Monthly Reports. Along with my monthly reports to the faculty and the Provost's verbal reports to the Academic Senate, Provost Mauceri will now provide a written monthly report to the Academic and Professional Faculty. Given the centrality of academics in our work, he and I believe that the entire faculty should hear regularly from the Provost. While academic issues remain key among my concerns and interests as President, it is appropriate that the Provost – as chief academic officer and chief personnel officer of the faculty – fill this important communication role. Both of our reports will come to you a few days before each monthly meeting (staggered by a day or so to ease your reading burden!). The Provost will join me in responding to questions at faculty meetings, and he will represent me when other demands take me away from campus.
Upcoming Events. Alumni Reunion Weekend is September 21-23. Many departments and units are hosting events and activities, and I thank you in advance for this work to maintain existing connections with our alumni and to build new ones – during alumni weekend and throughout the year. Several of the dean's advisory boards will meet in conjunction with alumni weekend. These groups are proving great ways to engage alumni (as well as non-alumni members) with the College, to gain advice and insight from working professionals, and to increase private giving. I look forward to welcoming these advisory boards to the campus. Last spring's fund-raising feasibility study identified a clear need for us to improve our alumni relations, and we will be searching this year for a new director to lead this work.
Parent and Family Weekend is September 29-30. If you are on campus, I encourage you to welcome parents and family members to campus and to assist them as best you can. You are certainly welcome to join me for "Coffee Hour with the President" to meet and visit with parents from 10:30-11:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 29, in SUB 100. This weekend provides great opportunity to cement student and family ties to the College (and hear feedback about the College!).
Admissions Open House for prospective students and their parents is October 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., to include an academic department fair, student services fair, admission presentations, and campus tours. At Open House, we showcase our program offerings, and model the close interaction between students and faculty/staff that is the core of the New Paltz experience; these connections are influential in the choices students make. As I have shared with you recently, the competition for students, especially top-quality students, is increasingly stiff. Admissions staff do a great job of building student interest in our campus, and we rely on faculty, staff, and departments to continue this relationship building by explaining and demonstrating to prospective students and parents what we do so well. I thank you for your participation in these events. Parenthetically, I will note that since I spoke about this issue in my State of the College address, I learned that one of our sister campuses needed to dip deeper into its pool of less-qualified applicants to meet its numerical enrollment target for the year. These concerns are very real.
Faculty Hiring. Our faculty ranks this fall are enriched by many new colleagues, and we are conducting multiple searches this year for new faculty who will join us in fall 2013. I will comment briefly on the strategy behind the increased prevalence of lecturers in our hiring mix. In part, this was a way to hedge our bets against financial uncertainties beyond this year – especially consequences of a new SUNY system administration algorithm for allocating taxpayer support to campuses, still to be finalized. If our finances are favorable, over time we will replace some of these lecturers with tenure-line hires.
Furthermore, in some instances these are one-year positions to meet critical teaching needs while a tenure-track search is underway. In the past, we would have hired adjuncts course-by-course at such times, but we believe that full-time lecturers bring more stability in staffing and provide more consistent instruction and advising for our students. These positions will not continue when the relevant tenure-line position is filled. Similarly, our sabbatical replacements this year include more lecturers and fewer adjuncts than in the past, for the same educational reasons. In some cases, we determined that tremendous pressures for instruction at the introductory course level warranted hiring lecturers whose sole contribution is teaching, rather than the combination of teaching and scholarship that we expect of tenure-line faculty.
How We Stack Up. In our Middle States re-accreditation review two years ago, we were praised for having built a strong culture of assessment. In that spirit, I often share with you data and analyses that inform our thinking about areas of strength or shortcoming and help us track our institutional effectiveness. I will share here two results that are germane to the conversations we are beginning about course scheduling and general education revision.
The Student Opinion Survey (SOS) is a SUNY-wide instrument administered every three years; it measures student views about their home institution and their educational experience, and lets us compare trends in our performance over time. We can also compare our students' average responses with those of other SUNY comprehensive colleges.
We have just received results of the 2012 survey and are evaluating and organizing the results so that we can present them to you in the coming weeks. There are several very positive trends since 2009, as well as a few areas suggesting need for substantial improvement that we will bring to the attention of relevant units.
We score significantly below the sector average on "Availability of courses in your major" and "Availability of general education courses," ranking #11 of 12 campuses on both. Our low scores and rankings are not new, but have remained relatively consistent from 2006 to 2009 to 2012. These results are especially striking because they represent two of the relatively few items in the entire survey on which we compare less favorably than other campuses in our sector.
Analyses of Graduation Rates. It is firmly established that the academic preparation and capability of incoming students is one of the strongest factors influencing several measures of institutional effectiveness, including graduation rate. We speak with justifiable pride about our high and increasing graduation rates, but it is worth asking the hard question of whether our graduation rates are as high as they should be given our relatively high selectivity. Data in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education tabulation, including average SAT scores of entering students and 4- and 6-year graduation rates, allow us to address that question in comparison with other SUNY campuses.
At Friday's meeting, I will present this analysis graphically. It shows that our 4-year graduation rate is actually lower than predicted for our students' entering SAT scores, based on the statistical relationship between SAT and graduation rate for SUNY campuses. By the 6th-year, we "catch up," joining several other SUNY campuses in having graduation rates slightly above the predicted graduation rate (for the statisticians, r = 0.89 for both comparisons, r2=0.79-0.80, and n = 13 comprehensive campuses and research universities).
These results support a conclusion that we may not be doing our best to meet student needs for academic progress and timely graduation. The pattern of 4-year underperformance and 6-year compensation is consistent with course availability barriers to graduation. Several SUNY campuses in this comparison have 4-year graduation rates that are notably higher than predicted based on entering SAT scores (rather than lower, like ours). We would do well to understand how their practices differ from ours.
AAC&U Presidents' Trust. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) recently asked me to join about 100 other college presidents in their "President's Trust." The AAC&U is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education; we have re-joined the AAC&U after our membership had lapsed. Members of the Presidents' Trust support and advocate for the AAC&U's Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) initiative, an important foundation of our liberal education discussions during the past two years. LEAP identifies and articulates the core values of a strong liberal education, including the value of broad knowledge and in-depth knowledge in at least one area; intellectual capacities like analysis, information literacy, writing and speaking effectively, problem-solving, working effectively in diverse groups; and a sense of personal and social responsibility.
The goals of the Trust include building broader public and campus understanding about what today's students need from a contemporary college education. Members work to address some of the difficult challenges facing liberal education today, such as overcoming the mistaken idea that liberal education is confined to the arts and humanities, or that it is by definition "non-vocational." Participation in the Trust enriches my opportunities to showcase for the broader community what we do so well and why it is valued. This work will support our regional outreach and communication, student recruitment, and fund-raising, and I hope will inform campus discussion about continuing to strengthen our educational offerings.
I will look forward to seeing you at this week's meeting and to responding to any questions you might have – about this report, strategic planning, or other matters. Please plan to attend the reception after the meeting to be held in the Multi-Purpose Room of the Student Union where we will welcome new academic and professional faculty and congratulate those faculty who were recently promoted or granted continuing or permanent appointment.
Donald P. Christian