President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

April 5, 2021 (in advance of April 7 Faculty Senate Meeting)

We continue to navigate multiple dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic as we approach the last day of classes, April 29. That’s only 24 more days!! I recorded a video message to students asking for their ongoing vigilance against the virus: continued mask-wearing, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and avoidance of casual unmasked gatherings. I encourage similar attention by all employees.

This academic year has been like no other, for students, faculty, staff, and administrators, and we have asked much of everyone. We know that many are tired, likely frustrated with delayed test results, overwhelmed, uncertain about the future, and ready for the pandemic and the academic year to be over. The state is beginning to open, and vaccines are more widely available. The Governor’s recent action to broaden age-eligibility for vaccines to 16+ is encouraging – but not a quick cure. Risks remain: COVID-19 positive cases have surged; the mid-Hudson Valley has the highest positivity rate in the state; young people are increasingly among those getting sick from COVID; and concern is high about the spread and impact of new variants.

We have (so far) avoided shutdowns of our in-person offerings and sustained a residential experience, and we continue to have no evidence of in-class transmission. Vigilance is essential to make it through this academic year – even as we are optimistic about an “in-person” fall semester, which our students tell us they want and our fall enrollment numbers exemplify. I provide other updates on COVID-19 below and remind everyone that we are almost there. It will take collective effort but we can do this and we will.

Table of Contents:

Anti-Asian and Asian American Bias and ViolenceCampus leaders and student leaders of the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance will meet to hear from these students about their concerns and to learn how we can raise awareness about issues important to them and improve their experiences on campus.

Derek Chauvin TrialThis trial resurrects sensibilities and issues for many, especially BIPOC students and other members of our campus community. Let’s all be aware and supportive in the coming weeks.

COVID-19 StatusActive case counts have fluctuated; positivity rate for on-campus tests remains low even as it has been increasing in the state and region; we hope to be able to vaccinate students on campus.

PRODiGSUNY Chancellor was on campus to announce continuation of PRODiG and selection of 72 faculty, 8 at New Paltz, to participate in the program, whose goal is to hire 1,000 BIPOC and women in STEM faculty by 2030. Below find excerpts of comments by Dr. Martine Kei Green-Rogers, associate professor, and student Jadzia “JJ” Davis about their experience in the Theatre Arts Department and at SUNY New Paltz and what programs like PRODiG mean for faculty and students. My introductory comments may be found here.

Middle States Reaccreditation ReviewMy email message of Monday, March 29, summarizes key preliminary findings of the Middle States site-visit team.

BudgetInformation below about institutional and student support through federal stimulus programs, receipt of previously withheld state taxpayer support from 2019-20, status of 2021-22 state budget.

Enrollment UpdateFirst-year student numbers for fall 2021 are strong; we must increase yield and help continuing students overcome pandemic-related challenges. Strong in-person course offerings will be essential for us to compete for and retain students.

Commencement Planning – This spring’s plans for commencement ceremonies to be announced soon, with contingencies for a virtual ceremony if pandemic conditions demand.

National College Athlete Honor SocietyWith many faculty joining the virtual ceremony, 68 student athletes were recently inducted into Chi Alpha Sigma Honor Society, recognizing their athletic participation and maintenance of a cumulative GPA of at least 3.4 throughout junior and senior years.

Affordable Colleges and Best Value Rankings – Information below about inclusion of SUNY New Paltz in new national rankings of affordability and value, including highest position of any SUNY campus on two rankings.

UPD Advisory Committee Has been meeting regularly, planning survey and small-group forums for fall semester.

Upcoming Events Information below about upcoming campus events – the first tomorrow evening.

Anti-Asian and Asian American Bias and Violence. We responded in a recent campus message to the shooting deaths in Atlanta that targeted six Asian American women along with two other people. SUNY, CUNY, and New York private college leadership responded similarly (here). Both statements explicitly condemned these violent, racist actions and identified them as such, even as we know that words are never enough. I hope that we all have read and are considering the message from APISA (Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance) about our students’ fears, experiences of racism on campus, and desire to be seen and heard. We have reached out to the leaders of APISA suggesting a focused listening session in the coming weeks with administrators, faculty governance and student governance leaders and they are amenable to such a meeting. Our goal is to create space for these students to articulate their experiences and guide us as campus leaders in the ways we can support raising awareness more broadly among the campus community about the issues that are important to Asian and Pacific Islander students. We envision this discussion as a prelude to a broader campus discussion including other students (a clear focus of the APISA campus message). This recent article from Inside Higher Ed, by two faculty members, immigrants from South Korea and the Philippines, provides insightful perspective on steps we can take to avoid, mitigate, and counter anti-Asian racism as it plays out on college campuses.

Derek Chauvin Trial. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the violent death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than 9 minutes, is underway. Mr. Floyd’s death, and the outcome of this trial, carry great significance for our country’s reckoning with racial violence, injustice, and white supremacy. While many Americans have our eyes on this trial, it no doubt has particular meaning to BIPOC students and other members of our campus community. Let us be aware of and attuned to these sensibilities and offer any and all support we can during the coming weeks of the trial and its aftermath.

COVID-19 Status. If you have been tracking case counts on the Daily Dashboard, you are aware that the number of active cases among students and employees has been up and down the past few weeks, ranging from the 20s into the 60s then back down into the 20s. It is encouraging that the positivity rate after more than 27,000 on-campus tests remains well below 1%, well below the Ulster County and New York State rates but higher than for some other SUNY campuses. I noted above the several reasons why we cannot be complacent about the ongoing risks.

Several bright spots relative to COVID management and implications for an in-person fall semester are:

  • We are gearing up to be a point of distribution for vaccination of students, beginning this week;
  • SUNY is likely to expect campuses to vaccinate students at the start of fall semester, especially first-year students;
  • It is likely that mask-wearing will be required in the fall, but there are indications now that social distancing (masked) guidelines will change from 6 feet to 3 feet. We will need to work to overcome psychological reactions to closeness that we may have developed this past year, but this would be a positive change not only for classroom capacities but for human connection.
  • There is no guidance yet on whether vaccines will be required for state employees.

PRODiG. SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras chose to visit SUNY New Paltz on March 23, 2021 to announce the continuation of the PRODiG initiative – Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion and Growth, and the selection of 72 faculty, 8 at New Paltz, to participate in the program. The overarching goal of PRODiG is to hire 1,000 BIPOC and women in STEM faculty by 2030. Faculty are nominated to the program after being hired into tenure-track positions based on their credentials, through the same competitive national search process followed for all vacant faculty positions. PRODiG-supported faculty gain access to a network of SUNY colleagues and professional development opportunities. Funding for salary support creates opportunities for the College to invest in inclusion, retention and advancement initiatives.

Eight New Paltz faculty members who joined us in fall 2020 have been accepted into this second PRODiG cohort:

  • Adolfo Bejar Lara, Languages, Literatures & Cultures
  • Latanya Brandon, Teaching & Learning
  • Matthieu Chapman, Theatre Arts
  • Aurora De Armendi, Art
  • Asilia Franklin-Phipps, Teaching & Learning
  • Christina Koehne, Mathematics
  • Ethan Madarieta, English
  • Ramon Vasquez, Teaching & Learning

In addition, Jessica Smeeks joined us as a visiting faculty member in the Anthropology Department through the “PRODiG Fellow” initiative, which aims to provide recent Ph.D. or ABD candidates with faculty experience, to increase their competitiveness as candidates for tenure-track lines at SUNY comprehensive institutions. We are in the process of trying to recruit another PRODiG Fellow for whom SUNY New Paltz is their top choice.

We welcome these colleagues to our community. They represent excellence in their respective fields and we look forward to their contributions to our students and our programs – and being able to engage in person and not just on screens!

Following the Chancellor’s announcement, Dr. Martine Kei Green-Rogers, associate professor of Theatre Arts, and Jadzia “JJ” Davis, a senior Theatre Arts major, provided comments about their experience in the Theatre Arts Department and at SUNY New Paltz. Their remarks underscore in compelling ways what the outcomes of programs like PRODiG mean to faculty and to students. Here are excerpts of their comments from the SUNY press release:

Professor Green-Rogers: My experience at SUNY New Paltz has been a transformative one—I have felt seen and heard by those in the theatre department, and I know I am not just here because of how I look and the diversity I represent, but because of the knowledge and skills I possess. I am thrilled about the prospects of more purposeful and targeted hires of faculty from marginalized and under-represented groups to sense this same feeling. And, I am especially excited for the present and future students who will be able to experience the depth and breadth that is available to them when their faculty is truly diverse in lived experience and thought.

“JJ” Devis: Growing up in a white part of town as a Black individual is hard—it wasn’t until SUNY New Paltz where I saw multiple Black professors, especially in the field I want to pursue. Having a diverse faculty on all campuses and in all fields is important, as it helps current students complete their degree and become notable alumni. Seeing and getting to know professors of color who teach in my major and are accomplished is extremely inspiring and lets me know there is a greater chance for me to succeed regardless of my skin color.

My introductory comments at this event focused on setting context for the issues that PRODiG aims to address along with work undertaken at SUNY New Paltz to advance these goals. Here are my remarks in full (also here):

Welcome to SUNY New Paltz! I thank Chancellor Jim Malatras for visiting us today and for choosing our campus to make this important announcement. It’s good to have you on campus again, Chancellor.

One of the longest standing and most unfulfilled challenges facing higher education is to diversify the workforce of the academy and to create learning and working environments that are equitable and inclusive so that every student – indeed every member of our community – can achieve their full promise. The students we serve now and in the future deserve more opportunity than those who came before them to learn from and be supported by professors who look like them and have similar life experiences. The faculty and professionals we seek will bring new perspectives and values to our educational enterprise, helping us better reflect, support, and advance our students and the whole of American society — not just segments of it.

Such efforts require concerted attention and work at all levels of the institution, including both bold actions and incremental steps. One example of a bold administrative action is the PRODiG initiative that SUNY launched two years ago and that Chancellor Malatras has embraced and will speak more about shortly. SUNY New Paltz is proud to participate in this program and to have drawn on its assets and support to take important steps in diversifying our teaching faculty.

As President, I am grateful for all the ways that our campus has embraced the imperative to recruit and retain talented BIPOC faculty and to expand inclusion and representation of BIPOC and Women faculty in STEM fields.

The principles of the initiative the Chancellor will present today are upheld by the intentional practices we have employed at New Paltz.

  • Faculty and professionals on our campus have worked hard to learn about and apply best practices that lower barriers in employee searches.They have engaged in important conversations and planning to think in new ways about candidates who best serve our students and support our educational mission in the twenty-first century. That work includes training about implicit bias and inclusive recruitment.
  • Search committees specifically ask applicants to address diversity and inequity in their application materials, signaling our commitment to continuous work and sustained change.
  • Many departments are considering ways that curriculum and pedagogy must evolve to be inclusive and representative of histories and experiences that are too often absent, marginalized, or silenced.
  • Departments that have taken such steps have been better prepared to discuss this work and be more open to prospective colleagues who, beyond their impressive academic credentials, share the values and vision of diversity, equity and inclusion and bring new ideas and best practices to their departments.

This intentional, ongoing work was a driver in our successful recruitment last year of eight BIPOC and women in STEM faculty hires.

The SUNY program the Chancellor will speak about has created a framework and offered funding for intentional and sustained change and helped us take bigger and bolder steps in our journey to be a more inclusive campus, as I am sure it is for other SUNY campuses as well.

We know that recruitment must be supported by a commitment to practices and culture needed to retain talented and invested faculty and professionals. This work is not static, and we do not rest on successful moments. Rather, we are inspired by the changes and critical reflection and know that success is not measured by one recruitment season but by how each decision about recruitment and retention shifts culture, makes excellence inclusive and better serves our diverse students and employees.

We know that we have ongoing work to create more welcoming departmental climates and cultures, to support the success of all faculty, and to adjust how we recognize, value, and reward faculty as they advance the work of inclusivity.

Everyone on campus is a diversity officer. Our individual and collective work is essential to achieve our goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion and to fulfill the promises of programs like PRODiG.

Jelani Cobb, an African American writer and professor of journalism at Columbia University, was a visiting professor at New Paltz in 2019. He spoke eloquently in his public address about diversity and inclusion, and reminded us that they are not the same, and don’t always happen together. He said, and I quote, “An inclusive institution cannot be the same as an institution that has simply added some more different people into it. Becoming inclusive means the institution has fundamentally become something else with adaptation of new customs and new ways of listening to each other.” Cobb went on: “diversity creates guests, while inclusion creates stakeholders, and builds participation in a democracy.” The challenge for vital institutions, he concluded, is to choose to do things differently.

PRODiG is the type of bold action embraced by SUNY and its campuses that allows for meaningful change. Chancellor, we are grateful for your championship of PRODiG and other efforts to advance SUNY in its mission to serve all New Yorkers as well as society at-large. I’ll now turn things over to our Chancellor.

Middle States Reaccreditation Review. I refer you to my email message (9:10 a.m., Monday, March 29) for a summary of key preliminary findings of the Middle States site-visit team, including several commendations for notable campus achievements and distinctions. I will reiterate my thanks to all who contributed your time, energy, ideas, and hard work to the success of this process.

Budget. Federal Stimulus Funding. Vice President Halstead and I last week shared information about the impact of federal stimulus funds that will help support our students and make up for some lost revenues as a result of the pandemic. We emphasize that these one-time funds will not eliminate the need for us to further adjust our recurring expenditures in the coming years. We anticipate a revenue shortfall of at least $24 million due primarily to COVID-19 impacts during spring 2020 and the current fiscal year that includes fall 2020 and this spring. The institutional portion of the stimulus funding totals $20.5 million.

In brief, the three federal stimulus bills are the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (March 2020) that established the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF); the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act (December 2020); and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act (March 2021). Half of the CARES and ARP funds are directed to student financial aid grants and prioritize students with exceptional need. The student portion of the three funds totals $15.9 million. In summer 2020, we distributed $3.3 million from the CARES Act to 2,074 students who are eligible for Federal Title IV aid and were enrolled in March 2020, to help with expenses related to COVID 19.

The campus has received $3.3 million of CRSSA funds for students and distribution will begin mid-April, with emphasis on Pell-eligible students. We are awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and SUNY regarding eligibility for the remaining $9.3 million in stimulus funding allocated to us for student aid, and on our use of institutional funds. We will share more information about the direct impact on our campus as soon as we are able to do so.

Last year’s State Taxpayer Support. We received the remainder of state taxpayer support from 2019-20 last month. We await news on 2020-21 and 21-22 allocations.

2021-22 State Budget. As of this writing, the next fiscal year budget for New York State has not been finalized. This is expected in the next few days and we will keep you informed as SUNY’s budget becomes clearer.

Enrollment Update. Across the nation, institutions of higher education continue to struggle with the pandemic’s negative impact on enrollment. Many of the metrics we have always used to predict new student enrollment no longer have much meaning in a time of such uncertainty. However, we are heartened – even at this early stage – that first-year students entering in fall 2021 are signaling their intent to enroll at SUNY New Paltz in significant numbers. Indeed, our “yield”—the percentage of accepted students who convert to students who have paid enrollment deposits—is robust at this time. We must, collectively, continue the work that the office of Undergraduate Admission has started of creating the supportive, welcoming environment in which these students envision themselves spending the next four years. Many private colleges are announcing that their instructional offerings will be fully face-to-face in the fall. Nearly all evidence is that this is the kind of higher education experience that students seek; we must be attuned to this competitive environment and highlight our planned in-person offerings in our outreach to prospective students and their parents.

At the same time, continuing students are also navigating the path forward. They have been dealt a difficult hand by the pandemic, and as we approach the period of Advanced Registration, many of them also need our continued support. The offices of Academic Advising, Student Financial Services, and Student Accounts and others stand ready to support students who are grappling with the pandemic difficulties, which may impede students’ successful return in the fall. Student retention, like new student recruitment, is also an endeavor in which we must all be collectively invested. The Division of Enrollment Management is prepared to assist faculty, chairs, and departments as you encounter the nuanced situations and considerations our students bring to their decisions to enroll for the next term. Vice President for Enrollment Management Jeff Gant stands ready for you to contact him directly at

 Commencement Planning. We expect to announce our plans for this spring’s commencement ceremonies in the coming days. Our planning has included low-density, reduced-gathering-size, and streamlined outdoor ceremonies on campus (multiple events required over several days), consistent with current state guidance on large event gatherings, along with a contingency plan for a strictly virtual ceremony if COVID-19 conditions demand. This recent article captures well the many dynamics we have considered as we have tried to balance health and safety concerns with providing our graduates with the celebration that they want and deserve.

National College Athlete Honor Society. Sixty-eight (68) student athletes were inducted into the Chi Alpha Sigma Honor Society in a virtual ceremony on March 24. Student athletes eligible for this recognition earn a varsity letter in at least one sport while maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.4 throughout their junior and senior years. It was gratifying to see so many faculty join the event, and I know that your presence meant a lot to our students. The ceremony was introduced by Danielle Strauchler, senior women’s administrator (an official NCAA-designated position) and assistant director of athletics and wellness, and moderated by Biology Professor David Richardson, who is faculty athletic representative (FAR; another NCAA-designated position, appointed by the campus president). Dr. Richardson spoke about his work to ensure balance between academics and athletics. He also drew parallels between attributes that foster both athletic success and academic success, including time-management, collaboration, leadership, and critical thinking. Four students spoke eloquently about how they grew at New Paltz through their academic and athletic experiences. They expressed deep gratitude to their professors. I was reminded of the numerous times I have heard parents express perceptions like “my [child] is a better student because they are also an athlete.” I shared in my February report that student athletes have the highest first-year retention and six-year graduation rates of any demographic segment of our student body.

Affordable Colleges and Best Value Rankings. I have said before that we are wise to be skeptical of college rankings and what they mean, but that as long as these are created, I would much rather be included than not! Last month, announced the “Top 50 Most Affordable Colleges for 2021,” based on evaluation of curriculum quality, graduation rate, reputation, and post-graduate employment. SUNY New Paltz was included in that Top 50 ranking, along with four other SUNY and several CUNY institutions.

Last week, we also were ranked No. 25 in College Consensus’s 2021 “Best Value Colleges and Universities” in the U.S., the highest ranking of any SUNY School. College Consensus also ranked the top 100 Public Colleges and Universities in the country, a list headed by University of Michigan, University of Virginia, UCLA, and UC Berkeley. New Paltz was #63 on that ranking, also the highest of any SUNY institution. These rankings are based on aggregated publisher rankings and student reviews.

As always, I am proud of and grateful for the tremendous work of faculty and staff and the achievements of our students that underlie such recognitions.

UPD Advisory Committee. The UPD Advisory Committee has met three times in recent weeks, and for now will continue to meet every other week. Calvin Hodnett ’90 has agreed to chair the committee this spring and has asked student Tevin Green to be Vice Chair. An early goal is to increase the gender and employee diversity on the committee. Chief Mary Ritayik (one of two women SUNY UPD chiefs; read more here) presented on the history and challenges of running a SUNY police department. A major focus will be to develop a survey about policing on campus to be administered in the fall. This would follow up on a similar survey done several years ago and draw on surveys developed on other SUNY campuses. Lucy Walker, AVP for Institutional Research, has been invited to the Committee’s next meeting. The committee is also planning small group forums – organized by affinity group – to gather thoughts on UPD, also to be held in the fall in coordination with the survey process.

Upcoming events.

  • “We Are All Gig Workers Now,” Tammy Kim, James H. Ottaway, Sr. Visiting Professor of Journalism public lecture, Tuesday, April 6, 7 p.m. Register here.
  • “The Moral Obligation to Serve the Marginalized: By Any Means Necessary,” School of Education panel discussion, moderated by Dean René Antrop-Gonzalez, with panelists including Ilyasah Shabazz ’85 and three Hudson Valley School Superintendents — Dr. Roberto Padilla (Newburgh Enlarged City School District), Dr. Eric Rosser (Poughkeepsie Central School District), and Angela Urbina-Medina ‘00g, ’07 CAS. Thursday, April 8, 5-6:30 p.m. Register
  • “When We All Speak Truth to Power, Who’s Listening? Story-Listening for Social Change.” An evening with Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian and Educator, Distinguished Speaker Series, Monday, April 12, 5-6 p.m. Registration and information at edu/speakerseries.

I look forward to seeing you at this week’s Faculty Senate meeting where I will respond to questions or comments about this report or other topics.


Donald P. Christian