Interim President's Report Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting April 15, 2011
I ask your patience with a rather lengthy monthly report. This is an exceptionally busy and challenging time in our institutional life and there is much important news – much of it very good and affirming - to share with you.
Middle States Re-Accreditation. I will be communicating more broadly with the entire College community about the preliminary findings of our Middle States Re-Accreditation review, and want to touch on a few key themes here. Some of you were present for this week's oral summary of the outcome of the review. We should be extremely proud of the draft findings of the review team – keeping in mind that a final decision on re-accreditation and specific requirements for our response will be made by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education when it meets in June.
The review team was impressed with our faculty and staff, students, programs, and how we conduct the work of the College. One team member told me that we should be proud (I am!) of the obvious depth and enthusiasm of the engagement of faculty, staff, and students in the life of the College and the enterprise of teaching and learning. Their draft report includes numerous suggestions for improvement. The suggestions provide a great "roadmap" for many of the directions and initiatives that should be priorities for the next five years. Some of these relate directly or indirectly to how we will adjust to a reduced economy (see below). The draft report commended the transparent communication in this year's budget-reduction process; the increases in our retention and graduation rates, including the work of EOP in enhancing retention and graduation of socioeconomically disadvantaged students; and the leadership of the Dorsky Museum. It is difficult to wait until June to showcase these and other accomplishments more broadly, but we must respect the Commission's processes.
I want again to thank the many people who contributed to the self-study process and resulting self-study report, and to everyone who made the site visit this week so smooth-running and productive, especially our Student Ambassadors! I am grateful for the willingness of so many people to take on this project as a shared task. That sense of community was clearly apparent to the review team. I again want to give special notes of thanks and commendation to Drs. Laurel Garrick Duhaney and Linda Greenow for their tremendous work as co-chairs of the steering committee.
Presidential Search and Interim Leadership. You are aware from recent announcements that the presidential search is continuing and that I will remain in this office until a next president comes on board. In my October State of the College address and several times since then I have stated my goal of "setting the stage" for a new president to be successful and of "passing the baton" to a new leader. Looking back, I would not have deviated from this philosophy. But looking ahead to next year, we cannot hold back from significant decisions and directions for a second consecutive year. As examples, we must undertake a national search for a Dean in the School of Education, to begin in fall 2012. Some other necessary actions align perfectly with findings, suggestions, and recommendations of the DRAFT re-accreditation report, as noted above. We need to advance more aggressively our comprehensive fund-raising campaign. While we have been refining our case statement this year through conversations with donors and others, expanding the capacity of our Foundation Board, and taking other low-key steps to move this effort along, the pace has been slow in deference to the prerogatives of a new president. This work must be advanced more aggressively during the coming year.
We must move definitively in taking the necessary steps to implement our budget reduction plan and to adjust to a severely reduced economy. This will require significant discipline and thoughtful effort by the entire community. Some of the adjustments we need to make will bring benefits beyond financial, and some may address issues that have been lingering for some time. As examples: considering conversion from a standard 3-credit to a 4-credit course module, offering advantages in streamlining faculty teaching assignments and course scheduling as well as creating greater curricular integration. Others include re-inventing the DSI process for greater time efficiency; evaluating our governance processes and seeking more efficient and effective alternatives; clarifying and formalizing faculty workload and its assessment, including evaluating and beginning to address existing inequities in teaching loads/workloads; developing clearer written standards of performance for reappointment, promotion, and tenure, including promotion to Professor. I am committed to assuring that faculty rights and responsibilities to oversee the curriculum and to have a clear voice in all academic matters are fully safeguarded as we undertake these changes.
This is not the time of year to take on such projects, but we will form task forces soon to study these issues and develop new models. Several of these simply cannot be multiple-year endeavors, but must be completed during the coming year.
An obvious implication of my remaining in this office is that I will not return to the Provost/ VPAA position on July 1, as intended. Thus, we will have another year of interim academic leadership. Interim Provost Laurel Garrick Duhaney has served admirably in this role during a demanding and difficult year. I have been impressed with and grateful for her strong co-leadership of the Middle States Accreditation process; her ability to keep the complex and diverse activities of Academic Affairs moving very smoothly this year with short staffing; her willingness to take and hold principled stands; her strong advocacy for academics in our difficult budget deliberation; and many other accomplishments.
Dr. Garrick Duhaney took on the Interim Provost responsibility with the view that she would return to her former position on July 1 of this year, and has asked to be able to do so despite the current status of the presidential search and its domino effects. I am honoring her request to return to the Dean of the Graduate School/Associate Provost position this summer, and support the clear plan and vision that she has for advancing our Graduate Programs during the coming years. I have begun a process of identifying another individual to serve in the interim provost position, including identifying possibilities for an experienced leader from beyond the campus.
This change will in turn mean that Stella Deen will return to her faculty position this summer. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the great work that Professor Deen has done as Interim Dean of the Graduate School and Associate Provost. She too has served the College with exceptional leadership. She has led efforts to increase graduate enrollments, to re-launch the suspended and now revised M.S.Ed and MAT programs, to identify student perceptions of the strengths and weakness of our programs, and to enhance marketing and visibility of our programs, among others. I again thank both Drs. Garrick Duhaney and Dr. Deen for their willingness to take on these leadership roles, and for their great work and many contributions in these positions.
Faculty Petition and Budget. Last week, I received a petition signed by 56 tenured and tenure-track faculty and hand-delivered by Drs. Nancy Johnson and Jonathan Schwartz. The petition asked basically that we not increase teaching loads of tenured/tenure-track faculty and discussed some of the ramifications of doing so. The three of us discussed the petition, our budget situation, the priority that the administration has placed on protecting permanent positions and employees, and the resulting limited options we have for managing our budget challenge while also -- of critical importance -- protecting enrollment and essential tuition revenue. I believe that Drs. Johnson and Schwartz left this discussion knowing that I heard and understand the concerns expressed on the petition, which I certainly do. I believe that our conversation helped them understanding the difficulties of closing our budget gap.
At risk of sounding like a broken record, I will reinforce that the budget challenge we face is significant, but not insurmountable. We have tried to be clear all year that a gap of such magnitude, given the structure of our budget, cannot be closed without fundamental change in some aspects of our work – if we are to safeguard permanent positions and employees as much as possible and serve the same number of students. I encourage us to: avoid as much as we can "all-or-none" thinking about the changes that we must make and their impacts; to understand that our most effective adjustments will not be one-size-fits all; and to remember that we have at hand options (such as conversion from 3- to 4-credit course models) that will ameliorate some of the impacts we might imagine. And, I hope that we can keep clear focus on the heart of our mission – educating students, and doing so as well as we can.
We are very close to a final budget-reduction plan that we will announce the week of April 25. I am aware of the speculation about dire impacts, and am willing to share that even though closing the final million dollars of the gap is very difficult, I believe people will find that the impacts will be less severe than some are imagining, in part because we find that we are able to achieve significant reduction through attrition (retirement, resignation) that has occurred, is occurring, and will occur in the near future. The developing plan keeps a priority on valuing the contributions of full-time, tenure-line faculty and on sustaining opportunities for students.
I hope and encourage that after that announcement we can get on with the business of adjusting and reconfiguring to a smaller budget, taking on this task with the great spirit of community that has been so apparent throughout the year and especially during the recent Middle States process and site visit.
Faculty Searches. Interim Provost Garrick Duhaney reported to the Academic Senate last week that in the 11 faculty searches underway this year (10 for full-time tenure-track, one for a Ph.D. level, 2-year lecturer), interviews have been completed for nine, and all 6 of the offers extended have been accepted. We look forward to successful outcomes of the other searches.
Facilities Master Plan. On April 13, the consultants who have guided our facilities master planning process presented a summary of their analysis and recommendations. This analysis used standard methodologies to compare our physical resources with SUNY standards and to produce a master plan that will be the basis of our capital plan requests to SUNY and the state for the next 10-15 years, most immediately for the next (2013-2018) capital construction request for SUNY. One of the most fundamental points of their report is that New Paltz has the least academic space per FTE student of all SUNY comprehensive campuses. We have ample justification for constructing another academic building and will be working with the State University Construction Fund and SUNY leadership for funding (bonded money) for this purpose, while also recognizing that the state's economic condition probably will certainly mean that we will be fighting for limited construction funding.
Thanks to the members of the planning committee for their hard and careful work on this process, and especially to Dean James Schiffer and Assistant VP for Facilities Management John Shupe for leading this effort as committee co-chairs.
Distinguished Speaker. Last week, Ray Suarez, award-winning journalist, author, and correspondent, gave an engaging, informative, and sobering presentation about the role of the mass media in the post-9-11 era. This event was well attended by students, faculty and staff, and members of the community. This presentation was offered in conjunction with a conference sponsored by the Institute for Disaster Mental Health, and many conference participants attended as well. Our distinguished speaker events seem to be most impactful when – like this and several other recent presentations - they engage our students academically and involve collaboration with a department or program, a model that we will expand for the future.
SUNY Presidents Meeting. SUNY Presidents met in NYC last week. We discussed advocacy for a rational tuition policy, which will be a focus during the remainder of the current legislative session. There is growing legislative support for such a policy and for regularized tuition increases, with current discussions focused on the amount of such an increase, issues of perception about a tuition increase above the maximum TAP level, and how to create a fiduciary account ("lock-box") for both tuition and state support that would reduce chances of "sweeps" of SUNY funding to correct state budget woes, as happened in 2009. Whether mandated or voluntary, we should expect that a portion of any tuition increase will be dedicated to need-based scholarships to provide financial relief to students most disadvantaged by a tuition increase.
We also discussed the development of metrics for a SUNY "report card" to demonstrate and document the collective accomplishments of the SUNY system to the six "big ideas" in The Power of SUNY strategic plan. The focus of such a report would be to highlight the returns of an investment in SUNY, above and beyond our educational contributions. The three key goals to be highlighted in the analysis are 1) building a competitive SUNY, 2) driving a competitive New York, and 3) promoting diversity opportunities.
Economic Development and Chancellor Zimpher. New Paltz hosted a meeting of the Board of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation and their guests on April 13. Chancellor Nancy Zimpher was on campus as their guest speaker, addressing the group about her vision for contributions that SUNY campuses must make to the economic revitalization of New York, and the ways that this vision aligns with Governor Cuomo's economic development agenda. In her presentation, the Chancellor noted the key contributions that Dr. Gerald Benjamin and CRREO are making to the analyses underlying implementation of The Power of SUNY strategic plan. I believe I have shared with you before that we have "put an oar in the water" for New Paltz to be a partner in the Hudson Valley regional economic development center that the Lieutenant Governor will direct, and we are pursuing a number of initiatives in this realm. Contributing to regional economic development will increasingly be an element of assessing SUNY institutional and presidential performance.
Accepted Students Day. A big "thank you" to everyone who contributed to a very successful Accepted Students Day on April 2. A special thanks to Lisa Jones and her tremendous Admissions staff who organized this event. The energy and enthusiasm about New Paltz that I saw in students and their parents were impressive, and a great reflection of the many things that we do so well. I will share one story. A mother and father told me that their daughter is an exceptionally cautious and thoughtful planner. The daughter, visiting nearby with a number of other prospective students she had "met" on Café New Paltz (the social networking site and yield tool created by our Communication and Admissions staff for students who have been accepted to New Paltz but have not necessarily submitted a deposit), came over to join us. I learned that this was their 6th trip to New Paltz to look us over. She had sought information about many, many schools, and had visited 18 (yes, 18!) colleges or universities that she considered attending. These included some top-tier privates such as Haverford and Swarthmore, as well as a variety of publics. She was accepted at many, and received generous scholarship offers from several but is choosing to come to New Paltz. She is impressed with our students as well as programs and opportunities, and commented that every question she has asked of every office has been promptly, clearly, and professionally answered. It takes a village. Thanks, everyone.
Last week's Oracle article about this year's student recruitment trends was more negative than warranted. It is the case that application numbers are down, for complex reasons. One of these is that we believe fewer students with marginal credentials are applying than in the past, as our reputation for selectivity and our standards have increased. On the other hand, the number of paid deposits by accepted students is higher than at the same time last year, both for first-year and for transfer students, and we saw a significant upswing in deposits after Accepted Students Day. It is early, but all signs for recruiting the class that we want are extremely positive. And, the number of minority students who have paid deposits is up from last year, both for first-year and transfer students. So far, excellent news on all counts.
I wish everyone well for the final push to completion of what for all of us has been an anxious and hectic semester. But I close with encouraging everyone to bask a bit in the shared pride that we should all feel in the provisional outcome of our re-accreditation process – and, more importantly, in the great work that you all do that provided the foundation for such a positive review. Thanks!
Donald P. Christian