemented Slate so effectively in our recruitment and admission processes, both for undergraduate and graduate students. This is a compelling example of the positive impact of investment in software/technology infrastructure that supports our strategic plan essential initiative to “improve institutional processes and address institutional capacity.”  That assessment includes the outcome that technological advances may produce personnel savings or allow us to deploy personnel in new ways.

Where Will Our Future Students Come From?  As we ponder how we adapt to declining numbers of high school graduates so that we remain successful at fulfilling the core mission of educating our citizens, we need to think broadly about extending our high-quality educational offerings to those who have been left behind by traditional higher education or whose advanced education needs are not well-served by traditional on-campus models. The graph below, recently shared by SUNY, shows key demographic trends from 2015 through 2040. Ongoing declines in the number of 18-24-year-olds will continue through about 2029.

We will continue our efforts to remain successful in the stiff competition with other institutions, public and private, to recruit those traditional-aged students for whom our residential programs are tailored. We are exceptionally successful in the niche of campus-based residential offerings and will not abandon that focus. Our success will depend on continuing to develop and implement high-caliber academic and student life programming, being strategic in ensuring that prospective students and their parents, including in New York City and Long Island population centers, know of our offerings, and continuing to marshal our financial resources for maximum effectiveness.

But in the face of statistics like these, that focus alone will not let us fulfill our educational mission and purpose well into the future. As shown on the right side of that graphic, numbers of non-traditional age students will increase through 2025 and remain strong through much of the 2030s. As a public institution where accessibility is key to our mission, we cannot ignore our obligation to reach these students more effectively than we have. There is a social justice imperative to provide educational opportunity to those who have not – in many instances cannot – pursue a degree through on-campus programs. Beyond our imperative to generate tuition revenue, accessibility is the most fundamental imperative for expanding online, hybrid, degree-completion, and graduate and certificate programming.

This is background for current conversations among Cabinet and academic leadership about creating appropriate incentives, support, and understanding for expanding our programming that will support these directions. We will focus our efforts initially on creating an online bachelor’s degree in general studies to attract adult learners seeking to complete their degree. This effort has already engaged a group of faculty from across the campus and is making its way through the governance process. We will aim to launch this program in fall 2021.

As further context, the recent announcement of an agreement between the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges and online giant Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to provide community college students with a hassle-free transfer pathway caught my attention, as it did many others in the higher education world. Those students have a path to complete degrees online with SNHU rather than either online through Penn State’s “World Campus” or at one of the four-year colleges in the state’s public-college system. SNHU has similar agreements with other community-college systems. As a Chronicle of Higher Education commentator noted, it is not clear whether this agreement was an indictment of in-state options, but the SNHU agreement included offerings that the in-state public campuses had not provided. It is sobering that one state-supported entity is undermining other sister state-subsidized systems, but that is a reflection both of the competitive environment we work in and of student interest in online and other alternative offerings. Another commentator has noted that when big out-of-state online players show up, it should be a wake-up call to states to think strategically about using online education to further their needs and goals.

Spring Semester Presentations. I call your attention to several upcoming campus presentations. Save the dates!

  • February 11: Noted photojournalist Matt Moyer, this year’s Ottaway Visiting Professor, will be introduced to the campus community via an interview with Interim Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Barbara Lyman and audience Q&A, 6:00 p.m., Honors Center.
  • March 4 (snow date March 11): “Truth, Trust and the Future of Journalism,” an evening with Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. ’06 HON, Chairman, The New York Times Company, in conversation with James H. Ottaway Jr. ’18 HON, former Chair of Ottaway Newspapers and Senior Vice President of Dow Jones and Company, 7:30 p.m., LC 100, Distinguished Speaker Series.
  • March 12 “Gaining Voice: Black Seat Share and Policy Representation in States,” by Christopher J. Clark, associate professor of political science, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Gary A. King Lecture Series in Applied Social Science, The Benjamin Center, 6-7:30 p.m., Lecture Center (room TBA).

I regret that I will not be present at the Faculty Senate meeting to respond to your questions or comments but am certainly happy to speak with you offline.


Donald P. Christian