President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

Oct. 4, 2021 (in advance of Oct. 6 Faculty Senate Meeting)

It is difficult to believe that we have reached week seven of the semester! I’m heartened by the excitement and happiness I see among students, faculty and staff upon their return to campus for an in-person semester. I am grateful for the steadfast effort by faculty and staff to provide high-quality educational experiences to our students while we continue to live with a worldwide pandemic.

Table of Contents:

COVID-19 Management and Case Trajectory – Information below about low case counts as the semester progresses, strong compliance from students to the SUNY mask and vaccine mandates with few students being disenrolled, planning for a pivot, if warranted.

Sojourner Truth Sculpture – Discussions are planned with Black Studies, Women’s Studies, and others on a re-envisioned unveiling for this sculpture in the spring, hopefully in late March, during Women’s History Month and after winter subsides.

Teaching About America’s Racial History – I again encourage faculty and faculty governance to review/reconsider criteria for courses that satisfy the diversity graduation requirement, in the context of pending revisions in general education requirements, noting that this is not something that should fall only on Black Studies

Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Conversations – Conversation has continued with leaders of Asian-Pacific Islander Student Alliance about student experiences here; a student-led conversation is planned for October 20, 6:00 p,m.

Campaign Celebration – We held a joyful celebration on September 23 of this summer’s completion of our first-ever major fund-raising campaign; we raised $24.7 million, exceeding the target of $23 million.

Enrollment – First-year student enrollment is ahead of pre-pandemic times, overall enrollment is down by 4.8%; new strategies are planned to grow enrollment; online Bachelor of General Studies degree completion program has full approval and will be piloted this spring.

President’s Award for Student Excellence – We are introducing a new campus-based awards program to recognize excellence in student achievement, beginning spring semester; details forthcoming.

Parent and Family Weekend – A bright, clear Saturday, Oct. 2, was the perfect setting to welcome parents and family members to campus and speak with them and our students; excitement about the current in-person semester was readily apparent.

Relationship Building – I met recently with Dr. Peter Jordan, new president at Dutchess Community College, and am hosting a series of “President’s Roundtables” this fall – part of my effort to sustain and build relationships that support the College’s future.

Upcoming events – Information below about upcoming campus events.

COVID-19 Management and Case Trajectory. Our overall positivity rate for 7,274 on-campus tests since August is 1.3%, compared with a current 2.9% positivity rate for Ulster County. Our latest weekly positive rate (a new feature on our campus Dashboard) is 0.08% for 1,271 tests.  Today, we have only 4 active student cases and 1 employee case. These are all heartening trends, no doubt supported by our masking and vaccine mandates and other actions, and the commitment of our community members to individual and public health and safety.

The SUNY-wide Covid-19 Case Tracker includes a rolling 14-day total of positive cases by campus and overall for the system; note that by the end of each 14-day period, cases in the earliest days of the period will have recovered and returned to campus. For New Paltz, that rolling total reached a high of 100 cases in mid-September, declined to the 60s and 50s the week of September 20, and from 35 to 13 throughout last week. We begin the week with 11 cases in the past 14 days.

As of today, 96% of students and 78% of employees are vaccinated; 3% of students have sought and received medical or religious exemptions from vaccination, a figure that is on par with other SUNY comprehensive campuses. All unvaccinated individuals, including students with exemptions, must test weekly. We hope you will encourage unvaccinated colleagues and coworkers to get vaccinated to protect their own health and that of the community, and that you support our efforts to ensure compliance of unvaccinated individuals with the testing mandate.

The number of students disenrolled for non-compliance with the SUNY vaccine mandate is less than 20. That number is expected to decline further in the next few days as we continue to work with individual students on technical issues about documentation of vaccination or exemption, and as we comply with an updated SUNY policy to be flexible during a small window of time after the previously announced September 27 deadline for full vaccine compliance.

We hear the continued request for the College to state an a priori criterion of case count or infection rate (or other metric) that would cause us to pivot to new modes of instructional delivery and reduced density in on-campus settings, so that faculty can plan. We understand this value of preparedness. Those requests presume that such a pivot (or “toggle”) would be within the authority of the campus to dictate, but – per current SUNY policy – such a change would be driven by SUNY and by county health officials. Further, such a metric would be of value only if the path and the timeline from the current condition to some future state were predictable or foreseeable at present. That is not the case. One action that individual faculty may take to be prepared should such action become necessary is to gain at least provisional certification to teach remotely. Such training is readily available in Blackboard, and Peer Instructional Design Teacher Mentors stand ready to assist.

Rest assured that campus leadership has been and continues to discuss elements of such a pivot plan that would address remote instruction or reduced density for in-person classes, residence hall policies, adjustments to food service and visitor policies, temporary reduced use of campus-wide spaces and adjustments to events.

Sojourner Truth Sculpture. I hope that everyone has seen the September 16 message that Vice President Erica Marks and I sent to faculty and staff, apologizing for the hurt that we caused by letting our enthusiasm for the gift of a Sojourner Truth sculpture lead us to charge ahead without involving the Black Studies Department and others in planning its unveiling and the commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of naming the Sojourner Truth Library. As you know, we have postponed that ceremony until spring; the sculpture will remain safely in storage. Vice President Marks has met with Interim Department Chair Dr. Weldon McWilliams and is inviting Black Studies and other faculty and student input on a rescheduled event; she and others will meet with the Department of Black Studies in the coming weeks. We have also reached out to Dr. Heather Hewett, Department Chair of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, seeking input from that department, given Truth’s role in the women’s suffrage movement. We are hoping to re-schedule in March, Women’s History Month, after winter subsides. We look forward to a broadly informed, inclusive educational event.

Teaching About America’s Racial History. The September 14 message from the Black Studies Department about the Sojourner Truth sculpture and related topics included a call to action to “make Black Studies as a discipline a central part of SUNY New Paltz students’ educational process”; “mandating training for all faculty”; and “mandating courses in Black Studies and other alternatives…for ALL SUNY New Paltz students.”

That call to action parallels a section from my May 2021 report to the faculty with the same title. In that report, I shared that “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.” I also cited the inspiration I drew from Isabel Wilkerson’s words from 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.” I concluded that “This legacy and its effects deserve to be better understood in the academy and among the students who it seeks to educate.” In my 2021 State of the College address, I encouraged faculty “to more aggressively expand and strengthen our course offerings on America’s racial history and its enduring legacies… [including] reexamining criteria for courses that satisfy the diversity graduation requirement.”

I have been clear that it would be inappropriate to pronounce a mandate for curriculum change from the seat of the Presidency. Curriculum is the primary purview of the faculty. Nonetheless, I urge the collective faculty to pick up the mantle of change that is demanded in the September 14th message. We cannot expect to fulfill our mission to our students or our commitment to antiracism without critical review and meaningful change in the curriculum. The many expressions of support for and solidarity with the Black Studies Department from faculty and academic departments give me hope for more concerted effort on this front. Whether such an effort is to be led by a 15-member commission, as suggested by Black Studies, or by existing curriculum committees, is most appropriately in the domain of faculty governance. Interim Provost Lyman and I will continue our ongoing conversations with faculty governance leaders in support of such efforts.

A revised curriculum and redefined criteria for courses to satisfy a diversity requirement may very well expand the role and profile of the Black Studies Department. But these elements of critical teaching and learning cannot and must not be the sole responsibility of any one department or program; they should be broadly shared across the campus, in content and/or pedagogy. Racism has historically received short shrift in the curriculum when pitted against other “isms” so as educators we must specifically address racism AND be clear that “diversity” can and should embrace many dimensions and intersections.

Of course, such curricular evaluation must consider pending change in General Education, the framework for which has been established although many particulars of implementation still seem to be in considerable flux. Given the complexity of significant curricular change and the time needed for thoughtful analysis, this work may be launched with a primary focus on what we want students to learn, without significant focus on constraints of current staffing in any particular department.

We are continuing mandatory training on implicit bias and on recruiting diverse applicant pools for all search committee members, as well as the rich program of training and professional development launched in January 2020.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Conversations. Also in last May’s report, I shared a conversation that campus, faculty, and student leaders had a few weeks earlier with leaders of the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA). We heard about

  • the experiences of Asian and Asian American students on campus.
  • possible action items including 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.

In recent weeks, several campus leaders, including the President of the Student Association, met (virtually) with APISA leaders to continue our support and response to their concerns. We reported on actions the campus has taken, including several changes in residence life programming, my reporting last May to faculty and staff about these student concerns, and my sharing an Inside Higher Ed article with valuable perspective on steps we all can take to avoid, mitigate, and counter anti-Asian racism as it plays out on college campuses. With these students, we decided to hold an open community conversation about these topics, to be held October 20 at 6 p.m. Campus leadership and Student Association will help support this effort. I hope you will join us.

Campaign Celebration. A joyful event on September 23 in the newly renovated Lecture Center lobby celebrated the completion, last June, of the first-ever major fund-raising campaign in the College’s history. Soaring Higher — The Campaign For SUNY New Paltz raised $24.7 million, surpassing its original $23 million goal. Faculty, staff, students, and donors came together to celebrate our work together.

Looking ahead, the Foundation/Office of Development & Alumni Relations has launched a two-year “bridge” campaign focused on fundraising for scholarships as plans are developed for the next major comprehensive campaign. I look forward to being involved in this effort during the current year and passing it on to my successor as a work-in-progress. An EOP scholarship initiative has launched; campaigns for the Scholars’ Mentorship Program, Black Studies, and a wide range of departments and disciplines will also be developed.

Enrollment. As previously reported, this year’s class of first-year students arrived in higher numbers than we saw even before the pandemic—an encouraging observation as we begin to tackle our strategic enrollment challenges. Nonetheless, overall enrollment this fall is down 4.8% compared to last year, owing in large part to higher rates of non-returners and depressed transfer and graduate recruitment figures. These patterns have been observed nationwide and are lingering impacts of the pandemic. These statistics underscore the importance of our efforts to highlight the campus-based learning experience through programs like campus tours, which we are running with more frequency than before, and our upcoming Open House on October 30.

The Division of Enrollment Management continues to roll out new strategies to increase new student enrollment, focusing on application generation and yield efforts (the portion of accepted students who decide to join us) at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Efforts are also underway to streamline and enhance the work already being done to retain at-risk students during the registration process.

Also, I want to be sure faculty are aware that the online Bachelor of General Studies degree completion program has been fully approved. This program was designed to provide a flexible opportunity for those with at least 60 college credits to more readily earn a baccalaureate degree – precisely the kind of program where online offerings will help us reach students, often working adults, for whom a residential, on-campus learning experience is not readily accessible. This program supports multiple goals, including extending a high-quality New Paltz educational opportunity to citizens that we do not currently serve, and increasing tuition revenue in the process.

President’s Award for Student Excellence. I am pleased to announce the creation of the new “President’s Award for Student Excellence,” a campus-level honor that will be bestowed upon students for the first time during the spring 2022 semester. The President’s Award was created to honor graduating New Paltz students who have demonstrated academic excellence as well as outstanding achievement in other areas of their collegiate careers. The award is not only for those who perform exceptionally in the classroom, but also those who have proven themselves outside the classroom through leadership, community service, campus engagement, or other successes. The nomination must come from a college employee and the first call for nominations will begin this November. This award will stand alongside and independent of the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. Look for more details soon.

Parent and Family Weekend. I enjoyed meeting with current students and their parents and family members at a “Parent and Family Weekend” reception this past Saturday. I also joined in a “New Paltz Generations” ceremony that included a “pinning” of current students by their alumni parents. I know that students and parents joining such events are not a random sample, but I heard enthusiastic praise for campus life this fall, the work of faculty and staff to support and teach students so well, the successful work the campus has been doing to keep COVID-19 under control – and the pleasure of being in person and on campus. Most of those I met are first-year students, and it’s clear that this group has settled in well.

Relationship Building. One of my goals for my final year, as outlined in my State of the College address, is to maintain existing relationships and build new ones that will support the College’s success after I retire. To that end, I met and with the new president of Dutchess Community College (DCC), Dr. Peter Jordan and took him on a tour of our campus. DCC has traditionally been our largest single source of transfer students, and New Paltz has been the biggest destination for DCC students pursuing a bachelor’s degree. President Jordan and I discussed ways to build on those relationships, as well as avenues for us to partner in supporting regional business and industry.

I have also returned this fall to a more normal pace of “President’s Roundtable” offerings, in which an outstanding alum or other successful individual meets with a group of students, discusses their life and career, and engages students in a question-and-answer session (usually lively!). I am always impressed with our students’ questions and interests. In the past, these events have included lunch, but for COVID-19 safety reasons we are foregoing food and beverage for the several on-campus, in-person events being held this fall. Meeting and interacting with students in these Roundtables has proven to be an effective avenue for engaging others in the life of the College, often leading to new or expanded philanthropic support, student internships or employment opportunities, Foundation Board membership, or other positive outcomes.

Upcoming events

  • Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art 20th anniversary Gala, Saturday Oct. 9, 5-7 p.m.
  • Budget Forum, Oct. 13, 1 p.m., LC 100 and livestream. Learn more about our budget, the significant financial challenges the College faces, and steps underway to bring our economy into balance.
  • Bruce Sillner Retirement Event, 14, beginning at 4 p.m. Bruce retired after a 33-year career at SUNY New Paltz, including as the longstanding Dean of International Programs and an influential leader for international education across SUNY and the U.S.
  • John Shupe Retirement Event, Oct. 28, 3 p.m., SUB MPR and Pre-Function Space. John retired this year after a 23-year career at SUNY New Paltz, including 17 years as Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management. He led the largest department on campus and had major influence on the many significant improvements in our grounds and facilities that have dramatically improved the face and function of our campus.
  • An early save-the-date for our Distinguished Speaker Series presentation on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 5 p.m. (virtual). Dr. Darnisa Amante-Jackson will speak on Diversity, Belonging, Inclusion and Equity (specific title forthcoming).

I look forward to joining you at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting and responding to questions you may have about this report or other topics.


Donald P. Christian