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The Office of the President

Updates 02/11/2011

Interim President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
February 11, 2011

Presidential Search.  You have received an update on the status of the presidential search and the scheduled visits to campus by finalist candidates.  I strongly encourage everyone to participate in the open forums as your schedules allow (two opportunities with each candidate), share your views about each candidate through the formal feedback mechanism developed by the search committee, and help showcase the strengths of the College for the candidates.  I have heard from Ken Abt, the College Council and search committee Chair, how pleased and impressed he has been with the engagement and professionalism of all members of the search committee and with how they have come together as a group.  Thanks to the committee members for your hard work to date and the work yet to come.

Enrollment Update.  Our current spring semester undergraduate enrollments are up by 4.4% over last year – a bright spot for us.  On the other hand, graduate enrollment is down this semester by 7.5%, a serious concern from the perspective of continuing program viability and tuition revenue.  Strong efforts have been under way to bolster our graduate enrollments, including revising and reinstating programs suspended two years ago and developing a request for proposal for a market analysis of graduate education needs and opportunities in the Hudson Valley.  I am grateful to Interim Provost Laurel Garrick Duhaney, Interim Graduate Dean Stella Deen, Enrollment Management VP David Eaton, Associate VP for Research and Planning Jackie Andrews, and the many others who have worked so hard to advance these agendas.  Interim Director of Communication and Marketing Suzanne Grady has assisted the Graduate Office by negotiating advertising contracts, writing ad copy, and developing marketing strategy for the open house and revised MAT/MSEd programs.  I encourage broad participation in the Graduate School Open House, (Thursday February 17, 5-7 PM, Dorsky Museum) and your help in assuring that students are aware of this opportunity.

New Paltz continues to lead the University College sector in total applications for fall 2011 undergraduate admission (ca. 13,000 to date) for the 23rd consecutive year.  We remain popular and attractive to students in a highly competitive and dynamic market for undergraduate students.  According to the admissions staff, the applicant pool is of the highest academic quality ever.   Yet as we compete more and more for high-caliber students, “yield” of those students becomes more difficult, and your collaboration becomes more critical.  Academic departments will soon receive yield activity information and recommendations, including lists of accepted students who intend to major in your discipline.  The personal outreach of a chair or faculty member encouraging these applicants to learn more about the great things that New Paltz has to offer can make a real difference in their decisions to attend.

In previous reports, I have shared with you statistics on our retention and graduation rates, key measures of institutional success.  One of the community college presidents recently shared statistics on the percentage of community college students transferring to a SUNY upper-division college in 2008 who returned to that college in 2009.  With a return rate of 85.8%, New Paltz led all 17 SUNY upper-division institutions, which averaged a 78% return rate. Transfer students are a very important part of our student body, and will become more so as the number of New York high school graduates declines in the coming decade or so.  These statistics indicate how well we serve these students.  It is virtually certain that funding allocations to SUNY campuses will be based more and more on institutional performance, including graduation and retention rates; therefore, performance measures such as these will be increasingly important in our future.   In next month’s report, I will summarize results of our analyses of relationships between graduation and retention rates and SAT scores of entering students, comparing New Paltz with other institutions.  Those analyses will show that we have much to be proud of, but that we have room for growth and improvement.

“Presidents’ Lobby Day” and Budget.  I joined other presidents in Albany on Tuesday, February 8, to plan advocacy for SUNY with our legislators and to meet with Senate and Assembly higher education leaders.  Later in the day, I met with our Assembly member Kevin Cahill ’77 and our Senator John Bonacic, making clear the serious impacts that proposed budget reductions will have on the campus and our programs, and urging them to support restoration of funding for SUNY and a rational tuition policy.   

Vice President DiStefano and I will hold a budget forum for faculty and staff on Thursday, February 10, 3:30-5:00 in LC 100.  We will provide an update on our progress to date in addressing the previously known budget shortfall and we will share our best current understanding of the further impact on our budget of Governor Cuomo’s state budget proposal, as well as insights from my day in Albany.  Also, earlier this week, VP Distefano and I held a budget forum for students, helping them understand the fundamentals and complexities of the College budget, the fiscal challenges that we are addressing, and the process and timeline by which that task is being undertaken.

Kiplinger’s “Best Value” Ranking.  I trust that everyone saw the news of our ranking in this year’s Kiplinger’s guide, and the notable climb in our ranking the past several years.  The great news is that this ranking reflects quality measures such as on-time graduation, noted above.  The ranking also reflects both sides of the coin of the relatively low cost of a SUNY education – a plus for students and their families, but indicative of the financial strain that we and other SUNY campuses are under as a result of declining taxpayer support and limited or no increases in tuition.

Power of SUNY Alignment.  By the end of May, each SUNY campus president will submit an annual report to Chancellor Zimpher on institutional progress and performance.  This report will be the basis for an annual “conversation” between the President and the Chancellor about the achievements and progress of each campus as well as presidential performance and leadership.  A critical element of this report – and of how institutional and presidential performance will be assessed in the future – is the alignment of a) campus goals and vision and b) the main themes and goals of the SUNY strategic plan, The Power of SUNY.  It is worth noting that The Power of SUNY intentionally has a strong external focus.  This external focus is essential in reinforcing our public mission, but is not intended to be at the expense of continued dedication to our core educational mission.

Chancellor Zimpher has agreed that my report this year should focus on providing continuity and supporting the “entry” of a new president.  The alignment between campus vision and SUNY strategic directions that I develop this year needs to be balanced between a) not constraining the next president with overly specific commitments and b) doing everything we can to set the stage for him or her to have a firm foundation for working with the Chancellor and for transitioning smoothly into the position.  The next president will be responsible for making decisions about strategic planning, building on the current vision elements, and refining this year’s articulated alignment between Campus and SUNY system goals and vision.
I am establishing a consultative process, to be completed this semester, of building on the work of the Middle States self-study and gathering further faculty, staff, and student input and ideas to inform my thinking about this alignment.  Details will be announced in the coming weeks, and I encourage each of you to review the key ideas of The Power of SUNY and participate in this process, the aim of which is to provide me with written recommendations by May 15.

Middle States.  Thanks to everyone who worked so hard in developing a strong self-study document and to those of you who reviewed this document and provided comments (comment and review period is now closed), and to Interim Provost Laurel Garrick Duhaney and Professor Linda Greenow (Geography) for their continued leadership of this effort.  The self-study along with other materials and resources will be sent soon to the review team, who will visit campus April 10-13.  This extremely important process is coming along well, but much work remains so that we are well prepared for the site visit.

External Relations.  I continue to devote considerable time and effort to building and sustaining external relations, with multiple goals, including fund-raising, community relations, and strengthening support and understanding of our mission and contributions.  Recent activities include a lunch meeting with regional industry CEOs; participation in Ulster Chamber of Commerce events; a very successful and fun December gathering of Orange County alums; a lunchtime presentation at the Goshen Rotary Club about our economic impact analysis; a trip to sunny Florida to meet with alumni, donors, and potential donors; successful recruitment of another member of the Foundation Board of Directors; presence along with VP Eaton at a Martin Luther King scholarship breakfast sponsored by the Catharine St. Community Center (Poughkeepsie); and a meeting with the editorial board of the Times Herald Record newspaper.  My impressions from this work include the clear conclusion that our presence and participation in the community and region are important and expected; that we are a key regional asset; that our alumni hold New Paltz and their experiences here in exceptionally high regard; that many want to give back to the College financially and in other ways; and that it will be essential for the new president to direct significant attention to these external connections.

Egypt.  As events have unfolded in recent weeks in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, many individuals and groups on the campus have reached out to support the seven students from Cairo American University (CAU) studying with us this semester.  You may have read some of their perspectives and observations in local news reports.  The three New Paltz students who began the spring semester at CAU are safely out of Egypt – one will join a study abroad program in Morocco, and two will return to New Paltz.  Staff in the Center for International Programs have done a marvelous job working with our students both here and in Egypt and with their parents. A number of faculty and department chairs have been wonderfully cooperative in arranging academic schedules for the students whose studies at CAU were interrupted by the unrest in Egypt.

Early Career Faculty Gathering. Chairs and some faculty are aware that I have helped to initiate a gathering, hopefully ongoing, of faculty in their first three years of work at New Paltz.  This idea is an outgrowth of discussions at one of my fall semester “brown bag” discussions with faculty, which included talk about the paucity of organized mechanisms and venues for new faculty to get to know their colleagues in other departments and disciplines, socially and professionally.  This group is having its first meeting just before this Friday’s faculty meeting; my intention is to convene the group’s first meeting and lend the support of the President’s office for logistics but as much as possible have this be a self-directed group.

Liberal Education Discussion and Planning.  Faculty are aware that last June a New Paltz team participated in an AAC&U “General Education Institute” to inform our thinking about general education review and revision.  The “action plan” that grew out of that involvement was approved this past fall semester by the appropriate faculty governance bodies as the approach to initiating our GE review.  Primary directions of that action plan are “to engage faculty and other campus community members in an extended conversation, review, and analysis of principles and assumptions about educational aims that include general education…” and “to assess and clarify our shared educational values, principles, and assumptions as a prelude to a productive, positive, and forward-looking development of a revised GE program.”

Consistent with the action plan and governance approval, a “Liberal Education Committee” has been charged by Interim Provost Garrick Duhaney to undertake this effort, and Stella Deen (Interim Graduate Dean/Associate Provost and Professor of English) has agreed to Chair the committee.  The committee has had its inaugural meeting and begun its work, which will include soliciting broad views and input from faculty, staff, and students through surveys, open forums, and other means.  I strongly encourage everyone’s participation in this important project, which is scheduled for completion during fall semester 2011.

Construction. Planning for renovation of Wooster and the Library and for construction of the new science building continues at the appropriate pace.  The remodeling of Old Main is advancing quickly, and we anticipate being able to move into much of that building before the start of next fall semester, with perhaps a portion of the move completed during winter break 2011-12.  It’s going to be spectacular space!

I hope that everyone’s spring semester is off to a strong and memorable start.

Donald Christian
Interim President