Edit Page

The Office of the President

Presidential Reports and Communications 12/20/2013

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
December 20, 2013

Kiplinger’s Best Value Recognition. As announced last week, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine has once again included New Paltz in its ranking of the top 100 best values in the nation for public, four-year institutions that deliver a high-quality education at an affordable price. New Paltz ranked #49, and was one of nine SUNY campuses included in the national ranking - behind Binghamton University (#15; our top competitor for students), Geneseo (#20), and Stony Brook University (#29). Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, said “the college landscape today is very different - tuition increases and student debt dominate the national conversation surrounding higher education. This year’s top 100 schools have made admirable strides to maintain academic integrity and standards while meeting the financial needs of students.” This recognition reflects the great collective work of the entire SUNY New Paltz community. Congratulations!

Graduation Rates. Graduation rates are an important measure of institutional success, and our latest 4-year graduation rate (56.7%) has exceeded the previous year’s rate of 55.2%. Our most recent 6-year rate (70.2%) dropped slightly from the previous year (71.9%); this rate represents the entering class of 2007, which also had 4- and 5-year graduation rates lower than for 2006 and each subsequent class. The current 5-year graduation rate (71.9%) is already higher than that class’s 6-year rate, so we expect next year’s 6-year rate to increase. All of these rates are well above national averages for public and most private institutions. Four-year graduation rates for Binghamton University and SUNY Geneseo, noted in the above item about Kiplinger’s Guide rankings, are 67-68%.

Our first-year retention rates (87.2% overall, 88.5% for students in the EOP program) remain a real source of pride, well above New York and national averages. The 90% benchmark has remained stubborn for us to cross.

Economic Development Funding, 3-D Printing. We are excited that SUNY New Paltz was awarded $1 million in economic development funding last week through the Governor’s Office and the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council (MHREDC). You may recall that this project was selected as a “top priority” by the Council. These funds will be used to support the continued development of our 3-D printing initiative, primarily for additional equipment. This endeavor carries so much promise for our students and faculty and for economic development in the region.

This success grows from an exceptional team effort by many people, and I especially want to highlight the work of Dan Freedman, Dean of Science and Engineering, and Paul Kassel, Interim Dean of Fine and Performing Arts, for their leadership. The faculty team leading the planning and implementation of the Digital Design and Fabrication certificate curriculum includes Professors Anne Galperin (Chair, Art), Arthur Hash (Art), Emily Puthoff (Art), Bryan Czibesz (Art), Chirakkal Easwaran (Computer Science), and Mike Otis (Electrical and Computer Engineering) - a tremendous interdisciplinary effort. They’ve done a great job, including pushing hard to meet critical deadlines; Arthur played a key role in developing the proposal, and has been an important “public face” in several meetings about this project. Carrie Corti and others in Sponsored Programs did yeoman’s work preparing budgets and honing the proposal, and Julie Majak and Julie Chiarito helped assemble the budget. Mary Kastner and other staff in the Office of Communication and Marketing prepared materials that strengthened my presentation to the MHREDC in the fall. Aaron Knochel (Art/Art Education) has already been working with the New Paltz School District on 3-D printing, developing a key theme of the overall project. Thanks to each of you!

This award leverages $500,000 in funding from Sean Eldridge of Hudson River Ventures and from Central Hudson to launch our 3D printing initiative. Mike Oates of Hudson River Ventures and Larry Gottlieb of Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation helped us navigate the economic development world that is new to us. Steve Densmore (Choice Words, New Paltz) is a consultant who was extremely helpful in preparing the grant proposal.

Strategic Planning. The Strategic Planning Council will be sending out more templates outlining measures for our progress on initiatives of the strategic plan. The feedback the Council received on earlier drafts of these templates has been very helpful. Council Chair Ray Schwarz reminds everyone that the templates are posted on the website (http://strategicplanning.newpaltz.edu) and hopes that more people will find time to review them and send thoughts and comments to the Council at strategicplan@newpaltz.edu. 

Budget information. Thank you to everyone who attended the budget forum that Vice President Michele Halstead and I held on December 2. If you were unable to attend, you may view her presentation on the Budget Information section of my.newpaltz.edu, along with the projected timeline and forms for submitting recurring requests. A key message of her presentation is that because of increased costs next year and expected flat state funding (same dollar amount as this year), we anticipate having substantially less new money to invest than we have had the past two years, unless SUNY is successful in securing additional funding to cover contractual salary increases. We have heard nothing since the forum that leads us to believe this will happen. However, as noted at the forum, we still encourage departments to submit budget requests so that we know what the needs are if money becomes available, and because this is a part of valuable continued planning and prioritization at the departmental and school level.

Fund-raising and Development. Following last week’s meeting of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board in New York City, we held a reception with donors, alumni, and friends of the College to celebrate the season, thank current donors for their support, and engage prospective donors. Student Miriam Ward (Honors Program, majoring in Digital Media and History) spoke about her experiences at New Paltz and the positive impacts that scholarship support has had on her educational experience. We are developing systematic follow-up approaches, and more ways that we can engage prospective donors. Vice President Erica Marks has been meeting with different groups and departments to discuss ways that the entire campus can engage in our fund-raising efforts.

Our fund-raising success during the past few months exceeded same-month totals for last year, even for November without revenue from the Gala this year. We anticipate that many sponsors who have supported the Gala in the past will transfer their support to our summer golf event. A Development staff member closed two $50,000 gifts in recent weeks, one made by a spouse in remembrance of his recently deceased wife (a 1950 alumna) as a scholarship endowment. And just this week we learned of a $225,000 bequest from an alumna, following a long relationship developed by the same staff member. These are all excellent indicators of growing success!

New Science Building. Over the winter break, activity will begin at the corner of Plattekill Avenue and South Manheim Boulevard on the construction of our new science building - our first new academic building in many years. This will be a 77,239-square-foot, two-story structure that will house the departments of physics and astronomy, geology, mathematics, computer science and geography. The Plattekill Parking Lot will close over the break and the entire site will be fenced; alternative parking is available at the expanded lot on the east side of Manheim Blvd. Contractors will begin to abate the two white “stick-built” houses, Hanmer, longtime home of the Geography Department, and the former Guest House, which also served as recent home to the Center for International Programs. We investigated whether these houses have special historical value, and the state has deemed that they do not. Once abated, the houses will be razed in late January or early February. The College is tentatively planning a groundbreaking ceremony to kick-off the project sometime in March.

This is a good opportunity to remind everyone that major construction projects and major renovation projects like Wooster and the library, are funded by state-issued bonds that are paid back by taxpayer revenues over many years. These funds are not available to the campus to support operating costs like salaries or new positions; these values are not being “traded off” against new construction.

Student Housing. New Residence Hall. We held an official “ground-breaking” ceremony on Dec. 19 for the new 225-bed residence hall to be constructed on the corner of South Road and Hawk Hill Drive. We were joined by New York State Assemblymember Kevin Cahill, Class of 1977, and Joann Drake, Legislative Liaison for New York State Senator John Bonacic; both area legislators have been extremely helpful in bringing this project to fruition. Also participating were representatives of the architectural firm, the contractor, DASNY (Dormitory of the State of New York), and campus officials.

Consistent with SUNY policy for naming buildings, this new residence hall will not be named honorifically. It will be given a generic name that can be changed to recognize a future major philanthropic gift to the College.

If you are tracking the review process for Park Point, you know that some community members have interpreted the addition of this new residence hall to mean that the College intends to grow its on-campus enrollment. This is despite our assurance that we have no intention to do so, and that other constraints would prevent us from doing so even if this were our goal. These constraints include a 400,000-square-foot shortage of non-residential space, constrained faculty numbers, and capacity limitations in our library, student health center, and counseling center, to name a few.

Others have claimed that the new residence hall means we don’t need Park Point. Existing SUNY New Paltz residence halls provide 45 beds per 100 students, the lowest among SUNY residential colleges and well below the SUNY average of 59 beds per 100 students. The new residence hall will increase our capacity only to 49 beds per 100 students - a small step in serving current numbers of New Paltz students at a level already enjoyed by students at other SUNY campuses. That is why we need this new residence hall, and additional apartment-style housing that Park Point would provide.

Park Point. The Park Point housing project continues through the environmental review process being led by the New Paltz Town Planning Board. I can confirm from my attendance at the three public hearings held since November 25 that most in the community recognize our need for additional student housing, and many also recognize the benefits this housing will bring to the broader community. At its meeting this week, the Town Planning Board voted to close the public hearing on the environmental review, and will begin to draft its “findings statement.” At the same time, the Board will complete its review of the site plan, a process that is well underway.

In the next major steps, the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) will consider the developer’s request for a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) through the County’s Uniform Tax Exemption Policy. That policy provides a path for meeting student housing needs for the College and our students, while also providing financial benefits for local municipalities; campus-built student housing, such as our new residence hall, does not provide revenue to support municipal services. The community has a process, through the County’s IDA, to determine whether and to what degree the long-term benefits of a project like Park Point warrant a financial accommodation to the developer that makes the project viable; I respect that process. The IDA will take input on this question at a public hearing on January 28, at 7 PM, at the New Paltz High School.

I have heard and understand the many conflicting viewpoints about this issue. In my communications about Park Point to the SUNY New Paltz community, the Town Planning board, and the Ulster County IDA, I have emphasized our current campus housing shortage and the benefits that Park Point housing will bring to the College, our students, and our future: we must continue to attract sufficient numbers of high-quality students to assure our financial viability and to sustain excellence in our educational programs. The housing provided by Park Point is critical to our mission and future.

In addition, I have conveyed my view that the welfare of SUNY New Paltz is essential to the continued vitality of the community and the region, and that the benefits of this housing extend beyond the College. In the IDA process, I will reinforce the College’s strong and steadfast commitment to the value of additional housing provided by Park Point.

Holiday Wishes.  It was wonderful to see so many faculty, staff, and emeriti at the holiday reception at the President’s residence on December 7. Sandy and I both enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with so many people who are committed to the College. It is so rewarding to watch, listen, and join conversations among people from various departments who have few opportunities to visit with each other. Thanks for being there.

I wish everyone a safe, happy, and rejuvenating holiday season. I hope that we all take time to celebrate the many blessings of the season and the accomplishments of the year and to enjoy the company of friends, family, and colleagues.

Donald P. Christian