Every president needs advice – including Donald Christian.
The commander-in-chief at New Paltz has recently created the Student Advisory Group to the President to gauge diverse segments of the campus population on what’s going well and what can be improved upon.
“The first meeting went great,” said Christian. “We did introductions and I used two of the questions on the campus audit survey. One was, ‘Tell me two or three things that you think we do really well at SUNY New Paltz?’ The other was ‘What are some areas where we can improve?’”
Christian assembled the 15 to 18 students serving by asking “vice presidents and directors to come forward with suggestions.” Some include undergraduate and graduate students, a non-traditional aged student (not in the 17 to 22 age bracket), a mix of men and women, a commuter student, a student athlete and a transfer student, according to Christian.
He said one part of the student selection process was facilitated by the group the student was associated with. For example, Student Affairs worked with the Student Athletic Advisory group to pick a member of their own.
Still, the group is designed to help the president discover what works and what doesn’t on campus. At their first meeting, the ice was broken and the group described their general New Paltz experience.
“Some of the strengths that people talked about and appreciate are that a campus of this size, with the resources that we have, has a very small college feel,” he said. “[The concerns brought up], they were all things we have heard before: lack of housing for transfer students, which we are trying to address; concerns that academic advising, particularly faculty advising, could be better and we are working on that.”
Christian calls this group helpful amidst his calender demands, where he can stay in touch with students. He said the group is especially important for him this year because he recently assumed the presidency.
Christian said the group will act as “a vehicle” for him to continue learning about student views “on strengths, shortcomings and opportunities for improvement.” In the succeeding years of his term, Christian said he will use the group to remain in touch.
Meanwhile, Student Association Sen. Mark Malizia, said he supports the president’s initiative. He said at the last meeting, President Christian listened “respectfully” to the group and gave his input where Malizia felt it was necessary.
“We learned a little about him, he’s a former a faculty member so he knows a lot about the issues the faculty is facing, and now that he’s an administrator he takes those issues into consideration,” he said.
Malizia’s number one issue, which he hopes to bring to the second group meeting, is library hours. He said out of the main SUNY schools, New Paltz’s library hours are the “most restrictive.” Malizia is also working on this issue through his involvement on the Constitution and Rules Committee.
Christian also wanted it to be clear that the students associated with the group are not voting on anything, rather, it is a discussion.
“The group is strictly advisory to the president and has no governance or policy making roles,” said Christian.
He also said program-specific issues will not be discussed and any that arise will be re-directed to those departments or programs. The group will tackle issues that are “broadly relevant through the college.”
Samantha Guarino, second-year communication major and member of the group, said her experiences as an orientation leader were valuable to learn about issues pertaining to first-year students. She made connections with the Office of Student Development and she said someone there recommended her for the position. Guarino believes the group provides her with a new perspective on campus life.
“Even after one meeting, my eyes have been opened to conflicts that I was unaware other students even had,” said Guarino. “Since the group is comprised of students of different class standings and other attributes, I feel I really am getting a diverse look at different concerns across campus.”
Guarino hopes to bring dining plan ideas, possible solutions to scheduling issues and a general “overview of how the students of New Paltz feel about what the school has to offer” to the next meeting.
Still, the idea to form an advisory group is not new. Christian said that this group “is parallel” to the one he created as dean of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. At the next meeting, Christian said the group will be discussing “agenda items” such as gender-neutral housing. Another student brought up the idea to talk about programming for fourth-year students, to help them transition “out of college.” The meetings are scheduled once a month, and in the spring, Christian hopes to meet the newly-selected students before the summer recess so there is a smoother transition.
“I’d say it is definitely a respectable decision on [President Christian’s] part to create this group because it shows he really does care about making this school the best place possible it could be,” said Guarino.