President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

Nov. 1, 2021 (in advance of Nov. 3 Faculty Senate Meeting)

Table of Contents:

COVID-19 Management and Case Trajectory – Active cases have been in the single digits for several weeks; positive rate for 967 on-campus tests last week is 0.1%; testing will be available and encouraged before and after Thanksgiving travel.

Budget – Brief update on budget planning process, priorities submitted to SUNY for increased state support.

Prospective Student Open House – Participation in last weekend’s Open House was strong and mood very positive; thank you to all who supported this critical recruitment event.

Continued Fund-raising Success – In the first one-third of the fiscal year, Foundation has raised more than $3.7 million, including several bequest intentions, compared with an annual average of more than $3 million raised during our successful campaign.

Alumni Reunion – Multiple virtual and in-person events held Oct. 15-17; positive spirit and alumni pride in their alma mater evident.

Presidential Search Website – For all information about the status and progress of the search.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council – New name for the Council to reflect importance of focus on “equity.”

Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Conversation – Faculty and staff encouraged to join student-led Community Conversation: Asian Hate in America, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Purpose is to create a safe space for students to share their stories and experiences. Background information here (link), WebEx here.

Campus Sexual Assault – Information on campus services for survivors of sexual assault and Title IX processes; conversation pending to address student petition about reporting.

Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce – I will speak at the Chamber breakfast on Nov. 17, focused on the College’s many positive impacts in the Hudson Valley, connections to Dutchess County, and indicators of our high quality and reputation.

State University Police Commissioner Swearing-In Ceremony – Former New Paltz UPD Chief Mary Ritayik sworn in as Commissioner, including excerpts from her speech about the special nature of university policing.

Distinguished Speaker Series Presentation – Dr. Darnisa Amante-Jackson will speak on “The Culture of DEI: Creating and Manifesting Belonging,” Wednesday, Nov. 10, 5 p.m. Registration information here

COVID-19 Management and Case Trajectory. Our count of active cases has been in the single digits the past several weeks. Today we have only 2 student and 1 employee active cases, and our latest seven-day positivity rate is 0.1% for 967 on-campus tests. Testing will be available for students and employees who want to be assured that they are negative before traveling to be with family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, and everyone is encouraged to test when they return to campus to complete the semester.

The number of students ultimately disenrolled for non-compliance with the SUNY vaccine mandate was 7.

Budget. Vice presidents, Academic Affairs and College budget officers, and academic deans have been meeting to work toward a 5% reduction in expenditures for the current year, along with concrete actions to increase both undergraduate and graduate enrollment. The goal is to bring revenue and expenditures into balance in the next 2.5-3 years.  As we have shared, we can achieve a significant portion of this reduction by holding vacant positions open.

SUNY has begun planning our advocacy for increased state support. Presidents were asked to submit funding priorities to inform SUNY’s budget request to New York State.  I provided the following:

  1. We need increased operating support.  Our direct taxpayer support of $15.99 million is nearly identical to that of 2013 and the Board of Trustees has frozen tuition, despite state-negotiated salary increases, inflationary and contractual increases, and new technology and other increased demands in the past eight years. In the past, those increased costs were covered by tuition increases and in some instances by reducing or eliminating services. The argument is compelling that increased direct taxpayer support is essential to keep tuition affordable for the students who it is our mission to educate while sustaining quality. It is important that budget officials and policy makers know that widely reported SUNY enrollment declines are far from even across the campuses; many campuses have not experienced the dramatic enrollment losses that have attracted press and policymaker attention. Campuses like New Paltz, which experienced only a 4.8% dip, still have many students to educate and support.
  2. We need a funded geographic differential for New Paltz, which finds itself in an increasingly costly region to live and work. As examples, a salary of $70,000-$75,000 is needed to achieve the same standard of living in New Paltz as a $50K salary in Oswego, Cortland, Plattsburgh, Buffalo, or Syracuse. It is increasingly challenging for us to recruit and retain faculty and professional staff and administrators because of the cost of living here and the salaries we can afford to pay.
  3. We need funding for all salary increases, which are negotiated at the state level.
  4. Unless direct taxpayer support (or, less desirably, tuition) is increased, we need support from SUNY and the Trustees for modest fee increases to sustain and grow student services and support.
  5. We need recurring programmatic support for student mental health needs. The recent one-time funds are helpful, but don’t support the necessary funding to hire additional counselor staff.

We submitted a separate $203 million capital request to address the constraint that aging infrastructure and our significantly smaller footprint than other campuses place on our offerings. The SUNY budget request will be developed over the next few months, in advance of the Governor’s Executive Budget release, in January, and subsequent legislative consideration of funding for SUNY.

Prospective Student Open House. Despite the rain and overcast skies, last Saturday’s Open House was a great success. We reduced the event’s capacity to allow for social distancing. All 2,000 available spots were filled, including 170 prospective students who registered to attend the Graduate portion of the event – the most ever for any Graduate recruitment event. The reduced density and the use of multiple venues beyond the Athletic and Wellness Center (our traditional focus) seemed to make visitors comfortable, engaged, and highly interactive. I was impressed with the research that students and parents had done to learn about our offerings, their broad array of interests in our majors and areas of study, and the diverse geographic regions represented by these prospective students.

Thank you to the faculty, staff, departments, and current students who met in person with prospective students and parents to help them understand all that New Paltz has to offer. Many commented to me that being able to visit the campus and sense the campus personality made such a difference to them compared with solely virtual connections at other institutions.  We are hopeful that this in-person effort will pay big dividends in our recruitment efforts.

Continued Fund-raising Success.  I wrote last month about the celebration of our successful first-ever fund-raising campaign, which raised $24.7 million. That campaign began with a three-year “major gift initiative” in which we sought to raise at least $3 million each year, doubling our previous average annual fund-raising success. The success in reaching that annual target was continued each of the next four years to complete the campaign.  I am excited to share that, even though our campaign has ended, we have raised more than $3.7 million in the first one-third of this fiscal year.  That total, as with the campaign, includes several bequest intentions that will not be realized until the donor passes away.

This continuing post-campaign success no doubt reflects relationships begun and nurtured over many years, as well as new structures and processes put in place in response to our 2012 fund-raising feasibility study and through essential initiatives of our strategic plan. We also believe that the pandemic has prompted many people to think differently about their legacies, including philanthropy and the causes and initiatives they value, something that has benefitted New Paltz efforts.

Alumni Reunion – We held our on-campus alumni reunion Friday, Oct.15-Sunday, Oct. 17. Some alumni chose to take advantage of virtual options for some events, which meant that the on-campus presence was lower than we hoped.  But the mood and level of engagement were bright, happy and inspiring. I gave a scaled back version of my “State of the College” address emphasizing key elements of our progress these past dozen years – focused on inspiring confidence and reducing anxiety about the future and about attracting a top-notch next president.

Alumni in attendance seemed especially taken by our latest U.S. News and World Report college rankings, reported earlier this fall. I shared that I hope our progress makes alumni proud, and that they also recognize that as our reputation has grown, so has the way the world perceives the value of their New Paltz education. To that point, during the Q&A, a 1981 alumna shared that for many years after she graduated she did not share that her degree is from SUNY New Paltz. As she has seen how the school has progressed in recent years, she is now PROUD to share that New Paltz is her alma mater. That was a really nice affirmation of the kind of impact that our collective hard work and progress is having on our alumni and others!

Presidential Search Website. I want to be sure all are aware of the website (also accessible at the very top of the College’s homepage) that is the best source of information about the presidential search.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. I have whole-heartedly endorsed and approved the request from its members to rename the Diversity & Inclusion Council. I agree with the Council’s rationale that equity must be at the heart of this critical work and be reflected in the name. The new name will be used moving forward, but the earlier name will be retained on historical and archival materials.  I will take this opportunity to thank members of the DEI Council and each of the school-based working groups for their continued efforts in helping us move closer to the kind of community we want to be.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Conversations. Student leaders of the Asian and Pacific Island Student Alliance (APISA), with support from Student Affairs and the Asian Studies Program, have organized a virtual event titled Community Conversation: Asian Hate in America, Wednesday, November 3, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Faculty and staff are encouraged to join in (WebEx link here). The students have asked that this be a safe space for them to share their personal stories and experiences without anticipating a response to their commentary.  I and other College leaders will be there to listen. Three Asian Studies faculty will be present to support students, but students will take the lead overall.

This session grew out of a conversation that campus leaders, student and faculty governance leaders, and several faculty had last spring with APISA members, followed by a subsequent discussion earlier this fall.  These conversations were spurred by a letter from APISA to New Paltz faculty about their experiences on campus and their desire to be seen and heard, motivated in part by the violent deaths of six Asian women and two others in Atlanta in March 2021.  I encourage all to join this important listening opportunity.

Campus Sexual Assault. Sexual assault is a scourge on college campuses across the country, and we continue to work to educate the entire campus community about affirmative consent and equity of processes. We support reporting and offer supportive resources through a trauma-informed and survivor-centered approach. This is an issue I have cared about throughout my presidency, ever since we worked to improve existing practices and develop new ones in response to the “Dear Colleague” letter about sexual misconduct sent to campus presidents from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education April 2011 (when I was interim president). I represented a national higher education organization at a 2014 White House forum on campus sexual assault and sexual violence with then-Vice President Biden. We formed a Title IX working group in 2016 and re-defined its work in 2018, to assure strong working relationships between Title IX and student conduct personnel in responding to student sexual assault and sexual misconduct. In contrast to many other campuses of our size, we have two Title IX coordinators available to respond to concerns and guide appropriate responses.  Title IX Coordinator Emma Morcone is part of a SUNY-wide group that shares best practices and professional development for Title IX practitioners.

Title IX offers protections across a range of issues, including gender equity in educational and workplace resources, non-discrimination of gender identity, support for pregnancy status and, of course, sexual assault. Under Title IX, the College has the responsibility to hear and provide processes to all of these issues. In the cases involving sexual assault, we must provide a space for students whether or not what they report occurred on campus and whether or not they involve students or employees.  These are important nuances, as many students come to the Title IX office to report sexual assault or experiences of sexual misconduct that occurred before ever becoming a student, but this may be the first time and the safest conditions under which a student seeks support. Support structures are driven by the survivor and informed by law. It is a combination of the facts of a report and the individual’s choice that drive whether there are formal or judicial redress or support is provided outside of those options. In all circumstances and regardless of whether an outcome meets the expectations of those involved, our practice is to support a culture of reporting, support for the survivor and equity of process.

Although it is not related to student-on-student sexual misconduct, it was out of concern for student safety and well-being that I undertook a process, along with faculty governance leaders and others, in 2016-17 to establish a consensual relations policy that bars sexual or romantic relationships between an employee and a student when a power differential exists.

I share this background to assure the campus community of my commitments, and to counter a conflicting impression that may have been created by reports of a recent “Hot Chocolate with the Presidents” session at which I engaged with members of a student group, “New Paltz Accountability,” concerned with the state of sexual assault on campus. One of the members, accusing the campus of deliberately withholding information or under-reporting cases, challenged me to support and sign a petition about our reporting of sexual assault and sexual violence. Not having seen the petition or knowing any of its content, I declined in the moment to do so.  I tried to explain that it can be confusing because of different reporting requirements for NYS law 129B, federal Title IX, and Cleary Act. An Oracle article states that I “refused to answer questions and concerns raised by members” of this group and quotes one of its members as accusing me of silencing them and survivors. Far from it, the reality is that any conversation about sexual assault is a nuanced and serious matter and is not served fully or well in a sound bite or within that setting.  I did not see myself as the right person to answer those questions more specifically than I had, why, as reported by the Oracle, “I requested the student present his petition so that we can determine who are the best college administrators to respond to his questions.”

We have a meeting scheduled with this student group to listen and where possible to respond to their concerns and questions. I will attend, along with Title IX and student conduct experts. I believe this will be a more productive and hopefully enlightening conversation for these concerned students.

Relationship Building – Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce.  I have shared that one of my priorities for the year is to maintain existing relationships and build new ones that will support the College’s success after I retire. That includes individual relationships as well as connections with regional organizations. It is in that spirit that I will speak at a breakfast meeting of the Dutchess Chamber on Wednesday, Nov. 17. As in my three previous presentations to these business and civic leaders, I will emphasize the role that SUNY New Paltz plays as an educational, cultural, and civic “anchor institution” in the Hudson Valley; our business, student, employee, and alumni connections to Dutchess County; the high caliber of our educational offerings; our economic impact; and our close ties to Dutchess Community College.

State University Police Commissioner Swearing-In Ceremony.  Vice President Stephanie Blaisdell emceed and I spoke at last week’s swearing-in ceremony for former New Paltz UPD Chief Mary Ritayik as the State University Police Commissioner. VP for Communication and Chief of Staff Shelly Wright, who worked closely with Mary on our campus, was present as well, along with several UPD members. Mary was the first woman to serve as Chief of New Paltz UPD, one of only three women in that role at the time, and she is the first woman to be appointed Commissioner. I found the following elements of her speech especially compelling and wanted to share them, as they reinforce for me the unique and valuable contributions of University Police on our campus:

On the importance of role models:  I started my career in university policing 23 years ago at SUNY Purchase. I was fortunate enough to have a female field training officer, as well as a female lieutenant supervisor. When I transferred to New Paltz, again, I worked with other female officers, a supervisor, and a female investigator. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized how much of an impact that had on how I envisioned my future career aspirations. I am forever indebted to the women who have broken those glass ceilings before me, paving that path for women like myself to achieve positions like this today.

On the special nature of University policing:  …I liked the way things were done in university policing. It was different, unique, and things were done far ahead of what we see being done today in law enforcement. Community policing is the backbone of what we do each and every day, and have been doing for decades. We trained ourselves in mental health awareness, fair and impartial policing, and techniques of de-escalation far before they became required courses of instruction mandated for all police agencies. We saw a need for these on our campuses and worked with our communities to better understand the problems our students were facing. Problems that continually change from generation to generation over time. It was these experiences and how university policing approached them that made me decide this is where I want to stay.

University police officers serve a different clientele that has an educational mission. We provide that safety and security so that mission is achieved. Whether it be for a student, faculty, staff, parent, or alum. Our role on that campus is to provide that protection, but we as officers also have a role in that educational mission. Maybe not in the classroom, but in how we help these young individuals mature into responsible adults. Having the ability to help divert someone and send them down the right path is a great feeling. In addition, for some of our students, this is the first time away from home, and perhaps their first time interacting with law enforcement. It is at these critical interactions that we can help determine whether or not someone walks away with a better understanding of what we do or walk away hating cops. A campus is a collaborative environment that lends itself to opportunities to make positive interactions with our communities, build better relationships, and work together with various diverse individuals.

This is one of the most challenging times in law enforcement history, and right now we need to rebuild that police and community trust. We need to do better. It is through these positive interactions, community policing initiatives, and coming to the table to actively listen to what our communities expect of their police department that will help to foster this trust. 

After Mary spoke, I shared with Chancellor Malatras, sitting next to me, that I thought these words capture so well the principles and philosophy that should drive excellent university policing, that guided Mary’s great success in serving within and leading New Paltz UPD, and that she will bring to her new role overseeing all SUNY UPD units.  He agreed, and committed to including her entire speech in the media release about Mary’s appointment.

Distinguished Speaker Series Presentation.  Dr. Darnisa Amante-Jackson will speak on “The Culture of DEI: Creating and Manifesting Belonging” in this fall’s Distinguished Speaker Series, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 5 p.m. (virtual, at her request). Registration information here. Please let students know that the Distinguished Speaker Series is free for them; $10 donations from others are encouraged to supplement the many generous individual and business sponsorships that make this series possible. Further information about Dr. Amante-Jackson may be found here.

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. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.


Donald P. Christian