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The Office of the President

Report to College Council - Nov. 1, 2018

President’s Report
College Council, November 1, 2018

In the interest of time and in recognition of the keen interest in the topic of Hasbrouck Complex building names, I will keep my report brief, and focused on that topic. I think it most appropriate if Council members defer any questions about my report until we discuss the resolution at hand today.  I remind today’s audience that this is an official business meeting. I ask that you refrain from showing approval or disapproval for speakers – including College Council members – so as not to create a chilling effect for individuals who speak.

We’ve recently provided Council members with information responsive to questions that arose at the September 6 College Council meeting.  That included:

  • More extensive evidence of slave ownership by the original Huguenot patentee families; and
  • Confirmation by SUNY legal counsel after their review of State Education Law that while the Council has the authority to name buildings and grounds, this and other Council actions are subject to the approval of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

We also shared two resolutions supporting the removal and replacement of the Hasbrouck names, as both the Diversity and Inclusion Council and I have recommended.  One was passed in spring 2018 by the Student Senate. The other was passed this fall by the Faculty Senate by a 51 to zero margin with two abstentions.

I want to briefly summarize several points that I wrote to you about.

I see it as unfortunate if we treat slavery on other continents and in other periods of history as equivalent to the background most relevant to the issue we face today.  Colonial slavery in the Americas has had a unique and enduring impact on education, employment, health and nearly all systems of this country. And not every Colonist chose to engage in the practice; the Quakers consciously did not. We all live with this enduring legacy and how it continues to play out in our society, especially – on a college campus - in the daily experience of students of color. But students across all demographics are increasingly calling for institutions to be accountable to the values of inclusion. If we are not able to demonstrate our ability to evolve in our understanding, we will not be able to serve future generations of New York citizens, as is our mission.

I have heard the characterization that by recommending these names be replaced we are “erasing history.” I disagree with that view. Quite the contrary we want to be certain that we portray relevant history more fully. That includes the history of Huguenot patentees and their descendants and their positive contributions, along with the history of slavery. It also includes the history and contributions of enslaved Africans and their descendants and the indigenous peoples who were here before the Europeans and Africans. These people have been treated through our history as the “other” -- their stories have often been ignored or minimized, another specific legacy of history.

 

I spoke at the previous meeting about the deepening empathy that I developed throughout last year’s process for students and others whose life experiences are quite different than mine. I listened to students and others talk about the alienation they felt to live, eat and sleep in buildings named for those who enslaved Africans. My direct experience and the careful analysis of the Diversity and Inclusion Council made it clear to me that only by changing the names could we honor those experiences and perspectives. I hope that Council members as well can be open-minded as you consider this issue and give more weight to the evolving population at SUNY New Paltz and their particular needs – helping the college be increasingly attractive to a wide range of students from diverse backgrounds. Increasingly, they are the students of our future.

I would also appeal to the Council members to respect an exceptional process of campus and community engagement. This process brought members of our campus together to understand shared values, was forward-looking in scope while not ignoring the past, and generated overwhelming support for the change we are recommending. That support comes from students, faculty, staff, many alumni, our campus leadership team, and me as president. I have kept the SUNY Chancellor and the Chair of the Board of Trustees informed of our process from the very start, and of my position. They have been supportive and are eager to hear the outcome of the College Council deliberation. 

My point here is that this has been a very serious undertaking, and I hope that as the College Council charged with acting in the best interests of the College and our future, you will give full consideration to the depth and breadth of thought and effort invested in this process.

I will close with a comment about our process.  I intentionally structured this effort to keep our focus on whether these building names should change or not, without the complication of considering alternative names.  The Council’s consideration today is the first step in what we should all regard as a process that must involve two steps, which should be closely linked. If the Council votes to change the names, the next step will be determination of the new names. The Council should lead that process with community input, and approval of the new names is within their authority.  If we move ahead, I would encourage the Council to complete that step early in the spring semester. If the Council votes to change the names and when new names are determined, we will take a single resolution to the SUNY Board of Trustees – to change the names and replace them with the new ones.  The current names on these buildings will not be removed and replaced until after that step is completed.