President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

As I was finishing this final report of the 2020-21 academic year, I took a moment to review the introductions to each of my monthly reports since this pandemic began last spring. I recognize that I run great risk of being redundant in stating what I have so many times, but it bears repeating — my gratitude for your dedication, flexibility, hard work, creativity, “grit,” and so many other attributes that helped our community reach the end of this difficult academic year.

Even though I’ve said this before as well, my admiration for this community and its members endures. You’ve supported each other and our students. You’ve worked through difficult times. Most of you put in more hours than in normal times. You came up with creative solutions and approaches to problems we have never seen before. Many of you sacrificed a lot. I know that many struggled with managing (balancing is too optimistic!) demands of child care and other responsibilities. Some of you and your families directly experienced the impacts of COVID-19. We completed our decennial reaccreditation process. Throughout this difficult year, we kept focus on our core mission of educating and supporting students through tight budgets and a hiring freeze. As president I am very proud of this collective accomplishment.

I will also share that it has meant a great deal to hear from so many faculty, staff and students about your appreciation for how campus leadership has performed, and kept you informed, during these trials. That too has been a tremendous collective effort.

With hopes for a better next year, I provide several updates, news, end-of year wrap-ups, and a personal reflection about curriculum.

Table of Contents:

COVID-19Number of active cases has declined and is low, testing positivity is 0.56%. Getting vaccinated and sharing vaccine information is strongly encouraged to protect community and support planning for fall semester.

Anti-Asian and Asian American Bias and ViolenceCampus, faculty, and student leaders met with Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance members to hear their concerns; further conversations planned to develop fall semester actions.

Teaching About America’s Racial HistoryEncouragement to faculty to advance curricular innovation on the history of racial violence, injustice, and inequity in America and its continuing contemporary consequences.

BudgetNew information to be shared as it becomes available, perhaps through virtual budget forum this summer; major budget deficit remains.

EnrollmentCurrent status of undergraduate (new first-year, transfer, and continuing students) and graduate enrollment for fall semester summarized below.

Chancellors Awards for Excellence– Congratulations to recipients of Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, Teaching, Faculty Service, Professional Service, and Classified Service (names and details below.

Middle States Reaccreditation Review– The final report of the Middle States review team may be found here.  Every indication is that we will be reaccredited; further detail about findings and our institutional response is below.

Commencement – Small, brief, outdoor ceremonies are planned for May 14, 15, 16 for 2021 graduates and May 21-22 for 2020 graduates.  Opportunities remain for faculty and staff to participate as marshals in safe, socially distanced, outdoor roles; marshal needs are greatest on Sun. May 16 and May 21-22 (here).

COVID-19. It is reassuring (knock on wood!) that we have had only one new positive case this week. Our positivity rate stands at 0.56% for more than 38,000 on-campus tests this semester, and yesterday we were down to only four active cases. Many members of our community are being vaccinated, and I encourage all to do so. I also encourage everyone to share your vaccination information on your COVID-19 profile, as outlined here. It’s fast and easy. I understand the reticence that some have about sharing private information such as this and want to emphasize that the College adheres to all State and federal regulations governing the privacy of such information. I hope that you also will consider the community benefits of providing this information. Knowing the percentage of our campus community that has been vaccinated will help us plan for a safe, as-much-as-possible in-person fall semester. Such planning includes details like the personnel and financial resources that we need to invest in contact tracing and quarantine processes. It is likely that vaccinated individuals will need to test for COVID-19 less often in the fall, reducing campus expenditures on tests and demands on staff time, beyond reduced personal inconvenience. Vaccinated individuals also do not have to quarantine after a potential exposure. The current SUNY position is to rely on students voluntarily vaccinating before coming to campus in the fall. That could change to a requirement, if it appears that vaccination rates are lower than needed and if the vaccines receive other than emergency use authorizations.

We know that uncertainty remains about expectations and requirements for employees who have been telecommuting to return to campus to work this summer and fall. Know that the COVID-19 planning group is discussing this topic each week, including such considerations as:

  • Managing the use of shared offices and common spaces;
  • How to ensure full service to students in student-facing and –supporting offices;
  • Identifying needs and best approaches for PPE, especially in student-facing offices;
  • How to balance individual preference for telecommuting, especially for parents and care-givers, with institutional and programmatic needs of a residential campus experience;
  • How to take best advantage of what we have learned from telecommuting during the pandemic to work more effectively and efficiently in the future – while still retaining our value and service as a primarily residential learning environment;

Stay tuned for more information on these and related topics, including ADA accommodation for those with special health considerations.

Anti-Asian and Asian American Bias and Violence. Several campus, faculty governance, and student governance leaders met on April 16 with leaders of the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance, joined by two Asian Studies faculty. Our purpose was to listen to students’ concerns, learn about the experiences of Asian and Asian American students on campus, and hear their thoughts about possible action items. We heard from these students that they want more coursework and programming about the history and experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander people in America; more education for fellow students; further engagement with cultural studies departments. We shared bias response resources that some did not know about. We heard that they welcome more opportunity for their voices to be heard, and proposed a town hall for Asian students to voice concerns more broadly, including to other students. Given the current phase of the academic year, we have offered to meet virtually with this group along with other students during the summer, in part to plan such a town hall early in the fall. We are already considering steps such as changes in new-student orientation, training for resident assistants, and others. In the fall, we would also like to hold a listening session with Asian and Asian American faculty and staff to hear your concerns. I will share again the recent article from Inside Higher Ed that provides insightful perspective on steps we all can take to avoid, mitigate, and counter anti-Asian racism as it plays out on college campuses, including our own.

New York State is hosting a virtual town hall and a series of listening sessions with State agencies in recognition of May as Asian American Pacific Islander Month. More information is available here.

Teaching About America’s Racial History. We heard from students and alumni in an anti-racism town hall last summer about the need for more-focused coursework – perhaps a required general education course – on the history of racial violence, injustice, and inequity in America and its continuing contemporary consequences. These curricular values are also woven into the current general education discussion spurred by the SUNY GEAC initiative, discussed in yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting. These frames were in my mind as I listened this past weekend to a TED Radio Hour interview with author Isabel Wilkerson speaking on migration, in particular the “Great Migration” of African Americans out of the South from World War I until the 1970s. She captured this history in such a compelling way in her book “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Her TED Talk, titled “The Great Migration and the power of a single decision” is also compelling and well worth an investment of time. She spoke about the decision to migrate as a very personal one with multiple losses and other consequences, and the experiences of migrants, with frequent reference to “caste” in America, as addressed in another of her books also worth reading (Caste: The Origins of our Discontents).

In the interview, Wilkerson shared that many African American parents or grandparents who moved out of the South during this migration never spoke to the next generation about the horrors that they left behind. As I listened to her talk, I thought “How many of our students have no idea of this history and what it means for contemporary America?”  It continues to matter that, as Wilkerson wrote in Caste, “It is a measure of how long enslavement lasted in the United States that the year 2022 marks the first year that the United States will have been an independent nation for as long as slavery lasted on its soil. No current day adult will be alive in the year in which African-Americans as a group will have been free for as long as they had been enslaved. That will not come until the year 2111.”  This legacy and its effects deserve to be better understood in the academy and among the students who it seeks to educate.

I am deeply respectful that the curriculum is the primary purview of the faculty and am always hesitant to weigh in, much less push, on curricular matters. But those thoughts compel me to include this section of my report and to strongly encourage the faculty to pick up the mantle of change that is demanded here. I also harken back to the previous section of this report about Asian and Asian American and Pacific Islanders to encourage attention to the multiple forms and groups of people targeted by race-based discrimination that have characterized our past and our present.

Budget. I regrettably do not have much new information about the budget to share, as budgetary news from SUNY is coming out in stages. It is also a challenge to track our “Other than Personal Services (OTPS)” expenditures this year because of SUNY changes in how we could encumber funds. One small bit of good news is that our 5% reduction in taxpayer support this year was calculated on the actual direct taxpayer expense (about $13 million) rather than the full $16 million that includes a fringe benefit allocation – that is really “wonky” to understand. The impact is a difference of just over $100,000 in our reduction this year. We welcome every piece of good news like this, even though it is a small fraction of the multi-million dollar budget deficit we must overcome.

In response to a question at last week’s faculty meeting, I shared that during the summer we would be communicating new information about the budget as it becomes known to us. We are also considering a budget forum (virtual) when we know more, probably in the last half of June. The Budget Advisory Committee has been discussing the possible structure and content of such a forum, at which we would both share information and provide an opportunity for questions.

Enrollment. I believe the best way to characterize our current assessment of fall semester enrollment is that it is perhaps not as bad as we thought it would be, but not as bright as we want it to be. Graduate applications are down, but some programs are still able to recruit full cohorts of students. Graduate and Extended Learning is working on technical and reporting issues associated with the rollout of Slate. Graduate applications and admissions will continue for many programs throughout the summer. The COVID-19 situation in India, and the closure of embassies and halt in student visa processing, is having severe impacts on both undergraduate and graduate enrollment. Planning is underway to perhaps engage at least some of the many dozens of interested Indian computer science graduate students virtually for the fall semester, with the hope that they will be able to come to the U.S. in the spring.

Fall semester enrollment of current undergraduate students is down 9-13% from the past two years, depending on the comparison. Some of that reflects more students graduating this year. We are concerned that more than 250 current juniors and about 180 current seniors had not registered for fall semester classes as of a week ago. Survey results suggest non-registered students are burned out, and some were not as informed as they should be about timing and process to register. Actions are being taken to connect with those students. We are concerned that course availability, in part due to reduced section sizes to accommodate social distance requirements, is hampering enrollment. We are in communication with SUNY to encourage their advocacy to lessen, ideally eliminate, social distance requirements in classrooms where students are masked (and ideally 100% vaccinated).

Summer enrollment is generally on par with last year. Fall 2021 new first-year student deposits are well above last year, and slightly above 2019 – a positive sign, but it is still uncertain if we will reach our very ambitious enrollment target. Transfer student applications and deposits are below those of 2019; the best assessment right now is that we may not reach our (ambitious) target, but will come closer than we thought we would a month ago. First-year and transfer applications are still coming in, and the roughly one-month lag in applicant behavior gives us further reason to hold out hope.

Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence. It is always rewarding to announce each year’s recipients of the Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence, and it’s a special pleasure to celebrate during this pandemic. Please join me in congratulating each of these colleagues for their selection as this year’s awardees. You can learn more about the accomplishments and contributions of each awardee in an upcoming Daily Digest. We hope to have in-person meetings of the academic and professional faculty and the classified staff in the fall, and will present these awards at the first opportunity:

  • Anne Balant, Associate Professor, Communication Disorders, Excellence in Faculty Service
  • Jeannie Barreto, Office Assistant, Student Financial Services, Excellence in Classified Service
  • Greg Bray, Associate Professor, Digital Media and Journalism, Excellence in Teaching
  • Lisa Mitten, Campus Sustainability Coordinator, Excellence in Professional Service
  • Akira Shimada, Associate Professor, History and Director, Asian Studies, Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activities
  • Justin Shumway, Assistant Director of Digital Media, Office of Communication and Marketing, Excellence in Professional Service
  • Hamilton Stapell, Associate Professor and Department Chair, History, Excellence in Teaching
  • Beth Mugler Vargas, Executive Director, Center for International Programs, Excellence in Professional Service

Middle States Reaccreditation Review. We (Interim Provost Barbara Lyman, Associate Provost Laurel M. Garrick Duhaney, and I) received the Middle States review team’s draft report on April 7 and offered several items of feedback. The final report was posted on the Middle States website on April 23 and we share it here.  The key findings, collegial advice, recommendations, and recognitions parallel those that I reported to you as “preliminary” following the site visit (see email of March 29, 9:10 a.m.). Overall, the report is extremely positive, with team assessments that we appear to meet the requirements for each of the seven Standards; no “Requirements” (in effect, no mandatory changes to remain accredited); and at least one “Recognition of Accomplishment, Progress, or Exemplary/Innovative Practice for each Standard. The “Collegial Advice” and “Recommendations” of the team report will provide useful guidance for us in our ongoing planning and improvement. Several of the recommendations addressed defining learning outcomes and the assessment of student learning. It remains to be seen how guidance on such matters will be reflected in the official Middle States Commission reaccreditation findings that we will receive in late June.

Campus presidents have the option to respond to the Middle States president about findings we disagree with. Although our overall report is highly positive, after consultation with Drs. Lyman and Garrick Duhaney, I responded to two major items:

  • Standard III Recommendation: The institution should provide further evidence of coherent student learning experiences appropriate to the credential levels offered; specifically, the institution should develop a comprehensive academic plan that can organize the Academy.

Our response was that, as indicated in the self-study, we have begun developing a process to develop an academic master plan; that it is not clear what guidance is being given here; and that the phraseology of “organize the academy” is puzzling because it implies that we are not organized, which is at odds with the many positive findings of the Report.

  • Standard V finding: The Associate Provost and Associate Deans identified that they have focused on assessing general education goals related to information management and critical thinking.

We responded to ensure that the Commission understands that we assess the full array of General Education (GE) knowledge and skills – not only the two GE competencies of Critical Thinking (CT) and Information Management (IM). Our self-study was clear that New Paltz has assessed the 10 GE knowledge and skills and the two competencies for more than 10 years. With recent GE program revisions, the faculty voted to assess the CT and IM competencies within the majors at the introductory, intermediate, and capstone levels; previously, these GE competencies were assessed as part of the GE program and not within majors. The possible conclusion that we assess only two GE learning outcome areas when we have consistently assessed 10 such knowledge and skill areas and two competencies for over 10 years does not reflect our practices.

Commencement. As you likely have read, we are planning a series of smaller, shorter, outdoor ceremonies that will give our graduates the opportunity to have their degrees formally conferred, to be recognized, cross the stage, and be photographed – while remaining within New York State gathering-size guidelines, maintaining social distance, and mask wearing. Interim Provost Lyman and I will preside at each event and I will confer graduates’ degrees. There will be no processional and graduates will be called up to the stage in marked, socially distant rows, and faculty, staff and student marshals will help maintain distance. After receiving their diploma covers, students will be directed to exit the Quad and staff will support their safe departure along the way. No audience members will be allowed. Each ceremony will be live-streamed for family and friends, and for graduates who are unable to attend. Every student eligible to graduate this May will have an opportunity to submit their name and photo for inclusion in a virtual Commencement slideshow.

Ceremonies for 2021 graduates will be Fri. May 14, Sat. May 15, and Sun. May 16, and for 2020 graduates Sat. May 21 and Sun. May 22.

Because faculty will not be seated on the Old Main Quad as in previous years, we encourage faculty and staff participation as marshals in safe, socially distanced, outdoor roles. Your presence at these events means a lot to our graduates. We are especially in need of marshals for ceremonies on Sun. May 16 and for the May 21-22 events. You can learn more including how to sign up to volunteer here.

Even more so than my usual end-of-year parting words, I wish everyone a healthy, restful, and restorative summer as we move into a new academic year and a hopefully easier phase of this pandemic. Be well and safe, and I look forward to seeing you in person in the fall – even if we have to be masked!


Donald P. Christian