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The Office of the President

Academic & Professional Faculty Meeting 10/21/2011

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
October 21, 2011

Alumni Reunion Weekend (September 23 and 24) was a great success, and left me with several distinctive impressions about our alumni/ae.  Each year’s alumni weekend highlights the graduating class of 50 years ago, who are inducted into the “Lantern Society” (reflective of an early tradition at New Paltz).  Several members of the class of 1961 shared with me how influential their general education courses have been in their lives – seen through the lens of 50 years!  Their comments underscored for me the seriousness and care that our general education program deserves, as we evaluate and begin to revise our current GE program.  I was struck also that the elements of the New Paltz educational experience that we highlight today are the same as those most valued and appreciated by our alumni/ae with graduation dates spanning at least five decades.  These include a priority on close interaction between students and faculty/staff; a small college atmosphere; an acceptance for questioning authority; arts and creativity; diversity, egalitarianism, and a strong sense of community.  The sense of pride that our alumni/ae share in the College’s growing reputation and rising profile was deeply rewarding; I shared that one of my overall aims as President is to assure that the value of their degree and education continues to increase. I know that many departments and units hosted events and activities, and I thank everyone for your efforts that made this event so successful. 

Admissions: With no time to catch their breath after recruiting a great class of students for this year, the Admissions Office staff is already in full swing with the next recruiting season.  Open Houses for prospective students and their parents are the last two Saturdays in October (22 and 29, 10AM-2PM both days). Currently, over 2,300 and nearly 1,700 students and family members are registered for the first and second weekends, respectively.  This is a great opportunity to showcase academic and other program offerings, as well as the close interaction between students and faculty/staff that is at the core of the New Paltz educational experience and that we know is influential in the choices students make.  This past summer, the mother of a current senior student told me of her son’s interaction with a faculty member at Open House several years ago.  The professor spoke with the student in a general session, and offered to meet again at the department an hour later.  At that next meeting, the professor greeted the young man by first name, a seemingly simple touch but one that created an indelible impression about the kind of attention he would receive as a student at New Paltz – and a key factor in his decision to come here to study.  Admissions staff do a great job of building student interest in our campus and programs and rely on you to continue this relationship building. Parenthetically, it was rewarding to hear from mom that her son’s experience here has perfectly matched the impression he gained at Open House!  I thank you in advance for your participation in these events.

Faculty Searches.  In addition to the 15 faculty searches that we authorized at the start of the year (as announced in State of the College last month), we have approved four more faculty searches in areas of our most pressing enrollment and course availability needs.  These new positions are made possible by the increased tuition revenue that we received this year, and it is very exciting to have the opportunity to be able to recruit new faculty colleagues to join us next year. 

Faculty Workload.  Since our budget discussions of last year, we have identified the need and desirability to evaluate and better understand faculty teaching load and workload.  The purpose of this effort is to begin addressing possible inequities among faculty and units and to guide shifts in instructional load from adjunct faculty to tenure-line faculty as necessitated by the budget reduction – not in a one-size-fits-all or across-the-board model.  Administrative staff are gathering data and information needed to inform such considerations.    Once this essential information is organized, we will form an expanded group of faculty, staff, and administrators to evaluate and discuss this information, identify other data needs, and begin to formulate recommendations and a course of action.

Administrator Searches.  The search committee for the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs position has been formed, charged, and has met three times.  The committee worked quickly to develop materials for identifying a search consultant firm, a process that is well underway.  The relevant governance bodies in the Schools of Education and of Science and Engineering are identifying faculty/staff and student members of the search committees for the two dean positions.  We anticipate completing the membership and charging those committees soon.

Campus Climate.  In my letter of application for the presidency, I noted that my vision for the future includes expanding efforts to “build an inclusive and equitable campus culture.”  The reputation and reality that  our campus welcomes and celebrates diversity are well deserved, but like all of American society there is more we can do to increase our understanding of equity, inclusiveness, and privilege, and the actions that result from that understanding  – along many axes that include race, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, and others.  It is in that context that I share conversations I had starting last spring at the invitation of a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) faculty and staff who had begun meeting by themselves a year ago in response to national tragedies involving young gay people.  This group realized that there are no data on the day-to-day experiences and perceptions of New Paltz students and colleagues on issues of sexual orientation. They developed a survey to help New Paltz learn more about its LGBTQ community, inspired by similar surveys at other SUNY campuses.  This survey is expected to be ready for release in early November, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to respond when you receive it.  The results will help the campus understand the experiences and perceptions of all students, faculty, and staff, inform an institutional dialogue, and reduce the likelihood of bullying, violence or discrimination here.   I hope that this will be the first of many efforts to explore and enhance our profile as an equitable, diverse, and inclusive college campus. 

Title IX and OCR.  In late 2010, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued to every postsecondary institution in the United States what has been referred to as the Dear Colleague Letter.  In that letter, the Assistant Secretary for OCR laid out guidance to colleges and universities in educating students and employees about their rights under Title IX as they pertain to sexual assault, sexual violence, and hostile work environment issues. In addition, the Dear Colleague Letter provided campuses with additional guidance on appropriate policies and procedures for handling complaints of that nature.

Following the issuance of the Dear Colleague Letter, the Office of Civil Rights chose universities across the country to undergo an OCR audit to determine compliance with select Title IX issues. SUNY was one such university. Within SUNY, four distinct types of campuses were selected for a more thorough audit. Buffalo State as a large comprehensive, New Paltz as a prototypical comprehensive, Albany as a university center, and Morrisville as an Ag & Tech were chosen for this audit.

The next phase of the audit required the College to submit to OCR all published New Paltz policies and procedures that relate to Title IX issues of sexual assault, sexual violence, or hostile work environment. In addition, OCR requested a two-year history of complaints, investigations, and findings from both Human Resources and the Dean of Students related to these issues. A number of individuals within Human Resources and Student Affairs were interviewed by OCR auditors over the past few months, and we are now at the final phase in the audit. At this point, OCR representatives will come to campus on November 2 and 3 to meet with staff who are responsible for compliance with select provisions of Title IX, meet with student focus groups regarding Title IX awareness, and accommodate any interested students who may have Title IX questions.

New Paltz fared well with respect to guidance contained in the Dear Colleague Letter as our existing policies and procedures required little modification. At its September meeting, Student Affairs staff presented the New Paltz College Council with minor modifications to the Student Code of Conduct consistent with guidance from the Dear Colleague Letter. The Council approved those modifications. As a result of the guidance within the letter, some additional information can soon be found on the College’s Web site and links to supplemental Title IX information will be created.

Presidential Listening/Learning. As I shared in last month’s “State of the College” address, I am undertaking efforts to learn about the College as a new president, to chart an informed course for my presidency and the institution.  With the help and guidance of Institutional Research, I conducted a “campus audit” survey of well over 200 faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members, and others, seeking views and perceptions about strengths, areas needing improvement, lingering unresolved issues, and advice for me as a new president. Although it will take me some time to synthesize the many, very diverse responses, so far I am finding this feedback helpful in assessing the breadth and depth of issues and opportunities that we face.  I will be sharing these insights with you throughout the year. 

I have formed a Student Advisory Group to the President (http://www.newpaltz.edu/president/student_advisory.html), mirroring the dean’s advisory group I formed in a previous position and from which I learned so much.  This group (comprising about 15 members with diverse backgrounds and interests) is advisory, and has no governance or policy-making roles; student members are there as individuals, not representing any particular group or interest.  Its purpose is to provide an avenue for me to hear and learn about student concerns and interests at the institutional level and for me to remain in touch with students and their interests, consistent with the pressing demands on my calendar.  This group meets 3-4 times each semester (in the evening, over pizza and soft drinks).  The first meeting’s discussion focused on things that New Paltz does well, and areas where we could improve.  I very much appreciated this opportunity to meet and visit with students in an informal setting, along with the regular meetings between Cabinet and SA/RHSA leadership.
As part of this overall effort and my long-term commitment to communication and consultation with faculty, I have scheduled two faculty “brown bag” discussions at which I am available to discuss topics of concern and interest to you (such topics as brought forward by faculty attending will be the sole agenda).  These will be held on Monday, November 7, 12:00 noon – 1:30 PM and Tuesday, December 6, 4:00-5:30 PM, both in HAB 903.  Please join us even if you may drop in only for part of the meeting.  I look forward to visiting with you.
Presidential External Activities.  It is useful for faculty to know about the external activities that take me away from campus regularly and that occupy a considerable part of my time and attention.  These focus on sustaining and building key relationships that matter to the College (see http://www.newpaltz.edu/president/np_relationships_2011.html); it is clear that the visibility of SUNY New Paltz in such relationships and in the region matter to our future.  In addition, my external efforts include serving and supporting regional needs, and fund-raising and development.  In recent weeks, I have participated in events at four other colleges in the region, and taken part in a meeting of the “SUNY Mid-Hudson Alliance” with presidents of the region’s community colleges.  The community colleges are concerned about students who transfer to 4-year institutions without completing 2-year degrees, an important measure of their success.  We agreed to explore ways to work with them to address that issue. 

I recently met with both of our area legislators, State Senator John Bonacic and State Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (Class of 1977).  We discussed our gratitude for their support for our capital improvements along with needs for capital investment to continue serving students well; our fiscal status including tuition and fee revenues; program priorities for the future; and questions they had for me.  We have important interactions with government leaders at the local as well as state level.  Accordingly, I met recently with New Paltz Mayor Jason West to discuss College projects and directions, village concerns, and opportunities for collaboration.  The regular monthly “town gown” meetings with village, town, school, college, and emergency response officials seek to maintain positive relationships and sound communication among our organizations.

You likely have read about Governor Cuomo’s approach to economic development that focuses on the work of 10 regional economic development councils throughout the state.  The work of these councils will provide the basis for competitive allocation of state funding to spur growth of the state’s economy.  The Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council met for the first time on our campus in August, and I have participated in two other council meetings since then.  I also accepted an invitation to serve on the “workforce development” work group that is part of this council’s effort. Dr. Gerald Benjamin and his colleagues at CRREO are contributing to this work by developing approaches to measure the impact of state funding on economic development.  This work has opened my eyes to ways that the College can contribute to economic development, consistent with our primary mission, including new academic programming that some of the deans are already discussing.

In my State of the College address, I outlined some of the priority directions for our fund-raising work.  I am pleased that two new members have agreed to join the Foundation Board, steps in our effort to increase the membership of the Board from current numbers (22) to about 40.    I met last month with the Executive Board of our Alumni Association as part of our work to build stronger ties and relationships with alumni.  We met recently with a representative of a private foundation to explore ways that some of our needs and priorities align with those of the foundation and will be continuing those discussions.    The celebration on October 15 of the 10th anniversary of the Dorsky Museum highlighted for all of us the positive impacts that private giving can have on the College and our programs and facilities.  The 9th annual Gala Celebrating New Paltz, to be held at the Mohonk Mountain House on November 20, raises funds for scholarship endowment, honors individuals for their volunteerism, and helps cultivate new donors for the College and our programs.

My continuing membership on the Advisory Council of Historic Huguenot Street and the Board of the Mohonk Preserve helps keep the College visible in the area community, expands my and our connections and contacts in the region, and fosters collaboration between the College and those organizations.  My work on the Mohonk Preserve Board is a great outlet for my environmental and conservation interests.

I surely note and appreciate the many indications of great work, engaged students, and positive spirit on the campus despite one of the dreariest strings of autumn weather I can recall.  I will look forward to seeing you at this week’s meeting and to responding to any questions you might have. 

Donald P. Christian