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

It is my pleasure to share this month’s academic, personnel, budgetary and programming updates.

Personnel Updates:

  • Provost Search: Our finalists are visiting campus, and again, I thank the search committee and the staff handling logistics for their tireless work and commitment to this important task. I encourage everyone to take part in the public sessions with the remaining Provost finalists. Your participation in the post-visit survey about each candidate is also greatly valued. We hope to conclude the search successfully in the coming weeks.
  • Enrollment Management: An interim leadership plan for the Division of Enrollment Management is in progress. Please watch for an announcement of these plans next week.

State Budget and Advocacy – The following is a SUNY summary of the most germane points for SUNY New Paltz in Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget proposal:

  • Continuation of major wins provided in the 2022/23 Enacted Budget, including
    • $53M for the salary and benefit costs of new full-time faculty at state-operated campuses and community colleges, (our share of 2022-23 funding is $502,000)
    • Continued support for “TAP Gap” costs and maintaining Excelsior recipient tuition at ongoing levels,
    • Continuation of the Investment Fund and support for Open Educational Resources.
  • Creation of a one-time, $75M, Transformational Initiatives Fund for state-operated campuses, statutory colleges, and community colleges focused on supporting innovation, meeting workforce needs of the future, enhancing student support services, improving academic programs, increasing enrollment, and modernizing campus operations.
  • Capital support for a $200M SUNY-wide Digital Transformation Initiative, providing funding for the acquisition and implementation of equipment, software, hardware, and other services to support SUNY operations.
  • Re-envisioning of the $60M in former one-time funds for Enrollment, academic program, student services, and operational efficiencies into additional support for state-operated campuses and statutory colleges, and
  • Full support for state-operated campus employee benefits and debt service costs.

In addition, the Governor proposed instituting an ongoing “Predictable” Tuition Plan that allows for annual increases to the rate of undergraduate resident tuition of the lower of three (3) percent or the most recently available Higher Education Price Index (HEPI). This proposed increase would start in 2023/24 and continue thereafter.

These noted investments are on top of an investment in SUNY’s physical infrastructure, including an increase to critical maintenance funding for state-operated campuses and statutory colleges from $550M to $650M, and an additional $100M in flexible capital funding.

While many of you are very familiar with the process of the New York State Budget timeline, it bears repeating that this executive budget starting point is only just that, a starting point. The process continues this week with the Chancellor’s testimony before the Higher Education Committee. The Assembly and Senate will move to one-house bills and then negotiations will begin between the Governor and Legislature.

The SUNY Board of Trustees and Chancellor are also asking for $120M in new operating aid (a total that includes the value of the Governor’s tuition plan). The state is already investing in SUNY. Why not capitalize on the SUNY System’s return on investment for the state and its residents by funding us at a level that allows us to compete with other public higher education systems nationwide. To that end, we have been communicating with our state legislators about SUNY and New Paltz budgetary needs and will have campus representatives at the SUNY Advocacy Days in mid-March.

Student Onboarding Planning and Engagement – The new student onboarding programs for first-year and transfer students are being prepared for launch, with the first updates rolling out this month. Many thanks to the working groups that have informed many of the changes in, Slate, Starfish, various websites and communications.  There is a new link for all faculty and staff in > Advising Menu > Onboarding Program Information. In that link, you will find information to help guide anyone communicating with our new students. Programming information will be posted there when it becomes available.  New students will start to sign up this month for on-campus sessions through their Admissions Status Portal.  Faculty orientation advisors will find out more about programming and student information at upcoming information sessions to be scheduled after spring break.  Here are some important dates:

  • Accepted Student Open House dates are March 25 and April 1. Your support is very much appreciated in helping us yield an excellent starting class for fall 2023. I look forward to seeing all of our academic departments represented to showcase excellence and engagement that are signature attributes of SUNY New Paltz.
  • New transfer Student Sessions are scheduled for May 11, June 23, June 27, July 25, July 27 and August 17 (virtual session). Please be sure that your department has sent the name of your orientation advisor to Records & Registration.
  • New First-Year Sessions are scheduled for June 29-30, July 6-7, July 10-11, July 13-14, July 19-20, and August 22-23.

Changes to Convocation – When I arrived, I asked that a working group re-envision Convocation and re-engage faculty participation in the event. The Convocation Working Group, part of the overall Welcome Week Re-imagining efforts, is finalizing a re-envisioned Convocation event for the start of fall 2023 semester and I look forward to receiving and supporting these recommendations.  Previously, this event was on the Friday preceding the first day of classes, and faculty were asked to participate wearing regalia.  Based on feedback from faculty, staff, administrators and students, the Convocation this fall would be held on the late afternoon of Wednesday during the first week of classes (Wednesday, August 30, 2023).  Because there are few classes on Wednesday afternoons, it was recommended that we suspend classes from 3:00-5:00 p.m. to encourage full campus participation.  Faculty will not be required to wear regalia; instead, we invite faculty to gather with students for a spirited aerial photo in the shape of an N and P, and then parade together to the Convocation venue, which will be shorter, with fewer speeches, and more engaging and vibrant.  We will provide faculty with an optional free shirt to join in the festivity and demonstrate school pride.  The 20–25-minute program will focus and educating our new students on the history and culture of the university; promoting a student’s sense of belonging and pride; increasing student confidence as they embark on their academic journey; and re-enforcing strategies students can employ to build their personal community network. Everyone will then recess to their individual school receptions where students and faculty can socialize, eat, and celebrate the start of the semester together.  Look for more details as the logistics of this re-imagined event unfold for the start of the next academic year.

Development and Alumni Relations Updates:

  • Presidential alumni meetings and development opportunities – Alumnus Hernán Rincón ’76 and Elvira Garcia hosted a warm alumni gathering at their home on February 16 in Fort Lauderdale, Flor Hernán, now developing residential real estate with one of his sons, formerly served as CEO of Avianca Airlines and President of Microsoft Latin America. This was the first in a series of out-of-town gatherings that Alumni Relations has organized to introduce me to alumni around the country. Nearly 40 alumni attended (including staff and hosts). We were joined by SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board Director Jeffrey Korn and Professor Emeritus David Clark (Mathematics) who flew down to Florida to reunite with one of his top students. Next, I’ll meet up with the team in Atlanta (March 11) and Washington, D.C. (March 13), followed by New York City (June 1). Please be sure to let Development & Alumni Relations know if you plan to travel and are willing and able to meet alumni. With sufficient lead time, they may be able to organize small gatherings for you to host.

I have been following with interest and excitement the soaring careers of our alumni such as Christine DeBiase ’90, who joined Allstate January 3 as Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, and Reginald Rasch ’91, who was appointed General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Wolverine Worldwide. It’s no coincidence that both were team captains while at New Paltz (softball and basketball, respectively). Kyncl STEM Scholars supporter Robert Kyncl ‘95, former Chief Business Officer at YouTube, is now CEO of Warner Music Group. You may have seen some of the terrific publicity we received when he and Luz Avila Kyncl ’96 announced their renewed gift to support underrepresented students in Computer Science & Engineering.

On March 4, our Distinguished Speaker Series will feature Chris Hayes, host of “All In with Chris Hayes,” will speak about “Life in the Attention Age.” We are deeply grateful to Mr. Hayes  for donating his time and waiving his speaker fee to appear at New Paltz.

Inauguration – Teams of faculty, staff, and students have been working hard to create a truly forward-looking three days of inaugural festivities. With the theme, “Our University, Our Future,” we ask that you join in as many events and activities as possible. Our aim is to make history together and to bring attention to the wealth of opportunities offered by public higher education, in particular at SUNY New Paltz.

Day 1, Wednesday, April 19, includes a student-faculty forum followed by a festival of big ideas. We will celebrate the extraordinary ways that students and faculty work together to make the world a better place. Later that day the Development Office hosts its annual scholarship reception.

Day 2, Thursday, April 20, all of campus is invited to attend the formal investiture ceremony in the Athletic and Wellness Center followed by a community reception under the big tent. Faculty are encouraged to march in the processional (in academic regalia).

Day 3, Friday, April 21, features our work with community groups both inside and outside of campus. Our long history of service in the region will be featured and celebrated. A closing brunch will bring our campus and community partners together.

Food will be offered at all events and we hope that you’ll stop by for a bite, learn more about the institution, and show your school pride. Please consider letting your students out of class for any or all of these activities.

Investing In Our People: A Presidential Fund for Innovation in Public Higher Education – During my listening tour, it has become clear that we have many hard-working employees who have dedicated themselves to our students and their experience. Often, they have wonderful ideas for enhancing the student experience or providing professional development to their teams that require financial support to pilot and realize.

I am pleased to announce the launch of the Presidential Fund for Innovation in Public Higher Education with a pledge of $25,000. We will be seeking donations with plans to raise at least $250,000 for this expendable fund that will provide grants to you, our campus faculty and staff.

The goal is to recognize sustained creative commitment, and innovative thinking and activities in public higher education, specifically at SUNY New Paltz. The Fund will provide financial awards recognizing individuals and/or teams at SUNY New Paltz who have demonstrated these qualities in academic offerings, institutional operations, programming and/or community engagement. For more information, visit this link.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – As I wrote previously in my campus statement on navigating trauma as a community, I hope we can all keep the doors of communication open so that we are not just reacting to events both on and off campus, but that we are engaging one another in proactive ways to identify potential risks to our community members and mitigating these risks before they escalate to harmful and traumatizing experiences. It requires us first to be aware of our own biases and normative assumptions and practices, then to use this awareness to accept one another’s humanity unconditionally and to think carefully about how our actions either further trauma or nurture learning and growth. I hope to build with all of you a culture of constant engagement to support an educational environment that confronts issues of concern in a dynamic learning landscape.

Contemplative Space – The Contemplative Space at Gunk Pond is in the final stages of construction and installation and is scheduled for completion during the 2023-24 academic year. As many of you will remember, the creation of a Contemplative Space on campus was recommended by the Diversity & Inclusion Council in its 2019 report recommending the renaming of six campus buildings (five residence halls and the dining hall). At the time, the University committed to the principle that no group’s history would suffer erasure and that we would provide an enduring space that acknowledges and teaches a comprehensive history of New Paltz, including the diverse contributions of Indigenous people, enslaved Africans, early European immigrants, the descendants of these three groups and subsequent waves of diverse immigrants. The project was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and we were unable to resume work until 2022. We want to take care to ensure that each group is respectfully represented within this space and within the educational material associated and to that end will work with scholars in Black Studies, representatives of the Stockbridge Munsee and Historic Huguenot Street to help us shape those aspects of the project.

The University has created a website with Contemplative Space updates, as well as historical background and details about design elements and their symbolic significance. I hope this and additional signage at the site will help answer questions that have been raised recently by current students about the purpose and status of the project.

I welcome the opportunity to help see this project to completion and to have a space on campus where members of our community can gather and reflect on our complete history as well as contemporary issues.

First Student Office Hours – A group of four very engaged and impressive students attended the first Presidential Office Hour last week. Among issues we discussed were the Contemplative Space project, what the president does, and updates on the student campus experience. The students also invited me to join a book club. I have enlisted these students’ help in creating and sharing an update on the Contemplative Space with their classmates via a medium they will engage with more fully – video.  I look forward to holding more of these office hours throughout the spring semester to get better acquainted with our students and learn about their experience at New Paltz.

I look forward to seeing you at the March 1 Faculty Senate Meeting where I’ll be happy to answer questions about my report or any other topics.

Darrell P. Wheeler