Dec. 6, 2021 (in advance of Dec. 8 Faculty Senate Meeting)
I know that we all look forward to wrapping up the semester and to a change of pace during the semester break. Everyone, including our students, is tired, and we have all continued to work through legacies of our and our students’ experiences these past two years. Certainly, dynamics in the world around us contribute to a strong sense of unsettlement. But I have been heartened by and appreciate everyone’s continued dedication to our mission, to our students, and to our campus community. Thank you.
Here I provide updates on recent news and developments.
Table of Contents:
COVID-19 – As we look forward to a spring semester that we hope will be much like this fall, we are following the COVID-19 situation closely; our decisions will factor in the best science and data available and what’s in the best interest of our employees and students. Stay tuned for preliminary spring semester guidance this week, with more complete guidance coming in early January as the new semester approaches.
Budget and Faculty Searches – As our multi-year budget balancing process continues, we are moving ahead with 17 tenure-track faculty searches in the current year, while holding a number of other positions vacant to help close the recurring budget shortfall. Priorities for the approved tenure-track searches are outlined below, along with encouragement not to short-circuit best practices for faculty searches. We will continue to invest strategically at the same time we work to right our economy.
Enrollment Update and Spring Registration – By most measures, spring semester registrations are slightly behind last year. Outreach is underway to non-registered students to identify possible interventions to support these students. Winter session enrollments, like last year, are fairly strong. The picture for fall is encouraging at this early stage.
Dr. Amante-Jackson Distinguished Speaker Series (DSS) presentation – You may listen to and view Dr. Amante-Jackson’s presentation (The Culture of DEI: Creating and Manifesting Belonging) here. Her presentation may be a useful focus for discussion by school-based DEI working groups and departments.
Promotion for Tanhena Pacheco Dunn to Vice President – I am changing Cabinet member Tanhena Pacheco Dunn’s title from “Associate Vice President” to “Vice President” for Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer. This action recognizes the critical role and contributions she has made; better reflects the scope, complexity, and potential liability of the many areas she oversees; and reinforces for my successor the value our campus places on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Gilman Scholarship Top Producer – SUNY New Paltz was one of 80 institutions named a 20-Year Gilman Scholarship Top Producer by the U.S. Department of State, recognizing our exceptional track record of helping students, especially those of low-income, obtain funding to support international learning experiences. We were the top SUNY campus on that list. Further detail about the College’s role in establishing this scholarship program and about our success is outlined below.
COVID-19. The transition from fall to spring allows our community a moment to reflect on how much we’ve accomplished in the fight against COVID-19, even as news of the Omicron variant’s global spread and arrival in multiple states in the U.S. (including New York) reminds us that the pandemic is ever-changing, and we must remain vigilant.
We can look back at the implementation of effective masking, testing, contact tracing, quarantine/isolation and other protocols at SUNY New Paltz. Together, these have consistently helped keep campus cases and testing positivity rates low relative to our region.
More recently, we can take heart in widespread compliance with SUNY and New York State vaccine mandates, and FDA approval of vaccination for children and booster shots for adults, as evidence that we have tools in hand to significantly reduce infection rates and severity of cases when breakthroughs occur.
And we can look forward to a spring semester that we hope will be much like this fall, with students, faculty and staff on campus safely engaging in person, collaborating in and out of class, hosting and attending events together, and leaning on one another for support and guidance in challenging times. Stay tuned for preliminary spring semester guidance this week, with more complete guidance coming in early January as the new semester approaches.
As we have done to date, we are following the COVID-19 situation closely, and our decisions will factor in the best science and data we have available and what’s in the best interest of our employees and students.
Budget and Faculty Searches. I want to reiterate and reinforce key points about our budget process shared by Interim Provost Lyman in her report last week. We are engaged in a process of reducing expenditures and taking action to increase undergraduate and graduate enrollment. Our aim is to bring revenue and expenditures into balance in the next 2.5-3 years, relying heavily on holding many vacant positions open or repurposing those lines.
Nonetheless, 17 tenure-track faculty searches have been approved for the current year – while a few other academic positions are being held vacant to help close the recurring budget shortfall. The positions prioritized for faculty searches:
- protect program accreditation;
- help launch new academic programs that show promise for growing enrollment, including the bachelor’s in general studies now approved as a fully online completion degree;
- ensure that departments can sustain required program offerings;
- and sustain successes in increasing faculty diversity.
There is no reason at this time to be concerned that any of these approved searches is in jeopardy, or that regular, thoughtful search processes should be short-circuited to rush a search to completion. Hiring new colleagues (and retaining them) is arguably the most important investment we make in the long-term welfare of our programs, and we want to take time to do this right.
Of course, this is not to diminish the financial challenges that we face and must address through careful stewardship of resources in all divisions. But it is important not to lose sight of the fact that we will continue to invest, strategically and thoughtfully, even as we are working to right our economy.
Enrollment Update and Spring Registration. Spring semester 2022 registration is off to a slow start and our numbers are lagging slightly behind last year. Deans have been encouraged to engage departments to reach out to current students who are not yet registered to identify issues and barriers that we might help students navigate. We are conducting our usual survey of students who have not yet registered and are employing more fulsome outreach to identify possible interventions to support these students in continuing their education. Winter session enrollments are on par with last year’s strong numbers, a positive outcome.
The picture for fall is encouraging at this early stage. We have seen strong interest, and we are being more aggressive with our strategy for admitting students than in the past. The first round of decisions to be released on Dec. 15 will include at least 1,000 more accepts than we’ve had at this point in each of the last 2 years. In the past many of these applicants were placed on a waiting list and later admitted, so we do not expect this strategy to have a notable impact on academic preparation of our incoming class. Transfer numbers remain about the same as last year; given declining enrollment trends at community colleges since the pandemic hit, that is probably as positive an outcome as we can expect.
Dr. Amante-Jackson Distinguished Speaker Series (DSS) presentation. Last month’s DSS presentation by racial equity strategist and educator Dr. Darnisa Amante-Jackson was extremely impactful and inspiring. Nearly 300 people logged into The Culture of DEI: Creating and Manifesting Belonging. Dr. Amante-Jackson’s work has inspired transformative restructuring of organizational cultures in both public and private sectors; her talk was directed at deepening our understanding of actions and our commitments to become an anti-racist campus. You may listen to and view her entire presentation here. I encourage school-based DEI working groups and departments to consider viewing Dr. Amante-Jackson’s talk and discussing implications for our individual and collective DEI and anti-racist efforts. Thanks to the SUNY New Paltz Foundation for securing donations and sponsorships to make this presentation possible.
Promotion for Tanhena Pacheco Dunn to Vice President. Effective January 1, 2022, I am changing Cabinet member Tanhena Pacheco Dunn’s title from “Associate Vice President” to “Vice President” for Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer. This promotion is a testament to the critical role and contributions Ms. Pacheco Dunn has made to the institution since her arrival in 2012 and will continue making in our organizational development and toward our goals of inclusivity. It also reflects the scope, complexity, and potential liability of the many areas she and employees in her unit manage. This decision also symbolizes for my successor a leadership team structure and officer titles/rank that are consistent with the value our campus places on diversity, equity, and inclusion and on supporting those who work to improve our campus culture.
Ms. Dunn joined the College almost nine years ago as our first executive director of compliance and campus climate, including oversight of Title IX. She was appointed Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) in 2016. Later that year, we formed a new, integrated Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion unit that she has led as Associate Vice President. For several years in those roles, Ms. Dunn attended President’s Cabinet meetings when the agenda included issues with DEI and HR relevance. It became clear that her expertise and role were relevant to so many of our decisions and actions that in 2017 I appointed her as a standing member of the Cabinet. This promotion is a natural next step in positioning and valuing her work and contributions to our campus climate and in reinforcing our commitment to continuous improvement. Please join me in congratulating her on this well-deserved career achievement.
Gilman Scholarship Top Producer. I’m particularly proud that SUNY New Paltz has been named a 20-Year Gilman Scholarship Top Producer by the U.S. Department of State, an honor reserved for colleges and universities that have an exceptional track record of helping students obtain funding to support international learning experiences.
The U.S. Department of State published this exclusive list of 80 institutions for the 20th anniversary of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, which helps fund study abroad and other educational experiences for outstanding students of limited financial means.
More than 100 New Paltz students have received the Gilman Scholarship to support study abroad since it was created 20 years ago, significantly higher than any other SUNY school (Stone Brook is next with 59).
Many of those students are also enrolled in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), thanks to an award-winning collaboration between EOP and the Center for International Programs (CIP) to create study abroad opportunities for students who traditionally have limited access these kinds of experiences. This collaboration was the basis for the College’s 2015 receipt of the Heiskell Study Abroad Award from the Institute for International Education.
Some of you may not know that the College was instrumental in developing the federal legislation that created the Gilman Scholarship in 2001. Former President Roger Bowen and Bruce Sillner, the now-retired founding dean of the Center for International Programs at New Paltz, worked closely with the late Congressman Benjamin Gilman to support the creation of this federal funding resource to help Americans study abroad.
I wish everyone a successful close to the semester, and a safe, happy, and restorative holiday season in the company of friends, family, and colleagues.
I will be available to respond briefly to questions and comments at this week’s Faculty meeting.
Donald P. Christian