President’s February 2023 Report to the Academic and Professional Faculty

I hope you are all settling into the second half of this academic year and gearing up for an exciting and engaged Spring 2023. This spring I will continue to focus on listening and incorporating emerging ideas into action that guide SUNY New Paltz to the next level of excellence.

Provost Search Update – As the search committee co-chairs Mary Christensen and Shala Mills shared last week, we have a strong pool of applicants for our next Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, a critical leadership role on campus that we are working to fill for a start date this summer ahead of the new academic year.

The search committee has begun its review of candidate materials and will be meeting soon to select a group of semi-finalists for initial virtual interviews in February. The goal is to bring finalists to campus between Feb. 21 – March 3.

We are holding the following dates for those in-person interviews:

  1. Tuesday, Feb. 21 – Wednesday, Feb. 22 (first day is a half day; second day is a full day of interviews on campus)
  2. Thursday, Feb. 23 – Friday, Feb. 24 (same)
  3. Monday, Feb. 27 – Tuesday, Feb. 28 (same)

(The Faculty Senate meets on Wednesday morning, March 1, so there will be no interviews that morning.)

  1. Wednesday, March 1 – Thursday, March 2 (same)
  2. Thursday, March 2 – Friday, March 3 (note overlap with Candidate #4, but should be manageable) (same)

There will be two open sessions for faculty, staff and students during the second interview day. I encourage you to participate in these sessions and to respond to the campus surveys that follow the visits. In particular, faculty engagement is critical to the success of our search for a next Provost.

Thank you in advance for showing up for these important sessions and I want to publicly thank the search committee members for their continuing good work.

Spring and Fall Enrollment Update and Accepted Students Day – While SUNY New Paltz continues to experience minor declines in incoming transfer students, institutional enrollment remains relatively flat as we approach our spring 2023 census date, with continuing graduate student enrollment helping to offset a decline in our matriculated undergraduate population.

As the division now turns its attention toward fall 2023 enrollment, we’re seeing extraordinary growth across both freshman and transfer applications. Despite promising application numbers, the hard work is yet to come, as we must now secure 20% of our accepted students, to meet our first-year enrollment goals. Historical data has shown us that accepted students who visit our campus and engage with our vibrant community are 80% more likely to enroll after receiving admission.

Given this figure, the Division of Enrollment Management will be providing two crucial opportunities for admitted students to visit our campus and experience our intimate, student-centered community at our Accepted Student Open House on Saturday, March 25, and Saturday, April 1. Faculty and staff are the nuclei of these events, and we’re relying on all colleagues to help elevate and differentiate the New Paltz experience for these promising students, as we approach a much more competitive enrollment market than in years past. Please look out for an invite and RSVP request from our office of Undergraduate Admissions to participate in this campus-wide event.

Presidential Office Hours for Students – To demonstrate my commitment to shape a student-engaged environment, I will be holding presidential office hours for students this semester, beginning in February. Students, are our reason for being here, and I look forward to opportunities for them to meet me, share their ideas, experiences, and concerns.

School of Business to receive $1.25M to be a state Innovation Hot Spot – Congratulations to our colleagues in the School of Business, who will serve as an Innovation Hot Spot for the Mid-Hudson Valley having received grant funding of $250,000 annually for five years, from the Empire State Development’s Regional Economic Development Council Initiative awards.

The award recognizes the New Paltz School of Business’s Hudson Valley Venture Hub and its years of service as a resource for the regional startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Since 2018, the Venture Hub has worked to connect and support founders, investors, scholars and executives through in-house programming like the successful HV Mentors network. It also creates unique opportunities for SUNY New Paltz students, especially those in the undergraduate Entrepreneurship major, to apply classroom learning in real-world situations and build relationships with professionals in the area.

This marks the first time that the state’s Innovation Hot Spot for the Mid-Hudson region will be in Ulster County. Congratulations to Dean Kris Backhaus and the entire School of Business team for taking the initiative on this opportunity.

iPark87 in Kingston – The University is in conversations with the county, state, private sector and our sister institution, SUNY Ulster, about iPark87, a project to rejuvenate the former IBM site in Kingston. Natural Resources, the developer, is looking to attract companies, higher education institutions and offer housing and workforce development opportunities within the site. As the region’s public university, we are committed to contributing to our region’s educational and workforce needs and are exploring how we can participate in this important endeavor for our county’s economy.

ChatGPT — During the break I also saw the engaging exchanges on ChatGPT.  Emerging AI technologies have become a hot topic of conversation not just on our campus but across the country.  AI offers both promise and peril, and recent developments such as ChatGPT present educators with new challenges.  The interim co-directors of the Faculty Development Center are planning some Spring 2023 opportunities for formal community discussion and sharing of information and resources on this topic.  Please watch for upcoming announcements of events, and please consider keeping track of particularly useful articles or information about this topic to share with others.

Upcoming events hosted by Development & Alumni Relations  – The Alumni Relations Office will host gatherings to “introduce President Wheeler” to friends and alumni in Florida, Atlanta, and D.C. We ask faculty and staff to share this information with alumni they remain in contact with. February 16 alumni will gather with Hernán Rincón ’76 (Mathematics) and Elvira Garcia in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, joined by Professor Emeritus David Clark. March 11 brings together alumni in Atlanta, Georgia, followed by Washington, D.C. on March 13 joined by Professor Nancy Kassop and Political Science students.

March 4 at 3 p.m. the spring Distinguished Speaker Series proudly welcomes Chris Hayes, Emmy-winning Host of “All in with Chris Hayes” on MSNBC. In his talk “Life in the Attention Age,” Hayes will share his perspective on how attention has become one of the most valuable resources in American life, and how competition for attention in the news, social media, and other venues has transformed everything from politics to our inner lives. The event is free with a $10 suggested donation to support student attendance. We welcome all members of the campus and regional community. A Q&A follows his talk.

Faculty Transfer Advisors for New Student Onboarding: Working groups in December and January have been engaged in preparing for our New Student Onboarding Program, “Take Flight.” As you know, we each have an important role to play in making the transition to New Paltz a successful one for our students. The transfer advising sessions dates are May 11, June 23, June 27, July 25, 27 and a virtual session on August 17. New students will be able to start signing up for sessions sometime in March, date to be determined.  As part of the preparation, academic departments should provide to the Office of Records & Registration the names of the faculty orientation advisors who will be participating in the transfer sessions for each department by early February. All departments are expected to have representation at these events.

Re-envisioning Welcome Week and Convocation – We continue to engage the entire campus community on reimagining how we welcome our new students to campus and help them connect early with students, staff and faculty.  We received thoughtful and helpful feedback through a survey distributed to academic faculty in November.  It is clear that faculty want more information on the importance of Welcome Week and Convocation and why they should all be involved.  It should be evident, but clearly worth re-stating here, our students (new and continuing), look to the faculty as teachers, mentors, role models, and supports during their academic journey and beyond.  As I have said many times, our faculty and staff are the most enduring elements of the academic community, and your roles are vital to the success of students and the mission of the institution.  Opportunities to be present with our students and their families on this journey is more than symbolic.  Please, mark your calendars and make these Welcome Week and Convocation priorities for the start of the academic year.

Welcome Week starts when our first year and new transfer students move into the residence halls, the Thursday before classes start each fall.  That day is full of mixed emotions, with lots of traffic, many trips up and down residence hall stairs and staff from across campus are engaged to greet, take care of business, problem solve, and help our new students start to connect to each other and to the institution.

The Friday before classes start has traditionally included Convocation, which is the formal introduction to the institution.  Convocation is common on many campuses and is intended to support student success and persistence by emphasizing the value of a college degree, the students’ ability to obtain it, and support students’ connection to the institution.  Traditionally the president, president’s cabinet, faculty Chancellor award winner and a selected student spoke on student success at this event. This model is being reviewed.   Faculty have attended the event in the past, and I have asked that their role be expanded and that all faculty be encouraged to attend.

Convocation was followed by a picnic for new students, faculty and staff on Parker Quad, which is also being reviewed. Additional programming is offered that evening and through the weekend to help students feel at home and ready for classes to begin on Monday.

We have been reviewing current student needs and the objectives that Welcome Week needs to achieve for future cohorts.  We are considering moving Convocation to the first week of classes to enable more faculty and current student participation.  We have seen an increase in social anxiety and underdeveloped social skills among our incoming students, so we are looking at programming that will serve their needs better.  We are looking for increased engagement by academic faculty to help new students understand that faculty are an accessible resource invested in student success from day one.

A majority of faculty who responded to the Welcome Week survey indicated a willingness to get involved and outlined some challenges that limit their ability to do so.  We will continue to work to address these challenges.  Watch for an invitation to participate in a newly revised Convocation in fall 2023 and other ways to help our new students feel welcomed and oriented.

Temporary Boiler installed at Central Heating Plant for this winter – In early November, Facilities Management determined we needed to rent a temporary boiler because our two large boilers that provide heat for much of the campus are aging and despite preventative maintenance and attempts to repair them, they were not functioning properly and could not be relied upon for the 22-23 heating season. With the procurement team’s assistance, Facilities Management put together an emergency declaration to the Office of the State Comptroller to fund the temporary boiler and get it to campus quickly as winter was setting in. The boiler arrived in early December. Besides navigating procurement hurdles, this endeavor has been a major undertaking for our staff as it involves far more than simply getting a rental unit delivered and plugging it in. We expect to have both boiler #1 and #2 operational for next year’s heating season and hope we won’t need to rent a boiler again. An added benefit to this project is that campus will now have a permanent set of connections at the Central Heating Plant that will mitigate any further concerns if we ever need back up service through the lifetime of the central heating plant until we convert to an alternate fuel source based on Governor Hochul’s Executive Order 22.

Facilities Operations, Design and Construction and the Procurement/Contracting teams have all devoted countless hours (and surely some sleepless nights) to this project and deserve our unwavering gratitude for the dedication and ingenuity it took to keep us all warm and cozy this winter!

I’ll be happy to take your questions about any of these items or any other topics at the Faculty Senate Meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 1. See you there.

Darrell P. Wheeler