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Black Studies: Building on a Proud Tradition

President Christian addresses Racial Incidents

November 13, 2015 

I am beginning this report with a quick series of shout-outs/congratulations to several campus units for wonderful activities, accomplishments, and contributions this semester. I do so with trepidation about overlooking other key accomplishments, and I know there are many! I am also continuing the recently established format of a brief “Contents” section followed by more-fulsome information about major items. 

I will share that I have had many recent opportunities to speak about the College and our work and the great things happening here -- with alumni (recently in Los Angeles, Austin [TX], and Chicago), community leaders in the Hudson Valley and beyond, parents of our students, SUNY leadership, other higher-education colleagues. I am proud of our continuing progress as an institution and of your great work that drives that success. 

Congratulations to:

  • College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for a successful launch of its “Without Limits: Interdisciplinary Conversations in the Liberal Arts” series.
  • School of Fine and Performing Arts, School of Science and Engineering, and Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center for a well-attended “aNYthing” additive manufacturing/3D printing conference.
  • School of Education for launching the Center for Innovation in Education and for the official news of its 10-year reaccreditation from NCATE.
  • School of Business for hosting the Northeast Regional American Marketing Association conference focused on the food industry.
  • University Police Department officers for assisting New Paltz Police Department in October 24 off-campus active shooter incident.



Diversity and Inclusion – I call your attention to the message that Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn (Executive Director of Compliance and Campus Climate) and I sent to the community yesterday about the racial climate and racial incidents at U.S. colleges and universities, and the efforts underway on our campus to help us, individually and collectively, develop better capacity to discuss and resolve such issues in meaningful, respectful ways.  

Below, I outline the substance of a petition I received this week from students asking for our commitment to ensuring a strong Black Studies academic program and continuing to diversify the campus. I have invited a group of students to meet with me and other campus leaders tomorrow to discuss their concerns. 

Open House – Thank you to all who contributed to a well-attended and well-received prospective students Open House, a critical event in our student recruitment initiatives. 

Budget Advocacy – SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher launched this year’s advocacy for increased state taxpayer support and continuation of a rational tuition policy in the Hudson Valley, on the same day that my op-ed on these topics was published in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Cuba Visit – Vice President L. David Eaton and Dean of International Programs Bruce Sillner represented SUNY New Paltz on a historic higher education visit to Cuba; discussion is underway about academic exchange possibilities.

Performance Improvement Plan – We submitted a draft Campus Performance Improvement Plan to meet a October 21 SUNY deadline; plan outlines key ways the College will contribute to SUNY performance goals and be measured on those achievements. 

Social Mobility Index – New Paltz (#88) was one of 7 SUNY campuses in top 100 institutions (of 931 ranked) on an index of social and economic mobility of its graduates. 

Security Report and Fire Safety Report –The 2015 Annual Security Report and Fire Safety Report, including Clery statistics and detailed compendium of campus safety actions, is available online.



Diversity and Inclusion.  The message that Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn (Executive Director of Compliance and Campus Climate) and I sent to the community yesterday noted the reality of recent racially based incidents on U.S. college campuses. We reminded students, faculty, and staff about the impact of such incidents and less-overt actions on community members of color, and on the entire community.  Our ongoing work with consultant Dr. Steven Jones, who worked with department chairs during his most recent campus visit last week, focused on educating members to develop culturally responsive and inclusive practices and competencies as a skill set through which we can better recognize these acts, their impacts, and our own responsibility for them, and on developing language and tools to talk about them, especially with our students.  Dr. Jones has now worked with nearly 250 members of our community, including student leaders, department chairs, upper-level administrators, and faculty and staff.  We are receiving feedback that this work is having a powerful impact on members of our community. My own involvement in these conversations, in a session with Dr. Jones this summer and in the brief time I had to join a session with him and Department Chairs, has been very meaningful for me. More workshops are planned for the spring semester.  These actions were initiated in accordance with the College’s Strategic Plan, which was developed three years ago.


We also shared that we are planning the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer and the development of a broader diversity and inclusion plan that includes strategies for student recruitment, retention, and completion; administrative, faculty, and staff recruitment and retention, and evaluation of our progress.  You will hear about and have an opportunity to be involved in these conversations during the spring semester. 


Student Petition. I received a petition this week asking for a commitment to ensure that students “have access to a strong and supportive academic program in Black Studies as well as more faculty and students of color.”  Yesterday, I invited the student who delivered this petition and a small group of her fellow students to a breakfast meeting tomorrow (Friday, 11/13) with me and several other campus leaders to discuss the issues raised in the petition. My goal has been to respond promptly to our students’ advocacy about these issues. As the leader of this public university, I commend students for using their agency to seek answers to their concerns. I would expect members of our staff, faculty and administrators to create a supportive environment for the airing of these concerns, modelling civil discourse and respect for each other. We are the training ground for a healthy citizenry and this is a critical exercise and test of our ability to model the best of our democratic ideals.


I am in strong solidarity with the broad goals of the student petition and I see an opportunity to help our students understand the reasoning behind the path we are following to achieve those goals.  My agenda for tomorrow’s meeting with students will include the following topics:

  • Affirmation of the September 10, 2015 message from Dean Barrett, Interim Provost Deen, and me about our “full and unhesitating support for a strong and vital Black Studies Department at a time of significant departmental transition.”  I offer the editorial comment here that I do not recall ever reading or hearing such a strong and unified statement of support for an academic program across three upper-administrative levels. I admit to being mystified and troubled by what seems to be a lingering, sometimes expressed sentiment that “we don’t believe you mean it.”
  • Our commitment, affirmed in that message, to help the department re-build through careful and thoughtful planning that will respond not just to the immediate needs but also set the stage for the future.  We are responsible for ensuring that tenure-line faculty are recruited into a department that is thriving and able to support them as faculty and as members of our community. This goal is in part being addressed by work underway to develop a more effective mentoring program for new faculty that will benefit and support new scholars in Black Studies and in other departments.
  • The recommendations of the Black Studies department’s external program review committee, included bringing the curriculum into better alignment with current trends and thinking in the discipline, along with other matters.   
  • Steps that the administration has taken since last spring to support the department and its Chair in recruiting visiting faculty to ensure ongoing teaching and advising contributions as we prepare for tenure-track searches.
  • My administrative respect for the primary purview of faculty over curricular content and direction.  While I admire our students’ interest in specific curricular topics, such matters must remain a primary responsibility of the faculty. I would therefore not honor the students’ request that the administration direct the hiring of Black Studies faculty in particular areas of scholarship identified by students.   
  • Institutional initiatives, recent successes, and ongoing plans to recruit more faculty of color, a goal that we share with our students.
  • An update, shared a few weeks ago with the Executive Boards of the Student Association and the Resident Hall Student Association, of our work to recruit students of color to New Paltz, along with the underlying demographic context.


The program reviewers for the Black Studies Department asked me last spring about the New Paltz administrative commitment to this department and discipline.  My response included: 1) my respect and admiration for the long and proud tradition of this department and its support for students; 2) the nature and composition of our student body; and 3) the many pressing issues of race and racism in America.  I believe that students who signed the petition and I share common ground on these values, which are at the forefront of administrative actions to ensure a strong future for Black Studies at New Paltz. Clearly, our progress on these goals is not at a pace that students expect and we must be thoughtful and take care to do this well for current and future Black Studies students. I encourage all involved in this endeavor - Black Studies faculty, the Steering Committee formed to assist Black Studies Chair Major Coleman in rebuilding the department, the Curriculum Committee, the dean and interim provost - to continue to put this at the forefront of their work and to report on their progress to the community.


Open House for Prospective Students and Parents. Thank you to all who made our October 31 Fall Open House such a resounding success. Many of the roughly 1,700 prospective students and 4,700 total visitors gave glowing feedback about our friendly and knowledgeable faculty and staff; informative tours; enthusiastic student volunteers; and our attractive facilities, grounds, and surrounding environment.  I have written and spoken many times about the relentlessly competitive student recruitment environment we face, and the imperative that we continue to recruit well-prepared and motivated students to meet our enrollment targets each year.  Faculty and staff play an invaluable role in helping prospective students and their parents understand our offerings and what is special about New Paltz. I deeply appreciate your contribution to helping tip this delicate balance in our favor. Thank you!


Budget Advocacy.  Chancellor Zimpher spoke at last week’s Council of Industry annual Expo and luncheon, launching the “Stand with SUNY” advocacy campaign, the first such event around the state.  The goals of the campaign are to secure increased state investment for SUNY, building base funding for SUNY campuses and teaching hospitals; to grow the “Investment and Performance Fund” so that SUNY can bring evidence-based, effective programs to bigger scale; and extend NYSUNY 2020 to continue funding challenge grants and keep tuition-setting authority with the SUNY Board while ensuring tuition flexibility by sector.


To help bring attention to these issues and the Chancellor’s visit to the Hudson Valley, I wrote an Op Ed  posted online and in the Friday, November 6 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal that has received positive feedback.  Shelly Wright and Rich Winters of the President’s Office and Chrissie Williams of the Office of Communication and Marketing contributed importantly to this piece and to its timely publication.


Cuba Visit.  L. David Eaton, Vice President for Enrollment Management, and Bruce Sillner, Dean of International Programs, represented SUNY New Paltz in a delegation of 12 American universities selected by the Institute of International Education to work on rebuilding academic ties with Cuba.  While in Cuba Oct. 25-Nov. 1, they met with officials from the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education, the Ambassador of the European Union to Cuba, the new U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, and visited six Cuban universities. A New Paltz task force has been convened to plan for reengagement with a country that sent the first international students to New Paltz in 1901. It is likely that initial activities will include short-term study abroad and faculty/staff exchanges. Educational exchange with Cuba is a primary focus of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) International Education Committee, of which I am a member.


SUNY Performance Improvement Plan.  Each SUNY campus was required to submit a Performance Improvement Plan that spells out specific criteria for improving performance relative to SUNY-wide goals, and that identifies particular measures and metrics for measuring campus performance.  We submitted our campus plan (41 pages) by the October 21 deadline.  We sought input from faculty governance, and shared the draft plan with the Presiding Officer of the Faculty before submission; I very much regret that the timeline for this process set by SUNY did not allow broader faculty and staff discussion of the plan and its priorities. Because there was excellent alignment between many of the goals of the SUNY New Paltz strategic plan and priorities of the SUNY Excels Plan, our plan focuses on many current and planned New Paltz initiatives and activities already known to the campus.   

We await approval of our draft plan by the Board of Trustees, expected this month, and will share the approved plan with the campus community (we have heard unofficial reports that some campus plans were rejected as not being sufficiently “ambitious”). An approved Performance Improvement Plan is a condition of eligibility for SUNY Excels Performance-Based Funding (our proposal to expand EOP and related initiatives, described in my October report to you). We understand that decisions about performance funding are pending, and will be announced either this month or in early December.

Social Mobility Index.  There are many assessments that U.S. higher education must become a stronger force to counter growing economic and socioeconomic stratification in our society.  Certainly that value is embedded in our mission as a public university, and is at the heart of our proposed expansion of EOP and related initiatives. In a 2015 “Social Mobility Index” released by CollegeNET, New Paltz ranked #88 among 931 public and private institutions included in the ranking. New Paltz is the only SUNY comprehensive campus in the top 100, joined by the four University Centers, SUNY IT, and SUNY Maritime in that grouping. This index is a measure of the upward socioeconomic mobility afforded by earning a college degree, considering the economic status of students attending an institution, graduation rates, and postgraduate earnings.  We should be proud of this reflection of our success, at the same time recognizing that we and every other higher education institution have more work to do.

Energy Management Plan. The Office of Campus Sustainability has nearly completed its Energy Master Plan, a road map to meet the requirements of Executive Order (EO) 88 to reduce the campus’ energy use by 20%, and the SUNY “enhanced” goal of a 30% reduction by 2020. The Energy Master Plan will be made available on the Office of Campus Sustainability website when it is completed later this month. New Paltz is one of the first five SUNY campuses to undertake the detailed technical analyses and assessments that are the basis of the plan.  I am pleased that the energy consultants who worked with our Facilities staff noted how forward-thinking our staff has been to develop and install the infrastructure that allows us to measure building-by-building energy use, something that most SUNY campuses have yet to do.

The plan identifies 18 energy conservation measures, four already well underway. The Office of Campus Sustainability is working closely with Facilities Operations to restrict heating and cooling schedules to conserve energy during the winter and summer sessions. We achieved significant reductions in energy use this past summer compared to the prior year by optimizing building scheduling (Service Building -23% reduction; Athletics and Wellness Center -18% reduction; van den Berg - 20% reduction). These low cost-no cost options and grant funding are going to be the most attractive in a climate of limited state funding. With significant funding from the Central Hudson Gas and Electric Commercial Lighting Program, Facilities Management just completed an exterior lighting upgrade that converted 70% of exterior lights to energy-saving LEDs.  The Office of Campus Sustainability intends to pursue additional exterior and interior LED lighting upgrades. Facilities Design and Construction is in the process of upgrading three old, inefficient chillers to high-efficiency chillers. The college was recently awarded $250,000 to insulate hot water piping in buildings. 

In addition to these measures, the Office of Campus Sustainability intends to pursue the low-cost/no-cost energy conservation measures in the report such as 1) more efficient scheduling of building use, projected to achieve 35% of the EO 88 target, and 2) retro-commissioning, a process designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of existing building heating, cooling, and ventilation systems (projected to achieve 45% of that goal). Revamping how we schedule classes and other uses of campus buildings will require significant behavior change from all members of the campus community. The Office is also evaluating the feasibility of large-scale solar photovoltaics. The plan’s implementation will require financial investment over time that will lead to energy reduction and cost savings over the long term. Thanks to everyone on campus who has contributed to our progress on this important mandate.

Provost Search. Consultants from Academic Search are in full recruitment mode for the new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Based on feedback from the campus community and the search committee, Academic Search prepared a position profile for recruiting candidates. The position is being advertised in a number of higher education publications, both print and online. Applications received by December 2 will be assured full consideration. If you know of individuals who may be interested, please encourage them to visit this profile. If they wish to discuss the opportunity further, they may contact Tom Fitch at rtf@academic-search.com or Andrea Warren Hamos at awh@academic-search.com.

The Search Committee has begun reviewing applications. By the end of fall semester, the committee will have selected a group of semi-finalists for neutral site interviews to be held in January. The group will narrow this field to a small group of finalists who will visit campus in February. My goal is to hire a provost in March who will begin work in July 2016.

Security Report and Fire Safety Report.  Recent incidents on college campuses across the nation have heightened everyone’s awareness of safety and security issues.  The 2015 Annual Security Report & Fire Safety Report (for calendar year 2014) is now available online. This report is published by the University Police Department in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Statistics Act. The report includes a summary of the impressive depth and breadth of structures, policies, activities, and processes in place to enhance safety and security for members of our campus community and for visitors.

Our policies comply with federal regulations set forth in the Clery Act and the Higher Education Opportunity Act, including the recent Violence Against Women Amendments. The Annual Security Report also includes crime statistics for the previous three calendar years as well as the previous three years of fire statistics for campus residence buildings, along with a description of the fire equipment contained in each residence hall.

I look forward to seeing you at this week’s meeting, where I will be happy to respond to your questions. 

Donald P. Christian