SUNY New Paltz president retires and reflects

SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian at graduation ceremonies in 2017 (Photos by Lauren Thomas)

As the students prepared to return home for their vacation, members of a search committee at SUNY New Paltz burned midnight oil. According to Dr. Donald Christian, this committee is currently responsible for sorting the field of candidates for its replacement to eight to 12 semi-finalists. The research committee is made up of representatives from the campus constituencies, including the College Council, faculty, professional staff, students, alumni, the Foundation Board, and university deans. The committee is also a member of a current or retired SUNY President from another campus or a senior Chancellor staff member designated by the Chancellor. And, a Chancellor’s Liaison and a Campus Liaison serve as non-voting members.

Christian will retire next June, but it is a year later than he initially planned. After leading the college as interim president when Steven Poskanzer left in 2010, taking the mantle of president in 2011, he decided in February 2020 to announce his retirement. His wife Sandy, a psychotherapist, is already retired and the couple want to spend more time with their toddler grandson, who lives about a three-hour drive in Pennsylvania. At 70, he also wants to revive his favorite hobbies: “I want to read more for fun. I am passionate about angling so I hope I can fish more, ”he said. HV1. “I have been passionate about gardening all my life, until I became president. I find great reward in being able to serve a meal that is all I grew up on.

His retirement was due to take effect at the end of the 2020 school year. “But then COVID struck,” Christian explained. “I couldn’t leave campus in this lurch. SUNY officials have asked him to stay a little longer and continue running the New Paltz campus during the pandemic. And so his last year and a half on the job has been largely about helping the university adjust to face an emergency like never before under his watch. It was a coincidence that the campus recently became the home of the Institute for Disaster Mental Health, whose Psychological Resilience Project guided students and staff as they went through the stress of a fractured learning environment. .

Some of these academic adaptations to COVID-19 will continue into the future of SUNY New Paltz, Christian said. Virtual education has a hitherto unsuspected role to play in achieving some of the objectives identified in the College’s most recent Strategic Plan, adopted in 2012, in particular that of diversifying the student population by making higher education more accessible. to people over the typical university population, already working and possibly raising families.

“Our pandemic-related experience with online education has opened up our thinking about new possibilities to stay competitive with other institutions and reach new student populations,” Christian told chamber members. Ulster County regional trade during their annual holiday breakfast in December at the Wiltwyck Golf Club in Kingston. “Last month we announced that this spring we will be launching our new General Studies Bachelor of Science Completion Program. This fully online bachelor’s degree is designed to expand access to education for people who have completed 60 college credits but have not completed a four-year undergraduate degree.

SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian speaks at a September 11 memorial service on campus in 2011.

Christian’s speech in the House focused primarily on the central role SUNY New Paltz plays in the economy of the Central Hudson region. “We are the county’s number one employer,” he noted, with more than a thousand Ulster residents on the university’s payroll. In 2019, “The College generated over $ 380 million in direct and indirect economic activity in the Hudson Valley and approximately $ 447 million in New York State. Our total direct and indirect economic impact in Ulster County has been estimated to be over $ 105 million. This included nearly $ 60 million in supplier spending and employee salaries…. SUNY New Paltz is increasingly appreciated as a regional asset and contributor, both for our high quality educational offerings and for the many ways in which we extend our expertise to benefit the region.

In recent years, part of this regional impact has resulted from program innovations and expansions, including new graduate programs in Autism Studies, Literacy, and Digital Design and Manufacturing, new specializations undergraduate degrees in environmental studies and entrepreneurship and graduate degrees in health care administration and music. Business. Perhaps the most notable addition was the Hudson Valley Additive Manufacturing Center (HVAMC). The new STEM installation hit the headlines in 2014, with the design of a 3D printed “robohand” prosthesis for a boy born without fingers on one hand. At the height of the pandemic, when personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers was rarer than gold, HVAMC was making plastic face shields by the hundreds ( in the new Engineering Innovation Hub which had opened the previous fall.

This new engineering building was just one of many upgrades that transformed the face of the SUNY New Paltz campus during Christian’s tenure, with a focus on sustainable building technology and a reduced carbon footprint. “Over the past decade, we have constructed three new buildings and undertaken seven major building renovations as well as other renovations and infrastructure improvements, thanks to state investment,” he told the crowd at the House’s breakfast. “We have exceeded SUNY standards for LEED certification on many of our investment projects, supporting our sustainability goals. “

SUNY New Paltz is now a Tree Campus USA and a Bee Campus USA, with solar panels installed atop several buildings and a foundation that no longer invests endowment funds in fossil fuel companies. “We are setting up a carbon neutrality working group to identify a target date and an overall strategy to become a zero carbon campus by reducing emissions and increasing offsets. “

An ongoing program to renovate one dormitory per year was halted in 2020 due to supply chain issues and soaring material costs triggered by the pandemic. But improvements should continue as soon as the construction climate permits. The expansion of the campus onto the Foundation’s “land bank” of adjacent 42 acres of old orchards is also in the cards, as well as more infill of the existing campus. “We have a space deficit of 500,000 square feet for the current programs that we have,” Christian said. HV1, based on SUNY’s “spatial models”. A recent planning grant from New York State will help his successor determine the best options for expansion.

“We just completed a very first major fundraising campaign, raising over $ 24.7 million, exceeding our goal of $ 23 million,” said Christian. The college’s fundraising success reflects its recent high rankings compared to other institutions of its size. “We are ranked in the top three percent of more than 1,400 colleges and universities nationwide for our impact on the social and economic mobility of our graduates.

This year in the American News and World Report ranking, SUNY New Paltz rose to number 6 from number 9 among all public universities in the northern nine-state region and from number 45 last year to number 31 this year among all non-doctoral colleges – public and private – in the region. We were first recognized in the Most Innovative Schools category, one of only two SUNYs to make this list.

SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian and his wife Sandy (along with dog Hans) led the 2019 Campus Zero Emission Electric Car Parade as part of the College’s Climate Summit.

Other US News categories where New Paltz continues to shine year after year include Top Value Schools, Top Veterans Colleges, Top Undergraduate Education, Top Social Mobility Students, Top Undergraduate Business Programs, Top undergraduate engineering programs, top graduate programs in Business (MBA), Fine Arts (MFA), and Speech-Language Pathology / Pathology. “As our reputation grows, so does the way the world perceives the value of a New Paltz degree,” Christian said.

Graduation rates are “well above national averages,” with 40% of SUNY New Paltz graduates having less loan debt than average – none at all, for 40% of them. The student body is also increasingly diverse, as it is rumored that a degree from this institution is simply a bargain for the money. Already, Christian has told us, “Half came as transfer students,” including “a lot of students who intentionally chose to start at community college, to save money. Increasing enrollment is a high priority for the college, with plans to schedule more evening classes to bring higher education within reach of a wider demographic. The college has also taken various steps in recent years to tackle structural racism in recruiting, hiring, and the campus environment, with the decision to rename the buildings originally named after the Huguenot slave families who drew the more public attention. “We are striving to become a more equitable and inclusive campus, because it is the right thing to do and it is important for the viability of the institution, in order to serve a student body that reflects the growing diversity of the Valley of the Hudson, ”Christian said.

“My goal this year has been to move the college forward, keep improving, and then hand over the leadership to a new president in a smooth transition,” he said. “In my final year, I will continue to lead the campus, manage the impacts of COVID-19, and make decisions that shouldn’t be left to my successor. “

Christian plans to move from New Paltz to a new home in the town of Plattekill, noting that college presidents who stay in the same community tend to “haunt their successors in ways that are not productive. “. But he will continue to be proud of the many successes of his tenure. “Presidents come and go, as do students; but SUNY New Paltz remains an educational, cultural and economic anchor institution in the region.

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