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The Office of the President

Updates 10/24/2008

Faculty and Professional Staff Meeting President's Report 10/24/08

My report will be relatively brief this month because it comes on the heels of my lengthy State of College Address at our September meeting.

State Budget:  I’m sure many of you are wondering if there is any news to share about the impact of state budget cuts on New Paltz.  The short answer is “no.”  From my perspective, we continue to be in a surreal situation where everyone knows that hard choices about SUNY funding and tuition must be made soon, the parties have formulated their arguments and counterarguments, but none of the key political or System actors intends to force the issue until after the election.  It reminds me of accounts of the summer of 1914 when both the Central and Allied Powers were mobilizing troops but overt hostilities had not yet broken out into World War I (that’s a bit melodramatic, but you get the idea)!  I do, however, expect plenty of public posturing and private negotiations between November 5 and November 18 when the Legislature convenes for special meetings about New York’s finances.  As I’ve said before, the critical issue for FY09 (which ends this March) is whether the politicians bless a mid-year tuition increase to soften the fiscal blows aimed at SUNY.  If worse comes to worse, New Paltz has healthy reserves that we can draw upon while we plan for future years.  There will obviously be much more to discuss on this topic when the real action begins.    

Student Recruitment: Meanwhile, our normal campus activities must go forward, including recruiting a talented class of students for next fall.  The Vice Presidents and I have been refining our enrollment projections, considering all relevant factors including:

  • Our desire not to grow our undergraduate student body but rather to emphasize quality over quantity;
  • How best to meet the tuition revenue targets SUNY Central sets for our campus;
  • The disruption to regular curricular offerings and teaching schedules occasioned by a larger-than-usual freshman class (including reverberations in subsequent years as that class moves through the pipeline); 
  • The limited capacity of our residence halls (where we house all incoming freshmen), which has been stretched as more of our students choose to remain in the halls for more of their time at New Paltz; and--last but by no means least,
  • Our rising retention and graduation rates.  With higher graduation rates more students are moving through the college at a faster rate, which actually leaves us with a larger enrollment/tuition “hole” to fill each year even if we do not want to grow.

Taking all of the above into account, our current thinking is that we should aim for a freshman class of 1,125—a bit lower than the 1,200 previously projected.  As Vice President Eaton regularly observes, even in the calmest of years admissions is perhaps more art than science.  We do not yet know, for instance, whether our record 24% yield in 2008 was a happy outlier or a new base.  2009 is likely to be an especially volatile admissions cycle, given a reeling economy that may drive students away from costly private colleges into more affordable public institutions and the fact that even public competitors cannot afford to use operating funds for recruitment scholarships (a practice that essentially amounts to “buying” students—and something that New Paltz has refused to do).  Given this heightened unpredictability, we’re going to be watching the admissions process very closely this fall and winter, and using our wait list very tactically.

Provost Search: The advertisement has been posted in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Even more important, Witt/Kieffer, the search firm we are using in this endeavor, met with the search committee, the vice presidents, the deans, faculty governance leaders, faculty, the Provost’s staff, and students last month to learn about the qualifications and characteristics our community seeks in a new Provost.  From this research, the search firm and committee have drafted a comprehensive position description to be shared with candidates.  This document should be a powerful recruiting tool.  As soon as it is finalized, a copy will be posted on our Web site. Witt/Kieffer is moving aggressively to identify and recruit strong candidates, and the committee hopes to begin reviewing the pool in late fall.

I’d like to shift gears and address a topic I don’t believe I’ve ever raised at a faculty meeting before—but which has worried me for some time.  This is the subject of Faculty Accolades.  One of the many ways we should highlight the quality of New Paltz’s faculty is through SUNY-wide honors such as Chancellor’s Awards and Distinguished Professor designations.  When I review the annual rosters of such honorees, it often seems that New Paltz is under-represented.  Brockport and Plattsburgh had six awards each this year, while New Paltz only had three.  How can this be, given the caliber of our faculty?  We should put our best people forward for such plaudits.  I’d like to see several strong cases emerge this year.

I’ll close for the month with a quick Construction Update:  Surely you’ve all noticed that the trenches snaking around the campus have been filled in.  Consequently, the campus heating system—complete with new high temperature/hot water pipes—is operational.  Fencing is up around Old Main, and demolition within that structure has begun.  Work on the Backstage Café (in Parker Theatre) is almost complete; Food Service expects to openthis new venue by the middle of November.  I look forward to seeing you there! 

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