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The Office of the President

Presidential Reports and Communications 02/12/2015

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
February 12, 2015

I hope that everyone is having a productive spring semester, despite a persistent, snowy winter that is trying our patience. In this report, I have much news to share about our continuing institutional progress.

Canceled Class Make-Up Days. Provost Mauceri and Vice President Eaton are exploring options for make-up days for the classes that we have been forced to cancel this semester. With the loss of multiple Monday evening classes, we need an approach beyond using the two scheduled make-up days. The vice presidents will discuss options with academic deans on Friday, and will be communicating options early next week so that faculty and students can integrate the make-ups into schedules for the rest of the semester.

Chancellor’s Award for Professor Sue Books. Professor Sue Books (Secondary Education), a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in teaching last year, could not join other award recipients at our September recognition and awards ceremony because she was on sabbatical leave in St. Petersburg, Russia. I hope you will join us at tomorrow’s faculty meeting when we will recognize Professor Books and present her Chancellor’s Award.

Study Abroad Award. SUNY New Paltz took top national honors in the “Study Abroad” category of the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) 2015 Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in International Education. This award recognizes innovative programs in higher education that make study abroad accessible to a broader student population. It is one of the most prestigious honors bestowed on higher learning international programs, with more than 1,400 member campuses eligible each year.

New Paltz was recognized for programming that expanded participation of underrepresented students in study abroad by offering advising, tutoring services, and study abroad information sessions to EOP students, and guiding students through the application process for study abroad scholarships. This success stems from a great partnership between the Center for International Programs and the Educational Opportunity Program, with strong support from the Offices of Student Accounts, Financial Aid, Records & Registration, and academic departments. SUNY New Paltz has one of the highest study-abroad participation rates of any SUNY campus, thanks to efforts such as these.

EOP students have received nearly $190,000 in scholarships for study abroad since 2009. Although causality and correlation may be mixed here, it is striking that EOP study abroad participants have a 96% six-year graduation rate, compared with 63% for EOP students who do not study abroad.

Congratulations to Dean of International Programs Bruce Sillner and EOP Director Tony Bonilla and their respective staffs who forged the type of connection across units that leads to innovation. In December Tony and Bruce presented the program’s success to the Academic Affairs Committee of the SUNY Board of Trustees; their presentation was extremely well received and generated considerable interest in the program. I applaud everyone for this great success on behalf of our students and for your hard work across departmental and unit boundaries. Thank you!

Budget and Budget Advocacy. The agenda for our Administrative Council meeting on February 18 includes announcement of one-time funding requests in support of targeted strategic plan initiatives, as discussed at a recent Wonk meeting; results will be posted on the my.newpaltz.edu budget information center. Funds for these projects will be made available as soon as possible. Provost Mauceri and the deans are discussing and prioritizing requests for recurring funding in Academic Affairs. We remain uncertain about recurring resources we will have available next year.

Governor Cuomo has released his Executive Budget for 2015-16, the first step in the process toward an Enacted Budget. A few highlights: $18 million in “performance funding” as increased direct taxpayer support to campuses. Eligibility to compete for these funds depends on each campus completing a “Performance Improvement Plan,” due to the Board of Trustees by December 31. Reflecting the seriousness of these plans, 10% of each campus’s annual direct state taxpayer support will be withheld until its plan is complete. These plans will be the basis for performance funding allocation in future years, targeting areas such as: improving access, four-year completion, academic and post-graduation success, and community engagement, and expanding experiential learning as a requirement for graduation.

The Governor’s budget eliminates $7.6 million in taxpayer support for salary costs included in the 2014-15 budget (used for discretionary salary awards). No new funding is provided for University-wide programs, and additional funding provided in the 2014-15 budget for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) is eliminated. The Executive Budget includes creation of a loan-forgiveness program for certain college graduates; allows certain students without lawful immigration status to be eligible for TAP and other scholarship programs; and requires experiential learning or applied learning activities for graduation from a SUNY or CUNY institution, starting with the fall 2015 entering class. The capital budget includes $200 million in critical maintenance money for 2015-16 for all of SUNY, which is about one-third of the SUNY request (these funds are to be used for maintenance of existing facilities, not new construction).

We are actively advocating for increased funding for SUNY beyond that identified in the Governor’s budget. I was one of three SUNY presidents asked to join Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to testify before the joint Assembly-Senate Higher Education Committee in Albany earlier this week (link). We stressed: 1) the benefits of maintenance of effort (including funding for contractual increases) and the rational tuition program with its predictable, incremental increases each year; 2) the need for a robust and long-term capital plan; and 3) the need for new and sustained investment in SUNY, drawing on specific examples of how additional resources would help drive successful or new programs to achieve greater student success. I spoke about the need for the State to step up its investment, so that students and their families (via tuition increases) are not the sole source of new funding for SUNY. We have conveyed these messages in meetings with legislators and legislative staffers, and will continue to do so.

State of the University Address and SUNY Performance System. Chancellor Zimpher’s State of the University address on January 23 focused on priorities for coming year(s) (link), building on elements in Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal. A broad priority is to extend rational tuition to 2020 and secure increased state taxpayer support. In a post-address interview, she stated that we “can’t be futuristic on last year’s funding.” Clear priorities are investments that increase student access, enhance completion/graduation, and drive success of SUNY graduates; the latter focuses heavily on educational quality including experiential learning. Several specific priorities for increased funding (some outcomes tied explicitly to more funding) especially relevant to our sector and the work ahead include:

  • Expand Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), one example of bringing known effective programs to greater scale;
  • Establish “Finish in Four Agreements” at every SUNY campus (several campuses have these, and we can readily establish such an agreement, while recognizing that to be successful they typically are restrictive);
  • Establish a Chief Diversity Officer on every SUNY campus;
  • Continue expanding Open SUNY and other online programming;
  • Require an applied learning experience for every SUNY graduate;
  • Expand the number of annual SUNY graduates from 93,000 to 150,000 by 2020;
  • Implement and apply the “SUNY Excels” performance system, which includes 17 metrics to assess and account for campus and system contributions.

“SUNY Excels” is the performance management system that provides a framework and metrics for accountability and continued improvement, as a system and as individual campuses. SUNY Excels will also be a basis for performance-based assessment and funding in the coming years. Lucy Walker (AVP for Institutional Research) and I have been members of the Steering Committee consulting on the development of this framework. We have been assured that the framework and its current 17 metrics will be used to compare each campus against its previous performance to encourage continued improvement (rather than to compare campuses). Some metrics will apply to all campuses, others will be tailored to the mission and purpose of each campus. Priorities of SUNY Excels are:

  • Access (enrollment, diversity, capacity, and affordability)
  • Completion (graduation, persistence, transfer)
  • Success (measures of preparing graduates for life beyond the university: applied inquiry, student supports, financial literacy)
  • Inquiry (basic and applied research with a clear focus on significant extramurally funded research, recognition for contributions as “thought leaders”)
  • Engagement (Start-Up New York, commercialization of research, workforce development, alumni/philanthropic support, community service)

We will learn more about “SUNY Excels” and the parameters of campus plans for performance-based funding in the coming months. Many of its priorities and metrics align with New Paltz strategic priorities.

AAC&U Conference. Last month, I participated in the centennial symposium and annual conference of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) initiative that I have been part of since its 2005 inception. The conference was dominated by themes that mirror the priorities of SUNY Excels (noted above) and of the New Paltz strategic plan, including a continuing emphasis on student success and on improving the quality of educational experiences. A priority program of AAC&U in the coming years, building on 10 years of success with the LEAP initiative, is “Signature Work for All Students,” in which a student uses his or her cumulative learning to pursue a significant project, at least one semester in duration, on a problem he or she defines. I will share more information about this initiative with academic leaders and faculty governance in the coming weeks.

I came away with a swirl of impressions. I was reassured by our continuing belief in the core values of a liberal education, while also reminded of the need to tailor and modify what that means in the 21st century. One speaker stated the imperatives to achieve more “big-picture thinking in the professions,” together with more “real-world thinking in the liberal arts,” echoing my sometimes-used mantra that we need to “make liberal education practical and practical education liberal.” I was reminded of the value of broad discussion of our liberal education values, ranging from their relevance to workplace, career, and livelihood for our graduates to loftier values like the rooting of democracy in a liberally educated citizenry and the core value of liberal education as a tool that should subvert privilege but that has evolved to reinforce privilege.

I was inspired by learning about the work of other institutions, including new models for assessment of student learning based on AAC&U VALUE rubrics (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education, in use at 80+ institutions in 8 states; link); the development at many colleges and universities of intentional pathways to guide students through the curriculum; models to more effectively evaluate teaching and learning (compared with numerical SEIs) by focusing on the learning environment, student assumptions of their responsibility for learning, and achievement of learning outcomes; and approaches to shift the emphasis of what faculty search committees seek and value in prospective new colleagues, to increase racial, ethnic, and gender diversity among the faculty. I was sobered by reminders of persistent inequity in higher education that our campus and all of higher education must address. Presentations about federal metrics and rating systems reinforced the importance of addressing key issues of national concern proactively and creatively by individual campuses, before external metrics are imposed on us, as I spoke about in this year’s State of the College address.

Class Sizes and Course Offerings. I reported last month on our growing numbers of tenure-track and other full-time faculty positions. Those investments are reflected in a steady increase in the number of course sections offered, to 1,316 in fall 2014, up from 1,292 in 2013. While maintaining generally stable student-credit-hour generation, our average undergraduate class size has consistently decreased: 26.6, 25.8, 25.0, and 24.8 from fall 2011 to fall 2014. We continue the rather remarkable achievement that 75% of our courses have enrollments less than 30, and 93% of our courses less than 40. Section sizes in graduate courses have begun to climb (a healthy trend) as we reverse a decline in graduate enrollments (15.9 in fall 2014, up from 13.9 and 13.1 the two previous years, far below the 18.8 figure for fall 2009).

We (collectively) still have important work ahead, including better aligning faculty positions with instructional demand, a need evidenced by above-average section sizes in several LA&S areas, business, and several STEM departments. And we cannot back away from the revised course scheduling practices we are implementing to reduce chronic course availability issues. This spring’s SUNY Student Opinion Survey will indicate whether we have moved the dial on this issue from our previous near-bottom rankings on course availability.

Salary Equity Adjustments. During the last 18 months, Academic Affairs and Affirmative Action staff conducted a salary equity review of select academic employees in Academic Affairs, addressing only equity issues internal to SUNY New Paltz (not external market comparisons). The process required careful analysis and comparison of salaries at time of hire, analysis of contractual increases over time (including discretionary increases, across the board, promotional increases, and Power of SUNY add-to-base awards) to understand their effect on current salaries. While specific attention was given to certain faculty who brought forward detailed requests, great care was taken to ensure that correcting one inequity if appropriate did not produce others.  This extensive review allowed the team to identify some instances of inequity that were not the original focus, adding momentum to this long-term project.

Concurrently, several professional staff in the Academic Affairs Division requested promotion or salary increases based on a substantial increase in duties. Some of these requests were initiated at the request of employees while others were submitted by the supervisor. This process is outlined in the UUP Agreement; however, it was important to ensure that analysis of these requests was integrated and consistent with the faculty analysis. The professional staff requests were thoughtfully reviewed, taking into account any changes in job scope or responsibilities, while also considering salary equity.

At the end of fall semester, Cabinet identified recurring funds from various sources (approximately $72,000) that will be used immediately to correct the most serious of these inequities and provide for promotion or salary increase requests for professional staff warranted by clear evidence. Some of the increases will be adjusted in a single step, others will have increases applied through more than one installment. Staff have begun contacting the impacted academic and professional employees to explain the review process, how the amount of the increase was determined (or why a requested increase is not supported), and the installment schedule for the increase. That meeting will be followed by a letter and paperwork (signed by the Provost) so that Human Resources and Payroll can enact the increases. The process of meeting with employees has been delayed by snow days and work on the Dean searches but will continue in the coming weeks. The Provost and I are grateful to Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn, Jodi Papa, and Deb Gould for their thorough and thoughtful attention to this process and to communicating the outcome with individual employees.

The work of compensation planning and management is critical to supporting the equity of current employees as well as supporting strategic planning goals of making institutional processes more effective and efficient. Moving ahead, staff will continue the review of equity during several years as financial resources and staff time allow. This will include continuing professional staff reviews brought forward under the contractual process, and extending the review to other divisions to uncover any serious salary inequities across campus. We will continue to make equity adjustments as financial resources allow. We will develop the appropriate institutional (multi-divisional) structure for salary review, which does not now exist.

The goals of this multi-year initiative are to plan for financial resources within the budget to invest long term in this work, to achieve an equitable distribution of salaries among employees and, just as importantly, establish clear criteria and processes to establish starting salaries so that we avoid creating future inequities. Individual requests for review based on equity will still be considered, however, the institutional goal is for staff to focus attention more broadly on the building blocks toward the multi-divisional analysis that will serve all employees rather than spend time on multiple individual requests.  

I will look forward to joining you at tomorrow’s faculty meeting, presenting Professor Books with her Chancellor’s Award, and responding to your questions and comments about this or my January report.


Donald P. Christian