Bagpipes accompanied by a procession of students holding school banners and international flags began the inauguration of Donald P. Christian, the eighth president of SUNY New Paltz, on Friday, April 13.
Christian previously served as provost and vice president of academic affairs for the 2009-10 academic year and began serving as interim president in July 2010. The Presidential Search Committee appointed Christian in June 2012 succeeding former-President Steven Poskanzer.
“U.S. higher education is a grand ecosystem with responsibilities and commitments expanding beyond the reach of our individual campuses,” Christian said. “I tip my hat to the seven past presidents here at New Paltz — my aim is to build on your legacy and leave this great college even greater than it is today.”
Lori DuBord, New Paltz alumna and district representative, read a letter at the inauguration on behalf of New York State Assemblyman Maurice Hinchey. In his letter, Hinchey noted Christian’s achievements from the past year and his background, framing the theme of the installation ceremony.
“In your short time here, Mr. President, you have made an indelible impression on the New Paltz campus and the community at large,” Hinchey said. “Your Midwestern sensibility helped guide you and the campus through a federally declared disaster and enabled you to develop a budget that made sure the liberal arts tradition was ensured during these difficult economic times.”
Christian used lessons he learned from his aunt and uncle’s dairy farm in Ohio to illustrate his commitment to the college and the work necessary to meet his goals.
“These include things like the value of hard work, the importance of cooperation, of finding reward in both the process of our work and the product of recognizing that sometimes a day’s work will include walking through manure, or shoveling it,” Christian said.
He did this while weaving his metaphor with his leadership views, the strength and values of the campus, the national context of New Paltz and his thoughts about student education and success. Overall, Christian said his goal, as well as the single most important challenge, is student education.
“We are all teachers, students learn from all of us about how to interact with each other and the world and we must be purposeful about those lessons,” Christian said. “The opportunities and challenges they will face are not defined or bounded by discipline or function.”
Within the next year, Christian said he plans to bring about a number of improvements for the New Paltz campus and students, such as the current work on the Wooster Science Building, the Sojourner Truth Library and the new science building, all while focusing on sustainability.
“This process will be consultative, drawing on the creativity and experience of our talented and diverse community,” Christian said. “We will not begin with a blank slate, but instead our focus will be to refine and operationalize the vision points that have served us so well.”
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill said Christian has been, and will be, the president New Paltz needs at this moment in time and in the future.
“We are closing a chapter on this institution where we’ve seen a financial investment in the physical structure of this campus rivaling the initial investment,” Cahill said. “[Christian has] already proven to be not just an able spokesman for SUNY New Paltz but for the [SUNY] system.”