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Presidential Reports and Communications

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
September 27, 2013

I hope that the fall semester has been well-launched for each of you, and that you are settling in to the rhythm of the academic year.  I have been impressed with the energy and enthusiasm on campus, and with the many exciting activities and events underway and slated for this semester.  I wish to update you on some of our institutional initiatives, challenges, and progress.

Governor Cuomo on Campus.   Governor Cuomo was on campus Tuesday to launch the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program.  This is an initiative he announced earlier in the year to empower communities to rebuild following the natural disasters of the past two years, and to be better prepared for future hurricanes and other major events.

This was the Governor’s second visit here in a few months, after a 20+ year hiatus since the previous visit by a sitting Governor.  This week’s event was executed flawlessly by the New Paltz team, a day after we were asked to host it.  I hear rave reviews from our "guests" every time we hold such an event. 

One of the goals of the strategic plan is to better communicate and market the strengths of New Paltz so that we are less of a "best-kept secret."  Another is to connect with and support the region.  Whenever we do events like this, more and more people in the region learn about us, and they see how well we do things.  This is excellent marketing for New Paltz, and an important service to the region.  I am grateful to everyone who worked so hard (and fast!) to make this event such a success.   

Strategic Planning.   The Strategic Planning Council has drafted an initial list of strategic planning action items, and presented them to the Cabinet and Wonk for consideration and feedback.  It has also designed a template that will include each of the eight Essential Initiatives, their objectives, action items, metrics/benchmarks, offices responsible, timeline, and resources/budget.  This will be a working document to guide and assess implementation and progress on our goals.  The Council will soon share a sample of this template with the community. This model will assist you in connecting your budget requests and assessment plans with priorities of the institutional strategic plan. Information about this year’s budget process will be forthcoming soon.  It is almost certain that we will have substantially fewer funds to invest in new positions and initiatives, and it will be important to scale expectations accordingly.

On other planning fronts, the initial draft of the Graduate School Strategic Plan has been discussed in various settings and was presented by Graduate Dean Laurel M. Garrick Duhaney at last week’s “Wonk” senior leadership meeting.  Provost Mauceri’s report to the faculty includes more detail about this plan, which will be shared soon with the campus.

I met with LGBTQ task force members two weeks ago to discuss the initial draft of their report.  The task force is reviewing portions of the report to prepare a revised version that will be shared with the campus community. 

3D Printing.  We are very excited that our proposal to the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council for the 3D printing initiative was selected as a “top priority project.”  This proposal, which seeks $5.1 million for facilities and equipment acquisition, will now be considered by the Governor’s office for funding, with decisions to be announced in December. 

This initiative (http://www.newpaltz.edu/3d/) is a tremendous collaboration between the School of Fine and Performing Arts and the School of Science and Engineering, generating much interest and excitement among our students and faculty, and advancing at least two initiatives of the strategic plan.  At a conference last spring, we announced the establishment of our Center for Advanced Manufacturing at SUNY New Paltz, a certificate curriculum in “Digital Design and Fabrication,” and two major gifts totaling $500,000 to support this initiative.  The first courses are being offered this semester, with healthy enrollments. Cornell faculty member Hod Lipson, a leading thinker about 3-D printing, spoke on campus recently, the first of what is expected to be an ongoing series of seminars and conferences on this topic.  The diverse audience attending his talk - New Paltz students and faculty from multiple disciplines as well as artists, engineers, manufacturers, business and economic development leaders, and community members  – speaks to the wide interest and appeal of 3D printing.

Our approach to 3D - combining the creativity and innovation of the arts with the technology growing out of engineering and other STEM disciplines – builds on New Paltz strengths and positions us to make unique contributions to this field.  Our vision for the Center includes a shared equipment facility that will support our academic programs and be available to support innovation and business development focused on 3D – creating opportunities for our students, faculty, and graduates in the process.  As I have said before, this is perhaps our best opportunity to participate in and contribute to Governor Cuomo’s Start-Up New York tax-free incentive to spur job growth and economic development.  We are talking with businesses interested in joining us in this initiative, and are learning more about the Start-Up New York program from the Governor’s Office and the SUNY Research Foundation, which will administer the program for SUNY.  The opportunity to create jobs growing out of our academic programs that would keep more of our graduates in the Hudson Valley has immense appeal.  We met this week with New York State Assemblymember Fred Thiele, who is especially interested in our project because he chairs the Assembly Task Force on University-Industry Cooperation, as well as staff from Assemblymember and alumnus Kevin Cahill’s office and Assembly Program Development staff.

Reunion Weekend.  Reunion weekend, September 20-22, was an important step forward in our strategic plan initiative to “Engage Alumni in the Life of the College.”  This year’s reunion weekend was approached as an “experiment,” to try a number of new approaches and seek feedback from alumni, faculty, and staff about what worked and what didn’t.  The stories shared by two scholarship recipients at the Orange and Blue reception touched many donors; our students who participated as “digital story-tellers” were intrigued by what they learned interviewing and photographing alumni; several alumni panels shared keen insights into career development and pathways; and our outstanding musical group “Absolut a Cappella” entertained alumni and their families.  Many alumni noted a different spirit and energy than they had experienced at previous reunions.  Thanks to Brenda Dow and the entire Development Office staff for their hard work and commitment. I know Brenda joins me in thanking the many staff and administrators who volunteered their time to support and coordinate reunion events, and to the faculty, staff, and administrators who met and engaged with alumni at the many campus-wide and school-based activities and events.  Brenda welcomes your input to improve future events (dowb@newpaltz.edu), including ways to increase alumni participation.

As part of implementing the alumni relations strategic plan shared with you recently, we will develop a new Alumni group embedded within the College structure, organization, and culture, with a primary mission and purpose of acting as a liaison between the College and its worldwide community of alumni in support of the College’s goals.  As a result, the College will not be maintaining a relationship with the existing, independent SUNY New Paltz Alumni Association.  The structure and incorporation of that group is inconsistent with SUNY guidelines for alumni organizations, and its focus has been narrowly developed to serve its members in the immediate area, resulting in limited meaningful interaction with the College, little support of institutional goals, and little connection with alumni in other parts of the United States and the world.

SUNY Presidents Meeting.  Last week, SUNY Presidents met and discussed how best to position SUNY to fulfill our educational mission and encourage further state investment in SUNY.  As part of a session on “Academic Performance,” I was asked to present what New Paltz has done to increase graduation rates so notably.  The increase in 4-year graduation rates from 1998 to 2012 at New Paltz was the highest in the SUNY system.   I outlined steps such as improved academic advising, more efficient course scheduling and better course availability, focus on academic quality, increasing reliance on full-time faculty, increased selectivity of admissions, and enhanced residence hall, student life, and intramural programming that improves academic engagement.  Our 6-year graduation rates are now #2 among research centers/comprehensive colleges in the system, our 4-year rates tied for #4.  Both rates are slightly higher than might be predicted based on a linear-regression model of the relationship between graduation rate and average entering SAT scores, but are still considerably lower than aspirational public universities like The College of New Jersey.  We have room for further improvement.

SUNY leadership is clearly committed to expanding the number of college/university-educated citizens in New York, while continuing to improve educational quality.  The likely introduction of performance-based funding will result in increased financial investment in campuses that contribute to that goal.  New Paltz has serious space constraints that preclude our ability to increase residential student enrollments. This means that a primary way for us to contribute to that SUNY and state goal is to focus on continued improvement in our graduation rates.  Several priorities of the strategic plan support that aim, including ongoing changes in course scheduling, continued focus on academic quality, and expanding online offerings to reduce bottlenecks and barriers to student academic progress without losing our residential character.

Other key topics presented and discussed at this meeting will influence our priorities and institutional life this year and beyond, including:

  • OPEN SUNY:  efforts to expand online and hybrid programming that increase access to and diversify higher education opportunities;  we are aware that we lag considerably behind our peer residential SUNY campuses in the number of online degrees and programs offered;
  • SUNY Works:  an increased focus on internships and (especially) cooperative education; SUNY Oswego has taken a real lead in this area (click here);
  • Shared Services: continued and evolving effort to economize and increase efficiency to free up resources that can be directed to our instructional mission.  New Paltz will host a SUNY regional conference on this topic on October 21, 1—4 PM.
  • Start-Up New York:  The Governor’s initiative to spur job growth and economic development by creating “tax free” zones linked to SUNY campuses and their academic strengths.   As we learn more about this program, we will be exploring opportunities linked specifically to 3D printing and design, but there may be other opportunities.

Fund-raising and philanthropy.  In the strategic plan and last month’s State of the College address, you saw the language of “building a culture of philanthropy.”  This means many things, including increasing everyone’s awareness of the positive impact that private giving has on our programs.  To that end, in the next week or so you will receive a copy of our first Endowment Report, which showcases the endowed funds at New Paltz, many for scholarships, some for other purposes like visiting professorships or art acquisition.  We thought it would be useful for you to know about these funds, to share them in conversations you might have with prospective donors, and to be sure that students and others are aware of these opportunities for students and faculty made possible through private dollars. 

Enrollment Management.  I look forward to seeing our departments, faculty, and staff showcased during our fall Open House on Saturday, October 26, and I thank you in advance for your participation in our student recruitment efforts. 

Your participation is more important than ever. A survey of admissions officers released recently by Inside Higher Ed showed that 59% of private colleges and 77% of public bachelors and masters colleges and universities across the United States did not meet their enrollment targets this fall, largely a consequence of demographic changes and family financial constraints I have spoken about for the past several years (click here).  We reached our enrollment targets for incoming undergraduate students.  Last spring’s graduation included significant numbers of the unusually large entering class of 2008, which means that our total undergraduate enrollment is down slightly from last year.  We should regard this to a degree as “right-sizing,” but we will strive to admit more transfer students for spring semester 2014 to reduce the impact on this year’s revenue.

The cycle continues immediately to recruit our incoming class for 2014, with heightened anxiety because of the experience of so many other institutions this year and the clear demonstration we had this year of the impact of our housing shortage on the pattern of recruiting transfer students.  This concern is coupled with the reality that our new residence hall will not be ready for occupancy until fall 2015 and uncertainty about the opening of Park Point.  A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article highlights the challenges and new approaches that some institutions are pursuing to achieve their enrollment goals (article here).

A crucial element of our recruiting success in a difficult environment has been the willingness of faculty, staff, and departments to pitch in to educate prospective students and their parents about the diverse and high-quality offerings at New Paltz.  We hear every year that these faculty-prospective student-parents conversations at Open House and other recruitment events and through follow-up communication shapes the views they form about New Paltz, and the eventual decisions they make to attend here. 

Our graduate enrollments are another story, with overall enrollment down by nearly 7% this fall and revenues down by at least half a million dollars.  Implementation of key elements of the Graduate School strategic plan should help reverse that trend, along with decisions to cease investing in seriously under-enrolled graduate programs so that we can direct those resources to programs that show more promise and demand.

What I’ve been reading.  I recently read Checklist for Change: Making American Higher Education a Sustainable Enterprise by Robert Zemsky (2013).  Zemsky is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education there, and the author or coauthor of numerous books on American higher education.  His entire analysis and case-study illustrations are worth reading, but I call your attention to two particular sections. 

One is a chapter titled “A Competent Curriculum,” in which Zemsky describes the evolution of the curriculum (built by adding, but not planning) at most colleges and universities, and the associated pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning.  He argues that these are major drivers of escalating costs, while many question their effectiveness.   This is a call to action for faculty to exercise a voice that “seeks the kind of changes necessary to yield an undergraduate curriculum that is more efficient in a triple sense:  students learn more, more students attain their degrees, and there is a genuine possibility that instructional costs can be controlled if not reduced without diminishing either student learning or student attainment.”   This particular chapter, including the need for faculty to “commit to a designed curriculum” may be especially worthwhile reading for the Academic Affairs Committee, Curriculum Committee, and the Liberal Education Committee to inform thinking about current initiatives to improve our curricula and the learning environment.

Zemsky is a champion of the voice that faculty should have in determining major directions in higher education, and he bemoans the loss of that voice in many contemporary conversations about the future of higher education in our nation.  In the chapter “A Stronger Faculty Voice,” he provides a checklist for “how much we faculty must change, sooner rather than later.”  As interest grows at New Paltz in evaluating and improving faculty and shared governance, his checklist may be of special interest:

  • Relearn the Importance of Collective Action (here Zemsky refers to all elements of faculty responsibility)
  • Put an End to Rhetorical Excesses
  • Empower a Different Kind of Faculty Leader
  • Recast the Faculty Staffing Table (he writes here about increasing the prevalence of teaching-focused lecturer positions)
  • Make the Academic Department the Unit of Instructional Production (rather than the individual faculty member)

Provost Mauceri and I are purchasing copies of this book for deans and chairs and will organize a reading/discussion group or event to explore some of the ideas that Zemsky develops and their relevance to our improvement efforts. 

I will look forward to seeing you at Friday’s faculty meeting, where I will be available to respond to your questions.

Donald P. Christian
President