Christian Leads College as Search Continues

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As an external search committee continues to seek out candidates for the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz presidency, Interim President Donald Christian said he looks forward to his year during the university’s transitional phase.

Having come from the position of SUNY New Paltz provost, Christian views SUNY’s decision to look internally for an interim president as a positive sign of the college’s success in recent years. He said with high application rates and the recent honor of being among the top 10 of U.S. News and World Report’s 2011 Best Regional Universities in the North, this is very much a “golden age” for SUNY New Paltz.

“I think the SUNY central administration had enough confidence in the way things were going here at New Paltz that they felt very comfortable looking internally for an interim leader than going external, which sometimes they do,” said Christian. “That, we should all take as a real vote of confidence internally.”

Additionally, Christian’s familiarity with the campus and previous experience at three other public university systems and “three administrative positions of increasing responsibility” made him the right person in SUNY’s view to assist New Paltz through the changeover in leadership. Former SUNY New Paltz President Steven Poskanzer even approached Christian about the interim president position.

“After my initial shock that it was too early in my time here to do that, he encouraged me,” said Christian. “And I thought about, it and let it be known that I would be interested in serving [as interim president of SUNY New Paltz], if that were the decision the chancellor wanted to make.”

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher decided Christian was the perfect fit for the role. As interim president, Christian has some key initiatives he’s working on this year.

“One of the things that I’m committed to doing is keeping us moving ahead as a campus,” he said. “There’s that old saying that ‘if you stand still, you fall behind.’ And that’s true for public colleges and universities in this day and age. We just can’t stand still.”

Among the many projects he’s overseeing before handing over the keys to the president’s office are the 10-year accreditation process, a series of construction projects that include renovations to Wooster Science Building and the Sojourner Truth Library, and a number of academic initiatives including an “expansion and refinement” of the honors program and working on the early stages of a plan to revise the general education program.

Additionally, he’ll be coordinating with the central SUNY administration by finding ways to “align the priorities” of Zimpher’s “Power of SUNY” strategic plan with the priorities of SUNY New Paltz, and also by doing everything he can to “help the presidential search be successful.”

With everything Christian has on his plate, he feels confident, especially with the assistance of his cabinet and staff.

“I just have an awesome staff,” he said. “I have the best staff that I could imagine and a great group of vice presidents, each of whom provides great leadership for their areas of responsibility. But also, we work together wonderfully as a cabinet. They offer good support, good advice, good council. So, those are very key resources to moving the campus ahead successfully.”

Many among Christian’s staff speak of him as highly as he speaks of them.

“I find him to be very thoughtful and community-oriented, and I think he was a great choice,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Linda Eaton. “It’s kind of nice to have someone we’re all familiar with.”

Eaton was equally as pleased with the process SUNY New Paltz has employed to find the next university president. As a staff member who has been present for three presidents in her 17 years at New Paltz, Eaton believes SUNY will make a decision that is best for the campus and appreciates the input the school has taken from members of various facets of the community.

Eaton said she looks forward to Christian’s year at New Paltz, but sees the school’s budgetary issues as a hamper for everyone at SUNY New Paltz.

“[New Paltz is] enjoying this great time. We’re getting great students, we’re popular,” said Eaton. “You would hate to see the budget sort of get in the way of our progress.”

The budget, Christian admits, will be one of his toughest challenges as interim president. He said that SUNY New Paltz’s current revenue is “out of balance” from the spending plan it anticipated by about $2.6 million.

“So, we have to undertake the work this year of adjusting our economy downward so that our spending plan next year and the years after that match our revenue,” Christian said. “That, no doubt, will occupy a fair amount of my time.”

Aside from the major initiatives his office hopes to work on this year, Christian has made several efforts to interact with students. He’s spoken at the freshman convocation and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Student Union addition. He’s also judged some first-year student lip-syncing contests and even helped some students moved in.

His time in the president’s office may be limited, but Christian said he  has high hopes for the coming semesters.

“I’m excited to be here,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great things going and I’m looking forward to the year.”