President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

Sept. 1, 2020 (in advance of Sept. 2 Faculty Senate meeting)

I wish everyone well at the start of what I know is a difficult semester. I appreciate and admire your diligence in supporting our students and each other through these times. This report, focusing especially on recent news and developments, will be brief as it follows so closely on my State of the College address.

Table of Contents:

Start of the Semester Check-in – a Zoom listening and discussion session, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 4:30-5:45 p.m.,

Sept. 11 Faculty Meeting – To include recognition and celebration of Chancellor’s Award recipients and faculty promoted and awarded continuing appointment, and introduction of new academic and professional faculty colleagues (3:30 p.m., invitation forthcoming)

COVID-19 Updates – New surveillance testing; Governor’s executive order for two-week pause in face-to-face instruction following spike in COVID-19 cases instituted for first time at SUNY Oneonta; third positive test result in New Paltz students followed by quarantining, testing, and contact tracing; Student Affairs intervention in off-campus parties; President’s letter to students about consequences of non-compliance with behavioral expectations and collaborative efforts with the village and town to Protect New Paltz.

Communication – Use of Daily Digest, NP Alert, and NPForward, approaches to reporting new COVID-19 cases including new Dashboard.

Anti-Racist Efforts – UPD Statement of Commitment to Anti-Racism.

Enrollment – currently within 5% of last year overall, within 4% for undergraduates, EOP virtually identical to last year, extensive international graduate student deferrals..

New Chancellor visits New Paltz – reviews campus preparedness in advance of first day of classes.

Semester Start Check-in, Sept. 2.  We have scheduled a Zoom session (4:30-5:45 p.m.; to hear from you about both challenges that may require further quick planning and adjustment as well as things that are going well and are worthy of sharing with colleagues to help sustain a successful semester. I and members of the “COVID-19 Cabinet” that led our fall semester planning will be available to hear from you and respond to questions and concerns.

First Meeting of the Faculty.  I hope you will join the first faculty meeting of the year, led by new Presiding Officer of the Faculty, Dr. Reynolds Scott-Childress of the History Department, Sept. 11 (3:30 p.m., invitation forthcoming). We will try new – obviously virtual! – models for start-of-the year traditions: recognizing and celebrating recipients of Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence, recognizing academic and library faculty who have been promoted or awarded continuing appointment, and introducing new academic and professional faculty. We will try our best to capture some of the spirit of our usual “live” start-of-the-year afternoon reception for these celebrations!

COVID-19 Updates. Beginning this week, we are instituting new COVID-19 surveillance testing of students living in the residence halls. Surveillance testing in various forms is a recent SUNY expectation for all campuses.  This expectation, developed and shared well after campus re-opening plans were approved, grew out of concern about rapid spread of the virus as campuses across the country reopened.

New York State and SUNY have paused face-to-face instruction at SUNY Oneonta for two weeks after 105 students tested positive for COVID-19.  This is the first application of a recent Executive Order that New York campuses must pivot to remote instruction for two weeks when the lesser of 5% of the on-campus population (students and employees) or 100 people test positive for the virus.

As of today, our early testing of New Paltz students has returned three positive test results.  Those students had been in contact with each other, are quarantined, and contacts have been traced. The first student to test positive had participated in two outdoor, off-campus pick-up games at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Monday and Wednesday Aug. 24 and 26. The student was not wearing a mask during the games, allowable by New York State sports and recreation guidelines (but not by SUNY New Paltz standards). Students involved in those games have been tested and have been in quarantine. The matter is under investigation.

Student Affairs leaders and other volunteers have been on “party patrol” in New Paltz, speaking with students at off-campus gatherings about health and safety and as warranted distributing masks and hand sanitizers – also known as “reverse trick or treating.”  They have found mostly small, appropriate gatherings, and report that our students could not have been more polite and gracious.

My letter to students yesterday made clear that even though we have emphasized educational approaches to influencing behavior, we are ready to suspend students for non-compliance with behavioral expectations for preventing spread of coronavirus.

SUNY New Paltz, The Village of New Paltz, and the Town of New Paltz are partnering this fall to Protect New Paltz during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic through a series of joint initiatives, education campaigns and cooperative enforcement measures. You can read more about those efforts here.

Communication. We appreciate the positive feedback from many members of the community about the effectiveness of our communication efforts these past several months.  We know the barrage of messages and changing guidance have been overwhelming, and we thank you for your forbearance. The “Daily Digest” was instituted in spring to reduce the multiple email messages regarding key campus news and developments being sent each day. We will continue to use the Daily Digest as a primary communication mechanism.  It is emailed at 10 a.m. each weekday, and we encourage you to make a habit of checking at least the contents if not reading all items. Included in the Daily Digest is a “COVID-19 Dashboard” providing numbers of active student cases, employee cases, total cases last week, and number of individuals recovered. We intend to add student testing and on-campus quarantine data soon.

Our process for informing the campus about positive cases has changed since the spring, to avoid your receiving NPAlerts at all hours of the day as we learned of positive cases. Those who are directly affected by a positive case will receive immediate outreach and guidance from contact tracers. Others who are wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing social distancing should not need to change their behavior based on news of another active case.

In this way, we will reserve NPAlert for emergencies or other matters that require immediate attention by all members of our community. We will deploy the NPForward text message to alert members of the community to important non-emergency announcements or email messages.

Anti-Racist Efforts. I want to be certain the community is aware of the University Police Department’s commitment to Anti-Racism, explicitly affirming UPD’s dedication to fair and equitable policing. The statement outlines the values and principles that underlie how UPD approaches its core mission: to create and maintain a safe and secure environment that is conducive to the educational mission of the College. Our UPD is one of only half of SUNY UPDs accredited through the New York State Law Enforcement Accreditation Program. Only 25% of non-SUNY law enforcement agencies in the State are accredited, which requires meeting 109 standards

Enrollment. Enrollments are within 5% of last year’s overall numbers and within about 4% of last year’s undergraduate numbers.  The declines are far less than we feared. We are seeing fewer last-minute enrollments this year than last, perhaps because students were more deliberate in their decisions in this uncertain environment. More students have requested leaves of absence than normal. Many international graduate students have deferred attending this fall. A bright note is that unofficially our EOP enrollment is within one student of last fall (575 this year vs. 576 last year), reflecting a healthy first-year and new transfer class and the return of many continuing students. We will be monitoring ongoing enrollment trends in the coming weeks.

New SUNY Chancellor James Malatras. He chose New Paltz as the first campus to visit in his new role, on Sunday, Aug. 23. Chancellor Malatras was especially interested in our fall semester reopening plans and our COVID-19 protections, along with the key role that our HVAMC has played in producing face shields and other PPE for health-care workers and first responders and for the campus. During the tour, he and I discussed leadership challenges in these times. I was impressed with his easy engagement with students we met during the tour. In his comments to a reporter, he described SUNY New Paltz as one of “the crown jewels” in SUNY!

I look forward to “seeing you” at the Senate meeting and responding to your questions and comments.


Donald P. Christian