Welcome to the start of a new academic year and all that it promises. Though we continue to live and work in a world struggling with a major health pandemic, it is good to be in person with so many of you. Even if we do have to be masked. Welcome also to those joining via the livestream.
I want us to acknowledge that the land we occupy today is the traditional territory of the people of the Munsee, Esopus, and Lenape tribes, to help us remember who was here first.
I also want to acknowledge the challenges we’ve shared since March 2020. So many of you have endured frustrations, stress, pain and loss during this time. Let’s share a moment of silence to acknowledge these realities.
I will re-state my gratitude to members of our community for your tireless dedication to our mission and purpose – especially to our students - throughout the pandemic. You have reminded me repeatedly that it is the people who make SUNY New Paltz special. That’s why it is such a privilege to be your president. Some employees had to be present on campus throughout the pandemic. For that, I am deeply grateful. Others adapted quickly to working remotely or teaching online. Many juggled work with child and family care. I appreciate the campus leaders whose thinking and action guided us so well through confusing, constantly changing, and uncertain conditions. I appreciate your patience as we needed to pivot, as we certainly will need to do again.
I have been heartened by the many messages of thanks and support from faculty and staff about how well our campus leadership has managed and communicated about the virus. It’s clear that COVID-19 will remain with us for some time, and we should expect continued disruption and a bumpy ride until the pandemic ends and the virus becomes endemic like seasonal flu. We are committed to the same processes and full communication that you have experienced and that have helped us manage COVID-19 better than many other campuses. I am sure that most of you, like me, wished that you could clone yourself! If only! Thank you.
Later I will share some of COVID-19’s implications for our work this year.
Throughout my presidency, preparing and presenting my State of the College address has been a highlight. We come back together, ready to resume our work with students and colleagues and to tackle new challenges. Each year, we take stock of what we’ve accomplished, prioritize our work, and share a vision for our progress within the changing landscape of higher education.
This is my 12th, and final, State of the College address. This is one of the first of many activities and rituals that I will experience for the last time as president. I am struck that the context for today’s final address is an ironically symmetrical bookend to my first address, in 2010. At that time, I was in the first few months as interim president after Steven Poskanzer left to become President at Carleton College.
I began that 2010 address with this image and these words:
“Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings. He was a god with special vision, empowered to see both the past and the future with great clarity, and therefore especially important to the Romans in times of personal or societal transition – for example, the birth of children, the celebration of marriage, the changing of the seasons."
I evoked Janus because we were in a presidential transition. I spoke about our 2010-2011 academic year being off to a great start, but also bringing great challenges. I noted our fiscal difficulty and a pending change in leadership. I shared that to emerge stronger and better we must draw upon our strengths – we must in a way look backwards. But we must also look forward with confidence and a clear idea of our direction as we adapt to new conditions.
I also spoke about a relay race, to describe my plan as interim president to keep the College moving ahead, then hand over leadership to a new president. I spoke about continuing to improve during a transition.
That day, and until late the following April 2011, I intended to return to the position of Provost. I couldn’t imagine that I would carry the baton as the next president, and for so many years. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to have served such a wonderful institution for so long.
My plans for the year ahead parallel that earlier time: to keep the College moving ahead, then hand over leadership to a new president without major disruptions. As I said then, “we must be willing to make the major decisions that will keep us strong, vibrant, and fiscally sound. These actions will best position a new leader – and our institution – to be successful.”
A year later, Hurricane Irene hit us hard. In my next address, I said: “Leadership transitions and the distraction and disruption brought by Irene’s flooding make it even more important than usual that we remind ourselves of why we are here and that we revisit and reinforce who we are, what we value, and what we want to be. If we don’t do that, it is easy for us to drift off course.”
The current bookend to Irene, of course, is our last 18-months living with COVID-19. The message remains the same: to not let that disruption cause us to lose sight of our purpose and our values.
Today, I will look back on the past decade - not to navel-gaze about my presidency -- but to remind us of our collective progress and the many strengths that position us for a successful future and for attracting a top-notch next president. I will also outline critical priorities for the year.
We live and work at a time of deep division in our nation that bears on our work. Some in our country question the value of a college education. Many of us believe there is no better investment any society can make than educating the next generation of citizens, even as we recognize that higher education must evolve. We must help our students recognize the importance of their investment and how to effectively convey and implement what they have gained.
Some of the divides reflect perspectives at odds with core values in higher education:
- the notion that knowledge and expertise don’t matter – everyone is an expert!
- the idea that all viewpoints are equally valid;
- the failure to recognize that facts, interpretations and opinions are not the same, and should not carry the same currency in intellectual exchange;
- the grave risks of dismissing out-of-hand well-established scientific findings – whether about climate change or vaccine effectiveness or other subjects – indeed, dismissing outright the value of science;
- the danger of ignoring the lessons of history or of selectively re-writing history, sometimes by omitting or changing key historical realities and their contemporary impacts;
- the idea that shaming and vilifying others constitutes meaningful discourse and a path to progress, in any medium.
These - along with growing inequities and racial angst and animus that are more explicitly on display - fuel our national division. As an academic community, we must model for our students and for each other the thought processes and behaviors so critical to the welfare of our democracy and society.
At noon today we hold our annual Fall Convocation for new first-year and transfer students. We are returning to the previous format and will recognize the unique experiences of our new students these past 18 months. Dr. Lou Roper, SUNY Distinguished Professor of History, will serve as Grand Marshal and provide a faculty welcome. Chris Brown, a 1985 alumnus and our new Director of Alumni Relations was scheduled to give the alumni welcome but due to unforeseen circumstances is unable to do so. Elizabeth Duiguid, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations and a 2007 alumna, will read his speech. Alyssa Dudinyak, an art and honors student, will provide a student welcome. We will have a separate event later in the day to welcome returning sophomores – who did not experience a traditional convocation last year or have a typical in-person experience.
This morning, we welcome new members of our community and acknowledge those who have stepped into new leadership positions. I ask that all new employees in the room – including those who joined us last year but have not been introduced in person – to stand now to be recognized. In pre-pandemic times, we introduced new academic and professional faculty at the first faculty meeting in September and new classified staff at a meeting in October. But with Covid-19, passing a microphone around from person to person and unmasking for introductions does not seem like a good idea, nor does visiting, eating, and drinking unmasked at our traditional reception. So we will forego that event until conditions change. Nonetheless, we welcome you.
I will introduce new campus administrators and those who have moved into new roles. Please stand when I call on you. Jeff Gant joined us in January as Vice President for Enrollment Management. Anna Conlan was appointed Director of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in January. Chris Brown began his work as Director of Alumni Relations in March. Renee Bostic began serving as Director of Athletics, Wellness and Recreation on July 1. Dr. Weldon McWilliams joined us this summer as Visiting Associate Professor and Interim Department Chair of Black Studies. He could not be with us today due to a prior commitment. We are delighted to welcome you to our campus.
Others have moved into new roles. Emily Bazinet was promoted into the new position of Director of the Center for Student Engagement. Michael Corbisiero, Deputy Chief of the University Police Department, is serving as Interim Chief following Mary Ritayik’s appointment as SUNY UPD Commissioner.
The directors of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation support the College and our students in so many ways. Foundation directors played a key role in the success of our fund-raising campaign completed this summer. We thank them for their generosity and support.
Members of the College Council are appointed by the Governor to guide and advise the campus president. They will play the lead role in our presidential search, leading the search committee and recommending finalists to the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees, who will make the final choice for our new leader.
I will now highlight some of our achievements the past few years. In the hectic busyness of our lives, and particularly with COVID-19 disruptions, it is easy to forget what our collective work has built.
I thank my Cabinet colleagues, deans, other campus leaders, and all of you for your contributions in moving these initiatives forward. I am reassured that my successor will inherit a strong leadership team and a community committed to collective action and continuous improvement.
In my first State of the College address as president, in 2011, I celebrated our Middle States reaccreditation, and am pleased to do so again. Last spring, we met all standards, were praised for the quality of our self-study, and were fully re-accredited. As in 2011, we must respond to only one recommendation.
We are proud to be included in many “best value” rankings of public colleges and universities in the Northeast and across the U.S. We are ranked in the top 3% of more than 1,400 colleges and universities nationwide for our impact on the social and economic mobility of our graduates. Our mission is to provide high quality, affordable education to students from all social and economic backgrounds, and we do that well. We provide an open, diverse, and dynamic environment to prepare students to excel in rapidly changing times that demand critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability. Our students work closely with outstanding faculty who are committed to being both top-notch teachers and respected scholars.
We are proud of our graduation rates -in blue – that are far above national averages – in gray. And our achievement gap by demographic group at New Paltz is small compared with national averages – a key factor in our social mobility ranking.
We offer more majors and minors than the typical regional comprehensive university, a plus in our ability to recruit and serve students. We have added new academic programs in response to changing demands and student interests – recent additions include new Interdisciplinary graduate programs in Autism Studies and Digital Design and Fabrication, new undergraduate majors in Environmental Studies and Entrepreneurship, and graduate micro-credentials in Health Care Administration and Music Business. We expanded our 4+1 programs and have revised many others. Our Mental Health Counseling program is now accredited.
At the same time, we have sustained our core foundation in the liberal arts and sciences and our traditions in the fine arts, teacher education, and educational leadership. Our notable growth in STEM majors and enrollments has moved us closer to the typical STEM presence at other strongly contributing comprehensive institutions.
Our thriving Honors Program has grown and includes students from all schools. Honors is now a strong factor in our ability to recruit high-performing and engaged students and provide them challenging, high-impact, experiential learning opportunities.
We have sustained and grown our student research programs that provide students with distinctive experiential and sometimes life-changing learning experiences.
Our pandemic-driven experience with online education has opened our thinking about new possibilities to remain competitive with other institutions and to reach new populations of students.
Our student body has grown more diverse, although we know that the pandemic has disproportionately affected students from historically underrepresented groups. We have strong programs to support the success of all students, including AC^2 for underrepresented students in STEM fields, the Educational Opportunity Program, and the Scholars Mentorship Program, for which we recently created great new spaces. Later I will note our efforts to diversify faculty and staff.
Paralleling broader struggles in American society, we have a long journey to become the equitable and inclusive organization we want to be. We continue to move forward. We have established and refined a Diversity and Inclusion Council, and more recently expanded those efforts to include working groups in each of the schools. The Black Lives Matter at School initiative is significantly faculty driven, with administrative support. Our University Police Department has codified its commitment to be an anti-racist law-enforcement organization, and our recently established UPD Advisory Committee is working to sustain positive community relations and support our commitment to community-oriented policing.
Black students and other students of color at New Paltz were for many years marginalized and offended by being asked to live, sleep, and eat in buildings named for the original Huguenot settlers of New Paltz, all of whom enslaved Africans. In 2017 we undertook an endeavor that resulted in the removal and replacement of those building names. That was a symbolic but significant change, focused not on erasing history but on historical reconciliation. Our process was a remarkable example of a community coming together, listening respectfully to different viewpoints, and ultimately acting in the interests of creating a more inclusive campus environment.
We plan to dedicate our Contemplative Space next spring as part of that reconciliation. This spot looks onto the renamed Peregrine Quad and will be a place for us to reflect and learn about the indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans and European immigrants who shaped the New Paltz community. The contemplative space was a recommendation of the Diversity and Inclusion Council in its report on the building renaming and incorporates ideas from a subsequent task force of faculty, staff and students. As we consider future campus projects like this, we will continue to consult with the newly reconstituted Arts and Aesthetics Committee and with groups like the Diversity and Inclusion Council.
Next month we will dedicate a statue of Sojourner Truth outside the library that carries her name on the 50th anniversary of the naming. This statue - titled Sojourner Truth: First Step to Freedom, is possible only because a highly regarded regional sculptor came to us with the proposal to create and install this work on campus, generously offering her time and talent gratis so that the project would not be cost-prohibitive. We are grateful to those who have generously donated to the Foundation to underwrite costs of this project. This project was reviewed by the campus Arts and Aesthetics Committee before it was approved.
This statue features Sojourner Truth at age 29, when she emancipated herself – in 1826, here in Ulster County. It is a sober reminder of the history of slavery in America and its enduring legacies. It also recognizes Truth’s steps to emancipation and her subsequent life as a mother, suffragist and abolitionist.
The Sojourner Truth statue will be a worthy companion to other public art on campus, like the “Cliffside” sculpture on the Humanities building. Created and donated in 1970 by former Art Professor Manny Bromberg, “Cliffside” commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. following his 1968 assassination – these words are drawn from Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech - Another notable companion is the “Large Hybrid” sculpture by renowned African American artist Richard Hunt. Our brick Walk of Honor encircles this sculpture.
The relevance of these themes to our educational mission and presence in the region was brought home at a celebration of life ceremony last weekend for Professor Emeritus Dr. A. J. Williams-Myers, who passed away last month. He retired in 2016 after a more than 36-year career as Professor and Department Chair of Black Studies. We learned that AJ was singularly attracted to New Paltz and remained here because of his interest in Sojourner Truth and her ties to the region. He was remembered for his lifelong work to educate students and community members about the history and contributions of Black people in the Hudson Valley, from the slave era through the 20th century. We are grateful for his pioneering work in the curriculum in our Black Studies Department, one of the first and longest running in the nation.
Five years ago, we initiated a new human resources organizational structure –expanding the role of human resources in building an inclusive environment. This structure has integrated human resources, diversity, affirmative action, Title IX, and employee professional development. These functions support and develop the people who form the culture of our organization. More recently, Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, in her roles as Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, joined the President’s Cabinet, reflecting our recognition that these issues impact virtually every decision and action across the College. Some of her colleagues at other SUNY campuses bemoan that they lack that same “seat at the table.”
SUNY New Paltz is recognized as being an especially accepting and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students and employees. We were one of the first to have an LGBTQ coordinator and a similarly themed living learning community. These steps were informed by a campus climate survey initiated by faculty early in my presidency
Several years ago, we developed a consensual relations policy that bans romantic or sexual relations between students and employees where a power differential exists. We developed that policy through an outstanding collaboration between faculty governance and administrative leadership. That policy has contributed to our institution’s ability to sustain respectful relationships between students and employees and was a model for the subsequent SUNY-wide policy.
In the last decade, we have built three new buildings and undertaken seven major building renovations along with numerous smaller renovations and infrastructure improvements. Some have involved creative re-use of spaces … and allowed for new programming like the equinox and summer solstice events in Wooster Hall. Our grounds have flourished and contributed to the appeal of our campus. I hear from longtime community members how dramatically our campus appearance has changed, and prospective students and parents comment on its beauty.
We have exceeded SUNY standards for LEED certification on many of our capital projects. We have added pollinator fields and more diverse flora and bird habitats and reduced our carbon footprint to be more sustainable.
Former President Steven Poskanzer signed the Climate Commitment in 2008. He also established a sustainability committee in 2010. In 2012 we developed a Campus Sustainability Plan, and I updated our Climate Commitment. We established the Office of Campus Sustainability in 2013, and and have been designated as a Tree Campus USA and a Bee Campus USA.
In 2017, our Foundation Board took the decisive action to remove endowment funds from direct investment in fossil fuels. This action grew out of a discussion I had with a group of committed and well-informed students the year before and carried my full endorsement along with that of faculty governance.
In 2012-13 we tackled a consultative strategic planning process that set priorities to guide our continuous improvement. As we approached the fifth year of the plan, we decided the plan’s essential initiatives still served us. We adopted a tighter feedback loop between assessment and planning and formed a new Strategic Planning and Assessment Council, merging two previous structures. We integrated the United Nation’s Sustainable Development goals into our planning.
The central core of our primary purpose – an innovative, engaged living and learning environment – is captured in the first two essential initiatives of our strategic plan. Many of the developments and progress I noted earlier advance these goals. A next major focus of our strategic planning must be the development of an academic master plan. Interim Provost Lyman is setting the stage for this to hand off to the next Provost.
Another essential initiative is to strengthen philanthropic relationships and success. We just completed a first-ever major capital campaign, raising more than $24.6 million, surpassing our target of $23 million. During the past decade, the value of our endowment has grown to $36 million from $14 million. Last year, we awarded $1 million worth of foundation scholarships, a five-fold increase from 7 years ago. We can look back with pride at this successful campaign and its impacts. We can also look forward to further success based on the many changes we instituted to make this accomplishment possible. This year we are launching a two-year focused campaign titled “Providing Opportunity” aimed at raising scholarship funds. We are working with 1985 Biology alumna Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, to establish an endowment in the School of Education named after her mother Dr. Betty Shabazz to diversify K through 12 school leadership in the region.
Another priority is to market New Paltz in response to feedback when ramping up our philanthropic work, that SUNY New Paltz is “a best-kept secret” in the Hudson Valley. In response, we have invested in our communication capabilities to better “share the New Paltz story” – internally and externally … and with diverse media to recruit students, showcase the successes of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and grow our reputation.
Yet another priority is to better engage alumni. Early in our expanding philanthropic efforts, we heard we had not brought alumni into the fold as we should. We made the difficult decision to sever ties with a previous alumni association that was not serving that purpose and developed a new Alumni Council and a redefined Alumni Association. We have seen increased alumni giving and other engagement like guest lecturing, helping students secure internships or employment and serving as valued advocates for the College.
I will share a sampling of our progress on another priority of the strategic plan – to improve processes and increase institutional capacity. We upgraded our electronic card access system, converting or installing more than 3,000 card readers on campus doors to improve safety and efficiency. Information Technology Services instituted the use of Team Dynamix, project management software to streamline work orders and manage projects. We identified and implemented a college-wide software solution – Coursedog - with capacity to schedule classrooms, courses, and events, streamlining how we manage campus spaces. And, prompted by pandemic demands, procurement and accounts payable business functions transitioned to a fully electronic work process, saving thousands of pieces of paper, improving tracking, and saving time.
Our institutional capacity has been enhanced by a new system of faculty governance – a Faculty Senate model – and an explicit structure of shared governance. This replaced a decades-old governance model that had become less effective, as noted in our 2010-11 Middle States review. Feedback from faculty during our recent Middle States self-study was highly positive about this change.
Another priority is to strengthen regional and community engagement. SUNY New Paltz is increasingly valued as a regional asset and contributor, both for our high-quality educational offerings and for the many ways that we extend our expertise to benefit the region.
We convene important events on campus – this one clearly pre-pandemic! Many campus members volunteer and serve on non-profit or advisory boards. The Dorsky Museum is a high-profile contributor to the regional and New York State arts communities. Our Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center produced personal protective equipment during the pandemic and supports regional companies, The Hudson Valley Venture Hub and Hudson Valley Mentors in the School of Business engage with and support the regional business community, and we contribute to economic development in other ways. The Benjamin Center, Institute for Disaster Mental Health, and other college units also contribute to these goals.
We have worked hard to develop and sustain positive relations with the Village and Town of New Paltz and have worked together to advance health and safety initiatives, landlord-tenant relationships, water conservation, and nationally recognized efforts like our unique “tavern-owners” agreement. We have advocated for state-funded municipal aid to our host community. Not every college campus has this kind of relationship with their host community -- surely a strength that I will share with presidential candidates.
These are among the assets that we carry into this transition and the longer term, and that certainly exemplify the strengths to be highlighted as we seek a new leader.
Now I’ll share topics that deserve special attention this year. First, COVID-19 is still with us. The Delta variant is more contagious than the original and certainly changes how we are approaching the fall semester. Since last spring when vaccines became more generally available, we have known that vaccines protected the vaccinated from serious illness, hospitalization and death. That’s still the case with Delta. We also knew that being vaccinated did not eliminate transmission, and that “breakthrough” infections were possible in vaccinated individuals, even before Delta became more prevalent.
But the impacts of Delta reinforce the importance of masking, and that’s why we are mandating indoor mask-wearing for everyone. The evidence is strong and unequivocal that masks reduce transmission and provide personal protection. Mask mandates should be a top priority, but we know that other campuses in New York and across the country do not have them.
We are also enforcing the requirement that employees and students must provide documentation of vaccination or be tested weekly and provide a health screening every day they are on campus. As you may have seen in yesterday’s messaging, we are finalizing protocols for surveillance testing. The form and frequency of that testing will be determined by factors like the results of mandatory testing for unvaccinated individuals, the level of vaccination among students and employees, and the status of COVID-19 in the region.
A vaccine mandate for students will come with FDA approval, hopefully within weeks. However, at this point we know that two-thirds of our students and employees have provided documentation of vaccination – so more than two-thirds may be vaccinated.
In the spirit of looking back and looking forward, I hope we recognize that although social distancing guidelines AND masking were in place last year, we had no evidence of classroom transmission – even before vaccines were readily available. Nor did we have the explosive outbreaks of the virus that other campuses experienced. It is very encouraging that this year’s summer orientations and residence hall assistant training – held in person, indoors and with masks – have produced no transmission. And infection rates on SUNY campuses are far smaller than in their surrounding communities. The incoming governor is promising mask mandates in K-12 schools, a positive step toward controlling the pandemic in our state.
Know that we as a campus leadership team remain vigilant about the virus and will adjust as warranted.
Further, many students will bear marks of the trauma that they, their families and communities have endured. The “Psychological Resilience” project draws on the expertise of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health and will continue this year. This project was launched last year through private funding and will help students develop and implement self-care and good mental health strategies. Several Student Affairs initiatives on belongingness are especially critical as students work to overcome their isolation, grief, and trauma. We are exploring ways to take advantage of the significant one-time funding that SUNY has identified to support student mental health initiatives this year.
Many students, first-year and continuing, will join us this fall less well-prepared than usual because of their disrupted learning experiences since March 2020. They may not have fully developed - or sufficiently practiced - the study skills and strategies that we have grown used to in pre-pandemic students.
For all of these reasons, our students will need special support, encouragement, and understanding as they begin or re-integrate into campus life.
Some of our colleagues remain fatigued and are grieving from the struggles of the past year and a half. They may face different challenges than others in returning to work in offices and classrooms. Both the realities and perceptions about health and safety will create anxiety for many. Be patient and supportive and practice empathy for each other and our students as we enter this new phase of the pandemic.
Of course, the presidential search will be a major theme this year. I hope you will consider putting your name forward to serve on the search committee to ensure that the chair can assemble a diverse and broad-based committee. I also hope you participate in a campus-wide survey in September to inform the search, join virtual listening sessions with the search firm, and, of course, take part in on-campus finalist interviews in the spring. Broad, informed input will help the search committee make the best-informed recommendations to the Chancellor. You will learn more about the first steps in the search in a message coming out next week.
We will sustain our forward momentum on diversity and inclusion and anti-racism initiatives. We will continue the collaboration between school-based diversity working groups and the Diversity and Inclusion Council. We will continue mandatory training for search committee members that has proven so valuable in shifting our hiring outcomes, so that our faculty and staff more closely reflect the student population we serve.
I will charge the Diversity and Inclusion Council during the fall semester with conducting an audit of our five-year-old Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, not to re-write it but to assess topics to consider in a next plan. What priorities have we advanced? Which have we not? What has changed in higher education and in the broader world that provides a different context for the plan than when it was developed in 2016? That endeavor should include an inventory of the many ongoing initiatives, including work in the schools, which may inform a next plan. We anticipate that SUNY will soon charge campuses with updating Diversity and Inclusion plans, and this work will give us a head start. We also expect that SUNY will mandate a consistent campus climate survey for all campuses this year, which has prompted us to suspend developing or purchasing our own.
Interim Provost Lyman and I are continuing our conversations with faculty governance leaders about steps to better ensure that faculty contributions to diversity and inclusion are recognized and rewarded in our reappointment, promotion, and tenure processes. That includes the often “invisible” labor of faculty of color. I would hope that ALL faculty engage in this work, regarding it as an integral element of strong and holistic faculty contributions.
I reported on our conversation last spring with students of the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance after their open letter to faculty about the bias and marginalization they experience on campus, including in the curriculum. We will continue that conversation this fall. I also encourage faculty – who have primary purview over the curriculum – to more aggressively expand and strengthen our course offerings on America’s racial history and its enduring legacies. That should include reexamining criteria for courses that satisfy the diversity graduation requirement. Campus leadership stands ready to support and assist these efforts.
To advance our sustainability goals, will establish a Carbon Neutrality Task Force to identify a target date and a comprehensive strategy to become a net-zero carbon campus by reducing emissions and increasing offsets. This will be a community-wide, two-year planning effort that will address topics such as clean and renewable energy, transportation, telecommuting, and food and infrastructure.
New Paltz has once again received more applications for first-year undergraduate admission than any other SUNY comprehensive campus, and it’s a great sign that our first-year enrollments are slightly ahead of 2019. Other enrollments and deposits are below pre-pandemic levels and our tuition revenue will suffer, but our situation is less dire than at other campuses. Further, the pandemic disproportionately depressed overall enrollment during 2019-2020, and that smaller “wave” will be with us for several years. In addition, our international student enrollment has shrunk, despite about 100 new international student arrivals this month, and enrollments in some graduate programs remain lower than we want. These patterns underscore our renewed focus on increasing new undergraduate and graduate student recruitment and ensuring that our retention rates remain strong. The heightened attention to enrollment is especially critical in the face of ongoing declines in traditional-age students, with projected near-future changes described by some as a demographic cliff, as this graph exemplifies.
That’s why we announced this summer new structures, reporting lines and investments in Academic Affairs and Enrollment Management. We hope to expand our student recruitment capabilities, increase tuition revenue and create capacity to develop new programs. These changes grew out of thoughtful planning efforts in Enrollment Management and in Graduate and Extended Learning that recognized we must pivot to meet changing conditions.
These changes will also streamline the reporting structure and workload of the Provost, long identified as a major challenge and noted in the Middle States report. This change will support the success of the next Provost, to be hired through a search led by the next President.
We must address our recurring budget challenges exacerbated by the financial impacts of the pandemic and a tuition freeze. As an initial step, the Cabinet has set a goal of reducing our overall expenditures this year by 5% below those of 2019-20. Our goal is to adjust our budget to safeguard as much as we can the jobs and benefits of current employees. We have gained considerable savings by not filling some vacancies and will continue to do so. We will also continue stringent limits on spending that SUNY instituted last year. We also aim to increase revenue, both to address current fiscal challenges and create resources to invest in new initiatives. We will host a budget forum on October 14 to outline the significant challenges we face and our approach to addressing them.
I will briefly note some of my final year goals. I will continue to lead the campus, navigating COVID-19 impacts and making decisions that should not be left to my successor. I am already working to maintain relationships and build new ones that will be important for the College’s continuing success. I will support the transition in ways consistent with best practices. I have agreed to Chancellor Malatras’s request to co-chair the national search for the next SUNY System Administration Provost this fall. I will continue my long commitment to communicate openly and fully. At a personal level, I will be letting go and saying goodbye throughout the year. I admit it will be a bittersweet task.
I will end today by circling back to the relay race. Before I announced my retirement, I spoke with the three living presidents who preceded me: Alice Chandler, Roger Bowen, and Steve Poskanzer. Together we represent more than 40 years of leadership in the long history of the College. Throughout that history and such transitions, the College and our community have adapted and thrived. I am fully confident we have the resilience, capability, and commitment to press ahead in my remaining months and beyond.
Thank you and let’s have a great year.