May 4, 2020 (in advance of May 6 Faculty Senate Meeting and May 7 Faculty Meeting)
I wish everyone well for a successful completion of what has likely been the most trying semester of any of our academic and professional lives. I continue to have deep admiration for the dedication, patience, and tenacity of all who have taught, supported our students and each other, and kept the life and work of the College advancing during the pandemic. I also have been impressed with our students and their work to overcome the many challenges of learning and remaining connected with the College and each other. My sense from conversations with faculty and with students – the latter either virtual or, on occasion, from a safe social distance on campus and wearing a mask – is that this semester has been as successful and productive as we might have hoped (and students wish very much to be back on campus and learning face-to-face in the fall, as I know many faculty do as well!).
We continue to live with great uncertainty about what our fall semester will look like. Know that our planning for a variety of scenarios continues, and we will share updates as they become available and as guidance and plans for fall semester take form — hopefully early in the summer. We, like other SUNY campuses, anticipate that guidance to come from the Governor and his leadership team, SUNY Administration and local and state health officials. We will continue our “Daily Digest” of news that I encourage you to read regularly. Certainly, Interim Provost Lyman, I, and others will share major news in email updates. As the summer progresses, we will be happy to set up virtual forums to discuss key directions and respond to questions you may have.
Table of Contents:
Commencement – Our pre-recorded virtual commencement will go live Friday, May 22, and interest among our graduates is strong. We will also plan an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 in May 2021.
Chancellor’s Awards – Congratulations to recipients of Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, Faculty Service, and Professional Service (names and details below and here).
Advance Registration for Fall Semester – Registration numbers have reached similar levels as last year at this time, even with the uncertainty we face for fall; this is a strong indicator for retention, and I thank those who worked so well with students to prepare them for registration.
Budget – New cost-saving directives were issued last week by the Division of Budget, and we await further guidance from SUNY.
Economic Impact and Advocacy – I remind everyone of the College’s significant economic impact in our community and our region. This is a key talking point in advocacy for minimizing financial impacts on SUNY campuses, and for the critical role that higher education must play in economic and business recovery plans.
Commencement. Our pre-recorded virtual commencement will launch at 1 PM on Friday, May 22, and be available for a year thereafter. I encourage you to join us in wishing our graduates well as they move on to the next chapter of their lives, even if we are doing so virtually. Full information is available at https://www.newpaltz.edu/commencement/. As of late last week, nearly 1,000 graduates had registered to participate, and more than 700 completed individual slides with their photo and personal quote. Please encourage your students to participate.
Chancellor’s Awards for Academic and Professional Faculty. It is always rewarding to announce each year’s recipients of the Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence. Please join me in congratulating each of these colleagues for their selection as this year’s awardees. You may learn more about the accomplishments and contributions of each awardee here. We will present these awards at the first opportunity for a large, in-person gathering, hopefully the first meeting of the academic and professional faculty in the fall:
- Valerie McAllister, Academic Program Specialist, Office of the Provost/Academic Affairs, Excellence in Professional Service
- Heather Morrison, Associate Professor and Chair, History, Excellence in Faculty Service
- Narcyz Roztocki, Professor, School of Business, Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities
- Vika Shock, Director, Office of Graduate and Extended Learning, Excellence in Professional Service
Advance Registration for Fall Semester. Thank you to the many faculty and professionals in academic departments, Center for Student Success/Academic Advising, Records and Registration, Graduate and Extended Learning, and other offices who worked so diligently to advise current, continuing students in registering for fall semester classes in these unusual times. The delayed start of registration provided opportunity for more guidance and consultation, and you and our students seized that opportunity. As of Friday afternoon, May 1, more than 4,900 students had registered for fall semester courses, a number nearly identical to the same date last year, with an increase of nearly 30 in the number of graduate student registrations. We know that student and family plans may change given the uncertainties that lie ahead, but this is clearly an encouraging sign about student interest in our fall semester offerings.
Budget. We have shared that SUNY campuses have been directed to curtail hiring and spending. That expectation was reinforced last week by directives from the New York State Division of Budget for NYS agencies to freeze hiring and eliminate non-essential non-personnel expenditures. Although SUNY has somewhat more latitude than other NYS entities in how that directive applies to our decision-making (hiring must be limited to health and safety and revenue-generating positions), it is clear that New York State, and by extension, SUNY, is operating under serious financial challenges. SUNY is integrating and analyzing the budget projections that campuses submitted last week. We understand that the implications of these projections and analyses are being considered by SUNY leadership, and that campuses will receive further guidance in the coming weeks about our budgets for the coming year and additional adjustments we will need to make.
Capital projects are undergoing additional review. As of now, some of our projects (Student Union Building roof and fourth-floor renovation; Scholars Mentorship Program space renovation; Lecture Center lobbies renovation) are continuing, although guidance is changing frequently. The Awosting Residence Hall renovation, scheduled for Summer 2020 through Fall 2021, is on hold. We will complete the design phase of the contemplative space project, but further work on campus-directed projects such as this are on hold until further notice.
Economic Impact and Other Advocacy. Economic and business recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly a topic of discussion at all levels in New York State and beyond. I have been part of these discussions in the Mid-Hudson Region through my role as co-chair of the Regional Economic Development Council. While residential college and university campuses present special challenges to be managed if we are to operate safely in a continuing COVID-19 environment, it is also the case that we are major economic engines in our regions and across the state. This is a primary reason – beyond sustaining our core educational purpose – that higher education must be included in the priorities for regional recovery. I know our State leadership recognizes this: Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul emphasized that point in a recent presentation, and during his April 25 press briefing, Governor Cuomo included “teachers, educators, and professors” in a long list of personnel categories that would be priorities for testing as testing becomes more available and steps are taken to foster economic recovery. At his daily briefing on May 1, he noted that schools and colleges should be working on re-opening plans that factor in social distancing and reduced density.
In my March 2 report, I summarized key points of our most recent economic impact analysis. I refer you again to that information, including our role as the largest employer in Ulster County and our $380.5 million annual impact on the Hudson Valley economy. Feel free to use these data in advocating with elected officials, business leaders, and members of the public that we are an economic asset, not a drain. You may also find useful the website summarizing this information here.
SUNY leadership also makes these arguments in efforts to minimize the financial impact on SUNY campuses, given the economic consequences of COVID-19 on the NYS budget.
Of course, we never want to lost sight of our core impact on producing an educated citizenry. Despite popular impressions to the contrary, evidence is clear and compelling that college-educated Americans lost far fewer jobs during the last recession than those without a degree. And in the post-recession economy, job growth was disproportionately higher for those with baccalaureate and advanced degrees. Certainly, a changed post-pandemic economy will demand the knowledge, skills, and creativity of educated Americans, and sustaining a healthy higher education enterprise now is arguably more important than ever.
I will look forward to “seeing” you at this week’s Faculty Senate and Faculty WebEx meetings and am happy to respond to your questions about this report or other matters. I wish everyone a successful finale to the semester and a safe and healthy summer. I hope that we all can find time and opportunity for renewal and rejuvenation, even as we work through the many challenges ahead.
Donald P. Christian