President’s Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

Jan. 31, 2022 (in advance of Feb. 2 Faculty Senate Meeting)

I hope your first days of the new semester are off to a good start. Some of you taught during winter session, many were working on research and scholarly or creative activities, and all were no doubt preparing in different ways for the new semester. With all that, I hope you found time for rest, rejuvenation, and being with family and friends. I will reiterate my admiration and respect for your dedication to our students and our mission, under trying conditions and as we adapt to a changing higher education world. I wish you all the best for a successful, rewarding, and safe semester.

Here I provide updates on recent news and developments.

Table of Contents:

State of the State and Executive Budget – Gov. Hochul’s State of the State address (Jan. 5) outlined an ambitious vision for SUNY and higher education, and her Jan. 18 Executive Budget was the most favorable to SUNY in decades. Key elements outlined below.

Enrollment Update – Spring semester enrollment is down about 4%, paralleling drops seen at most other institutions; new student deposits for fall semester are up 19-25% over the past two years, reflecting strong interest in our campus and use of new tools and approaches.

Presidential Search – A reminder of recent presidential search update and encouragement to participate in on-campus interviews and provide survey feedback.

COVID – A summary of current policies and mandates; indoor mask mandate remains in effect, positivity rate for on-campus tests is low.

Black Studies Relocation – Plans are being refined for early-summer relocation of Black Studies Department to Old Main; thanks to all who collaborated in developing this plan.

Contemplative Space Status and Next Steps – Initial construction of contemplative space (an outgrowth of building renaming project) is completed. Further consultation this spring will inform interpretative signage, website content, and a future dedication ceremony.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Jan. 27, a reminder of increased importance of remembrance at a time of growing antisemitism, the influence of fake news, and willingness to deny or distort history.

Campus Response to Sexual Assault –An ongoing commitment – An update on recent efforts to help students understand myths, truths, and misperceptions about Title IX, and context for a new annual data report to support that goal.

Upcoming Events – With Black History Month starting tomorrow, I hope you’ll participate in offerings from Black Lives Matter @ School chapter at SUNY New Paltz, the Dr. AJ Williams-Myers Black History Month Lectures organized by the Black Studies Department, and the Student Association’s  Black History Month Film Series held in Lecture Center 100 at 7 p.m. every Wednesday in February.

State of the State and Executive Budget. In her Jan. 5 State of the State address, Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined her ambitious vision to transform the SUNY System and higher education in New York. Her proposal and its component pieces – more than 100 initiatives that directly or indirectly reference or impact the SUNY System – represent the most significant investment in SUNY and postsecondary education in more than two decades. You may find a synopsis of key elements of her vision for rebuilding New York’s teacher workforce and reimagining SUNY here, view the full address here, and learn more about details of her vision in the State of the State Book (education material begin on p. 169). Elements of her vision that have attracted considerable early attention are the proposal to transform Stony Brook and Buffalo into global research institutions, to revitalize Albany and Binghamton as nation-leading research and teaching universities, and to “grow enrollment through developing institutional specialization.” She referred to building on the strengths of all parts of the SUNY system; the comprehensive sector presidents are meeting to discuss actions we can take to best position our sector for continued strength and success as part of the Governor’s vision.

The Governor’s Executive Budget released on Jan. 18 is consistent with those aspirational goals and is one of the most favorable in years. While many are familiar with the New York State Budget process and timeline, it is worth a reminder that the Executive Budget is a starting point, and there is a long road ahead before the enacted, final budget is achieved. It will be important for the system and each campus to stay focused in our messaging and engagement to realize the full potential of her proposals.

Key elements of the Executive Budget include:

  • Full support of all funding provided in the 21/22 Enacted Budget with no reductions (relevant because in some recent years funding has been cut from the previous year’s budget);
  • Support for the hiring of additional full-time faculty at state-operated campuses and community colleges;
  • Full elimination of the “TAP Gap” in 22/23, as opposed to the multi-year phase-in included in the 21/22 Enacted Budget;
  • Readjusted tuition rates for Excelsior Scholarship recipients. Tuition rate would be set to current year (up from 2016-17 rate), leading to more campus revenue;
  • Additional capital funding to support new construction and critical maintenance;
  • A 100 percent funding floor for the community colleges, as well as flat per-student funding which provides a solid base during legislative negotiations;
  • Establish a large-scale part-time TAP program, as well as reinstate TAP eligibility for incarcerated individuals;
  • Full support for state-operated campus employee benefits and debt service costs;
  • Large-scale investments in the opportunity programs of approximately 10 percent;
  • $10.8M in new, one-time, direct state tax support for the expansion of childcare centers across SUNY;
  • Reform of the academic program review process; and
  • Provide for a maximum one-time bonus of up-to $3,000 for health and mental hygiene workers that earn up to $100,000 annually.

The “TAP Gap” elimination is significant: the maximum TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) award has been less than full tuition for several years – creating a funding “gap” that must be absorbed in the campus budget. For New Paltz, this gap has been about $2.5-3 million each year. Last year’s State budget included a five-year plan to eliminate the gap – increasing the TAP award to equal tuition; the executive budget includes an increase of $48.8 million for the SUNY system that would eliminate the entire gap in one year.

I know the question has been raised of why we continue our plans and actions to reduce expenditures and balance our budget when a funding increase is possible. The answer is several-fold, including:

  • we have a pre-existing budget deficit and eliminating the TAP gap will not fully cover it;
  • we have ongoing inflationary and other cost increases to account for;
  • our enrollment and tuition revenue have not fully recovered from pandemic impacts (see next section);
  • the trustees have held tuition rates flat for at least the next two years;
  • the Executive Budget does not include increased funding for state-negotiated salary increases.

Even with increased state support, we must continue to identify ways to reduce expenditures and increase revenue to create resources for investing in future priorities.

But make no mistake: the governor’s proposed increases in funding for SUNY are welcome, ambitious, and will have an enormous positive impact on our financial future if realized in the final budget adopted by the legislature. Her proposals create an opportunity for SUNY to meet the challenges of being 21st century educational leaders in a new era. We have already begun our conversations with elected officials to advocate for strong support for increased SUNY funding, and for the educational, economic, and civic role that SUNY New Paltz plays in the Hudson Valley and beyond.

Enrollment Update. Across the nation, postsecondary enrollments continue to decline under the weight of the pandemic. Although our drop in enrollment has been less precipitous than other institutions, our downward trend continues this spring, with 4% fewer students enrolled compared to last spring. Attrition of continuing students, followed by fewer new graduate students, accounts for most of this enrollment shortfall; new undergraduate transfer students enrolled this spring at similar rates to previous years.

As many of you have experienced working firsthand with our students, many are taxed by the pandemic, in different ways. The Division of Enrollment Management, together with Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, has continued outreach to engage and retain our students in new and innovative ways, with some successes.

Looking ahead to the fall, interest in SUNY New Paltz remains high. Deposits for first-year fall 2022 enrollment are up 19% compared to last year and nearly 25% compared to 2020 (note: these are all pandemic-era comparisons). These encouraging trends are evidence of the positive impacts of the hard work the entire campus community pours into recruiting our next class of engaged students, and the investments and strategic new initiatives that Enrollment Management is making to increase yield (i.e., the percentage of accepted students who make deposits).

Presidential Search. Last week you received an update about the presidential search and upcoming interviews. I strongly encourage everyone to participate in the search, to attend candidate open forums, and to share your impressions and insights through the surveys after each candidate visit to inform search committee deliberations. I will meet with each finalist candidate, and regard my primary role to be a “cheerleader” for SUNY New Paltz, our wonderful academic community, our amazing students and other attractions of this outstanding leadership opportunity.

COVID. Please see my welcoming message of last week for an early assessment of COVID-19 conditions at the start of the semester, including the reduced threat of the Omicron variant compared with earlier in the pandemic, the early (cautious) projections that we may be at or near a turning point, and a synopsis of mandates and recommendations in place to safeguard our community (a good summary if your students are uncertain!; see also here).

Here is an update on COVID-related developments last week that will be of interest: The Ulster County-led booster clinic on Jan. 24 (with options for boosting Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J vaccines) was wildly successful, serving nearly 350 students, employees, and community members. Our compliance rate for booster-eligible students that day was 72% and on Friday, Jan. 28, it had grown to 78%.

Our testing partner Enzo agreed last week to add more testing appointments to fulfill the requirement to test during the first week upon return to campus. Enzo has been immensely professional and cooperative, including offering to house testing staff overnight in New Paltz last week to serve our needs (avoiding weather and traffic issues with morning commutes from Long Island). We could not be more pleased with their partnership, and it’s rewarding to know that judgment is mutual. The State-run community testing site in the Terrace provided additional testing opportunities.

At the end of last week, the positivity rate for on-campus tests was 2.2%, a small fraction of the overall rate for Ulster County.

The SUNY indoor mask mandate remains in effect, despite a New York State judge overturning Gov. Hochul’s statewide mandate. That ruling was promptly appealed and a stay was granted. SUNY has made clear that campuses are to continue enforcing this mandate.

Black Studies Relocation. As announced last week, we have developed a plan to relocate the Black Studies Department out of the Faculty Office Building (FOB) and into a new home in Old Main. Implementation will begin this semester with the goal of having Black Studies in its new location in early summer, along with other offices being relocated (Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance; Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities; and one academic advisor). I am deeply grateful for the grace, cooperation, and generosity of those units being relocated; all recognized the significance of finding new space for Black Studies. This project came together because of collaboration among the Black Studies Department, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Provost’s Office, and Facilities Design and Construction. Prompt assessment by Records and Registration of the potential for Black Studies courses to be taught in Old Main was beneficial in moving this project along.

Contemplative Space Status and Next Steps. If you’ve driven or walked along Pond Road recently, you have seen that the blue construction fencing around the future home of the Contemplative Space is down and the pocket park is taking shape. The Contemplative Space was recommended in 2018 by the College’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council in its Hasbrouck Building Complex Renaming Dialogue Report and Recommendation. The renaming was not an effort to erase history, but of historical reconciliation, to tell a more complete and inclusive local history that will be sustained in the consciousness of our community. Our hope is that this space will encourage people to learn about our renaming process as well as the Huguenot immigrants whose descendents are credited with the early establishment of the college while also reflecting on the often-silenced history and contributions of the enslaved Africans and indigenous peoples and their descendants.

A Contemplative Space Working Group of faculty, staff, students and alumni prepared a thoughtful analysis and recommendations in 2019 about what should be incorporated into this space and key elements requiring attention in its design and content. Progress on the installation was delayed considerably by the pandemic.

This spring, we will be reaching out to the DEI Council, the Contemplative Space Working Group, Historic Huguenot Street, the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe and the Department of Black Studies to consult and seek guidance on interpretive signage and website content as well as how best to include and appropriately recognize all three groups in a future dedication ceremony.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This International Day of Remembrance and Mourning was Thursday, Jan. 27, marking the date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in 1945. Six million Jews, and millions of Roma, Sinti, Slavs, disabled persons, LGBTQ+ individuals, and political dissidents were systematically and ruthlessly murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

The importance of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust is perhaps more urgent than ever before. Antisemitism is increasingly bold and widespread across the globe. A study released last fall by the American Jewish Committee found that nearly one in four American Jewish people have been the subject of antisemitism over the past year, a figure that should trouble all Americans. Our campus was touched directly by the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last month, four congregants were held hostage at a Fort Worth synagogue. The list goes on and on.

Last month, a school board in Tennessee banned the teaching of Art Spiegelman’s Maus in its middle School. This is a highly acclaimed graphic novel (the first such novel to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize) that tells the story of the Holocaust by depicting Jewish people as mice and the Germans as cats. This article includes a link to the school board minutes and reports on the offer of a Davidson College professor to teach a free online course to students in that Tennessee school district about the novel.

The short video carries lessons about the Holocaust and, more broadly, about the growing dangers of fake news, of attempts to deny or distort well-established history, and of the belief that “every issue has two sides.”

Today we encourage reflection and continued learning.  To learn more about the Holocaust please visit The Museum of Jewish Heritage or United State Holocaust Memorial Museum at

As the number of remaining Holocaust survivors dwindles now 76 years later, it becomes our task to keep this story alive for this and future generations so as to never have this happen again.

Campus Response to Sexual Assault- An ongoing commitment. In my November 2021 monthly report, I shared information about how Title IX has evolved during my tenure as president and how our support for survivors of sexual assault and our condemnation of sexual violence in all forms remains a core campus value. I wrote about early interactions with a student group, “New Paltz Accountability,” concerned with the state of sexual assault on campus.

We since met with New Paltz Accountability and as much as possible answered their questions about reporting, transparency, and the student conduct process. Before the Thanksgiving break, staff of the Title IX and Student Conduct offices met with these and other students to listen to their concerns and respond to their questions. We saw this as an educational opportunity and provided a flyer to help students understand the myths, truths, and common misperceptions of Title IX. We remain open to productive discussions to better educate our campus and to further dismantle misinformation and erroneous perceptions about our practices. We are open to ongoing training and education to support these goals.

While our standing practices have been fully consistent with reporting obligations under Clery and New York State 129B law (where we must report Title IX-related matters) we have also taken student concerns about transparency seriously. As announced  last week, the Title IX Office home page now includes a new report that will be updated annually, sharing data well beyond our reporting requirements. We see it as essential that readers take time to understand the important context provided for these reports – a further step in educating the campus community about the experiences of our students. For information on how to support a student or to learn more about Title IX please visit this site.

Black History Month Events – With Black History Month starting tomorrow, I hope you’ll participate in offerings planned by faculty and students to build awareness and fuel change in our society:

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


Donald P. Christian