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The Office of the President

Academic & Professional Faculty Meeting 11/18/2011

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
November 18, 2011

Campus Climate.  Last week and earlier this week, I wrote to faculty, staff, and students to condemn last week’s posting of a racially offensive sign on campus followed by additional, related incidents in a residence hall. The investigation into these incidents continues, with some promising leads, but the reality is that we may never know who was responsible for these events, or their motivations.  As described in my message earlier this week, Residence Life staff organized an all-hall meeting for students in Lefevre Hall, where the continuing incidents were reported and where some students have expressed a heightened concern and a fear of escalation.  That Monday evening session focused on assuring students that such acts will not be tolerated on the campus, gave an update on the continuing investigation, and allowed students opportunities to speak with staff and with each other.   

I am confident that you join me in a commitment not to allow such incidents to divide our community, but instead to come together to better understand racial issues at the College and in America, and the impacts of racism on members of the College community.  My message earlier this week announced a forum that Student Association President Terrell Coakley and I are planning for faculty, staff, and students to begin a conversation about such issues. This forum will be held at 6 PM on Wednesday, November 30, in the MPR (Please note that this is a time change from my earlier e-mail.).  I encourage faculty and staff to engage in these conversations and model for our students the type of tolerant, inclusive, and respectful community we all hope to achieve, by using these incidents as teaching/learning opportunities about race and racism in America and on campus.  SA and other student organizations are planning additional events this fall and during spring semester, and we may wish to consider ways to continue a faculty and staff dialogue as well.   As I said in my earlier message, these are sobering events that should remind us all of the hard work we face in becoming the community that I believe we all aspire to be.

Let me now share two news items that are firsts for SUNY New Paltz and points of pride for our community.

Women’s Soccer Championship.  Congratulations to the Women’s Soccer Team and Coach Colleen Bruley for winning the 2011 SUNYAC Championship by defeating top-seeded SUNY Cortland 1-0.  By winning the conference championship, the team earned a berth in the NCAA Division III - a first for the team.  And, congratulations to team coach Colleen Bruley for her first-ever conference title.  With this victory, Coach Bruley captured her 100th win  -- the first coach in the history of the program to do so.  Goalkeeper Stephanie Vega '13 (Elementary Education/History) was named the Tournament MVP, while defender Shannon Cobb '12 (Elementary Education), forward Samantha Abravanel '13 (Secondary Education) and midfielder Emily Rokitowski '13 (Sociology) joined Vega on the All-Tournament Team.

And the story goes on and gets better!  After tying Lynchburg College 0-0 and advancing on penalty kicks 3-2, the Hawks defeated Rowan University 2-1 in overtime Sunday evening, advancing to the third round of the tournament.

The team will face top-ranked Messiah College on Saturday, November 19. Go Hawks! 

In other athletics news, junior Nichole Wischoff of the women's cross country team has been selected as an individual participant for the 2011 NCAA Division III women's cross country championships. Congratulations to Nichole on another first for New Paltz!

Open Houses.  Our prospective student open houses on October 22 and 29 were extremely successful, and despite the early snowstorm on the 29th, attendance was surprisingly robust.   We received great feedback from prospective students and their parents about how informative, well-organized, and “friendly” our events are.  Thanks to the Admissions staff for their great work in organizing these open houses, and to the many faculty, staff, and administrators who gave of their weekend time to share information and perspective on our programs and offerings.  Your work makes a clear difference in our ability to recruit the number and caliber of students we want, and I am grateful for all that you do.  Although it is very early for any reliable comparisons with previous years, early statistics on application numbers, applicant quality, and commitment (as evidenced by paid deposits) are quite positive.

Budget Update.  Earlier, I expressed my pleasure that we are able to undertake 20+ searches for faculty positions this year, made possible by the infusion of new revenue from the tuition increase; these new hires will impact our 2012-13 budget.   At the same time, we continue our effort to achieve the remainder of our $6.3 million budget reduction plan.  A small group of Wonk members has been working with VP DiStefano to envision redirecting the criteria, constraints, and ground rules used in 2008-09 and 2010-11 for reducing our budget so that they are focused more specifically on informing decisions for investment of new resources.  We will share the results of this work with faculty and staff for feedback and critique when they are available.  The new resources under consideration would be available next year if we receive another tuition increase.

Early indications are that SUNY will be held harmless from the 2.5% reduction that the Governor has called for all state agencies in next year’s budget.  This is good news for us.  However, we also are aware of a likely current-year state budget shortfall and a projected $3-3.5 billion state revenue shortfall for next year.  These are cause for us to worry about the state’s ability to fulfill the NY2020 promise of “maintenance of effort” in SUNY budgets.  We also are carefully watching federal deficit-reduction discussions, some of which carry significant implications for higher education funding across the United States, notably federal research funding and – especially important for us and our students – federal student financial aid (grants and loans).  All of these are signals that we will continue to be affected by national and state economics, and that our message about needing to adjust our work to a constrained economy remains fully relevant.

VP DiStefano has posted budget information on my.newpaltz.edu about the 2011-12 (current year) state budget and the year-end 2010-11 budget.  This information includes budget detail by account and function as well as a brief explanation about the status of each of these budgets.

Emergency Preparedness.  The October snowfall on trees that had not yet lost leaves resulted in considerable tree and branch damage on campus.  And last week an accident on Highway 32 across from the administration building knocked out power to the campus for several hours and led to our decision to cancel evening classes.  Just as in the aftermath of tropical storm Irene and the tail-end of Lee, our campus staff worked quickly and efficiently to get us back online and returned to normal   Members of our emergency response team, (including IT, telecom, facilities, communication, and environmental health and safety), and Cabinet, met last week to discuss strengths and shortcomings in our preparation and response.  We are developing a full inventory of suggestions from those employees most knowledgeable about key aspects of our operations that are affected by an array of different disasters, and will prioritize the most important areas of investment to continue improving our emergency preparedness.  You learned last week that we are entering phrase I of work to reduce flood risk at Haggerty and the Student Union Building, and we will continue such efforts as our resources allow.

Inauguration Planning.  Chief of Staff and Associate VP for Communication Shelly Wright is leading the work of a committee that is planning a series of inaugural events for the week of April 9, 2012. I will admit to first thoughts identical to those in a guide to such events (Viola, 1993), attributed to a new university president:  “My first reaction to an inauguration was the same as my reaction to a society wedding:  I’d rather elope.” 

However, I have come to appreciate the view expressed by Clark Kerr (Currents, 1984): “…Inaugurations are a chance to think of the institution in its entirety as compared with its constituent parts.  They mean a lot to a lot of people.”  Our inaugural events will be an opportunity to:

  • celebrate our history and reaffirm our mission, while also providing a “benchmark” for new beginnings,
  • showcase the importance of the institution to our community, the media, and political leaders and opinion-setters,
  • reach out to the community that depends on us and upon whom we depend,
  •  elaborate presidential visions and priorities for the future.

Because of the late date of my appointment and the fast pace of transition this summer and fall, we determined that a spring event would be more thoughtful and meaningful.  We will be “packaging” a number of existing and new events during that week in an effort to create a meaningful event for the Campus and broader community – to name a few, a distinguished speaker and showcase of student research/creative/scholarly work on Thursday evening, a dedication of the remodeled Old Main and the formal installation ceremony on Friday, April 13 (obviously, superstition has not ruled us yet), and a benefit concert and dinner on Saturday.  Chancellor Zimpher plans to attend the Friday events and officiate at the installation ceremony.  A student-focused event is being planned during the week.  Every effort is being made to keep the costs of the inauguration low.

Gala.  This year’s 9th annual Gala Celebrating New Paltz will be held at Mohonk Mountain House this weekend, Sunday, November 20.  Ticket sales are up and supporters have been generous. Proceeds from the Gala, now totaling $450,000, create a scholarship endowment for students from Ulster, Orange, Dutchess, and Sullivan Counties attending New Paltz.  This year’s honorees are Barbara Scherr of Newburgh, a member of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board, and Jeff and Joanne Fredenberg of Hurley, all of whom have shown an admirable and sustained commitment to volunteerism in the region.  This year’s scholarship recipient, who always attends the Gala, is Thomas Plitsch, whose career goal is to become a mathematics professor.  I am grateful to the many New Paltz faculty and staff, along with community members, who support this effort by attending the Gala.

Administrative Search Updates.  The Provost search committee has met several times, and the selection process for a search consultant firm has been completed; Witt-Kieffer, the same firm – and individual consultants – who supported the Provost search in 2008-09, will work with us again.  The search committee has framed an advertisement, and the position and campus “profile” are being revised and updated.  The consultants will visit campus December 1-2, to meet with faculty, staff and students to discuss attributes needed in a next Provost and challenges and opportunities a new Provost will face. The position will be advertised in the December 2 print edition of the Chronicle and will appear online sooner, as well as in other locations. . 
Earlier this week, I met, along with Interim Provost Torsney and HR Director Dawn Blades, to charge the search committee for the dean of the School of Education, and we will be meeting shortly with the School of Science and Engineering dean search committee.  Those searches will proceed, staged to be slightly time-lagged after the Provost search.

External activities.  In recent weeks, my wife Sandy and I, along with Barbara Caldwell of the Development Office, participated in a small alumni event in Boston, where I was attending a conference for presidents of public colleges and universities.  The alumni I met were engaged, interested in the College, and very proud of their educational experience at New Paltz.  I spoke briefly, using the attached “brag” sheet for talking points.  One of the alumni in attendance has newly committed to a regular, significant gift, another is interested in hosting a “Hudson Valley Foods” fund-raising event in Boston, and another wants to continue conversation about possible support for the College.

On a recent overnight trip to Washington, D.C., Chief of Staff Shelly Wright (who guides the College’s government relations work), Director of Development Sally Cross, and I met with Congressman Maurice Hinchey, Senator Charles Schumer, and a key staffer in Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office.  In addition to speaking to the points on the above-noted one-pager, we urged congressional support for continued student financial aid (Pell Grants, Perkins Loans) that is so critical for many of our students; developments about Title IX, the “Dear Colleague Letter,” and the Office of Civil Rights (see last month’s report to the faculty); and the contributions that SUNY New Paltz makes to the region’s economy and communities.  We also hosted a delightful lunch with eight alumni/ae, including two members of Dean Schiffer’s LA&S advisory board, in part a “get to know the new president” event.  These alums are actively engaged with and supportive of the College and our students (and with each other).  One topic of discussion included the extensive internship opportunities available to our students in the D.C. area, which we will be exploring further with these alumni.  We ended the trip with a lunch in Virginia with an alumnus, long-time supporter of the College, and recent addition to the Foundation Board.

On a recent 5-hour Sunday afternoon retreat, the Foundation Board membership committee met to review, update, and affirm member expectations, which include direct financial support, advocacy for the College,  our value and needs, and connecting the President and Foundation to prospective donors.  We also brainstormed to identify potential candidates to recruit for board membership.  This week, we hosted two of Senator Schumer’s regional staff in a campus visit, and Sally Cross and I attended a day-long SUNY-wide foundation and development event in NYC, focused on helping all of our campuses develop a stronger culture of philanthropy that is especially necessary in times of constrained state resources.

On Tuesday, December 13, I will be the guest presenter at the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast at the Kingston Holiday Inn.  I will speak about the College, some of our goals, priorities, and points of pride, and the ways that we educate students.  Of course, I will highlight the College’s growing regional and national reputation for educational quality.  For this particular audience, I will devote much of my attention to our role as stewards of place within the Hudson Valley, the contributions that we make to the communities that support us, and our relationships within the region.

To enhance the College’s regional visibility at this event, the President’s office will cover the costs of breakfast ($15) for each of 8 faculty or staff who do not normally attend this event.  Please contact Lisa Davis (davisl@newpaltz.edu or 257-3291) if you are interested (first come, first served; deadline COB December 1).

I wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends, and a productive and rewarding wrap-up to a fast-paced and eventful semester.

Donald P. Christian