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photo of President Poskanzer

Presidential Reports and Communications

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
May 10, 2013

As we near the end of another academic year, I have been reflecting on the many marks of our progress and the significant accomplishments of the College’s faculty, staff, and students since last fall, including:

  • multiple recognitions given to our faculty and students for individual achievements;
  • continued progress in improving our campus climate, as reflected in recognition of our Title IX accomplishments and the work of the LGBTQ task force;
  • continued national recognitions and rankings;
  • international accreditation for our School of Business;
  • an exciting faculty art exhibition, the first in about a decade;
  • major strides in our sustainability work;
  • completion of a successful strategic planning process;
  • continuation of a consultative budget-allocation process;
  • a successful January “winterim” online experiment;
  • improvements in course scheduling;
  • attaining record-high graduation rates;
  • distinctive achievement by student athletic teams in several sports.

While we have dealt with many challenges this past year, on the campus and beyond, and undoubtedly will face new challenges next year, we also should take time to celebrate these and many other marks of success.

Commencement.  Commencement is an ideal time to do just that.  At next week’s commencement ceremonies, we will recognize August and December 2012 graduates as well as May and August 2013 candidates.  I know you are aware of how much it means to our students and their families to interact on this special day with the faculty and staff who have made such a difference in their education and lives.  This day is an important ritual for our students and their families, and an opportunity for the campus community to reflect on and celebrate our work.  I encourage you to participate in these celebratory events, as they provide a meaningful capstone to the year’s activities for faculty and staff – reminding us in the most visible ways of why our work matters in the world. 

Professor Lew Brownstein (Political Sciece and International Relations), who is retiring this spring after 45 years on the faculty, will serve as Grand Marshal and Macebearer. This continues my practice of annually rotating this role among our senior-most faculty to recognize their contributions (Professor Gerald Benjamin, Grand Marshal at last summer’s Convocation, and Professor Brownstein began their service at New Paltz in the same year and have shared these duties this year).  As I reported last month, we will be recognizing New Paltz alumnus and long-time U. S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey (’68, ’70g) with an honorary degree.  Lori DuBord, a 1994 New Paltz alumna and long-time staff member to the Congressman, will speak at the undergraduate commencement ceremony. 

Faculty and Staff Appreciation Picnic. As another academic year comes to a close, it is time once again to celebrate at this year’s all-Faculty and Staff Appreciation Picnic & BBQ, Wednesday, May 22, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Old Main Quad. Once again, members of the college administration will help cook and serve the picnic lunch.   

The picnic is sponsored by the Office of the President to say thank you for the efforts of all faculty and all staff throughout the year.  We will again be recognizing staff with our campus Classified Staff Presidential Recognition Awards, an opportunity for us to recognize and celebrate dedicated employees whose excellent work is sometimes under-appreciated outside of their units or departments but that makes a huge difference in our overall effectiveness.  I ask that supervisors be generous in supporting the opportunity for all employees to attend the festivities on Wednesday, May 22. Hope to see you there!

Dean Recognition Receptions. Please mark your calendars for two important receptions to honor deans who will be leaving their leadership posts to pursue other endeavors next year.

Hadi Salavitabar will be honored on Monday, May 13, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the College Terrace. We will recognize Hadi for 31 years of service to New Paltz and 12 years of leadership as dean of the School of Business.

James Schiffer will be recognized at a brunch reception on Thursday, May 16, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon in the Pre-Function Space outside the Multi-Purpose Room in the Student Union. Jim will be returning to his first loves of teaching and scholarship after five years as the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, New Paltz’s largest academic unit.

Please make every effort to attend these receptions to thank our colleagues for their service.

Construction Update.  Plans are being finalized for construction of a new 236-bed residence hall, to be located at the intersection of South Road and West Hawk Drive, north of Lenape Hall.  We anticipate going out for bid late this summer, breaking ground in December, and beginning occupancy in Fall 2015.  This project is critical to our future, given growing evidence that housing on or adjacent to campus is a factor in the interest or ability of transfer students to join our community.  The Wooster renovation is progressing well and on schedule; the aim is to enclose the building before next winter so that interior work can proceed.  Wooster will be ready for occupancy before the start of fall semester 2015.  Uncertainty remains about the library renovation and new science building construction, but the most recent assessment is that these projects will go out for bid in fall 2013 and work will commence at the start of the state’s next fiscal year in April 2014.

Strategic Plan. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee has considered feedback from the campus community on the previous draft of the strategic plan, and has provided me with a final revised draft.  The President’s Cabinet and I are reviewing that draft, and I intend to accept and approve the plan in the next several days.  It will provide us an excellent framework for our work to sustain New Paltz on a positive trajectory in challenging times.  This final version of the plan will be posted on the strategic planning website soon. I am pleased both at the outcome and the process, which I believe achieved our intended goal of developing a community sense of the most critical improvements for us to achieve in the next 3-5 years.  Some of these emphasize becoming even better in areas where our institutional performance is already very strong, while others address areas of clear under-performance in which we must improve if we are to continue thriving as a top-tier public comprehensive college.

I am finalizing the composition of administrative and professional members of the new Strategic Planning Council, who will 1) take the finalized plan and work during the summer to identify and prioritize specific recommended actions to achieve the plan’s eight major initiatives, and 2) develop metrics and benchmarks for assessing our progress on those actions.  I will discuss the final plan more fully and announce these actions in my August State of the College address.  As I reported last month, we will wait until fall to identify specific actions that are primarily in the faculty domain.  Then, we will add additional faculty to the Strategic Planning Council to guide and advise those elements of implementing the plan. Our goal is to have recommendations on those further priorities established by the middle of the fall semester.

I thank the steering committee members, especially co-chairs Patricia Sullivan and Stella Turk, for their thoughtful guidance of this year-long effort, and the faculty, staff, students, alumni, Foundation Board members, College Council members, and others who participated in the planning process and gave feedback on drafts of the plan.

Enrollment Update.  We have been sounding the alarm about remaining successful in an environment of intense competition for new students, as a result of changing demographic, economic, and other factors.  You have heard the reality that some SUNY (and many other) institutions faced budget challenges this year because of lower-than-planned enrollments at the start of 2012-13. In the current recruiting season for this fall, we are seeing signs that such impacts are intensifying.  We have learned of one SUNY sister campus whose enrollment for next fall’s entering class is down by 25%.  Another selective SUNY institution is accepting students who we have denied admission, and is offering free residence hall rooms to some accepted students in an attempt to meet its enrollment targets.  And yet another selective SUNY campus is delving deep into its wait list to recruit the numbers needed for next fall’s entering class. 

With this in mind, I wish to share our current numbers for incoming first-year and transfer students for next fall.  We received more first-year applications than last year, and accepted more students, but a slightly reduced yield means that the number of applicants who have paid deposits lags slightly behind last year.  With 1,108 students having paid deposits (as of end of day May 8) and additional play in our application pool, we have reason to be optimistic that we will reach our target of 1,125 new first-year students (at this same time last year, our count was 1,133).  We always try to overshoot, so that we remain at our target enrollment after the inevitable “summer melt” (students who decide not to attend even after having paid the deposit).  While the number of students who “melt” has been reasonably predictable, the obvious winds of change in recruitment should make us cautious about whether these patterns will hold this year and in the future, perhaps arguing for even more buffer than in the recent past – and increasing our anxiety about reaching next year’s enrollment target (and resulting tuition revenue).   

Our transfer population is a cause of greater concern.  Despite having fewer applications and accepting fewer transfer students than last year, the number of paid deposits was running ahead of last year during much of this recruiting season.  Transfer students who took advantage of the limited residence hall housing that we  offered (for the first time in about seven years) accounted for the difference.  That picture changed abruptly when that housing option was exhausted.  We now lag 56 transfer students behind last year and considerably below our target of 650 new transfer students. 

This pattern dramatizes the profound need for more student housing  – especially projects such as Park Point.  We will continue to stretch our current residence hall capacity by “tripling” at the highest manageable level.  But there are staffing, programming, and other limits to how much we can or should use that approach.  It should be obvious that housing constraints mean that we cannot compensate for reduced transfer student numbers by admitting more first-year students (even if the pool of applicants would allow this).

Thus, all of the dire forecasts about competition for students are being realized.  So far, these are less severe for us than for other New York institutions, but we must be concerned that the same wave hitting other colleges and universities will reach us more fully in the next several years. 

This year’s patterns suggest that students and their parents will have opportunity in the next few years to be much more selective in choosing a college or university, beyond matters of cost alone.  As an academic at heart, I resist certain analogies but acknowledge that increasingly we will operate in a “buyers’ market.”  In this year’s budget process, we have prioritized investments to increase our communication and marketing capability and student financial aid.  These efforts, along with initiatives identified in the strategic plan to further strengthen our academic and student life programming, will be increasingly critical to our success.

There are some bright spots in the enrollment picture.  To date, the percentage of students in our incoming first-year class from historically under-represented racial groups is higher than any other year in the past decade.  The percentage of students of color in our incoming transfer class is the highest in our history.  The level of academic preparation of our incoming first-year class, as measured by the SUNY selectivity categories, promises to be comparable to the past several years.    

Registrations by current undergraduate students for fall semester classes are on par with last year, suggesting strong retention that will support our total enrollment and our tuition revenue generation.  Summer undergraduate enrollment is also strong, also promising an important contribution to our annual revenue. Fall semester registration by current matriculated graduate students is nearly identical to the same date last year, but summer enrollments are notably down. We do not have firm figures for new graduate student enrollments. 

Digital Design and Fabrication (3-D Printing).  Deans Mary Hafeli (Fine and Performing Arts) and Dan Freedman (Science and Engineering) and faculty in Art, Computer Science, and Electrical and Computer Engineering have been brainstorming and planning for some time about innovative programming at the interface of art and science/engineering/technology. This planning has focused on the interface of digital design and new fabrication technologies, including 3-D printing.  The faculty leading this effort have co-taught interdisciplinary courses or paired courses that have included students in art, engineering, computer science, and other areas.  The array of projects undertaken and objects created has been impressive, and the excitement generated around this initiative is huge.  The faculty have drafted a curriculum for a certificate program that would be made available to our matriculated students and to a broader, continuing education base as well. The curriculum will be submitted for review in the fall.

We have connected with economic development and other organizations  interested in supporting the growth and expansion of this technology in the Hudson Valley and in positioning SUNY New Paltz as the leader in innovation, application, and education in the use of 3-D printing in the region.  To highlight this initiative, we will be co-sponsoring and hosting a conference on 3-D printing on campus on May 30, 8:30-10:00 a.m.  To date, approximately 150 people have committed to attend, including entrepreneurs, artists, economic development experts, representatives of business and industry, colleagues and students from the community colleges.  The work of our students and faculty will be featured at the conference.  Faculty and staff interested in participating in the conference may learn more here.

State of the College 2013-14.  Please mark your calendars for events on August 23, 2013 to launch the 2013-14 academic year.  I will deliver my State of the College address at an all-employee event on the morning of Friday, August 23, 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 our regular 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.

Professor Jack Wade, Chair of Theatre Arts and 2013 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, will provide the convocation address.  Professor Hon Ho of Biology will serve as Grand Marshal and Macebearer for 2013-14, representing the faculty at Convocation and at the May 2014 commencement ceremonies.

Presidential Priorities for Summer.  Here is a brief overview of some of the work I will undertake this summer.  Obviously, completing the vice presidential searches will occupy some of my attention, along with reviewing the position description and responsibilities for the Assistant Vice President for Institutional Research and Planning to begin that search later in the summer.  I will be working with the Cabinet and the Strategic Planning Council on implementation of the strategic plan.  In conjunction with the Foundation’s fund-raising consultant, I have begun work with an external fund-raising steering committee that is advising and guiding strategy for addressing major gaps in our fund-raising capacity.  That work will continue over the summer.  I am scheduled to speak at the above-noted conference on 3-D printing, and at the New Paltz Chamber of Commerce Scholarship Luncheon in June.  In July, I will participate in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) Summer Presidents Institute in Annapolis.  And, I do plan some vacation time away from work and the campus. 

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, and wish each of you a productive, enjoyable, and renewing summer.
Sincerely,

Donald P. Christian
President