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Presidential Reports and Communications

President’s Report

President’s Report to Academic and Professional Faculty
February 27, 2014

Even though the schedule of regular faculty meetings has shifted this semester to allow more focus on the very important liberal education discussion, I will maintain the practice of providing you with a monthly update on campus news, ongoing initiatives, and highlights of some of my own work:   

Men’s Volleyball.  The men’s volleyball team was voted the top-ranked national Division III team this month -- the first time in the history of SUNY New Paltz athletics that we have earned the distinction of a No. 1 nationally-ranked team! The team held this spot until a loss to MIT earlier this week, resulting in a drop to No. 2; the team’s overall record is now13-2. Congratulations to our student athletes, coaches, and athletic staff on their accomplishments and best wishes for a continuing great season.

Discretionary Salary Awards for 2013.  I spoke at the February 21 faculty meeting about the decision reached in consultation with Provost Mauceri and others to base discretionary salary awards (DSA) for 2013 solely on accomplishments and contributions during 2013 (calendar year for academics, fiscal year for professionals).  This decision means that I am not accepting the recommendation approved by the faculty at the February 7 meeting to include achievements during 2011 in DSA consideration for academic faculty.  I shared the following rationale for this decision:   

  • The call for DSI recommendations in 2012 (to be based on 2011 achievements) was explicit that the previous collective bargaining agreement had expired, and that it was not possible to predict provisions for salary adjustments to be made in 2012 or beyond.
  • The collective bargaining agreement ratified in 2013 indeed included no pool for DSI or DSA to be made in 2012. 
  • We are concerned about fairness to faculty new to the campus in 2011 or 2012.  They obviously would not be eligible for a discretionary award or adjustment based on 2011 achievements.  But they are eligible for salary awards based on achievements in 2013 (for which salary awards are included in the bargaining agreement).  Diminishing the funds available to recognize 2013 accomplishments by considering work from a previous year would provide a legitimate basis for criticism about the DSA process and outcomes. 

I do not take casually a decision that overrides a recommendation from faculty governance.  However, I do not see a better path than this to bridge a gap in provisions between an expired and a new bargaining agreement.  Call letters for academic faculty DSA will be sent out in the next couple of weeks, for professionals later in the spring. 

Budget Update.  Cabinet has received and begun to prioritize requests for new budget allocations that have come forward through our budget process, adhering to our general timeframe and using the strategic plan and its priorities as a guide.  This includes requests for new positions originating with departments and prioritized by deans, Vice Presidents, and, for faculty lines, the Provost in consultation with the deans.  In the coming weeks, we will be meeting with Budget, Goals and Plans Committee and student governance leaders to discuss the proposals. As we have shared, we will not know the level of funding available to allocate to new requests until after the state budget is finalized and SUNY announces campus allocations.  In the meantime, we continue our advocacy with legislative leaders for increased funding for SUNY.

Departmental Points of Pride.  I shared highlights of the “Admitted Student Questionnaire” analysis in my January report.  Those results showed we do not compare favorably with top competitor institutions in student perceptions and images about our academic reputation, level of academic challenge, special academic programs, selectivity, preparation for career, academic facilities, and availability and quality of majors.  Shifting such perceptions is a key purpose of the strategic plan goal of strengthening our communication and marketing efforts.

I also wrote that the February 3 meeting of the Administrative Council would be devoted to discussion to inform the content and organization of departmental “brag sheets” or “points of pride” to highlight major strengths and accomplishments of each academic and administrative department.  The primary purposes of this material would be to 1) influence the perceptions of prospective students, their parents, and others by making our many strengths more visible; and 2) informing our collective impressions of each others’ strengths and influencing our daily language about our own and other departments.  That discussion was lively and engaged, and provided the staff in Communication and Marketing with important direction to develop templates for such “brag sheets.”  We envision that these could be a link to each departmental home page as well as accessed through a variety of paths on our website, and provide substance to incorporate into admissions and other material. 

Examples of the kinds of information to include are alumni successes; important personal stories (not just data) illustrating student experiences; stories and examples of mentoring successes; faculty scholarship, including how it connects with the student experience; key facilities available to students; collective accomplishments; internship opportunities; highlighting creative and academic work of students.  One thoughtful participant response came by email afterward:

 “…more than top 10 [brag points] per se, is characteristic excellence (my emphasis added).  E.g.: "[name of major] undergraduates typically engage in research with their professors; more than twenty [name of major] majors presented research co-authored with their professors at this year's xxx conference."  This kind of brag would take minimal updating every year; or, at least, departments would not have to start from scratch each year, since characteristic brags will be more enduring.  In turn, enduring brags will contribute more to external and internal perceptions of New Paltz.”

These examples reflect the departmental strengths that we want to showcase more effectively to begin shifting the perception of our academic profile.  I hope that your chairs and directors have brought this discussion back to your department, and that you have begun considering the content that you would include as points of pride for this purpose.  Communication and Marketing has developed an online fillable form for the brag sheets, and is helping with the refinement of two departmental draft brag sheets – one academic, one administrative – that will be shared as a “model” to facilitate the work of other departments. Stay tuned for more information. 

MakerBot Innovation Center.  We held a press event and ribbon-cutting ceremony on February 11 to celebrate the opening of the nation’s first MakerBot Innovation Center (http://www.newpaltz.edu/3d/).  This was the latest step in the growth of our faculty-generated 3D printing program that will position New Paltz to lead the development and application of this technology.  This initiative captures an exciting interdisciplinary interface of arts and technology, shines a bright spotlight on the College, and expands opportunities to engage the region – all in support of aims of our strategic plan.

The day’s events included a presentation by Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, and one of the leading innovators in 3D printing technology.  The overflow, turn-away crowd in LC 102 underscored the great interest that this technology and our developing program are generating among students, faculty, community members, and regional companies.  Some of the press coverage of the day can be found here.  I also call your attention to the recent invitation from Dan Freedman (facstaff email of 2/19) to learn more about this technology by taking advantage of the training in use of the relevant software and hardware.

Strategic Plan.  The Strategic Planning Council has now shared with you templates for the remaining strategic plan initiatives.  These include objectives, action items, and metrics that will guide our progress on the plan, and serve as a framework for connecting departmental plans to the mission and goals of the College.  These templates are working documents, and action items and metrics are expected to evolve as the plan is implemented.  Increasingly, the plan and its objectives are driving budget allocation decisions. 

While the detail contained in the templates is essential for guiding our work and helping us assess our progress, we do not want to lose sight of the overarching goals of the plan and the inspiration that we should draw from it.  The Strategic Planning Council is discussing unifying themes and language that capture the plan’s essence, and that amplify the common, shared features of the essential initiatives.  The Council’s discussion last week highlighted three straightforward themes, all consistent with the community input on the plan:

  • Excel:  to achieve a higher standard of excellence in all of our work, building on what we already do well.
  • Connect: the theme of “Only Connect” that I highlighted in this year’s State of the College Address continues to resonate, as a path to achieve many of the goals of the plan and, in some respects, an important goal in its own right.
  • Serve: our students, their learning, and their future; our mission, the region, the public that supports us, and the future of the College.

Each of the eight initiatives clearly embodies these themes, providing a useful framework for us to think about the “big-picture” outcomes that we seek.  These themes will provide a framework for the Steering Committee’s conversations with the campus community about plan implementation.  Stay tuned.

Economic Impact Analysis.  We are completing printed and other material to communicate about our most recent analysis of the College’s economic impact, an update of the previous (2010) report.  I will discuss these results more fully in my March report, and because I am beginning to refer to them in various presentations, I will touch briefly on highlights here.  When I speak about our economic impact in the region and the state, I make clear that our primary mission is academic and educational -- to educate students; to engage in research, scholarship, and creative activities; and to share expertise and talent to serve and support our communities.  In addition, we are an economic engine and a source of economic stability in our region.  It serves our mission, purpose and support to make these contributions known.  I hope that you can use information from this analysis to inform your conversations with friends, neighbors, and others who may think that a public university is an economic drain because we receive taxpayer support, when we clearly are an economic asset.

Indeed, one of the most remarkable findings of our latest study is that, despite significant recession-driven budget cuts that forced us to shift our internal economy, our economic impact in the state and the region has been virtually unchanged from before to after the recession.  In 2011-12, the College generated about $336 million in economic activity in the Hudson Valley, and more than $398 million to the state’s economy.  Comparable figures for 2008-09 were $338 million and $399 million – this at a time that economic recovery to pre-recession levels in the Hudson Valley has lagged, and several major employers have eliminated significant numbers of jobs.  Direct college spending and student spending have both increased, and their total economic impact and job generation in the Hudson Valley have increased as a result.  Nearly every measure of volunteerism and community service by College employees has increased (thank you all for these commitments!). Again, more detail to be shared next month.

Community Engagement - Accolades.  Strengthening our regional and community engagement is a priority initiative of the strategic plan – to improve life in the Hudson Valley by serving regional needs and organizations, to create new opportunities for students and faculty in the process, and to enhance the regional profile and visibility of the College.  The Walkill Valley Land Trust approached me last year about establishing closer ties to SUNY New Paltz.  The Land Trust is a non-profit dedicated to preservation of land in southern Ulster County, and to connecting community to the land.  In collaboration with willing landowners, the trust preserves water quality, working farms and farmland, significant habitat, and scenic views. 

In turn, I reached out to several faculty who have responded by working with the Land Trust to develop several new initiatives.  The leadership of the Trust and its Board are thrilled with these efforts.  These include an internship with a sociology student who was hand-picked by Professor Brian Obach and who is “proving to be an invaluable asset…”  Professor Tom Meyer and the Hudson Valley Writing Project will undertake a community, place-based writing project this summer for Hudson Valley students entering grades 6-9.  Other initiatives remain in development, including a three-way collaboration among the Land Trust, Mohonk Preserve, and SUNY New Paltz to be announced later this spring.  I’m grateful to the faculty who have made such partnerships a reality, and surely encourage more such outreach and engagement.

Student Achievement Measure (SAM) initiative.  New Paltz has joined this web-based program that provides an expanded view of student retention and completion, beyond the federally calculated graduation rate based only on first-time, full-time students.  SAM uses National Student Clearinghouse data to report outcomes of students who attend multiple institutions (SUNY and non-SUNY), as well as transfers.  Stony Brook University joined SAM previously, and their website gives an idea of what the SAM report looks like here. SAM is a joint initiative of the six national higher education presidential associations and is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation; every SUNY state-operated campus is part of this project. 

The SAM reports will give us an additional avenue for tracking our progress on these important measures of institutional effectiveness.  We will be able to include the SAM logo on our home page and other sites regularly visited by prospective students and their parents, high-school counselors, policy makers, and others – another opportunity for us to shine a bright light on our institutional and student success and to support our communication and marketing goals.

Partners in Preservation. The College was recognized by the Village of New Paltz Historic Preservation Committee with its “Partners in Preservation” award, accepted by Vice President Michele Halstead and Director of Facilities Design and Construction John McEnrue at a ceremony on February 12.  This award was based on the renovation of Old Main that respected and retained many of its historic features, and for our work to revamp the Old Main Quad.   I very much value and appreciate this recognition of our efforts to respect and honor tradition as we advance the College into a changed future.

External Activities.  This week, I have the opportunity to boast about SUNY New Paltz in three venues:

  • Monday: Interview with Alan Chartock on WAMC Public Radio, program to be broadcast on Thursday (2/27) at 1 PM, and then archived here.
  • Wednesday:  Led a panel discussion on our 3-D printing initiative at the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce February Business Luncheon, joined by Paul Kassel, Interim Dean of Fine and Performing Arts, Arthur Hash, Assistant Professor in Art, Sean Eldridge of Hudson River Ventures and Larry Gottlieb of Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, two of our external partners in this initiative.
  • Friday: Invited panel participant along with three other SUNY presidents to put a “campus face” on SUNY system initiatives, as part of the 3rd Annual SUNY Foundation Summit in New York City.

Our strategic plan connects with so many of the above initiatives or efforts, reinforcing the great value that our plan has in providing context for our work and in focusing our attention and direction.  I hope that each of us and our departments will increasingly frame our work in these themes, and draw inspiration from the plan. 

Sincerely,

Donald P. Christian
President