Faculty and Professional Staff Meeting President's Report 2/7/06
Let me apologize in advance for my absence at this, the first faculty meeting of the spring semester. I had planned on being with you, but SUNY's new Chancellor-and my new boss!-John Ryan, summoned all SUNY presidents to a daylong meeting in New York City on Tuesday. Because I'm not present, my report will be a bit longer than usual.
On Friday I had a very candid and productive meeting with the Executive Committee of the Faculty. We discussed some of the issues I would like to see governance take up this semester. I noted how encouraged I am with the progress made by the Personnel Task Force led by Professor Myra Mimlitsch-Gray. I'm eager for further conversation on how best to promote student-faculty research, perhaps constituting a Research Board. And we need to address the fact that New Paltz's graduation rates lag behind those of peer institutions (and even some institutions we do not regard as our peers). One-third of our students graduate in about 4 and a half years; one-third take 5-6 years to earn their degrees; and another third leave us well after their initial enrollment without ever graduating. The Provost, Deans, and professionals in the Registrar's and Advising offices are developing ideas to improve student progress-to-degree, and will work with the Academic Affairs Committee to identify solutions.
But I believe we can work together and communicate even better as a campus. This is why I've been holding brown bag lunches to tap faculty wisdom and share impressions outside of formal governance sessions. As I hope you've also noticed, the administration has made a point of sending out "Campus Updates" on issues of wide interest such as work hours, the decision to air-condition the Humanities Building, the latest favorable PCB test results, and the planned sale of the Ashokan Field Campus. Perhaps most important, I've asked the Vice Presidents, Deans and Directors to be mindful of how their activities and choices touch the daily life of faculty and students-and to seek input on decisions that directly and meaningfully affect you.
However, many faculty, professional faculty, and administrators with whom I've spoken are also troubled by some dynamics we witnessed last semester. New Paltz is fortunate to have committed and talented elected faculty leaders, but do we regularly use our governance structures to address big issues that cry out for faculty and staff involvement? Let's discuss curriculum, pedagogy and the academic profile of our students, not minutiae like the number and composition of seats on non-voting advisory committees! I've also been troubled by the hostile and aggressive tone of discourse-some of it emanating from students-and the disrespect shown toward nonacademic staff (and I'm not talking about M/C administrators!) This negative, sometimes petty, discourse evinces a lack of trust. As the new semester begins, I'd urge us all to avoid political posturing and to remember that faculty, administrators, and students each have a vital and separate role in the life of our college.
One thing that affects us all is the state budget, and I can report that SUNY is at an acceptable starting point in this annual process. The governor's proposed budget includes negotiated salary increases for faculty and staff, as well as some additional money to cover increasing energy costs (let's keep hoping it remains unseasonably warm, though!) The best news is that it also appears to restore $40 million of the $50 million redistributed among campuses two years ago. As you'll recall, New Paltz was one of the largest "donor campuses"-to the tune of about $3.3 million. If that money remains in SUNY's base and if SUNY System follows the new BAP model that Provost Lavallee helped craft, New Paltz might get a meaningful increment to its base operating budget-something that has happened all too rarely in the past. Such an increase would allow us to take a meaningful step toward decreasing our reliance on part-time faculty by hiring more full-time, tenure-track faculty and some necessary support staff.
The news is less rosy on the capital front. SUNY had pushed for the creation of a rolling capital plan, adding new construction funds for all campuses. Alas, the executive capital budget contains almost nothing for SUNY (and zero for New Paltz). However, if the Legislature decides to entertain major capital requests, we'll lobby hard for funding for our next big campus project: the renovation of Old Main.
The revenue side of the executive budget is the most problematic. It implicitly assumes that SUNY will generate an additional $100 million, primarily through a $500 tuition increase. It is imperative that this revenue gap be filled-ideally through additional state appropriations. And while a huge jump in tuition is unlikely in an election year, it is still possible that we may see a minor increase of $100 or $150. The governor has also proposed limiting TAP eligibility to students enrolled in 15 or more credits per semester. Although such a change wouldn't affect many New Paltz students, this proposal-which could penalize students who need to take fewer courses because they're working their way through school-strikes me as flawed public policy. However, those I've spoken to in Albany don't believe this proposal has much chance of passage. I'm also pleased to report that, unlike many other years, the executive budget holds EOP funding steady.
The renovated van den Berg Hall is now open, and the School of Business and Nursing Program are back where they belong. The building looks great; I'm hearing very positive feedback. Of course, there will be a shake out period of adjustments and final touches. It is certainly wonderful not to be so squeezed for classroom space. We're planning a grand reopening in May.
Speaking of classrooms, I assume you all saw the Campus Update on Humanities Air-Conditioning. After reviewing the project feasibility study, Facilities Management is recommending (and the Vice Presidents and I have approved) a comprehensive solution that would include the replacement of the chiller in the Lecture Center (which currently supplies air-conditioning to both the Lecture Center and the Sojourner Truth Library) with a larger chiller to accommodate Humanities. The design phase has begun and will take about one year. Construction should begin in winter/spring 2007 and we hope to have cool air flowing in Humanities by fall 2007.
Perhaps the biggest eyesore on campus has been addressed-the stairs between the Lecture Center and Sojourner Truth Library have been refurbished (I've been promised that the pitted concrete at the very foot of the stairs will be promptly repaired as well). The Student Ambassadors played a key role in bringing the need for this renovation to our attention.
The new Athletic Center is rapidly moving toward completion and is scheduled to open at the end of March. If you've been in the Haggerty Administration Building, you've noticed the new letters welcoming visitors to New Paltz and the refurbished information donut. The Welcome Center will be staffed beginning February 13.
So far, our enrollment numbers look good. Undergraduate Admissions will be sending out lists of accepted students for departments to contact directly, much as you did last year in our successful efforts to yield an academically talented freshman class. Accepted Students Day is scheduled for Saturday, April 1. We ask that you help us again this year in recruiting the best students to our campus.
We've been doubling our efforts to raise money. The endowment for the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art has hit more than $850,000. The Dorsky's current exhibition, which opened Saturday and runs through May 14, features 116 Hudson River School landscape paintings by 71 artists from the 19th century. Many of these works are rarely displayed for the public and the scenes are of nearby locations such as the Esopus Creek, Saranac Lake and Catskill Clove. It's a truly remarkable exhibition and fits the museum's niche of collecting 19th and 20th century American and European works, with a special emphasis on paintings by artists from the region. We've also had terrific success raising an endowment for Asian Studies. We're already at $57,660 in gifts and pledges on our way to $100,000. Asian Studies is a model for other departments and programs in this regard.
Speaking of Asia, Chancellor Ryan has asked me to accompany him on a trip to China February 21-March 1 in connection with the opening of SUNY's new office in Beijing. I am the only comprehensive college president asked to go on this trip, which I understand may also include the presidents of the four university centers and FIT. I'm grateful to Ron Knapp, Kristine Harris and Bruce Sillner, who are already helping me prepare. We have strong alumni ties in that part of the world and I hope to increase donations and raise the visibility of the campus during my travels.