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State of the College 2006

September 8, 2006

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On Move-In Day, along with many professional staff and students, I lugged computers, lamps, clothes and cases of snacks into jam-packed residence halls. Still in my sweaty t-shirt, I spoke at faculty orientation, marveling at the breadth of our newest colleagues' intellectual range. Back at the residence halls, I tried to comfort a teary freshman and her family, reassuring them that a slew of RAs, RDs, advisors and friends were here to help with the scary transition to college.

Each of us arrives on campus with a mixture of trepidation and joy. Finding one's way as a new student or new faculty member is exhilarating-but it is also hard. Even veterans of the academy feel a twinge of nervous excitement each autumn. We ask our ourselves: "Can I still inspire students?" "Where will my next interesting idea come from?" or simply "How can I do my job better?"

The new year is a reminder that each of us has chosen New Paltz as our academic home because we believe that this is a good, nurturing place to accomplish one's goals as a student, a teacher, a scholar, an artist or a professional.

The start of the academic year is also the perfect time to ask how we are progressing as students and scholars-and as an institution. It is this last question --How is the college faring?-that I address at the first faculty meeting. By doing so, we seek to launch the year in a spirit of collective commitment to New Paltz.

So let's take our institution's pulse. Let me share with you my sense of what the college has accomplished in the recent past, where we are headed-and how with your help we shall get there.

Our objective is bold: to make New Paltz "the site of the finest and most intellectually engaging undergraduate education in the State University of New York and a worthy rival to fine liberal arts colleges across the nation."

To achieve this goal we have developed, widely discussed and refined a list of priorities. These priorities drive our budgets and decisions, including new investments. We have begun to measure our progress with appropriate data. We share the results broadly and we discuss how we are doing with interested constituencies.

As I shall now detail, New Paltz is building genuine academic quality even as we address our weaknesses head-on.

We are committed to:

Continuing to raise the academic quality and selectivity of our students.

This year, 98% of our freshmen come from the top two SUNY selectivity groups, with an average SAT of 1160 and a high school GPA of slightly over 90-our highest ever. Last year 94% of our freshmen came from these top groups. The figure was as low as 67% as recently as 2001. Almost one-third of this fall's freshmen come from the highest SUNY group-also a new record. But I hasten to add that our staff considers the rigor of high school courses, letters of reference, and other evidence of character and promise in making admissions decisions.

We are also raising the quality of transfer students. In the past, we accepted transfers on a first-come, first-served basis. But this year we implemented a competitive transfer process analogous to how we admit freshmen. Respecting our links to regional community colleges, we still accepted the same number of transfers. But their average GPA jumped to 3.25. We expect you will see a positive difference in your classrooms.

Recruiting and retaining a diverse student body is more than just a proud New Paltz tradition. Such access is a hallmark of our quality. Applicants regularly tell us that our diversity is a draw. They understand that studying and living with a wide range of people prepares them for an increasingly global and diverse world.

This fall our percentage of minority students remains a robust 23 percent. We have also had considerable success recruiting international students, who constitute 3% of our student body. Our burgeoning joint degree programs with top Turkish universities brought 100 students to New Paltz this summer.

I have spoken often in the past about the critical importance of scholarships for student recruitment and retention, at both the undergraduate and graduate level. This is one of the places where the college's limited financial resources (and still-modest endowment) pinch most keenly. Rather than spend base operating funds to discount tuition and in effect "buy" students (like some of our SUNY and private competitors), we have chosen to invest our state funds in faculty lines and other building blocks of quality.

But this means that our private fundraising must focus on endowed scholarships so that student needs can be met in perpetuity. Last year, we raised $1.9 million in cash and gifts in kind-a very strong year for us considering that we were not lucky to land a seven-figure gift like we did in 2005.

Another priority is.

Hiring and retaining faculty who are serious about both their scholarship and teaching.

For years the Deans, the Provost and I pledged that if we received an increase in our state funding, our highest priority would be additional full-time, tenure-track faculty lines. In this election year, thanks to skillful advocacy by the Chancellor, campuses and the UUP, we have witnessed the most generous higher education budget in more than a decade.

And New Paltz is also among the beneficiaries of a new SUNY budget formula that restores funding to comprehensive colleges. Making good on our pledge, the college has added 32 new faculty this autumn (compared to 23 last year). Furthermore, we've approved and begun searches for 37 more faculty for fall 2007, primarily in the Liberal Arts and Sciences.

With these additions, New Paltz will be able to meaningfully address one of its longstanding problems-over-reliance on part-time faculty. Driving down the use of adjuncts was a prime consideration in allocating new lines. For instance, the English Department, which has had to use part-timers to teach both introductory composition courses and many upper-level major requirements, will hire four new tenure-track professors. If all planned searches are successful, we anticipate that the percentage of courses taught by adjuncts will drop by about 20 percent.

Expanded hiring will generate a set of "happy" problems, such as where to put all of our new colleagues. The largest block of new offices will be in the renovated Old Main Building. Restoring this campus landmark to aesthetic and functional glory will take several years, but we'll begin soon by converting the mothballed gymnasium in the wing adjacent to the Faculty Tower into two floors of offices. This summer state legislators Kevin Cahill and John Bonacic got us an additional $3 million for Old Main-on top of the $10 million we'd already garnered through our lobbying efforts. We estimate we'll need another $8-10 million to complete this project the way it should be done. Securing those funds will be my major thrust in conversations with politicians and the Construction Fund.

Faculty recruitment and retention were aided significantly this year by governance bodies. Both the Provost and I were impressed with the work of the Central Committees on Reappointment and Promotion, chaired respectively by Elaine Hofstetter and Keqin Li. Because of faculty leadership, we achieved an exceptionally high level of congruence between committee recommendations and final personnel decisions. This reflects healthy shared governance.

And as you'll recall, the Personnel Procedures Task Force, led by Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, presented its work last May. We'll now implement its thoughtful recommendations regarding faculty expectations and career development.

To succeed, we must.

Teach a curriculum that prepares students for their lives and careers.

Here's one of the places where consultation with faculty over the last year led to a refinement of our To Do list. I agree with criticism that I didn't say enough in last year's speech about our campus's longtime emphasis on international education, or address how we should continue to be a leader in this realm. Such leadership is essential if we are to give our students a sophisticated understanding of the diversity and complexity of the world.

Newcomers to campus need to know that we attract the largest number of international students of any SUNY college and that we send more of our students abroad than any SUNY peer. I'm pleased that we've now received approval for our new Asian Studies major--making us the only SUNY college offering such a degree. And along with a team of New Paltz faculty and administrators, I've been involved with SUNY's efforts to create a new partnership-and likely a new campus--with Nanjing University in China.

Part of our teaching responsibility is assessing whether students are in fact learning and growing at the high levels envisioned by our curriculum. While our progress on assessment has been slower than desirable, we passed some milestones this year. Most important, SUNY finally approved our General Education Assessment Plan. Thanks to all of you who worked diligently to develop this plan along with Associate Provost Laurel Garrick- Duhaney. I share your hope that the data we'll be collecting and analyzing will lead to even more effective pedagogy.

A nagging concern is how our General Education requirements shape students' intellectual growth, choice of major, and path to timely graduation. Our GE program is meant to be the focus of a student's first years at the college, but it is often something they grudgingly attend to on their way out the door. Indeed, unmet GE requirements are a common graduation deficiency. We especially need more courses in the Diversity, Science and Mathematics areas. The Deans and Provost are attempting to address these shortages with new hires, but-since curriculum is the special province of faculty-I would urge you to pay attention to this as well.

The administration has an obligation to provide faculty with the tools and information necessary to do your work. To this end, in addition to new colleagues who can share the teaching and service load and free up precious time,we've approved a number of expenditures to facilitate more effective teaching, namely:

  • $30,000 for buses for class-related trips;
  • An increase in the Library's acquisition budget of nearly $30,000;
  • The completion of 15 new smart classrooms;

We've also set aside $25,000 in research support for faculty whose work does not lend itself easily to the involvement of individual projects for students. And we have launched a comprehensive space planning study in the Library.

Finally, we are trying to eliminate what I think of as "stones in your shoes"-those chronic annoyances that sap one's spirit. This spring, I charged a group led by Dean Hadi Salavitabar to look for ways to simplify and streamline the travel reimbursement process within the constraints of state requirements.

Also on our list is.

Linking student intellectual growth with faculty scholarship.

New Paltz is distinguishing itself from its competitors by offering undergraduates capstone experiences such as internships, student shows, and faculty-mentored research. Last year we established a $90,000 pool of competitive student research grants, and these awards have already proved popular and successful. For instance, three geology students worked this summer with Professor Shafiul Chowdhury assessing water quality in the Marakill Watershed. A key research tool was a new ion chromatograph bought with funds secured by our Congressman and alum Maurice Hinchey. Applied research like this benefits the local community and helps our strongest students grow intellectually-ideally to the point where they will be outstanding candidates for graduate school.

In my 2005 State of the College address, I requested guidance from Faculty Governance on structures and procedures to promote student capstones. With John Vanderlippe driving the discussion, the faculty voted to establish an Advisory Board and a new part-time post of Director of Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities. I'm pleased to report that we've named Maureen Morrow to this important job. She and the Advisory Board will take the lead in awarding our stipend dollars.

In a related vein, my conversations with faculty this summer revealed a growing interest in promoting service learning opportunities-structured internship, volunteer and other extra-classroom experiences that would be integrated with our curriculum to help students learn to care for others and address community needs. Please consider joining in a dialogue about service learning that will begin this fall. It may lead to ideas and programs that complement our push for student research.

Our vision for the college recognizes that.
Our residential character will reinforce our educational goals.

We want to offer a rich and lively co-curriculum that is linked to the classroom, responds to students' interests and takes full advantage of our extraordinary location. Accordingly, this year we've:

  • Added $25,000 in new funds for expanded student activities and speakers--and hired a junior staff member who'll be responsible for delivering events with broad student interest.
  • Opened a new Athletic and Wellness Center, which includes a gymnasium, indoor jogging track, and state-of-the-art weight training and fitness machines.
  • Completed a long-needed renovation of the Food Court in the Student Union Building-which now offers students more menu choices in a stylish setting that sports plenty of New Paltz blue and orange!
    • This renovation is separate from the project to build a $10 million addition to the Union, which also proceeds apace. We have selected an architect, who will meet with students and staff this fall to discuss elements of the new addition-including our intention to make this a "green design" project.

As a residential campus, we should pay particular attention to the condition of our buildings and grounds. Doing so reflects our values and affects our morale. This summer, we performed an unprecedented volume--about $8 million--of maintenance and renovation work. Projects completed or authorized include:

  • New windows, carpeting, lighting, upgraded common areas and new roofs in aging residence halls.
  • Renovating the main generator that supplies heat and hot water to most campus buildings.
  • Replacing the shabby, worn-out and ugly seats in LC 102 and 108

In my brown bag lunches and breakfasts with faculty I heard repeatedly and passionately about chronic elevator problems in Faculty Tower. We've therefore approved the replacement of the control panels in these elevators, which should make things better.

And, as you may recall, last spring we approved a project to air condition the Humanities Building.

Those same meetings also reinforced the pressing need for reasonably proximate and affordable faculty/staff housing. This is an issue I've been speaking about and working on since my inauguration. Put simply, the quality of education we offer and the spirit of our academic community will be enhanced if many faculty/staff live near campus.The ultimate solution is likely to be complex and protracted, as most real estate ventures are. But to better gauge our needs, in the coming weeks our Office of Institutional Research will conduct a survey of the housing desires and choices made by recently hired colleagues.

Part of our vision is.

Meeting student needs.

To keep faith with our students and their families, we need to understand the services they require to achieve their goals. Our administrative processes and policies must then be geared to provide those services. Let me give an example, using one of New Paltz's most visible weaknesses--the fact that the vast majority of our students who expect to graduate in four years do not in fact do so. The four-year graduation rate for freshmen who entered in fall 2001 was 35 percent. That's lower than at many peer colleges.

So over the last year we have mounted a concerted effort to raise our four- and six-year graduation rates. Faculty governance wrote and rewrote academic policies that promote progress to degree. We've added a new staff member in Records and Registration to expand and manage the Degree Audit Reporting System. We now provide advisors with electronic tools such as a next-generation online catalog and eight-semester course plans. And we are hiring three additional academic advisors, one to work closely with seniors, and the others to help undecided students choose their majors and upper-division students complete their GE requirements.

The services we must provide to students extend beyond advising and beyond the undergraduate population. Accordingly, we added some part-time staff in the Graduate School to provide registration, billing, financial aid and certification assistance during evenings and weekends. And, in response to student concerns about security, we will install card access in Smiley and the Old Library.

Legitimately heightened expectations about student service cannot be blithely sloughed off on our staff. These devoted professionals require training and other support to deliver new levels of customer-friendly and effective service. As an initial step, the Office of Human Resources has started a training series for supervisors. But all levels of staff need the proper tools and time to do their jobs well. A key tool in many offices will be Banner administrative computing systems that generate enrollment and billing records and calculate financial aid. Many of your colleagues have been pulling long hours preparing for the 2007 transition from our old legacy systems to Banner. Their hard work will result in more coordinated and adaptable systems that help us work smarter. We appreciate your patience as this transition unfolds.

Another priority is.

Addressing regional economic and schooling needs.

New Paltz aims to be a willing partner-and supplier of talent in the form of graduates and faculty expertise-to local businesses, schools, and social service agencies.

In keeping with our emphasis on graduate programs that meet regional needs, we have added new master's programs:

  • In the School of Education, five programs that combine special ed, literacy and elementary ed to provide more certification options;
  • A master's in Music Therapy that replaces and upgrades our strong bachelor's program;
  • A Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling that meets new state licensure requirements; and
  • We have submitted a letter of intent to start a new Master's in School Counseling.

This summer we also successfully competed for additional funding from SUNY that will allow our Nursing program to offer courses at local hospitals and community colleges through interactive television. This will make it easier for working nurses to pursue BSN or MSN degrees.

To educate a sometimes-uninformed public, we periodically share new data and examples about how we drive the local economy, how many jobs we create, and how many lives we enlighten and transform. This is a conscious part of our strategy to win public support and funding. We're now working on our 2006 impact statement, which will have a special focus on community partnerships. Once that document is completed, I'll be taking it-and talking it up-to every civic group, political leader and Chamber of Commerce in the region.

Which brings me to the next element of our Vision..

Being a cultural and intellectual hub for the mid-Hudson region.

We should be a magnet that draws faculty, staff, students and local residents to fine and performing arts events, athletic contests and public lectures. Of course, before you can attend college events you need to find your way here-which is not easy. Fortunately, better signage directing visitors to campus is coming soon on Route 299, thanks to cooperation from the State Department of Transportation. And once visitors do arrive, our new Welcome Center in the lobby of the Administration Building presents the college's best face.

One last outreach initiative that should build momentum this fall is the Branding Task Force. This group has been gathering data about faculty, staff, alumni and current and prospective students' knowledge of and impressions of the college. With this information, we'll have a richer understanding of how our various constituencies view us-which will aid in our marketing, student recruitment and general outreach. One prominent theme that is emerging is the close connections that form at New Paltz between faculty and students. This is a powerful and distinctive strength.

The themes and priorities I have articulated today have been discussed and celebrated by our community for some time. They fit together as neatly as a jigsaw puzzle and they lead directly to our desired outcome: a virtuous and self-reinforcing cycle where the work of talented faculty enhances our understanding of the world..which raises the stature of the college..which helps us recruit outstanding students.who are educated here in ways that make them proud alumni..whose lavish generosity lets us recruit more talented faculty...and so on.

At this opening faculty meeting I would ask each of you to think about how your own work fits within this vision, and how your day-to-day activities and decisions can advance our shared goals.

Further progress demands that we address our vulnerabilities:

  • too many part-time faculty;
  • low graduation rates;
  • embracing assessment;
  • competing more successfully for sponsored research funds;
  • remaining diverse;
  • raising selectivity.

But our progress depends ever so much more on our manifold strengths: decades of recruiting ever-stronger students; graduate programs that are acclaimed in the region; adherence to rigorous standards of scholarship and teaching; a commitment to the Liberal Arts that suffuses the curriculum; a questing and occasionally rambunctious spirit where any question can be asked and any answer will be scrutinized; mutual pledges to civility in our intellectual exchanges and our dealings with one another; and above all, talented men and women who choose to come here-like our new colleagues you'll meet in a moment-colleagues we hope will look back decades later on a happy and fulfilling career spent in the shadow of the Gunks.

Thank you very much.

Steve Poskanzer