SUNY New Paltz President Darrell P. Wheeler gave his first formal speech as leader of the institution on Friday, Aug. 26, with a Welcome Address setting an optimistic and forward-looking tone for the 2022-23 academic year.
“I have this once in a lifetime opportunity to join an academic community that I truly want to be a part of in this leadership role,” President Wheeler said. “As I look into this audience, I see colleagues and partners, co-leaders in an endeavor to advance the mission, prominence and success of this College. I thank you for this opportunity and for the many warm welcomes I have received since May. It is now time for me to engage with you in a new capacity and initiate a journey of communication, relationship- and trust-building, hard work and enthusiastic engagement to build an even more vibrant SUNY New Paltz. Thank you!”
President Wheeler spoke before a full house in the College’s largest lecture hall, with 500+ more tuned into the livestream feed.
A few key excerpts are transcribed below, but there’s no substitute for watching the address in full. The recording is available here.
President Wheeler devoted his remarks to three key themes:
1) “The core mission of SUNY New Paltz, and why it is so important to me;”
2) “The context of higher education, and how we move forward in a world touched by … economic and social unrest, a national cultural divide, wars, an ongoing pandemic, and new global pandemics and syndemics;”
3) “Top priorities that I will need to engage as I move through the next 30, 60, 90, 120 and 180 days.”
On the core mission of the College, President Wheeler said: “Our strength, and dare I say, our future, lies in the ability of this community to deliver on the promises of educational opportunities and community engagement … In my worldview, we, SUNY New Paltz, have two clear goals – my compass north as president – that are intimately linked to our mission and institutional charter:
First, the unique privilege and role extended to higher education institutions of conferring degrees, certificates, and credentials upon satisfactory completion of required content, and our unique roles as instructors, mentors, facilitators, and supporters for guiding our students to these points of completion.
Second, actively addressing problems, needs and solutions of importance to the local community, region, state, nation and world – not just through what we say, think and write, but what we do. How we engage with our partners. How we encourage our students to engage with their communities as part of their learning as we prepare them to be engaged citizens after they leave us.”
On the contextual, social and political factors that affect the College and higher education broadly, President Wheeler said: “Our new academic year begins at a time of continued local, national and world attention and engagement on endemics, pandemics and other significant public health matters, and any number of political and social issues, including immigration, race, antisemitism, mass violence, economic uncertainty, climate change and environmental sustainability, free speech, hate speech, threats of emotional, mental and physical violence, diversity, equity, justice and inclusion and this is not, of course, an exhaustive list. It is appropriate that at this time we – I — place ourselves — myself — in the realization that the threats we face are encapsulated in the complex realities of the historical events that have brought us to this moment.
As a university community, we recognize the complexity of issues surrounding these topics. We are committed to honest discussion and the diverse views that come with such conversations, both in and out of the classroom. We know these issues may impact the lives of students, faculty, and staff throughout our campus community, even as we stay focused on our core educational mission. Know also that we are committed to being an inclusive learning environment where every student from every background can learn, thrive and be fully a part of our community.”
On his top priorities in the coming months, President Wheeler addressed topics including (among others) his listening and learning tours with students, faculty, staff, administrators and academic leaders, alumni, donors, former President Donald P. Christian, the College Council and others; his efforts to advance the College’s fiscal well-being; his initiation of a process to recruit a new Provost to succeed Interim Provost Barbara Lyman, who is serving her fourth year in an interim capacity; an opportunity for SUNY New Paltz to earn University designation from the New York State Board of Regents; the recent approval of full-time, tenure-track faculty hires in the Division of Academic Affairs; and presidential inauguration activities planned for April 2023.
Throughout his address, President Wheeler emphasized the roles he envisions for all members of the campus community in advancing these priorities.
“It truly takes a village to accomplish the task of creating, supporting, leading, nurturing, and sustaining our beloved SUNY New Paltz,” he said. “This is not the work of one person or one division; this work requires engagement, and mutual support and respect for the collective. In no small way, all of us have a unique role to play in the success of this institution and accountability for the legacy yet to be written.”