Interim President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
October 22, 2010
I begin this month’s report by congratulating our Women’s Tennis Team for winning the 2010 SUNYAC Championship, and Coach Rob Bruley for his selection as Coach of the Year – the 4th time for each! We are proud of the accomplishments of our student-athletes and the talented and dedicated coaching staff who work with them.
Alumni Reunion Weekend was this past weekend (October 15-17), and can be described only as stellar. Our alumni/ae – nearly 350 – seemed happy to reconnect with friends and the campus, were quite taken by the appearance of the campus – including the new Student Union Building Atrium - and expressed their gratitude for their experiences here as students. To a person, those I spoke with were impressed with our students – how bright, respectful, helpful, and academically engaged they are, and how current students also have such a positive view of their experience here. Thanks to all the faculty and staff for making this event so successful.
Admissions: Campus Open Houses for prospective students and their parents are this Saturday (October 23) and Saturday, November 6 (10AM-2PM both days). About 2,500 prospective students and their parents are expected this weekend, and already 1,400 have scheduled for the second event. We know from experience that one-on-one conversations with faculty are extremely influential in convincing future students to choose New Paltz. This is a great opportunity to showcase the close interaction between students and faculty that is at the core of the educational experience we provide. Admissions staff do a great job of building student interest in our campus and programs, and rely on you to continue this relationship building. This year, we will put our best face forward by concentrating the Open House events in the Student Union, where we will showcase the new Atrium, and in the Athletic and Wellness Center (no events in the Lecture Center). I thank you in advance for your participation in these events and look forward to seeing you there.
Library Renovation: Here is an update on the status of planning for the renovation of the Sojourner Truth Library. This project is being supported by funds from the State University Construction Fund (SUCF) secured as an additional state appropriation by our legislators, Kevin Cahill (’77) and John Bonacic. Planning for this project is being led by Baltimore-based architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross (ASG) and lead architect Sandra Vicchio, both with extensive, successful experience in the design of academic buildings, especially libraries. The design team also includes library director Chui-chun Lee and several staff, an academic faculty member who has coordinated ongoing input from faculty on the Library Committee, campus architects, SUCF representatives, and me (initially as Provost). Last winter, Chui-chun Lee and I took part in a national workshop on design of academic libraries, co-led by Ms. Vicchio. What we learned has informed our process in important ways.
Campus planning for this project began last year, and has passed through several of the formal steps for SUCF projects, with some interruption last spring during the state budget hiatus. The still-evolving design builds on extensive input from the campus community (see below) and several iterations of review and comment by library staff and the design team. The formal design will be submitted in December to the Construction Fund and will be available for campus review.
Continued input on details and refinements will be essential as the process continues, although major changes in design and programming focus are not feasible. Several additional planning and “costing” steps will follow before construction can begin. Following re-roofing to take place May through autumn 2011, the renovation-construction in the library itself will begin in winter 2011-12 and is estimated to be completed in December 2013. This work will be undertaken in carefully planned phases – meaning that the library will be functional throughout the process. Services will be relocated within the library during this process, and every effort is being made to minimize disruptions to our academic mission.
Last spring, we gathered input from the College community through a student survey, a faculty/staff survey, student working groups, and several open forums with faculty and staff. Key themes that emerged from these studies and that were instrumental in our initial planning included: improved lighting, especially natural lighting; more and better technology; better spaces for group studies, especially flexible spaces to accommodate different group sizes; more rational organization of library services into a central and centralized complex (circulation, reference, IT); improved aesthetics; more thoughtful use of the “bridge” corridor; expanded and improved café and casual seating outside the library proper.
The design team has worked painstakingly with the architect and the Construction Fund to honor the feedback and ideas received from students, faculty, and staff, and to implement as many as possible of the above elements into the design. As with other projects, not every idea brought forward can be incorporated into the design. Also, it is likely that our available budget will not match our aspirations, and we will need to prioritize further than we have already. The design team will consult with the College community representatives to inform decisions about such prioritization.
Major features driving the current design include: opening up as much of the western wall and eastern entrance as possible to natural light, within the significant cost constraints we face; creating a large “information commons” on the western edge of the main floor, with lots of computer and printer stations; providing more group study/flex spaces for students; centralizing Library and IT services in a highly visible central location; rationalizing library offices; improving faculty and staff work spaces, including a faculty/staff reading room, and retaining individual study rooms; and creating flexibility for future expansion of archives/special collections. The design gives most attention and funding to improving the main floor. Some costly additions (such as adding a sprinkler system throughout the building) are mandated by code compliance.
I am grateful to the many faculty, staff, and students who shared their ideas on features and values that they would most like to see in a renovated library, and to the design team members who have worked so hard and thoughtfully to bring our planning to this stage. We have been pleased and impressed with Sandra Vicchio and her team’s responsiveness to our ideas and concerns during our planning. We are excited about the plan that is developing, and the ways that it will enhance teaching, learning, and scholarship at New Paltz. We are developing approaches to apprise you of progress on the project and for you to provide comments.
Budget: I want to take this opportunity to continue our ongoing conversation about our budget situation by responding to issues that have come to my attention recently. I will again emphasize that we must identify ways this year to develop a plan to adjust our economy to be implemented on July 1, 2011. This plan will position us to sustain high-quality educational programs in the face of resource constraints that are virtually certain to persist for years. The adjustments required are not trivial, and there is some urgency in finding solutions. As we began this year our shortfall was $2.6 million, a mid-year cut looms and hence this shortfall is likely to grow. As I shared in my State of the College address, we will not solve this problem by nibbling around its edges; there is an imperative for us to scrutinize how we do our work, to be willing to explore and implement new models, and to focus more specifically on our highest priorities
I understand there is some thinking that the early retirement incentive program will provide the sole means to solve our budget problem. While early retirements will certainly help reduce our budget, none of us familiar with our budget challenge and with this program believes that it will represent more than a fraction of our necessary budget reduction. Some positions vacated (or expected to be vacated) by early retirement will need to be filled to sustain our instructional mission, meaning that the only savings from early retirement will be a result of the lower salary of the replacement employee. Additionally, some employees who expressed initial interest in the program have chosen not to retire at this time.
You have heard or will be hearing from your deans and directors asking you and your departments and units to generate proposals to help address this budget issue. I have heard that some faculty and staff regard this charge as “a political exercise prior to program cuts,” and that we won’t take seriously the sound ideas that we know departments and units will identify. That is not the case. Meaningful budget-reduction proposals from faculty, staff, departments, and units will be an important part of our overall plan, and will reduce the extent to which we need to employ further actions that could include program elimination. You know best the workings of your departments and units, and it is important that the energy, experience, and creativity of faculty and staff be brought to bear. We have and will continue to provide deans and directors with examples of the kinds of analyses and changes that you might consider.
Your budget-reduction proposals (see process documents on the budget Web site) will be analyzed and considered by Cabinet/Wonk+ and the results, including a financial analysis, will be shared at a forum in December. It is our hope that resolution of uncertainties (i.e. mid-year cuts; savings achieved by the early retirement incentive) that may impact our existing shortfall may be resolved at this time providing greater clarity of the remaining shortfall that will need to be addressed in the spring semester.
Presidential Search: In early November, the Presidential Search Committee will begin reviewing applications for the New Paltz Presidency. The Committee plans to meet in mid-November to discuss these and to narrow the field to 8-10 candidates for confidential, off-campus interviews scheduled for December. We expect to bring 3-5 finalists to campus once students and faculty return for the spring semester. You’ll recall that the timeline for the search indicates that the Search Committee will make its recommendations to the College Council in late February so that the College Council can forward a list of three finalists to the SUNY Chancellor by March 1.
Middle States Re-Accreditation: Dr. William Ruud, President at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, is Chair of our re-accreditation site team. Dr. Ruud will be visiting campus on November 2-3 to meet with a number of groups and individuals and assess our “readiness” for the site visit in the spring. A draft of the self-study document will be available for your review in the next few weeks.
I hope that your semester is going well and that you are having an opportunity to enjoy a spectacular Hudson Valley autumn. I look forward to seeing you at this week’s faculty meeting and responding to your questions and comments.
Donald Christian, Interim President
Addendum to Report:
Before I respond to any questions or comments you may have about my written report, I want to update you on some new developments in the past couple of days. The first is a good-news, bad-news item. You have heard Vice President DiStefano and me voice our concern about the prospect of a mid-year cut on top of our known $2.6M reduction. We now know that there will be such a cut, and what it will be. At the end of this year’s legislative session, the Governor was given the authority to implement an additional $250 million budget reduction by cutting state agency spending. SUNY Central has learned – and we learned yesterday - that the Governor's office and the Division of the Budget have determined that they must allocate a portion of this cut to SUNY and CUNY. For SUNY, this amounts to a $23,250,000 funding reduction in the current-year spending plan.
The SUNY New Paltz share of that cut is $623,500. This is a big hit, but we had some concern that it could be even higher. This now puts our known required budget reduction at just over $3.2 million. One small promising note is that as part of this communication the Division of Budget has indicated that no more cuts are planned during the current year. But given the uncertainties that the upcoming election presents it’s not clear how much faith we should put in that statement.
On a brighter note, I want to share some external activity that I’ve been engaged in this week, focused on the task you have heard me speak about of building and sustaining relationships that support our programs and revenue. Along with Sally Cross, Director of Development and Alumni Relations and CEO of the Foundation, I spent a day this week in Virginia and DC. We had lunch with an alumnus, who is also a former board member and strong supporter of the College. We talked with him about our case statement for a fund-raising campaign that you’ve heard me talk about, and secured his commitment to continue a significant record of giving this year.
Later that day, we had dinner with an alumnus who was enthusiastic in his reception of our invitation to join the Foundation Board, a responsibility that carries with it a substantial expectation for giving to the Foundation and for helping us secure other support. You should know that in conversations such as these I build not on the reality of a budget deficit but on the great work that you and our students are doing, and our goal to secure the resources to do those things even better.
We also met with Congressman Hinchey’s staff to talk about progressing through the next steps of securing the $5 million earmark for research and outreach on solar energy development in New York and the region that you have heard and read about recently. They and we are excited about moving this project along, even though little further will happen on it until after the election.
Lastly, I want to encourage you to nominate your colleagues for Chancellor's Awards honoring our colleagues for outstanding teaching, research and creative activity, librarianship and service. They deserve such recognition. To date, we have received only 1 nomination and New Paltz is allowed to submit seven, for five different awards. Information is available on the Academic Affairs Web site.
Now, I will be happy to respond to any questions and comments you might have about my monthly report.