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The Office of the President

Presidential Reports and Communications 10/24/2014

President’s Report Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
October 24, 2014

Open House for Prospective Students and Parents. I want to thank faculty and staff in advance for your efforts to make this weekend’s (Saturday, October 25) Fall Open House for prospective students a success. A crucial element of our recruiting success is your willingness to help prospective students and their parents learn about the diverse and high-quality offerings at New Paltz. Meeting enrollment targets for incoming students is critical for our continuing programmatic and financial success, and attracting bright and engaged students is essential to the high standards and quality of academic life that we have built and continue to grow.  Conversations with faculty and staff provide some of the most compelling turning points for those weighing the choice of New Paltz or a competing institution.  I appreciate everyone’s work to help tip the balance in our favor, and look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

Retention Rate.  Our preliminary first-year retention rate this fall is 89.7%, up from last year’s 87.2% and the highest in our history. First-year retention rate (the percentage of first-year students who return for the sophomore year) is an important measure of institutional effectiveness, reflecting many aspects of academic and student life.  Our retention rate the past several years has been 87-88%, a clear mark of achievement compared with national and New York State averages of 71% and 80%, respectively.  A decade ago, some were skeptical that we could ever consistently exceed 85%.  I have had the unstated wish to see us reach 90%, but have not succumbed to the temptation to round up!

Several initiatives of the strategic plan bear directly or indirectly on retention (and, in turn, graduation) rates, and I hope to see us reach and consistently exceed 90% retention by the final years of our plan implementation. As I shared in my State of the College address, our graduation rates are good but can get better, as they lag behind our top competitors.  Improving the alignment, clarity, and coherence of our curricula (“curricular mapping”) that the Provost, Deans, and many departments are engaged in is a priority that advances these outcomes. 

In a workshop at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) conference I attended this week, I learned about the increased retention and graduation rates that institutions have achieved by developing clearer, well-articulated pathways that help both students and advisors make better choices based on major, student abilities, and course sequencing. Faculty articulation/definition of such paths to degree is an important starting point for such work.  A presidential colleague whose institution has engaged in such a project, and where students have access to the system, reported that students there use professional and faculty advisors less but come to advising appointments better prepared and focused – with improved outcomes, and less time demand on advisors.  These values were reinforced by a keynote speaker who emphasized the impact that institutions could have on student success by focusing more attention on simple principles of aligning instructional practices (e.g., course availability, timing of registration) with student needs, and of ensuring sound advising and support at key decision points such as selecting a major.  Our curricular mapping initiative will help us achieve such outcomes.

Wilderness 50.  Richard Louv’s Distinguished Speaker Series presentation “The Nature Rich Life” earlier this week filled LC 100 with students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, and representatives of conservation groups, and highlighted the collaboration between the College and several partner organizations. Louv’s messages resonated well with the audience, including the values of “green” education and cultivating “hybrid minds” that embrace both technology and nature, ethical responsibility in our interactions with nature, and the importance of moving away from a despairing, dystopian focus so that our students are inspired to seek positive solutions for the future.  

I am grateful to the many faculty and staff who led or contributed to panel discussions, lectures, field trips, reading discussion groups, and other activities that highlighted the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.  These programs and activities certainly fulfilled the promise I outlined in this year’s State of the College address of using a focus on wilderness to highlight historical, cultural, artistic, and aesthetic values that are essential elements of our academic programs.  Thanks to those who participated for your support and engagement.

Ebola Preparedness: We are discussing our Ebola preparedness, following SUNY system, State Department of Health, and CDC guidelines.  Campus discussions involve Cabinet, environmental health and safety, international programs, student health center, university police, disaster mental health, and the Office of Communication and Marketing. Dr. Jack Ordway, Director of Student Health Services, is our designated campus contact for Ebola-related issues.  He will receive information and guidance from a system-wide working group, chaired by Dr. John Williams, president of Downstate Medical, who has extensive public health experience. SUNY is continuing to prohibit all forms of campus-sponsored or approved travel to countries with CDC Level 3 warnings (currently, Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone). The relevant CDC and Health Department guidelines may be found on links provided on the SUNY Health Alert webpage (www.suny.edu/health-alert), where further information is available.  We are continuing efforts to identify potential travelers from affected areas who may be in contact with members of our campus community and to review and update our standard operating procedures for the health center and our existing campus-level public health emergency plans.  These steps are in progress. We will provide more information as it becomes available.

Discretionary Salary Awards.   We will finalize this year’s UUP Discretionary Salary Award (DSA) decisions this month and will announce awards in the coming weeks.  These amounts are to be paid on or before December 31, 2014.  These are one-time, lump-sum awards equivalent to 0.5% of the UUP eligible salary base, The statewide bargaining agreement provides separate full- and part-time DSA pools; this year, these are $144,324 for 589 full-time academic and professional members; $79,764 for 285 part-time members.

Mechanical Engineering.  The new bachelor’s degree program in mechanical engineering is approved and available now! The New York State Education Department authorized the major earlier this month.  This program builds on our long-standing, accredited programs in electrical and computer engineering and will be supported by the recently announced $10 million in state funding for our “Engineering Innovation Hub.”  Our 3D printing initiative will reinforce and support mechanical engineering – and, in turn, mechanical engineering will bring new dimensions to our 3D printing initiative.  This program will address a longstanding and recognized dearth of mechanical engineers in the Hudson Valley, and there is tremendous support and excitement in the region for this addition to our academic programs and resulting economic and other benefits.  Our graduates will have opportunities in fields as diverse as aerospace, energy production, prosthetics development, automotive, biomedical, and building engineering. Congratulations to Dean Freedman and the engineering faculty and thank you to Provost’s Office staff for their success in pushing this program proposal through an arduous approval process.

In a roundtable discussion on WKIP radio earlier this week, Dean Freedman and I spoke about educational topics including 3D printing, engineering, and the value of a liberal education for all graduates.  We shared our view that the engineers educated at a comprehensive, liberal arts-based institution like SUNY New Paltz are different than graduates of technical institutes, with broad knowledge and understanding and stronger creative problem-solving and communication abilities, along, of course, with technical skills and knowledge – one example of my mantra of “making practical education liberal, and liberal education practical.” 

In related news, industrial designer Scott Summit will present “3D Printing and 3D Scanning:  Using the Body to Design for the Body” on Friday, November 7 at 7 PM in LC 100 (a link to his “TED” talk is here.  From 5:00-6:30, the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center will hold an open house to showcase the newest 3D printing equipment.  Summit’s presentation is organized through our partnership with 3D Systems Corporation, one of the world’s leading 3D printing companies and the latest partner in our 3D initiative.  This partnership was announced recently by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who helped connect SUNY New Paltz and 3D Systems.  Through this partnership, 3D Systems will provide training, technical support, and funded student internships.

Fund-Raising and Alumni Relations Initiatives.  Chairs, directors, deans, and full-time faculty have been invited to a workshop on fund-raising and alumni engagement led by James Langley  on October 30 and 31.  We are bringing him back to campus after a workshop he led last year generated rave reviews and shifted the awareness and creative thinking of many.  I hope you will consider registering to take part, if you have not done so already.

It was tremendous to have so many faculty and staff joining us at the Heritage Luncheon on Alumni Weekend, October 18.  I heard comments from numerous alumni about how much they enjoyed these interactions.  I want to give a special call-out to Mary Christensen and her French-language colleagues for their creative and diligent outreach to alumni and emeritus faculty, including via social media!  SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus Ron Knapp (Geography) and EOP Director Antonio Bonilla were this year’s Heritage Award recipients, recognizing their longstanding contributions to the College and our students. This year’s alumni registration counts and attendance at the Heritage Luncheon were the highest in the past six years, and participation in the Saturday-evening “Lantern Ceremony and All-Anniversaries dinner” was the highest of the past five years.  Thanks to everyone for your engagement.   

We have undertaken other initiatives to re-engage alumni in the life of the College and to introduce community leaders to the College and our students.  These include a series of “President’s Roundtables,” where a successful alumnus or community leader meets over lunch with about 15 selected students to speak about their experiences, offer career and life advice, and respond to student questions.  The first, with Tom Struzzieri, Saugerties business leader and member of my fund-raising steering committee, was a tremendous success (his admonition about learning to write caught some students’ attention!).  We have two more such events this semester, with others planned for spring.  On October 27 (3:00-4:30 PM, SUB MPR), we are hosting a “Business Leaders of the 21st Century” forum, with three successful alumni (’77, ’80, and ’06) and a member of our Board of Directors speaking with students about their successes. This event is for all students, not just business majors.

Events such as these advance multiple initiatives of the strategic plan:  creating innovative learning experiences for students, engaging alumni, advancing philanthropic goals, and connecting with the region.

Recurring Budget Requests.  Last month, I reported that we will consider allocating up to $1.1 million in one-time funds for initiatives that support specific strategic plan priorities.  Deans, Chairs, and Directors recently received information about the process to request new recurring budget allocations, even though our best information at this stage is that we will have little or no new funding to allocate for the start of 2015-16.  That is the final year of the current 5-year “rational tuition” policy. If the Governor and Legislature approve the fifth year of the plan, we estimate about $2.4 million in new tuition revenue. About $400,000 is mandated to be allocated for increased student financial aid. We also estimate about $2 million in costs for contractual salary increases; in recent history the state has been reluctant to provide additional funding for these costs, so we must plan for them in our budget.  Despite the limited promise of new funding, we think the process is important because it will help departments and units consider their highest priorities that may be supported through reallocation of existing dollars, if not from new funds.     

Town-Gown Cooperation.  This item was prepared at my request by Vice President for Student Affairs L. David Rooney and Interim Dean of Students Robin Cohen-LaValle:  Student Affairs staff have worked for the past 18 months with the New Paltz Village to develop a noise ordinance for the village. Such an ordinance will help the New Paltz Police Department have a basis to deal with late night street noise, house parties, and for the Village to hold landlords and renters jointly responsible for repeat offenses. Student Affairs is represented on the Downtown Concerns Committee and works cooperatively with the village throughout the year.

As part of our cooperative Memorandum of Understanding with the New Paltz Police Department, names of New Paltz students charged with violating state or local laws are provided to the College for possible follow up. Since January 2014, the Dean of Students has been notifying students in writing that their village infraction may also violate the student code of conduct.

I commend our staff for engaging with the local community in these ways to improve quality of life in our community and to educate students about their responsibilities as good neighbors. On a related note, it was rewarding for me to learn earlier this week that in a recent meeting with White House officials, AASCU government relations staff shared our Tavern Owners’ Agreement as an exemplary model. 

I will look forward to seeing you at Friday’s faculty meeting, where I will be available to respond to your questions.

Donald P. Christian