March 1, 2021 (in advance of March 3 Faculty Senate Meeting)
I wish everyone well during what I know are difficult and trying times, in our nation, our communities, and on our campus. As we mark the one-year anniversary today of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in New York State, many forces continue to test people’s patience and good will. As I reflect on where we are, well beyond the midpoint of the academic year, I return to words I shared in my August 2020 State of the College address, which feels like an eon ago: We have weathered difficult times before…We bring to these challenges a set of core strengths and achievements that few other institutions enjoy. In the words of another protagonist in “The Lord of the Rings,” Sam Gamgee: “But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.” I hope that we will continue to support each other through these difficult times until the darkness passes.
Here, I share several updates, news items, and upcoming events.
Table of Contents:
COVID-19 Update – Positivity rate for on-campus tests remains <1%. Recent upticks in student and employee positive cases point to need for continued vigilance to health and safety protocols. Vaccine developments are encouraging.
Discretionary Salary Increase (DSI) – Online and streamlined Discretionary Salary Increase (DSI) process is continuing as announced previously. No SUNY comprehensive campus is allocating DSI across the board. While adhering to this process, we continue to listen to faculty concerns and to support strategies to lessen the stress of these times. Here are links to guidelines for full-time and part-time faculty.
Visits with State Elected Officials – Recent meetings with newly elected NYS Senator Mike Martucci and Assemblymember and alumnus Kevin Cahill focused on advocacy for SUNY budget request and updates on developments at the College.
Middle States Reaccreditation – Evaluation Team to visit campus (virtually) on March 24-26; information on faculty and staff participation forthcoming.
Dismantling Racism Community Dialogue – Monday, March 8, 3:45-5:00 p.m., led by alumna Camille Jacobs, will focus on ways that we productively and proactively interact with each other as members of a campus community.
Commencement Planning – is underway; many uncertainties mean planning for multiple scenarios.
Summer Programming – Plans for first-year new student summer orientation include on-campus elements with an overnight stay and limited parental involvement. Proposals and requests for on-campus summer youth programs are under review.
Women’s Leadership Summit – Wednesday, March 3, 4:00-5:00 p.m. Accomplished alumnae will share career guidance and respond to student questions in small group discussion, for all students in all majors (more information here).
COVID-19 Update. As I have written before, I am deeply appreciative of everyone’s continued commitment to our students and our academic mission, and recognize the severe challenges that working under these conditions present.
Our weekly testing is contributing to prompt detection of positive cases and helping to control spread of the virus. The positivity rate remains well below 1%, on par with the SUNY average. But recent incidents point to the need for continued vigilance in safety protocol: in one day last week, more students moved into on- and off-campus quarantine and isolation than any single day since August. A group of students felt they were “in a bubble” so were not diligent about COVID safety, but their bubble was big and resulted in multiple close contacts. Last week’s pool test results included a slight jump in positive results for both students and employees, but the positivity rate for those tests remains well below 1%. It is worth reinforcing that we have zero evidence of in-class transmission under the conditions we have in place, an outcome seen across SUNY. Similarly, we have seen no transmission among those working in our pool testing site. You will see that we have made it more convenient for employees and students to test by allowing you to do pool testing any day Monday-Thursday, with Enzo testing by appointment available on Fridays.
The increasing availability of vaccines, increased federal support for more aggressive vaccine delivery and administration, and the rapid development and approval of new vaccines are significant signs of hope, including for our ability to have a more normal fall 2021 semester. While the emergence of new variants is frightening, the evidence of vaccine effectiveness is encouraging. Recent CDC guidelines for opening K-12 schools, along with increasing political and social demand to do so, are heartening not only for our economy, but for so many of our employees who face the challenges of parenting and educating their children.
Discretionary Salary Increase (DSI).
Online and streamlined Discretionary Salary Increase (DSI) process is continuing as announced previously. No SUNY comprehensive campus is allocating DSI across the board, even though there has been advocacy on some to do so. I have received and read the petition from UUP. While I generally do not find petitions to be a sound basis for administrative decisions, I hear, respect and understand the commitment and motivation of the approximately 100 faculty who signed the petition, at the same time noting that level of support means that at least 800 UUP members did not sign the petition. Indeed, many faculty have already submitted their applications.
I repeat here excerpts from my February 23 message to UUP leadership and Interim Provost Lyman’s and my February 24 email to academic and professional faculty:
It is unfortunate that the disagreement on this matter is being seen as a defining moment of unilateral lack of understanding and compassion by the administration. Nothing could be further from the truth nor is such positioning supported by all the ways that adjustments and other measures have been discussed and implemented, some locally and some as provided by SUNY. The unprecedented challenges of the pandemic have certainly created the need for changes but not for the wholesale abandonment of a practice or principles of a practice. We believe that the changes in the process to apply for DSI aim for a balance between preservation of practice and reduction of burden. The documents requested are already in line with documents that need to be prepared for other purposes. This may be an imperfect and disputed solution but it was reached with thought and care to both people and process, despite the perception. The fact that we disagree on the DSI distribution should not create a false option of all or nothing nor should it be held out as an intentional act to disadvantage.
We are keenly aware of the many challenges that faculty are wrestling with during the pandemic. We continue to support actions to create flexible workloads, shift responsibilities among colleagues, and encourage self-care. We encourage faculty and staff to avail themselves of the Employee Assistance Program. We continue to encourage and work with all levels of supervisors to be mindful of work-life balance as we navigate these difficult times. In the longer term, I am committed to continuing the DSI program as a greatly streamlined application process with far fewer time demands than in the past. And to the extent that faculty have gone above and beyond amid the challenges of the pandemic, we hope they will outline and contextualize these accomplishments for consideration in this year’s application process for DSI.
These are challenging times and campus leadership continues to consider what we hear with compassion, empathy and a duty to maintain important processes that are valued by many, even in difficult times.
Visits with State Elected Officials. We met virtually with newly elected NYS Senator Mike Martucci, and spent time orienting him to the profile of SUNY New Paltz and the many economic, social, and cultural benefits we bring to the Hudson Valley along with our educational successes. He is an active alumnus of SUNY Orange and a member of their foundation board, so we made certain he is aware of the number of SUNY Orange students who transfer here and were heartened to learn of his enthusiastic support for public higher education. We also met virtually with longtime Assemblymember Kevin Cahill, a 1977 alumnus and strong supporter of the College and of our educational mission.
With both elected officials, we discussed our responses to COVID-19 and its financial and other impacts on our campus community, and encouraged their support of key elements in SUNY System’s budget request, including:
- Holding harmless Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) funding;
- Continuing the multi-year capital plan with $550 million in critical maintenance funding for 2021-22.
- Continuation and extension of “maintenance of effort” and predictable tuition authority through the next four years, along with our expressed support for emphasis on increased taxpayer support rather than tuition increases to sustain our economy;
- The request for SUNY to be able to approve our own programs without seeking State Education Department (SED) approval, and positive implications for our ability to be nimble and innovative in responding to student interest and workforce demands.
- Support for full restoration of the 20% of direct state support that has been held back to date and continued strong state support for higher education.
Next in the state budget process: The state Assembly and Senate move toward completion of their one-house bills and then leadership comes together with the Governor to hammer out a final budget. Meanwhile, we all watch the president’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package – which currently includes welcome assistance for state and local government and higher education – make its way through Congress.
Both legislators expressed their recognition of the need to “work across the aisle” to accomplish key legislation to benefit the region and its people. Kevin Cahill has a longtime key interest in Sojourner Truth and her history; we shared progress on the sculpture we have commissioned to install in front of the STL, hopefully this coming fall.
Middle States Reaccreditation. As we have shared before, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) Evaluation Team will visit campus (virtually) on Wednesday, March 24 – Friday, March 26, 2021. The team is led by Dr. Marcia Welsh, president emerita of East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, who both Interim Provost Lyman and I have known for many years. Interim Provost Lyman and Associate Provost Laurel M. Garrick Duhaney will be sharing more detail about the schedule and opportunities and expectations for faculty and staff participation. I strongly encourage your involvement to reinforce and enrich information provided in our self-study report.
I again express my gratitude to Interim Provost Lyman for her overall guidance of this project, to Laurel Garrick Duhaney and Ken Goldstein as Steering Committee Co-Chairs, other members of the Steering Committee for their work and their leadership of the working groups for each of the seven standards, and the many others who served on those working groups and on the Editorial Committee. Their work has produced a clear and thoughtful self-study that I believe will serve us well in this process. Thanks, also, to the team preparing videos and a virtual document library for our site visit as well as those who have participated in these videos to showcase our campus and our efforts.
Dismantling Racism Community Dialogue. We will host our next Dismantling Racism community discussion on Monday, March 8, 3:45-5:00 p.m., again led by alumna Camille Jacobs ’91 (Communication Media). Jacobs will frame the focus of the discussion on “Setting Free Every Other Person to Be Who He or She Intended to Be” – honoring and supporting individualism. Then, as in our November conversation, we will form breakout rooms for small group discussions before coming back together for a group distill and closing.
I hope that you will join us for conversations that matter, intended to embrace many dimensions, including race and the ways in which we productively and proactively interact with members of our campus community
Commencement Planning. Our planning for spring commencement ceremonies is underway. We have heard from students about what they most want in a ceremony, at the same time we are working under heavy constraints of uncertainty about COVID-19 and what the county health department, SUNY, and NYS will permit. Accordingly, we are planning for multiple scenarios.
We will keep you posted as our planning evolves.
Summer Programming. We are planning first-year new student summer orientation that includes a significant on-campus element with one overnight stay (single occupancy) in the residence halls. Parental involvement will be limited to activities surrounding student drop-off and pick-up, along with virtual offerings. As many of these activities as possible will be held outdoors. We will continue to use some of the virtual orientation modules that we developed for use in 2020, as we believe they provide key information to students in smaller, more-manageable dosages than the flood of input students experienced in our pre-pandemic orientations – an example of approaches developed in response to the pandemic that will have lasting value. This approach will also create opportunity for implementing presentations and discussions that prioritize meaningful and purposeful engagement during the on-campus orientation. In addition to an overall improved orientation experience, we believe that the connections students make to the campus and each other in an in-person orientation will help to reduce summer “melt” that occurs at every college or university — the attrition of students who have paid deposits but decide to attend another institution or drop out entirely. This is one example of several strategies we are employing to achieve our enrollment goals.
New first-year students unable to participate in an overnight program will have a virtual 2-day conference-style alternative. Orientation for new transfer students will be done virtually with an optional on-campus, one-day experience.
Following the Governor’s recent announcement allowing summer camps, we are in the process of reviewing proposals and requests for on-campus summer youth programs, with appropriate safety protocols and held outdoors as much as possible. Such programs support both young people and parents, and connect us with organizations and communities in the region, consistent with our institutional goals of being an important cultural and educational resource for the Hudson Valley.
Of course, like all of our planning, realization of such programs is contingent on the trajectory of the pandemic and SUNY and local health department approvals.
Women’s Leadership Summit. Please help our students – all students, not only women, and all majors – know about the 2021 virtual offering of this event, Wednesday, March 3, 4:00-5:00 p.m. The small-group setting of this summit provides an opportunity for students to gain advice from SUNY New Paltz alumnae, ranging from recent graduates to CEO’s, who have earned distinction in their professional lives; find answers to career-related questions through dialogue with them; receive guidance on leveraging individual talents to find job opportunities in an uncertain economic climate. The summit is free but registration is required.
I look forward to seeing you at this week’s Faculty Senate meeting where I will respond to questions of comments about this report or other topics.
Donald P. Christian