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State of the College 2005

September 9, 2005

Colleagues both old and new, welcome to the start of the College's 178th year!

It's been my practice, at the first faculty and staff meeting, to make some observations about long-range issues. Starting today, I want to formalize this custom. I shall devote my report at our initial fall meeting to the "State of the College": what we have accomplished in the recent past; where we stand; and what we must do together to realize our aspirations.

It's wise to take the institution's "pulse" at regular intervals, to talk about what we have found and what it means. Successful colleges rely on carefully-tended bonds of trust and respect between students and faculty; between faculty and administration; between staff in different units; and among faculty colleagues. Such trust and respect are promoted by sharing information, by appropriate consultation on matters of mutual interest and responsibility, and by clear channels of communication. My hope is that by giving a "State of the College" speech each fall we can launch every academic year in a spirit of collective commitment to New Paltz.

In April 2004 when I was inaugurated as president I confidently declared that New Paltz was poised to be "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." Over the last year, my conviction that such excellence is within reach has only strengthened. We have:

  • Recruited our most academically-talented freshman class-as the Times Herald-Record declared on its front page-"SUNY New Paltz Students Are Smarter Than Ever."
    • This fall, the average SAT for our freshmen is 1160, with a high school average of 90.
    • Six years ago, 59% of our freshmen came from the top two SUNY Quality Groups. This year 94% come from those Groups.
    • And we're also proud of the diversity of our entering class, with more than 21% coming from historically under-represented groups.
  • We recruited 23 new full-time faculty to join us this fall, with 25 new and continued searches-four more than we initially thought we could afford-already underway for next year.
    • While we don't keep formal tallies, the deans and the provost tell me that we've never done so well in landing our first-choice candidates.
  • We secured a huge slice of additional state funding-$10 million!-to renovate and build an addition to our Student Union Building;
    • As a reference point, until 2005, New Paltz's historical total of special appropriations from legislators was only $300,000.
  • A series of construction projects are improving the beauty and functionality of the campus.
  • Finally, in 2005 we set a new record for fundraising-more than $2.5 million, including a one million-dollar bequest for recruitment scholarships for high-achieving students.

In the midst of this good news, New Paltz also has some genuine vulnerabilities. As part of Mission Review, SUNY has pushed us to address several longstanding problems; I expect many of these same deficits will draw criticism when we submit our Periodic Review to Middle States in 2006.

  • First, as a cost-saving measure, the college has for years relied too much on part-time faculty to teach both general education and major courses. The remedy is simple: we need more full-time faculty and we need to reduce the proportion of key courses taught by adjuncts.
  • Second, notwithstanding our past achievements, we must raise the profile of our entering classes even further.
  • Third, our graduation rate is too low-especially the four-year rate that is the norm at other selective colleges. According to our most recent data, only 28% of entering freshmen graduate in four years and only 54% in six years. In comparison, the six-year rate at Geneseo is 78%!
  • Fourth, New Paltz does not garner enough external research funding, particularly given the scholarly bent of our faculty.
  • Fifth, our assessment efforts lag behind those of other campuses. We do not yet have a culture of seriously assessing student learning outcomes-led as it must be by faculty champions.
  • And last, while our balance sheet is in the black, we do not have enough money to do all that we need and want to do. Which means we must continue to make smart and sometimes hard choices.

Two years ago I promised to meet with every academic and administrative unit on campus to listen and learn about their work, to discuss the college's future, and to ensure that our choices for New Paltz are well-informed. I've kept that promise, holding almost 70 such meetings. In addition, I've been meeting regularly with elected faculty governance, UUP and CSEA leadership. And I've been having focused discussions with the academic deans and senior administrators to build a stronger sense of teamwork and shared goals.

An essential part of my duties as President is to position New Paltz for success and prominence in a rapidly changing and highly competitive environment. Let me share with you where New Paltz is headed-and how with your help and leadership we shall get there.

I suspect that much of what follows will not sound "new." That's because it isn't. Indeed, the key tasks before us have been central to our identity and aspirations for more than two decades. Most can be traced back to the work of previous generations of administrators and faculty leaders, to past strategic efforts and planning documents, and to our prior conversations.

While we've made great progress, our work is not yet done. So what remains on our "To Do" list? I see eight items:

First, we must continue raising the academic quality and selectivity of our students. We shall do this while remaining a very diverse institution in terms of student ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geography, and intellectual interests.

Our current undergraduate size (about 6,600) suits us well, and we have no plans to grow. But our focus on ratcheting up student quality-which has its roots in the Chandler presidency and continued under Roger Bowen-must remain a priority. Demographers tell us that high school graduating classes in New York State will grow in size until 2009 but dip modestly thereafter. That's why New Paltz should seize the next few years to lock itself into position as a school of choice.

Primary responsibility for this falls upon Enrollment Management, but we all play a supporting role. Last spring, to ensure that more of the students we most wanted actually came, faculty worked the phones to recruit students. We also consciously made summer Orientation part of our recruitment strategy. The net result was a nearly 40% jump in our yield rate for the highest-achieving students, and a freshman class that was better-and, unpredictably, bigger-than we'd expected.

To successfully recruit the best students, we must offer competitive scholarships. Doing so is consistent with our push for quality and our pledge to educational access. My responsibility: keep raising money to endow such scholarships.

Second, we must hire and retain faculty who are serious about both their scholarship and teaching. New Paltz faculty will be gifted at and care about their teaching. But they will also be meaningfully and consistently engaged in peer reviewed scholarship and creative activity. The pace and volume of such scholarly and creative activity will be more modest than is the case for faculty at a research university, but the quality will still be high.

Having wise colleagues make tough calls about recruitment, reappointment, tenure and promotion is how the academy ensures its quality and independence. So I am pleased that this year a faculty governance task force will look at these personnel processes to eliminate discrepancies and gaps across departments and schools, and to help our central committees and academic administrators carry out their duties even more effectively. The good ideas that emerge from such consultation-along with improved communication with junior faculty-can dispel confusion and lessen unnecessary anxiety.

Third, we must teach a curriculum that prepares students for their careers and lives.

New Paltz students will be taught by faculty who take teaching and learning seriously, beginning with a general education curriculum that is the focus of one's first years at the college and is designed by our faculty to impart content and build competencies grounded in the liberal arts. There will be regular dialogue among faculty about effective pedagogy, and we will use technology and provide access to information that helps teachers teach and students learn. Part of our teaching responsibility is assessing whether students are in fact learning and growing at the high levels envisioned by our curriculum.

Our faculty's ownership of and pride in our curriculum are admirable, especially our tradition of regularly revising our General Education requirements. The Curriculum Committee will continue to safeguard the depth and heft of New Paltz academics. And as we push to raise our graduation rate-a need that was identified in the college's 1999 strategic plan-our Gen Ed offerings assume even greater importance. Our students ought to view General Education courses as intellectual appetizers that lead to the careful choice of a major. Gen Ed is not a prescribed dose of castor oil to be swallowed at the tail end of one's college career.

To support teaching, we've also put more money into academic equipment and library collections, along with a new budget item for classroom upkeep.

Next, we must link student intellectual growth with faculty scholarship.

Our faculty's excitement about their own research and creative activity should inspire students, both in the classroom and in focused capstone experiences for undergraduates (For example, joint faculty-student research; faculty-mentored student research; internships; teaching practica; exhibitions and recitals). Connections between undergraduate learning and faculty scholarship will be an important part of what makes New Paltz different from community colleges, research universities and less-distinguished comprehensive and liberal arts colleges.

Those of you who attend our annual Research Symposium know how profoundly excited students are about their first scholarly achievements, and how this experience opens new career vistas. I'm grateful to the faculty who've supervised such research, and believe we should do more to support and reward their efforts. So we have earmarked $90,000 each year to fund semester- or summer-long faculty and student research projects, with awards ranging from one to three thousand dollars. This will bring us closer to making a capstone available for all New Paltz students who want one. Of course, some faculty's research and creative agendas will not lend themselves easily to student involvement, and we have a duty to support their research, too.

I look to the Provost and the deans to begin discussions with faculty about how best to link student learning and faculty scholarship, and here I also expressly request guidance from faculty governance on whether we should constitute a Student Research and Creative Activity Board that might function like our Writing Board.

Fifth, our residential character must reinforce our educational goals.

To realize our ambitions, most of our undergraduate students will live on campus and many faculty and staff will live in close proximity to campus. We want to offer a rich and lively co-curriculum that

  • reinforces what students learn in the classroom;
  • responds to students' interests; and
  • takes full advantage of New Paltz's extraordinary geographic location.

The intellectual and social life of the campus should draw substantial numbers of faculty, staff and students to events during evenings and on weekends. And we must pay more careful attention to the campus' physical appearance and maintenance, which reflect our values and affect our morale.

We need to create physical spaces and offer programs that let us all reap the benefits of living, learning and laboring in a residential college. Topping this list, our Student Union Building should become a true agora: our public gathering place. Fortunately, we now have the means for this project, and this fall we'll convene a broadly representative group to identify priorities for the SUB renovation.

Which brings me to a sixth objective, which is meeting student needs. Faculty and staff alike must appreciate-and demonstrate through our actions and attitudes-that meeting student needs is vital to the institution's success. We must understand the services that students require to achieve their goals and our administrative processes and policies must help us provide those services.

Student-centeredness was a defining element of the 1999 strategic plan, and it remains critical today. The hours we are open to do business; the times when classes are scheduled; the availability of food service for evening students; the attention paid to advisees; and the courtesy and care shown when answering the phone or dealing with a frustrated parent-all contribute to lasting impressions. As part of our assessment efforts, we shall collect and analyze data on new students' expectations and their subsequent experiences. And I've asked the Human Resources office to offer training that promotes high levels of service to students, parents and faculty, as part of a broader staff development mission.

An important component of student service is the administrative computing system that allows us to keep records, generate bills, and calculate financial aid. Ever since we started using computers, we've relied on "home grown" programs to support such activities, while more and more colleges have switched to widely-available, well-proven suites of computer programs developed and supported by national firms. SUNY is urging campuses to migrate to the Banner system currently used by 11 of the 13 comprehensive colleges; non-Banner campuses have been offered significant financial incentives to convert. Having talked with the affected offices and several Banner campuses, we have decided that this is the time for New Paltz to switch. With this change, the college can have more efficient and rational student services. Equally important, we will no longer be vulnerable to the collapse of locally written programs that already show strain and that very few programmers know how to fix. A successful Banner conversion will require staff training and more staff.

Seventh, we must address regional economic and schooling needs. We will be a willing partner-and supplier of talent in the form of graduates and faculty expertise-to local business and industry, school districts, and social service agencies. With the exception of our MFA programs that have national reputations, meeting such regional needs will be the principal focus of our graduate programs, whose quality we also seek to enhance.

Faculty and decanal leadership ensure that our programs meet these academic and community service goals. Our graduate enrollment is currently about 1,400, and there is some room to grow in selected areas. One exciting recent example is the Psychology Department's revised graduate clinical program that will link to a new program leading to an M.S. in school counseling. We are searching for new faculty to launch this track, which will fill a gaping need in local schools.

Eighth, New Paltz will be a cultural and intellectual hub for the mid-Hudson region.

Our fine and performing arts events, athletic contests and public lectures should be magnets that draw friends and fans to the college. We will proudly proclaim our cultural and economic impact, and aim to be celebrated as a regional resource and gem.

Last year I trumpeted to local audiences how the college contributes almost $200 million annually to the mid-Hudson economy. We'll update these figures regularly to build appreciation of New Paltz's importance. A Welcome Center will open in the Administration Building lobby next spring to provide visitors with maps, parking passes and information about our academic and cultural offerings. And in the meantime, a Branding Task Force that includes faculty and staff is researching our image among key stakeholders and will develop strategies to market the college skillfully.

Everything I have been speaking about today-from the people we recruit to how we carry out the tasks of teaching and discovery-lead to two fundamental outcomes: first, the meaning of a New Paltz degree and second, how we build academic quality. Let me conclude by making a few observations on each, explaining why they encapsulate the raison d'etre of the college.

What a New Paltz degree should mean.

If we all do our work brilliantly, staying true to both the formal requirements and the animating spirit of the curriculum, undergraduate students will graduate from New Paltz, typically within four years, with:

(a) a solid general education core upon which their academic major and their preparation for graduate study or a career will rest;
(b) they'll graduate with intellectual confidence and curiosity;
(c) with a sophisticated understanding of the diversity and complexity of the world in which they will live and work;
(d) they'll graduate having worked closely with a faculty member on a capstone experience that demonstrates intellectual maturity;
(e) and with at least one faculty mentor with whom they expect to keep in touch; and
(f) they'll graduate with a genuine appreciation as alumni that their time here has changed their lives for the better.

Such graduates will make a positive difference in our world and support the college as it Builds academic quality.

Through our faculty's research and creative activity, new knowledge will be created and a richer understanding will emerge of our world and lives. This in turn will raise both the profile and reputation of individual faculty and the stature of the college, which enhances our ability to recruit talented faculty and students.

I am excited by the way in which our success promises to reinforce itself in a continuous "feedback loop," where each set of accomplishments makes it easier to rise to the next level.

The central tasks I have articulated must drive our budget and operational goals, including new investments and reallocations of effort and/or resources. While much of the necessary work is already underway, it will still take years to complete our "To Do" list-so we must measure our progress toward these goals with appropriate data, share the results broadly, and discuss how we are doing with interested constituencies.

New Paltz can and should be an elite, highly selective, residential public college. That is our overarching objective. And all of us are engaged in the same academic enterprise, whether we share knowledge directly with students, create new knowledge ourselves, or enable others' learning and discovery. We must always keep this unity and nobility of purpose in mind.

Thank you.