The Office of the President

State of the College 2013

State of the College 2013  

August 23, 2013

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Good morning.

Your first homework assignment of the year is to remember the title of this article “Only Connect.” And, yes, this could be on the test!

But first two brief anecdotes: A few months back a New Paltz alumnus who works in the financial industry told me that early in his career he did not tell colleagues where he earned his degree. He now says that he proudly lets people know he is a New Paltz alum. Last month, while addressing parents at new-student orientation, Vice President Dave Rooney referenced how the College’s reputation has improved over time. Afterwards, several parents came up to him, identifying themselves as New Paltz alumni. One of them said: My degree from New Paltz is worth five times now what it was when I graduated.

These are very powerful statements about our growing reputation, and how it resonates with those who matter to us. These stories are the result of many years of great work by the SUNY New Paltz community. Today, I will speak about the values and accomplishments behind these proud judgments, and about the work ahead to ensure that our alumni will continue to want their sons and daughters to attend New Paltz.

I hope to see you at noon today for Fall Convocation, another mark of the new year. Our featured speaker is Professor Jack Wade, chair of the Theatre Department and recent recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Our Grand Marshal and Macebearer will be Professor Hon Ho of the Biology Department and last year’s recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activity. Showcasing faculty achievement as we welcome our new students symbolizes the essential role of faculty in our educational mission.

Let me express my gratitude for your dedication and hard work to make New Paltz a high-quality learning environment. Throughout the year, I hear stories from students, parents, alumni, and community members whose lives were touched by some special effort that you made that reflects your pride in New Paltz. Know how much I appreciate what a difference you each make.

New academic and professional faculty will be introduced individually at the first faculty meeting next week, and new classified staff at a meeting on September 11. Today, I want to welcome all new members of our community, and I ask you to stand and be recognized. You’ve joined a wonderful institution, and we look forward to your contributions and to supporting your professional growth. .

Earlier this week, I announced that we completed a national search for a Vice President for Administration and Finance, and that our own Michele Halstead emerged as the top candidate. This outcome reinforces the exceptionally positive experience I have had working with Michele. I am excited to have her join the College’s top leadership team. Her management style and values, including the care with which she interacts with others, are consistent with my vision for building a strong and cohesive campus community.

I am pleased to welcome Catherine Hoselton, who joined us two weeks ago as Assistant Vice President leading our re-organized sponsored research programs. Catherine comes to us most recently from the University of California, San Francisco, where she held several positions in grant proposal development and post-award management. Welcome, Catherine.

Let me now introduce those taking on interim administrative roles, beginning with three interim deans. Please stand when I call your names: Paul Kassel in the School of Fine and Performing Arts… Stella Deen in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, … and Chih-Yang Tsai in the School of Business. Lucy Walker, previously Senior Analyst in the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, is serving as Interim Assistant Vice President in that office. Searches are underway for deans in business and liberal arts and sciences and the search will start soon for an assistant vice president for institutional research. We are waiting a year to start the search for the dean of fine and performing arts.

Each of these individuals has stepped into important and challenging administrative responsibilities, and I hope that you will give them your full support.

Let me welcome several Directors of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation joining us today. Would you please stand to be recognized. The Foundation is a non-profit affiliate of the College that exists to help us raise and manage private support for the College. We will make a special effort this year to increase the visibility of the Foundation and its contributions, and to better connect Foundation Directors with the life of the College. Thank you for being here today, and for your volunteer support for the College.

I am also pleased to introduce Doug Held, a consultant who has been working with me, the Development Office staff, and the foundation as we strengthen our fund-raising efforts.

I don’t know if any College Council members are with us today, but I want to acknowledge the guidance and support that we receive from this group appointed by the Governor. 

It has become tradition at the start of each new academic year for the president to reinforce in this speech who we are, what we value, and what we want to be. This is a beacon for our work throughout the coming year and introduces newcomers and reminds the rest of us about our institutional identity. Our core values include:

  • A personalized, residential campus environment where students, faculty, and staff learn together through close interaction.
  • Rigorous academics that bring together intellectually capable and committed students and exceptional faculty who are committed to students and their learning, AND to research and scholarship that supports the mission of a comprehensive university.
  • A commitment to building an open, diverse, and equitable college community.
  • Fostering a spirit of exploration, discovery, and artistry so critical for our graduates to excel in a rapidly changing society and economy.
  • A commitment to educating each student as a whole person.
  • Being an intellectual and cultural resource in the Hudson Valley and serving regional economic and educational needs.

The New Paltz educational mission is rooted in the values of a liberal education, whether we talk about majors in English or Engineering, Philosophy or Physics, Business or Biology. As I’ve said before, to serve our students well we must make their liberal education practical, and their practical education liberal. We must recognize that in an intensely knowledge-driven world, the distinction between liberal and practical education is blurred.

Many attributes in demand and valued outside of academia are humanistic, artistic, and social. These capacities are best developed by living and learning in a residential college environment, and by studying the arts, the humanities, and other liberal arts disciplines to develop an understanding of the human experience and to fuel imagination about human possibility. Despite the efforts of national policy- and opinion makers to dismiss and marginalize these fields of study, they reflect values that are central to the New Paltz mission, to our focus on students and their success, and – indeed – to the very foundations of a democratic way of life.

This brings me back to my first slide and my reference to a 1998 paper by William Cronon, a distinguished professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This is one of the most meaningful essays on liberal education ever written.

Cronon described the ten qualities of people who embody the values of a liberal education. Nine come quickly to mind: listening, reading, speaking, writing, puzzle solving, truth seeking, seeing through other people’s eyes, leading, working in a community. To describe these virtues, Cronon used words like: They listen and they hear… They can write clearly and persuasively and movingly… They can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems… They understand how to get things done in the world.

Most important for us today, Cronon listed a 10th attribute, drawing on E. M. Forster’s injunction from the novel Howard’s End: Only connect. Cronon wrote “being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways.” In his assessment, the other nine attributes are all about connecting.

Helping our students connect in all of these ways is a simple concept. But it is a powerful and unifying way for us to view our educational purpose.

The admonition “only connect” is also a good directive for us - this college community - about how to come together to move a great college into the future and make it even better. I’ve spoken before about the negative impacts that “silo organization” or “silo thinking” have on academic life. “Only connecting” is a way for us to overcome silos to the betterment of our students, and our institution.

I will take a few minutes to review last year because much of what we pursued and accomplished – and there is a LOT – connects to the coming year.

Our 2012 graduation rates were the highest ever, reflecting our continued commitment to student success. However, our 4-year graduation rates, while climbing, remain lower than we should accept.

Our School of Business was accredited by the most prestigious international business accrediting body, placing us in the top 5% of business schools worldwide with such recognition.

We began to change the way we schedule classes. We are making these changes because of clear evidence shared last year that our course schedules are out of line with national standards and best practices, and that we rank near the bottom of the SUNY system in student assessment of course availability – a likely contributor to our lagging 4-year graduation rates. I’ve already received student feedback that scheduling changes have noticeably improved access to mathematics courses.

Professor Kathy Goodell of the Art Department received a Guggenheim award and Professor Michael Vargas of History was awarded a Fulbright leave, emblematic of the significant contributions and achievements of New Paltz faculty. The first faculty art exhibition in 10 years inspired students and members of the broader community. The number of tenure-track faculty at New Paltz was higher at the start of last year than prior to the recession and two ensuing rounds of major budget cuts. The percentage of our courses taught by part-time faculty was the lowest in 15 years – reflective of our commitment to full-time faculty as the core of our academic quality.

My State of the College address would not be complete without using this slide! Our budgets remain sound, and we reached decisions through our budget process to invest nearly $1 million of new money in people and programs that support our mission and our strategic plan. As always, there are signs that we must remain wary about our financial future, including uncertainties about the impact of the SUNY hospital bailout on our campus budget, and signs of a mounting structural deficit in the New York State budget.

I regret that the constrained state budget has resulted in bargaining agreements for state employees that are not what any of us want to see, including deficit reduction leave programs that have created difficulties for all groups of college employees and their families. Like you, I look forward to a stronger recovery of our state economy that will relieve these constraints.

Last year, we raised more private dollars than any year in the past four. We also took steps to position ourselves for greater future fund-raising success – improving internal operations, expanding staff training, approving several new staff positions, forming a fund-raising steering committee, and evaluating our Foundation Board.
We hired a sustainability coordinator – welcome, Lisa Mitten. We also completed a major sustainability plan, and will continue to pursue important green initiatives such as a detailed energy audit. New Paltz was again included in Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges.

Our student athletes and teams made history – for the first time we had two SUNYAC championships in the same year, the highest finish in SUNYAC standings ever (3rd), and more SUNYAC scholar-athlete awards than ever.

Our Hugo the Hawk won the first annual Generation SUNY Mascot Madness contest, a great testament to school spirit.

Faculty and the deans in Science and Engineering and Fine and Performing Arts developed an initiative in digital design and fabrication, commonly referred to as 3D printing. At a May conference with several key co-sponsors, we announced a certificate curriculum in 3D printing and two gifts totaling half a million dollars to help establish a center that will position SUNY New Paltz as a leader in this exciting technology. This summer, with great work and leadership by Dean Freedman, Interim Dean Kassel, and Carrie Corti and others in Sponsored Programs, we submitted a major grant proposal for additional funding, based on the potential for economic development surrounding 3D printing.

Governor Andrew Cuomo visited the campus in late May to announce his START-UP New York economic initiative that features a key role for SUNY campuses. This was the first time in more than 20 years that a sitting governor has come to New Paltz.

A few days before that, the Governor announced that New Paltz is one of the first four campuses to host the New York State Master Teacher Program, a statewide initiative to encourage the state’s best teachers to share their expertise with peers and help ensure that the best and brightest remain in the profession. Our involvement in this program is centered in the Schools of Education … and Science and Engineering.
We conducted a very successful experiment with online course offerings during January.

We made progress in improving our campus climate, reinforcing our values of equity, inclusiveness, and tolerance. We were praised for our accomplishments in Title IX policies and practices that address sexual assault, sexual violence, and sexual harassment, and an LGBTQ task force worked during spring and early summer to prepare a report drawing on our recent campus climate survey.

New Paltz continues to score highly in regional and national rankings like US News and World Report and Kiplinger’s Guide. President Obama’s speech yesterday at SUNY Buffalo confirms the attention that college affordability and all of its dimensions – like graduation rates, tuition cost, student loan debt, loan default rates – will receive in the coming years.  In that vein, two different national surveys of return on investment for affordable colleges released this summer are of interest to us. In these surveys, the investment is tuition and the return is projected lifetime earnings. We were #2 in the nation in one ranking, out of 975 institutions considered. In the other, we ranked #5 in the nation, one of only three SUNY campuses included in the ranking of 50 institutions, and the only one in the top 10.

I will tell you that the applause from our new students and their parents at orientation when I shared this information tells me that they are paying close attention to such outcomes. I told them there are MANY reasons beyond making money to gain a college education, and that we pay attention to all of those good reasons. It says something very important that we can earn such rankings with educational programs rooted in liberal education.
The College continued to be an important player in the Hudson Valley through research on regional issues conducted by CRREO and faculty in several schools, Institute for Disaster Mental Health programs, outreach efforts like Piano Summer and Dorsky Museum exhibitions, and conferences hosted on campus. New Paltz employees were generous in supporting the region through the annual State Employees Federated Appeal –SEFA – Campaign. This led to the College receiving a first ever “Best Campaign” recognition.

While our graduate enrollments remain a challenge, we have met our undergraduate enrollment targets for incoming first-year and transfer students. We did so when so many other colleges and universities in the Northeast and elsewhere struggled to attract students – and some failed. Our incoming first-year class is bright and academically well-prepared, and the percentage of our incoming first-year and transfer students from historically under-represented groups is the highest in our history.

We completed a successful strategic planning process, generating a community sense of where we have been and the most important initiatives to become even better -- a clear road map for our future. We focused on the overarching question “What is best for our students?” - now and in the future. That effort explicitly respected the identity and values of New Paltz and gave a careful eye to the significant recent changes in higher education.
Our planning was guided by a broad-based steering committee, and I approved the plan earlier this summer.
We engaged in other critical planning efforts. After hiring a director of alumni relations, I established an alumni task force that developed a mission statement and plan for connecting the College more effectively with our alumni. Vice President David Eaton chaired the task force, and Brenda Dow, Director of Alumni Relations, was vice chair.

Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Laurel M. Garrick Duhaney led a review of our graduate programs and developed a strategic plan for the Graduate School.

I am grateful to those who led our planning efforts last year and to everyone who participated in this work.
Let’s look now to the year ahead, particularly the work that we will do to advance the strategic plan. A planning council, led by Associate VP for Student Affairs, Ray Schwarz, began work this summer to recommend initial actions that support the strategic plan. The council will function during the life of the plan, develop metrics and report benchmarks to judge our progress, help with implementation, and communicate about our progress.
The strategic plan will shape how we allocate new resources, but we recognize that we can make significant progress through modest, low-cost and in some cases no-cost changes in how we work.

We need to remember this is a multi-year plan, and we will accomplish a mix of big and small, short- and long-term projects. To use a ball-field metaphor, much of the plan’s success will involve scoring by consistently hitting singles and doubles – but of course we will welcome home runs …and certainly the occasional grand slam!

An essay published in Inside Higher Ed last month gave advice about crafting a strategic plan. It was affirming that we had anticipated virtually all of that advice. Examples are:

  • Have the president support and lead the planning process but not exclusively control it.
  • Form a planning task force that may morph into a standing committee that monitors implementation and assesses the plan’s impact.
  • Pay ongoing attention to the external environment, to understand the big picture and the changing context of higher education.
  • Communicate relentlessly about the plan.
  • Keep score on progress and report out regularly.
  • Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.

Parts of the closing paragraphs of the essay are worth sharing

Taken together, the above … points suggest that the most important elements of planning are around connectedness:

  • Connecting colleagues across the campus in the development of a shared vision and shared plan…
  • Connecting our individual institutions to the broader higher education landscape.
  • Connecting the planning process and the subsequent plan to daily operations.
  • Connecting realistic goals with shared aspirations.
  • And, finally, connecting what we do with what is measured and valued on our campus.

… The plan becomes a reflection of the valuable – and valued – connections needed to thrive.

I am drawn to the parallels between Cronon’s admonition to think about liberal education as connecting, and this guidance that connectedness is a unifying element of successful strategic planning and action. This conceptual link between a philosophy for our core mission and for strategic improvement work has immense appeal.

With that context, here are the major initiatives of our strategic plan. I will cite a few examples of the KINDS of work we will do, but this is certainly not an exhaustive list nor is it fully fleshed out. You will see that many initiatives in our plan involve strengthening existing connections, and building new ones.

Nurture innovation and the learning environment. I have written and spoken before about the imperative to continuously improve the quality of our educational offerings and the experiences of our students. That’s what this initiative is about, and it is not accidental or trivial that it is listed first in the plan. I will repeat my mantra that even if you are very good – as we are in this area - you can still get better.

Many actions in this initiative involve curriculum and pedagogy and must be developed by faculty with leadership from department chairs, the deans, and the provost. This includes the ongoing evaluation and revision of our general education program. Some we will advance right away, including evaluating the role and effectiveness of the Teaching and Learning Center, to expand faculty development in areas such as use of evidence-based pedagogy, effective use of technology in the classroom and to support online courses, and effective academic advising. We will continue to grow our honors program and our undergraduate student research initiatives.
We will continue to improve class scheduling, and will support new curricular offerings, including the Digital Design and Fabrication certificate and our mechanical engineering program.

After more review and consultation, we will begin to implement key recommendations of the Graduate School strategic plan, including phasing out under-enrolled programs and developing or expanding others so that we are investing our resources wisely.

A quality learning environment includes its living and learning spaces. We will experience ongoing disruption from construction and renovation this year, but I will remain steadfast in my view that the only thing worse than a campus torn up by construction is one that is not.

The Wooster renovation is progressing well. We have the go-ahead to resume our library renovation, and the construction of both the new science building and a new residence hall. On the last day of the fall semester, students will move out of LeFevre residence hall, which we will renovate before the start of the 2014 academic year.

The environmental review of the Park Point housing project is nearly complete, and the Town Planning Board will hold public hearings early this fall. The developer remains optimistic about breaking ground in spring 2014 for this project that is so critical to our future.

Establish an engaged living and learning community, including assessing the effectiveness of current programs, and developing more programming that connects academics and student life.
We want to develop new mechanisms for personal and professional relationship-building, to form a stronger sense of community among faculty, staff, and students. That will include efforts to connect individuals with each other across units, and to increase understanding across the campus of the work of different departments and units. One of the outgrowths of our LGBTQ climate initiatives has been the development of an “Allies” program, to be launched this year with the support of the Office of Compliance and Campus Climate.

Strengthen philanthropic commitments and success, to connect donors with opportunities to help us achieve a new margin of excellence. This will include my work with our fund-raising steering committee and in cultivating donors. We will also improve the functioning of our Foundation, and increase staffing in the Development Office. Next week, we finish on-campus finalist interviews for the Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, and I hope to conclude that search shortly. Finally, we will take steps to build a stronger culture of philanthropy at SUNY New Paltz.

Engage alumni in the life of the College, by realizing the highest priorities identified in the alumni task force report. Many faculty, staff, and departments have stepped up to help with a remodeled reunion weekend in September. Alumni tell us that their relationships with individual faculty or staff members keep them connected to New Paltz. I hope that as many of you as possible can join our reunion activities to reinforce those relationships.

Market New Paltz internally and externally, by being more effective at “telling the New Paltz story” to our many constituencies. This will advance student recruitment, philanthropy, alumni relations, and political and public awareness of the College’s strengths and accomplishments. This year the Office of Communication and Marketing and campus units will forge stronger relationships and deeper knowledge of each other’s work through assigned liaisons, regularized interactions, and shared planning to advance institutional goals.

Improve internal processes and institutional capacity, by serving students – especially – and also faculty and staff - in the best ways possible, and by optimizing use of our most valuable resource – faculty and staff time. The planning process identified many things we do just because that’s the way we’ve always done them, and we must assess how we operate.

For example, this year we will introduce a new software-supported tracking system to improve our employee recruitment and hiring processes, to save time for all involved, and to improve communication with applicants.
We will continue, and refine, work that the Provost and the Deans have begun to articulate and communicate standards and expectations for reappointment, tenure, and promotion, including promotion to full professor. We will be sure those expectations align with our institutional mission and priorities.

Certainly one issue voiced - by faculty - during our Middle States self-study and during strategic planning, is faculty governance, including curriculum review and approval. Obviously, this work requires faculty buy-in and participation. I am certainly willing to support and invest in a review of faculty governance and shared governance structures and processes, and to collaborate with faculty leadership in such an effort.

The strategic planning council welcomes ideas for efficiencies in all realms of the College.

Build online education. We must seize opportunities to broaden our educational offerings and revenue streams with online and hybrid courses -- while sustaining our residential character. To ignore or dismiss the evidence of highly effective online programming is to imperil our future.

Provost Mauceri and the deans have identified a number of online courses to expand our January interim offerings, with the goal of reducing course bottlenecks and advancing student progress to degree. The School of Business is creating an online MBA program for fall 2014 and online courses for a new certificate program. Online programming must be an emphasis for future graduate offerings. Our work to expand professional development for faculty and staff will support that direction – and enrich on-campus academic offerings by expanding hybrid courses and technological enhancements of traditional courses.

Strengthen regional and community engagement. One of our longstanding vision points and values is to serve as a cultural and intellectual resource for the region. We must expand that role to more broadly engage with and serve the region, especially in ways that enhance other aspects of our mission. This year, the School of Fine and Performing Arts is launching a Community Arts program, serving the region and creating exceptional opportunities for our students in the process. We want to intensify efforts to identify internships that serve regional organizations and provide rich learning opportunities for our students, and to support CRREO and the Dorsky Museum.

The digital design and fabrication initiative has great potential for economic development. Indeed, this is perhaps our best opportunity to join the Governor’s START-UP New York initiative, which hopes to spur economic development by building on the academic strengths of each SUNY campus. The Chancellor and the Governor expect SUNY campuses to help build this program, and economic development must be a key part of our regional engagement.

These are our priorities for the next five years. To achieve these goals, we will tackle a series of shorter-term projects and some that will span the life of the plan. Individually, some may not seem consequential, but cumulatively and over time they will make us a better institution – again, think about hitting singles as well as home runs.

I will close by returning to thoughts about silos, and connections. Connecting is at the core of what we must do to improve the College, to warrant the continued pride and investment of students, alumni, staff, faculty, and community supporters. Much that I have spoken about today involves connecting. Connecting with each other across units and divisions … connecting individual and departmental work with institutional priorities…connecting in a more focused way with our students and their learning… connecting with alumni and donors… connecting with our region… connecting the New Paltz of today with the New Paltz of tomorrow.

As we move into a new year, I hope that we can build and sustain a spirit of connection, viewing our work together as the embodiment of a liberal education. We are a great institution. We are moving from an exceptional foundation on a clear course to an even brighter future. Only connecting will help us get there.

Thank you, and have a great year.