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photo of President Poskanzer

Presidential Reports and Communications

President's Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
May 9, 2012

It’s hard to believe that the 2011-12 year will be ending in another week with May commencement ceremonies! This May we will recognize August and December 2011 graduates as well as May and August 2012 candidates, and expect a large number of students to participate in commencement. These are important rituals for our students, their families and our campus community. It means a lot to our students and their families to interact on this special day with the faculty and staff members who have made such a significant difference in their education and their lives. As a longtime faculty member myself, I know this is a joyous time of year to watch students you have mentored reach this educational and life milestone. Our 1975 alumnus, Dr. Tomás Morales, who worked for 15 years at New Paltz and is now the president of the College of Staten Island, will speak at the undergraduate ceremony on Sunday, May 20, and will receive an honorary degree for his accomplishments in higher education. I hope many of you will participate in these celebratory events. You have earned it!

It has been an extremely busy and difficult year, marked by unexpected occurrences such as Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, October snowstorms, and racial incidents, along with what seems like an endless stream of administrative and faculty searches. The past two years have truly been a time of challenging transition in the life of the College, no doubt exacerbated by great state, national, and global economic and social disruption.  I am aware of the stress and anxiety that these circumstances have created for our community, and that we will carry key uncertainties into next year as a result of tasks we were not about to accomplish fully this year.  I appreciate everyone’s patience with this stress and these challenges.

But at the same time, we should not lose sight of our progress this year and the significant collective accomplishments of the College’s faculty, staff, and students.  I look forward to welcoming our new provost, deans and faculty members to the campus, and moving into a more stable period in which to plan, work, and advance our institutional goals.

Administrative Searches.  You have heard that Dr. Michael Rosenberg, Professor of Special Education and Associate Dean for Research in the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, has been hired as Dean of Education.  He will join us on August 3.  We are nearing the end of the library dean search, with the third and final candidate visiting campus on May 8; I hope to receive the search committee’s recommendation, finalize my decision on an appointment, and be able to announce the outcome of this search in the next two weeks.  I have been in regular contact with Provost-designate Philip Mauceri, beginning to familiarize him with initiatives and issues here.  We are developing other plans to mentor and acclimate each of these new leaders when they arrive on campus this summer, and will be asking Deans and Vice Presidents to develop “briefing papers” as appropriate for the incoming Provost and Dean.  I know that Drs. Mauceri and Rosenberg are in touch with each other.  I am pleased that members of the Provost search committee volunteered to serve as a transition/orientation resource for Dr. Mauceri after his arrival on campus, a format that I have seen work very well elsewhere.

Student Recruitment.  This year, we had established a first-year entering class target of 1,125.  We now have 1,135 deposits and will add a few more to compensate for anticipated summer “melt.”  Our fall target for transfer students has remained steady at 650 for the past several years.  We are within a dozen or so of meeting that target and intend to exceed it slightly, also to address summer melt.  While it is too early in the academic cycle to predict graduation and retention rates with any accuracy, advanced registration has effectively kept pace with last year, suggesting that our retention rates are stable as well.

The freshman and transfer classes were selected through a rigorous and competitive admission screening process; they are an academically strong and motivated group of incoming scholars.  This is also a diverse group of students, with 27% of the first-year class and 22% of the transfer class from traditionally underrepresented groups.  New Paltz competes for students in a market that is increasingly fierce as colleges and universities vie for a shrinking pool of college-bound students.  Everyone on a college campus contributes to enrollment management.  Our success in recruiting the right number of smart, talented, and diverse students is a community success, and I appreciate the work of the many faculty and staff who embrace that belief and support this work.  Thanks!

As broader context for these figures, it is worth noting that the first-year class of fall 2008 numbered about 1,300 students, the largest entering class in the history of the College.  These students are approaching their four-year graduation this May, and a very large group of them will commence this spring.  As this unusually large class graduates, they leave a larger-than-normal enrollment “hole.” By meeting our targets for new student enrollments and continuing to retain current students at high rates, we have filled that gap. 

Budget Update.  Since my last report, we have been gathering feedback from a variety of campus constituencies about our budget process and the allocation requests for new tuition revenue that you submitted. We met with about 60 members of the Administrative Council (which includes department chairs, directors, deans and vice presidents); with the Budget, Goals and Plans Committee; and with student leadership.  We are consulting with those union leaders who have accepted our invitation to provide input and feedback. 

I am rewarded by feedback like the following from a faculty member who participated in one of these sessions:  “The conversation was informative, and clarified the methodology of the remaining decision making process.  We all know there are many decisions to be made, but as you are aware, it is easy to favor allocation requests based on a personal perspective, and conversations like the one yesterday help to contextualize the submissions with the overall mission of the college.  The invitation to participate is meaningful to the membership and is truly appreciated…”  Such feedback affirms our commitment to continue the open, transparent budget process we exercised during last year’s difficult budget-reduction planning.

The input and ideas we have heard have formed the basis for discussion and consultation with the 19-member “Wonk” group about priorities.  Those discussions in turn will inform my decisions about priorities, reached after consultation with members of Cabinet.  We will hold a public forum for all faculty, staff and students on Monday, May 14, from 4 to 6 p.m. in LC100. At the forum we will share the feedback we have heard, and discuss approaches we have considered such as blending or combining proposals where it makes sense. 

We will share preliminary decisions about priorities for funding requests, even though we will not be able to announce the full array of funded requests immediately.  SUNY campus budgets beyond 12-13 remain uncertain, pending the outcome of a revised approach to allocating resources to campuses.  This uncertainty about the longer-term horizon dictates some caution about commitments we make now that will extend beyond next year.  That said, we are eager to finalize as many decisions as possible.  Those decisions will allow Deans and departments to plan, including hiring temporary personnel to meet critical instructional needs next year while searches for the highest-priority tenure-line positions are under way for new colleagues to join us in fall 2013.

These decisions to be discussed next week will clearly confirm our criteria that we must become even more student-focused than we are, and that we further sharpen the attention we give to the student experience and to enhancing student success. Such thinking must assume top priority not only in our decisions about allocating new tuition revenue but in our longer-term planning and prioritization.    

State of the College.   As I shared in an earlier report, and so that you can mark your calendars, I remind you that we will launch the 2012-13 academic year with a new tradition – I will deliver my State of the College Address at an all-employee event on the morning of Friday, August 24, before classes are in session.  We will begin with light refreshments from 8:45-9:25 AM, followed by my presentation at 9:30 in LC 100.  This schedule will allow time for traditional orientation activities for new students before we come together again at noon for the traditional new-student Convocation.  I ask that supervisors be generous in supporting the opportunity for all employees to attend this State of the College gathering.

External Activities. Some of you attended the live session or listened to the broadcast of my interview with Alan Chartock on WAMC radio.  This program is posted on the home page if you are interested in hearing it.  Our conversation took some turns that surprised me, like how to pick up a skunk without getting sprayed and concerns about whitetail deer population management! But much of our discussion focused on expected topics of higher education, leadership, and my perspectives about SUNY New Paltz.

I continue to meet with prospective new Directors of the Foundation Board, as part of our work to grow the Board as we position ourselves for an expanded fund-raising effort.  I met recently with current Directors to discuss ways they can contribute to our goals.  I look forward to joining School of Business Dean Hadi Salavitabar later this week at the School’s “Hall of Fame” induction ceremony, an important connection between the College and the regional business community.  Shelly Wright (in her role as Government Relations Officer) and I recently hosted U. S. Congressman Chris Gibson of the 20th Congressional District on a campus visit.  We discussed the many strengths and points of pride of the College, the ways that we educate students and enrich the region, and how we are planning for the future.  We spoke briefly about congressional re-districting and how that will change the representation that New Paltz has in the House of Representatives.  We gave the Congressman a short tour of campus, and discussed his interest in further involvement in our programs.  I was impressed with Congressman Gibson’s knowledge and insights and his engagement with the College and our goals.

Faculty Consultation.  I have enjoyed and valued the conversations that I have had with faculty and staff in the several “brown bag” discussions I have held this year.  However, participation in most of these sessions has been scanty (two faculty in the most recent discussion).  For that and other reasons, these discussions have not proven to be a satisfactory way of achieving my goal of staying informed about major issues that are on your mind.  During the summer, I will be exploring alternative ways to realize this aim.

Receptions. This is a reminder that you are invited to several receptions that I hope you will attend:

    • Recognizing and thanking Simin Mozayeni for her four-plus years of service as Presiding Officer of the Faculty, Wednesday, May 9, immediately after the 12-2 PM Faculty meeting in LC 102. 
    • Recognizing and thanking six individuals who served in interim leadership roles this year and last, including Cheryl Torsney, Laurel M. Garrick Duhaney, Karen Bell, Dan Freedman, Stella Deen, and William Connors.  This event will be Thursday, May 10, 3-5PM in the Terrace. 
    • A retirement reception for Marda Reid, who devoted more than 20 years to SUNY New Paltz in various roles in the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Administration and Finance, and the Office of Human Resources, most recently as Assistant Vice President for Human Resources. This event will take place on Tuesday, May 15, from 2 to 4 PM in the pre-event space outside the Multi-Purpose Room in the Student Union Building. 

Chancellor’s Awards.  Please join me in congratulating Cecilia Donato, secretary in Elementary Education in the School of Education, for her selection to receive the Chancellor’s Award for Classified Service.  This award, based on the nomination and recommendation brought forward from the School of Education, will be conferred at commencement.  

Old Main Re-dedication. The re-dedication of a renovated Old Main is scheduled for 11AM on Friday, May 11, at the front entrance of the building. We will hold a moment of silence for Professor Emerita of Music Mary Boyle, who passed away last week after a long illness. Her funeral service will now be held at noon on Friday at St. Joseph’s Church with a reception following in the church parlor. This shift in start time will allow the many people who are involved in the Old Main event to be able to pay their respects to Dr. Boyle as well.

At the rededication, we are expecting  many out of town visitors, including state legislators, the project architect, engineers, contractors, State University Construction Fund colleagues from Albany, retired Dean Robert Michael, SUNY Provost David Lavallee, many faculty and staff who contributed to the success of this project,  and many alumni.  For many of our alumni, Old Main was THE campus that they knew.

The re-dedication will include the symbolic presentation of historic plaques, including a re-dedication plaque. In addition,  Dr. Lou Saraceno, Professor Emeritus of Spanish, will present a plaque about the history of language instruction and language faculty at New Paltz. State Assemblymember Kevin Cahill, Class of 1977, and State Senator John Bonacic, who were instrumental in securing funding for this renovation, will be present.  The Old Main renovation was planned and built to U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards, and we are awaiting word on LEED certification. 

All-Campus Appreciation Picnic and BBQ. The campuswide picnic and BBQ will be held this year on Wednesday, May 23, from 11 AM to 2 PM in the Athletic and Wellness Center. We will again be recognizing staff with our campus Classified Staff Presidential Recognition Awards. The picnic is sponsored by the Office of the President to say thank you for everyone’s efforts throughout the year. Lunch hours will be extended to one hour on May 23, where necessary, for employees planning to attend the festivities. In order to provide department coverage during this time, supervisors may need to plan for staggered lunch periods to cover operations to allow all employees to attend.  As always, Cabinet members and I look forward to staffing the grills and serving food.

Presidential Priorities for Summer.  While I look forward to a slightly different pace of work this summer, I harbor few illusions of many lazy days!  It is good that you know some of the work I will undertake during the summer.  Externally, we are planning a significant alumni cultivation event in New York City at the end of May, along with a week’s travel to meet with California alumni and prospective donors in late June.  The Foundation is currently working with a consultant who is interviewing alumni and prospective donors and undertaking other work to inform the scope and direction of our fund-raising campaign.  The consultant’s report is expected during June, and charting our course based on those results will be a significant focus for me and Foundation and Development leadership over the summer.  I am scheduled to speak at the New Paltz Chamber of Commerce Scholarship Luncheon in June.
On the campus, I will be working with Interim Provost Torsney to complete faculty personnel actions during June.   I will devote major time and attention during summer to developing an approach and format for next year’s strategic planning process, perhaps to be undertaken with the assistance of an outside consultant.  Of course, continuing to support the new Provost, new deans, and the new Executive Director of Compliance and Campus Climate (who reports directly to the President) during their transitions will be a priority.  We are planning a Cabinet retreat later in the summer.  No doubt some of the ongoing and planned construction and renovation projects will require my attention due to the transition in the Provost’s Office.

I am excited to share the news that I have been accepted to participate in the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents, July 13-18.  Major topics of this seminar include contexts of leadership; governance; fund-raising; the president as academic leader; and strategic planning.  I have heard from colleagues how valuable this seminar has been in their leadership development, and look forward to this opportunity to continue learning how to contribute most effectively in my leadership role.

And, I do plan some time away from work and the campus for a “real” vacation in early August, to re-fuel for an exciting coming year.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at the celebratory events that mark the close of another academic year in the life of the College.

Donald P. Christian