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The Office of the President

Presidential Reports and Communications 12/10/2014

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
December 10, 2014

As we enter the final days of the fall 2014 semester, I write to update you on presidential activities and to highlight some of the accomplishments of students, faculty, and staff in recent weeks.

Support for Difficult Conversations.  I reiterate the gratitude that Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn (Executive Director of Compliance and Campus Climate and Title IX Coordinator) and I conveyed last week for the actions and outreach of faculty and staff who have provided forums for informed discussion about enduring issues of race and racism in America.  These were heightened by the decisions of two grand juries not to indict white police officers involved in the killing of two unarmed black men. I know that these discussions and the support and mentoring of faculty and staff mean a lot to our students as they try to make sense of these complex issues.  I have also been impressed by the peaceful and thoughtful actions of our students in reaction to these issues. As educators, we have an opportunity to aid students as they figure out how to make their voices heard and find ways to make a difference in effecting societal change. Thank you.

Student Achievement.  It was a distinct pleasure to visit the “Insight/On Site” ceramics exhibition by New Paltz students at Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) on November 22.  Our students developed art inspired by structures and collections at this historic community, themes from HHS history, and the lives of those who lived there.  The artwork was impressive and inspirational.  It was equally impressive to hear our students speak so eloquently and professionally about their projects and about their gratitude for the unique opportunity to develop such interesting projects and learn about HHS history. They also voiced their appreciation for the tremendous mentoring and guidance provided by New Paltz faculty.  These students represented the College exceptionally well in the broader community.  Projects like this support our strategic plan goal of strengthening regional and community engagement, and in the process providing great learning opportunities for our students.  I know that HHS leadership is thrilled with the outcome. Well done!

A few hours later, I attended the Theatre Arts Department’s production of “Rent.”  The work of our talented students and the direction from faculty and staff were so apparent in this tour de force production to sell-out crowds. Thoughtful reflections of our students about enduring themes of the play are impressive (see YouTube video at http://sites.newpaltz.edu/news/2014/11/rent-to-be-performed-at-suny-new-paltz/).  I commend the Theatre Arts faculty, staff, and students for their creativity and outreach to Student Affairs and to community organizations to use this production to highlight awareness of increasing heroin use in New York.  Community organizations involved in this endeavor included the Greater New Paltz Community Partnership, Step One (a state-certified outpatient substance abuse program with clinics in Highland and Ellenville), and the Institute for Family Health.  Again, these regional connections support our strategic plan in important ways.

Campus Sexual Violence.  In October 2014, Governor Cuomo called on the SUNY Board of Trustees to develop a system-wide uniform policy and practices to address sexual violence on our campuses. A working group was formed immediately, and charged with developing (by December 1) uniform guidelines and policies to assist SUNY campuses in preventing sexual assault and responding to reports of assault.  Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn was tapped for this group, and some New Paltz policy language was adopted directly into the system guidelines.  We have been ahead of the curve in revising our sexual assault policy language and training.  As a result, our local policies are already consistent with the newly adopted SUNY system policies, with about 95% overlap.  In addition, more than 900 faculty, Student Affairs staff, secretaries and graduate assistants, judicial hearing committee members, athletes and their coaches, fraternity and sorority members, resident assistants, and numerous groups of student mentors and peer leaders on campus have received training about the new guidelines.

The new policy addresses:

  • Definition of Affirmative Consent
  • Policy for Alcohol and/or Drug Use Amnesty in Sexual Violence Cases
  • Campus Climate Assessment Policy
  • Sexual Violence Victim/Survivor Bill of Rights
  • Sexual Violence Response Policy
  • Options for Confidentially Disclosing Sexual Violence
  • Student Onboarding and Ongoing Education Guide

We will receive further system guidance during the next several months about adopting these changes.  While relatively minor adjustments are required in New Paltz policies and language, implementing some of the new policies will impact virtually all areas of our campus. 

SUNY New Paltz is proud to participate in the “It’s On Us” campaign, a White House initiative launched by President Obama in September to raise national awareness about sexual assault. We recognize that a video of this kind is only one of many measures we must take to educate ourselves and raise awareness about this important issue. Best practices include awareness campaigns, educational programming, continuous training, equitable and supportive processes, and bystander intervention. We continue to build on all of these fronts.  Our message is simple: we have a collective responsibility to one another, to step-up and not be a bystander, to support and not blame the victim, to help end sexual assault. I encourage you to view the video produced by New Paltz students and student leaders, with great collaboration from Student Affairs, Campus Media Center (a special thanks to Bill Clark and Elkyn Orellana), and the Office of Compliance and Campus Climate (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXGfRbyiRAA). Please share this video and our efforts with friends, alumni, and parents. As a community, it's on all of us to create a culture of respect where sexual assault is not tolerated.  Each of us can make a difference.

Budget.  We are beginning to review the many requests and proposals for one-time funding submitted by faculty and staff this fall.  A comprehensive list of the proposals will be posted on the my.newpaltz.edu budget site in the next few days. The Provost and Deans met last week to prioritize academic affairs proposals. Cabinet has discussed the proposals only generally and briefly. It is rewarding to see that some proposals 1) directly support initiatives of the strategic plan, specifically those initiatives outlined in my September report to the faculty as priorities for this year’s funding; and 2) are truly one-time in nature (i.e., not the first year of what must be ongoing funding to be meaningful).  We look forward to reviewing such proposals further.  Cabinet will meet in January to develop tentative priorities, which we will discuss with the Wonk and Administrative Council groups at the start of spring semester, then with the broader community early in spring semester. 

The forecast for new recurring funds is constrained at best, as we have explained before; we do not anticipate having much, if any, recurring funds to allocate.  SUNY System’s budget request will ask for increased state funding, approval of the final year’s tuition increase in the 5-year “rational tuition” plan, and a request to extend that plan to 2020.  We will take part in the advocacy for these new resources with our legislators.

The local process and timeline for requesting new or increased recurring funds was shared with Administrative Council members in October; we hope we have funds to allocate. Departmental or unit proposals must be submitted to deans and directors by January 15, and to vice presidents before February 1.  Of course, we will not have a clear indication about our 2015-16 budget until well into the spring, after the legislative session is concluded and the State budget finalized. Final decisions will not be made or announced until then. 

We have heard that departments and units want more detailed feedback on budget proposals (either one-time or recurring) that do not receive funding.  We are discussing ways to improve our feedback because we know it will support long-term departmental planning. 

Fund-raising and development.  In last month’s report, I outlined the many initiatives under way to engage alumni and prospective donors, and other steps we are taking to build a stronger culture of philanthropy and increase our fund-raising success. Thanks to the many faculty and staff across the College who have been engaging our alumni in new ways.  Our fund-raising total this year (since July 1) is $1,101,106 in gifts and pledges (as of 11/30), by far the highest to date in the past four years and well beyond last year’s total of $339,071.  Several major gifts are in development, and we continue to meet and interact with new prospective donors.  These are encouraging signs of progress, even as we recognize that this endeavor must be viewed as long-term cultivation and relationship building. 

Student Recruitment Forecast.  It is still early in the recruitment season for the fall 2015 class, but we are already tracking trends and patterns.  We do so because of our steep dependence on enrollment-driven tuition revenue, the reality that many institutions, especially in the Northeast, did not reach their enrollment targets this year, and signs of continuing uncertainty in the recruitment environment.  We are far ahead of the pack of SUNY colleges in the number of applications for first-year admission, which is not new for us.  However, it catches our attention that we are one of only four of 12 SUNY colleges with more applications for first-year admission than last year (as of 11/29/14).  Thanks to the diligent work of the first-year admissions staff to review and act on applications, the number of acceptances of well-qualified first-year students is substantially ahead of last year.  That’s an encouraging sign, even though we know that patterns vary from year to year and that it is too early to predict how many of these accepted students will choose New Paltz. 

Transfer student applications across the system present a more troubling picture.  The number of transfer applications SUNY-wide (as of 11/29) is down by 17% from last year, and for the SUNY colleges is down by 25%.  Seven of 12 colleges show >30% declines in the number of transfer applications.  New Paltz transfer applications are down by about 7%.  Given the prominence of transfers in our student body (one third of all New Paltz students, half of each year’s graduating seniors), we are watching these patterns closely and with some anxiety. For multiple reasons (including housing), we simply cannot admit enough first-year students to compensate for a serious decline in numbers of transfer students.

Chamber of Commerce Presentation.  I spoke last month to the Ulster County Regional Chamber of Commerce about recent initiatives and developments at the College.  I am grateful for opportunities such as this to showcase the great work of faculty, staff, and students, and our educational and economic role in the Hudson Valley and beyond.  People seemed keenly interested in learning about the challenges that public colleges and universities face, and how New Paltz is approaching these issues.  The audience reception and feedback we received reinforce the high and increasing regard that the community has for SUNY New Paltz and our work.  I am pleased with the substance of these assessments, and with the indications that our outreach and communication/marketing efforts are taking greater hold – that we are less and less a “best kept secret in the Hudson Valley!”  I will speak in April 2015 at the Orange County Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

Holiday Wishes.  It was great to see so many faculty, staff, and emeriti at the holiday reception at the President’s residence on December 6.  Sandy and I both enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with so many people who are committed to the College. It is rewarding to watch, listen, and join conversations with people from various departments who have few opportunities to visit with each other. This event truly captures the sense of community that we all value.  Thanks for being there.

I wish everyone a safe, happy, and rejuvenating holiday season. I hope that we all take time to celebrate the many blessings of the season and the accomplishments of the year and to enjoy the company of friends, family, and colleagues. 

Donald P. Christian
President