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The Office of the President

Presidential Reports and Communications 12/07/2012

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
December 7, 2012

Graduation Rates.   I am pleased to share that our latest (2012) 4-year graduation rate was 55.1%, our highest ever and an increase from last year’s 49.8%.  Our most recent 6-year graduation rate was 72.9%, also a record high.  The students who graduated in 2012 after 4 years were members of the unexpectedly large entering class of 2008.  The College prepared in advance of the 2008-09 academic year to serve large numbers of students, by adding sections of several key first-year classes and developing and staffing new student activities programming.  In effect, we conducted an experiment in course availability and enhanced student services, and have seen the fruits of those efforts. We must pledge to continue such efforts. 

In my September report to the faculty, I shared an analysis of 2010 4-year graduation rates for SUNY institutions, showing that we underperform on this important measure of institutional effectiveness, while we “catch up” by the 6th year.  Comparative data are not available to assess how our 2012 4-year graduation rate compares with peers.  But in this year’s annual IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) analysis, which used 2011 graduation data, our 4-year rates lag behind those of peers by a sizeable margin; our 6-year graduation rates slightly exceed those of peer institutions.  Other recent analyses show that New Paltz students graduating in 4 years have average loan debts under $23,000, while loan debt for those graduating in 6 years is nearly $28,000.  While our latest graduation rates tell us that we are doing many things well, there are compelling reasons to continue to push on course availability/course scheduling, improved advising, financial aid, and other initiatives that will help our students progress academically and graduate in a timely way, while sustaining the quality of academic and student-life experiences that we provide.

Strategic Planning.  Members of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee have been discussing a first draft of the Strategic Plan.  This draft is based on key themes that were the outgrowth of the November 3 planning retreat. The Committee met this week with planning consultant William Weary to discuss key steps and considerations in refining this draft, for my and Cabinet review over the holiday break.  You’ll recall from previous communications that the broader campus community will have opportunities in the spring semester to weigh in on the draft plan.

SUNY Allocation Formula. I have shared with you that SUNY System Administration has been developing a new, data-driven approach to allocate state taxpayer support to the campuses; this has created uncertainty about whether our core instructional budget will increase, decrease, or be relatively unaffected.  The plan remains under discussion and final figures are not known.  SUNY has been responsive to feedback and concerns expressed by some campuses about earlier iterations of the plan, which project significant funding shifts among campuses.  In the latest versions of the plan, taxpayer support for New Paltz would increase, an outcome driven entirely by our strong undergraduate enrollment, despite declines in graduate enrollment. We must reverse those trends in graduate enrollments, as they will hurt our future allocation of state taxpayer support as well as tuition revenue.

I am hopeful that the SUNY plan will be finalized and announced in time for us to integrate any resulting increase in funding into our ongoing budget planning for next year.

Student Housing Development.  In my November report to the faculty, I shared basic information about the Park Point student/faculty housing project and its importance to the College, our students, and our future.  At this week’s Administrative Council meeting, I addressed recent statements that I have heard or read about the project that I regard as serious misrepresentation of facts and as misleading to the public dialogue about Park Point.  An FAQ drawing on those comments is posted on the website to inform the College community further about this project.

Nearly all students with whom I have spoken are enthusiastic about having expanded housing options that would let them remain more connected with campus life than is currently possible.  Our surveys show that well over half of current transfer students would live in apartments on or near the campus if they are available.  We know also that many high-quality prospective transfer students go elsewhere because we cannot provide the residential college experience that is our niche.  I would like to be able to provide housing for new faculty and staff near the campus, with starting rents subsidized to match entry-level housing; this new development would let us do that.  Achieving these goals, which I regard as essential to our continuing vitality, is our aim.

A small, vocal minority of students have been strongly opposed to this project, just as an earlier group opposed the Atrium project that has proven so transformative to our campus environment.  I appreciate the commitment of these students to environmental sustainability and other issues, and their involvement in this process.  I disagree with many of the conclusions they have reached.  This project presents a valuable opportunity for all of our students to engage in real-life critical thinking.  Essential elements of this include 1) thinking empirically and not just theoretically, which means being willing to change one’s opinions based on evidence; it also means that assertions made in opposition to views or arguments are more compelling if based on evidence rather than fears or unsupported supposition; 2) thinking in terms of multiple, rather than single, causes; and 3) thinking in terms of the size of things, not just their direction.   The discussion of this project creates an excellent opportunity for faculty and staff to join in educating our students to engage Park Point issues in these ways.

If faculty and staff are interested in supporting this project that is so important to the future of the College, you may voice your opinion at the upcoming Town Planning Board meeting on Monday, December 10, 7 PM, New Paltz Town Hall. 

Sustainability Initiatives. The draft report for the “American College and University President’s Climate Commitment,” which you learned about at the October faculty meeting, was circulated for feedback from students, faculty, and staff.  The Sustainability Committee reviewed and integrated relevant feedback, and on November 21 submitted the report to me for review.  My goal is to submit the report to the national organization before the holiday break; we will post it on the website as well.  This report will serve as an important planning document and blueprint for our continuing sustainability work, while we must recognize that implementation of some elements of the plan depend on significant financial resources, resolution of technical issues, and staffing time and effort.  The plan includes curricular recommendations that I encourage the General Education revision committee to review and consider.

Elsewhere on the sustainability front, New Paltz has been selected as one of five SUNY campuses to undergo an extensive and intensive, externally driven “energy audit.” The audit is a campus-wide assessment of our energy use, including detailed building-by-building analyses.  The audit will provide recommendations to reduce our energy use and carbon footprint, ranging from short-term and low-cost to long-term/major investment.  The cost of the planning effort will be about $250,000, about one-half of which we believe will be covered by state funding; I have no hesitation about investing campus funds in support of this effort, to better realize our community values of sustainability. There is a clear expectation that many of the recommendations of the audit findings be implemented over time, at a pace driven in part by the same financial and staffing constraints noted above.

I have asked the Sustainability Committee to consider a project of researching, developing, and disseminating models and approaches to reduce our use of paper, a key element of sustainability. Many if not most faculty have over time increasingly made materials available to students in electronic format, on Blackboard or otherwise, reducing departmental expenditures and use of paper.  But if we are merely passing that use of paper on to students, our environmental impact is unchanged. A laudable goal would be to continue shifting away from printing to relying more on electronic access, without compromising academic quality and engagement. 

Our search for a full-time sustainability coordinator, a position approved last year, has begun.  Last month, I met with Deborah Howard, the new SUNY System Administration sustainability coordinator, and invited her to visit the campus to meet with our Sustainability Committee, review our plans, and explore ways that we can coordinate campus and System efforts.

LGBTQ Campus Survey.  The tragic suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi in fall 2010 highlighted the challenges faced by some LGBTQ members of college communities.  Shortly afterwards, several New Paltz faculty and staff came together as an ad hoc group, motivated most immediately by a desire to prevent such a tragedy at New Paltz, but more broadly to ensure that we are aware of the campus climate for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff, and of steps that we should be taking to include and support LGBTQ members of our community.  I met with this group in spring 2011, and learned of their generally very positive personal assessments of our campus climate, along with their interest in further improving it.

With the cooperation of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, and with my full support, this group developed and implemented an online, anonymous survey to assess the attitudes and campus of experiences of students and employees related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people and issues. More than 1,400 respondents completed the survey.

The data and narrative comments have been analyzed and summarized in a thoughtful and detailed report.  This report will be available in the library, shared with students who have been involved with the survey process and particularly interested in its outcome, and is now posted on the website; once the website of the Office of Compliance and Campus Climate is complete, that site will become the locus for the report. 

A conclusion of the survey is that some of the resources (groups, programs, etc.) available on the campus to support LGBTQ members of our community are not well known.  The group has inventoried these resources, which will also be posted on the website.  We will form a broad-based task force to develop concrete recommendations based on the survey findings.  In general, the survey findings affirm many positive aspects of our campus working and learning environment for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff, while pointing to a need for particular work to support and include transgendered and transsexual members of our community.

Fund Raising and Alumni Relations. Last month’s Gala was very successful; a final tally of the funds generated for scholarship support is not available but is estimated at about $40,000, similar to other years. We had a successful trip to California in October to meet with alumni and retired faculty.  Our follow-up has included: a visit to New Paltz by two of the alumni we met; planning for two more campus visits; planning for continued discussion by Deans Rosenberg and Freedman with other alumni we met.  We recently received two corporate and foundation gifts for student scholarships (one targeting STEM disciplines), both arranged by Foundation Board Directors; one is a new gift that shows promise of recurring annually.  Development Office staff have secured several other recent gifts from new donors. School-based dean’s advisory groups have continued to engage alumni and other supporters. As part of implementing the recommendations of the fund-raising feasibility study we conducted last spring, I am forming a Steering Committee that will advise and guide our work to build our capacity for major gifts during the next 12-18 months.  We are planning a reception for recent and prospective donors after next week’s Foundation Board meeting in New York City, and alumni/development events during January in Florida and Georgia, when I travel to the AAC&U national conference in Atlanta.

Our search for a Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations is progressing; the process of selecting a search consultant is nearing completion, and advertisements for the position will be going out soon.  This week, we completed interviews with finalists for the Director of Alumni Relations position and hope to fill that much-needed position very soon. 

December Celebrations.  I look forward to joining faculty and staff in recognizing our December graduates at various school-based events next week, and honoring outstanding graduates at a celebration on Friday, December 14. 
My wife Sandy and I are anticipating a great turnout of academic faculty, professional faculty, and M/C administrators at this Saturday’s holiday reception (December 8; 2 to 4 and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.).  We enjoy the opportunity to gather with colleagues in a relaxed setting, and to celebrate the close of another semester and the season that is upon us. We hope that you will join us.

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