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Updates

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

Athletics.  At the end of the fall-winter NCAA athletic seasons, New Paltz teams are 3rd in the SUNYAC conference in total points, behind Geneseo and Cortland.  This is the highest positioning of our teams at this point in the year since the SUNYAC Commissioner’s Cup points began to be tallied in the year 2000 – all while the average GPA for student-athletes is higher than the all-campus average!  Congratulations to athletics staff and to student-athletes and coaches of the men's and women's swimming, women's volleyball, men's and women's basketball, women's tennis, and men's and women's cross country teams. 

Presidential Search Update.  The Search Committee and the College Council have completed their consideration of candidates and campus feedback, and forwarded recommendations to the Chancellor.  She will interview candidates and finalize her decision in the coming weeks.  Again, we are indebted to the members of the Search Committee for their thoughtful dedication and many hours devoted to this important work.  And, thank you to everyone who met with the candidates and provided input to inform the work of the Committee. 

Shelly Wright, Chief of Staff and Associate VP for Communication, is leading the development of a plan to announce the presidential appointment and welcome the new president to campus after the appointment is announced.  She also has developed elements of a draft transition plan, to discuss with the president-designate to guide key steps this spring, summer, and next year.  Representatives from various campus constituencies will be called on to assist.

Expectations for the new president include a heavy external focus, for private fund-raising and relationship building with alumni, business leaders and elected officials.  These expectations are explicit and were reinforced throughout the search process.  This year, I have been impressed with the logistic and scheduling challenges of engaging extensively beyond the campus while also sustaining our traditions of presidential involvement on the campus (monthly reports to the faculty; regular presence at faculty and other governance meetings; substantive participation in reappointment, promotion, and tenure processes; frequent “ceremonial” presence at events; and others).  While on-campus presence, visibility, and communication are essential, the next president may need to diminish some of these efforts to better focus externally.  I discussed these issues with each candidate and will discuss them further in the coming weeks and months with the president-designate, who may request that we begin to implement changes this spring.  I want to prepare the community for such possible transitions in the working focus of the next president. I hope to share further insights about this topic with you next month, along with some of my thoughts about priorities for the Academic Affairs/Provost’s agenda next year.

Middle States Re-Accreditation.  I remind everyone that the site visit for our decennial Middle States Re-Accreditation visit is scheduled for April 10-13.  This is a critical process in the life of our institution, and it is important that everyone be informed about key topics including:

  • basic elements of our vision points (that drive so much of what we are and do);
  •  key recommendations of our current self-study;
  • changes we have implemented in response to the findings and recommendations of the 2001 review and the 2006 Periodic Review.

You will be hearing more about this process in the coming weeks, and I hope you will become familiar with these topics so that you can engage with the site visitors if called upon to do so.

Graduation, Retention, and SAT scores.  At this week’s meeting, I will provide a brief summary of our positioning, relative to other institutions, in analyses we have conducted of the relationship between graduate or retention rates and average SAT scores of entering students.

Student Recruitment.  We are in the height of the recruitment season and, consistent with recent years, student recruitment is “volatile and dynamic,” with state and family economics no doubt a major consideration. We have somewhat fewer new-student applications this year (we are not alone in this respect), and the number of prospective first-year students who have made deposits is down slightly from last year (but no cause for alarm at this stage).  We anticipated that EOP applications would decline because of changes in SUNY application procedures (applicants are allowed to apply to only four institutions before they incur additional application costs), but our EOP numbers are generally quite good.  Number of transfer applications is up slightly, as is the number of transfer students who have made deposits.   

I reiterate my request from last month that departments and faculty make every effort to reach out to accepted students to share information about opportunities at New Paltz, respond to their questions, welcome them, and encourage them to attend here.  I am always grateful for the strong faculty and departmental participation in our recruitment efforts, and want to be sure that you are planning your involvement in Accepted Students Day on Saturday, April 2.  

The Graduate School sponsored a wonderful Open House at the Dorsky Museum in mid-February.  Although the turnout of prospective students was not as strong as desired, we are hoping that efforts to publicize the graduate programs will continue to bear fruit.  The Graduate School and many departments are working hard to recruit new graduate students, including into the re-activated programs, and we are investing in several new initiatives in an effort to increase our graduate enrollments.  These efforts include market analysis and as well as research to understand prospective students' needs.  Further, we are developing graduate certificate and summer programs to meet the needs and interests of both matriculated and nonmatriculated students. We are watching these efforts closely.

Faculty Searches.  We are progressing with the 11 faculty searches authorized in the fall, prioritized from a list of about 30 position requests brought forward by deans and given serious consideration.  One search has been completed, with an offer made and accepted, and we look forward to successful outcomes of the others, which are important investments in our future.

Advocacy/SUNY Day.  Recently, we shared resources that may be useful to you or others in advocating with state decision-makers for increased state support and a rational tuition policy.   I know that many of you, as well as students and community members, have been writing to and speaking with legislators and the Governor’s staff on SUNY’s behalf.  I continue to advocate with our legislators and legislative higher-education leaders, and many of you have likely seen the letter that UUP Chapter President Richard Kelder, CSEA Local President Anthony Adamo, and I recently sent to local weekly and regional daily newspapers, advocating for a rational tuition policy.  I recently wrote to legislators to assure that they are aware of state and federal tuition tax credits available to families across a broad array of income levels, as this may influence their thinking about the affordability of SUNY tuition even with a tuition increase.  We are planning our campus participation in SUNY Day in Albany on March 28.  I, at least, am getting no clear indication of the leanings in Albany relative to SUNY funding and tuition.  We have little choice but to continue our budget planning as if the Governor’s proposal will be enacted, at the same time we and others continue our strong advocacy.

Core Mission and Budget Reductions.  There has been considerable interest in and perhaps angst about the definition of our “core mission,” no doubt heightened by our budget situation and the recognition that “centrality to our core mission” is one of the ground rules and criteria defined in our budget process.  I will offer a few comments and my own perspective about this topic, while emphasizing that “core mission” is a topic that requires a richer discussion by the entire community – beyond budgetary contexts. Also, this is certainly a topic that the new president should help define, or affirm current definitions, as part of a broader effort he/she will lead in operationalizing our vision points, aligning campus goals and mission with those of The Power of SUNY strategic plan, and other planning efforts.

With respect to the current budget situation, “centrality to core mission” is one of 19 criteria for making budget decisions, and one of 11 ground rules for our process.  I hope everyone recognizes that the budget decisions we face are complex, and involve judgments along many dimensions.  We should not overstate the importance of a single factor, nor will we contemplate trying to insert a different or refined definition of “core mission” into our budget process. 

I admit to being surprised to hear that one dynamic of the discussion about “core mission” is the question of whether we are a liberal arts institution or a public comprehensive college.  My answer, simply, is “yes.” These categories are not exclusive of each other nor are they incompatible.  I see them coming together in a very special way at an institution like New Paltz.  I think of us as an institution that offers an array of professional and liberal arts and sciences programs, with the goals and values of a liberal education providing a foundation and framework for all of our educational offerings – and ideally uniting us in a shared educational enterprise.  Losing any of these elements would diminish in significant ways what is special here.

A passage from the recent book Academically Adrift caught my attention:  “And many higher-education institutions indeed deserve criticism for failing to focus adequately on the core mission of higher education:  educating the next generation.”  In my State of the College last fall, I shared my view that we and other public colleges also need to do more to serve our PUBLIC mission.  This is a significant focus of the Chancellor’s strategic plan for SUNY, and for many reasons, it is a critical purpose for us, along with and as part of educating students.

Another passage from Academically Adrift is relevant to this discussion:  “…in some institutional settings [faculty] are often tempted to focus greater attention on research and other professional demands than on teaching.”  You may have heard me express my view, developed over the last year and a half, that as an academic community we have not articulated as clearly and thoughtfully as we should the importance of research and scholarship at an institution like New Paltz, its relationship to teaching and learning, and how the balance of these faculty responsibilities must be different at a comprehensive institution relative to a research university.

Certainly our response to significant budgetary reductions, including increased faculty teaching loads, creates an even greater imperative that we evaluate this balance and our standards for faculty reappointment, promotion, and tenure.  Make no mistake about my view that ongoing and high-quality research and scholarship are essential to sustaining the caliber of our academic enterprise.  But scholarly expectations must be cast realistically in the context of institutional mission and teaching loads.  We cannot hold one key element of faculty responsibility fixed while varying others (service, and how we value high-quality service contributions, also needs to be part of this conversation).  We need further, formal, conversation about this topic in the coming year.  This will be part of the Academic Affairs agenda in the fall, again with the participation of and within the strategic context established by the next president.  I am confident that we can articulate and achieve an appropriate balance that sustains our essential contributions in educating students while providing opportunity for meaningful career development and balanced lives for faculty.  But it is almost unavoidable that a shift in the balance of faculty work will be one of the adjustments that we as a community make to new economic and political realities.  We join many other colleges and universities in contemplating such shifts.

Various:

  • Please continue to encourage freshmen and senior students to take part in the NSSE survey.  The results are extremely valuable for our continued assessment and planning, and large sample sizes enhance the usefulness of the information we receive.
  • Campus Clean-up Day (4th annual!) is scheduled for March 30, 2-4 PM. Participants will meet in SUB 62/63 for work assignments (see recent all-fs message for registration instructions).  Fifty people have signed up so far to take part.  I am intensifying my stretching and flexibility workouts the next few weeks to be able to pick up all those nasty cigarette butts!
  • Our next (and 6th) speaker in the Distinguished Speaker Series is Ray Suarez, PBS News Hour Correspondent and Destination Casa Blanca Host.    A distinguished and award-winning correspondent and author, Mr. Suarez will speak on Thursday, April 7, about “Media & Disasters:  How 9-11 Changed Media Culture in America.”  This presentation is in conjunction with the April 7-8 conference “Lessons from Adversity:  Strengthening Preparedness with Reflections from 9/11” sponsored by the Institute for Disaster Mental Health.

I hope that the approaching spring break allows everyone a much-needed opportunity to relax and recharge before we make the final push to the end of the spring semester and this academic year.

Donald Christian
Interim President