A thank-you letter to our community from President Donald P. Christian

Dear Members of the New Paltz Campus Community:

I offer my deep and heartfelt thanks to our students, employees and neighbors for helping us achieve a safe and successful in-person learning experience for our students (and their families) who chose to be here this fall and put their faith and trust in us.

Some facts from this semester:

  • Our overall positivity rate for on-campus COVID-19 testing this fall is an enviable 0.36% with 10,735 tests administered. This figure is well below the overall state positivity rate and that of our region despite a modest uptick in positives during our pre-Thanksgiving departure testing of 3,500 individuals.
  • Since Aug. 24, 60 students and 10 employees in our on-campus population have tested positive; 68 have recovered.
  • We have no indication of in-class transmission of the virus under our required conditions of reduced density, social-distancing, and mask-wearing.
  • Similarly, we had no indication of transmission in the Athletic and Wellness Center, which had 12,719 check-ins for programs and activities during the fall.
  • There were only three instances of person-to-person transmission in the residence halls, and those were all part of the initial cluster of cases in late August related to an off-campus basketball game. The four subsequent cases among residential students this semester were all contained with no known spread.

Nonetheless, we are watching the significant increases in positive test results and hospitalizations in Ulster County, other parts of the Hudson Valley and New York, and across the U.S. These are reminders that our spring semester plans will require the same vigilance and care and remain contingent on state and local health directives we receive.

I believe our success this semester, reaching Thanksgiving and the planned pivot to a remote semester wrap-up without a major COVID-19 outbreak, can be attributed to all of these factors:

  • our detailed, thorough and multi-faceted planning that drew on the expertise of so many across the campus community;
  • an extensive volunteer effort by employees and students that drove our testing and tracing endeavors;
  • consistent outreach and connection with students to achieve strong compliance with health and safety protocols;
  • investment of time, effort and care by many faculty, and the professional development offered by Information Technology Services – especially the Office of Instructional Technology, the Faculty Development Center and the DASH Lab – to prepare for effective remote instruction;
  • The seriousness with which our students and employees took our “Protect New Paltz” Pledge and embodied the “We Not Me” spirit of care for each other’s health and well-being;
  • the work by faculty, staff and student personnel to connect with and support on- and off-campus students during difficult times;
  • additional work by frontline custodial employees to keep campus spaces clean and safe;
  • the dedication of those whose jobs require them to be on campus during a pandemic, along with the willingness of others to work remotely and for some to come to campus periodically to keep the university functioning (here I’d like to give a shout out of gratitude to our frontline Student Affairs, Student Services, Residence Life, Student Health Service, Psychological Counseling, Sodexo, Facilities Management, Emergency Management, Environmental Health & Safety, Information Technology Services, University Police and Print and Mail Room employees, and those faculty who masked up to offer safe, in-person instruction);
  • our good working relationships with village, town and county officials and the partnership we forged early in the pandemic with those community leaders to protect not only the campus community but our neighbors in the broader New Paltz community, our hometown. In a recent news article, Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers said he believes the College has done a good job because of its approach to the pandemic. In his words: “I think that the college administration and the students on campus have taken this very seriously, and that’s probably why New Paltz stayed open whereas some colleges … had to close early and moved to all remote. I think the community and the students get it, and people are doing the best they can;”
  • the guidelines and support that SUNY provided as the framework for our plans.

I know that many employees continued their dedicated work under challenging home and family circumstances, and that navigating these is still particularly difficult on women, who often bear the majority of caretaking responsibilities. Too that many families are trying to manage loss of traditional schooling, loss of after care, day care and summer camp options as well as loss of support services for individuals with special needs, mental health needs and elder care issues.

Our community’s work through it all has not gone unnoticed, or unappreciated. I am deeply grateful to all employees for your commitment to our students and our mission and to each other, and your hard work under these difficult and stressful conditions.

I recently asked an employee “how’s it going?” under these circumstances. That individual responded that it’s hard, then went on to conclude “But it’s really important work.” That kind of dedication makes me so proud of this community, of what we achieve, and of what we can continue to do in the future.

With gratitude,

Donald P. Christian