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Darrell Wheeler takes over as SUNY New Paltz president

Dr. Darrell Wheeler
Provided photo by SUNY New Paltz
Dr. Darrell Wheeler

Dr. Darrell Wheeler has started his tenure as the president of SUNY New Paltz. Wheeler, who most recently served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Iona College, takes over for Donald Christian, who led the college of about 7,500 students from 2010 until his retirement earlier this year. WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Wheeler about his first days in office.

Wheeler: This is a welcoming experience. I'm meeting students, parents, coworkers, colleagues, faculty, staff, team members. And it has been very much one of the best welcoming experiences I could have imagined.

Levulis: And what are some of your initial goals, your initial thoughts with summer classes underway in the fall semester set to start already late August?

Wheeler: Yeah, so right away, my first goal is to meet as many of my new colleagues as physically as humanly possible. So, you know, I have structured meetings in the office, but Monday and yesterday, especially I got out of the office, and we had students and their families on campus for orientation events. So I got to meet parents and meet advisors and students and so that really is a number one goal in these next few months is to meet people and to have the opportunity to understand their passions and their interest in SUNY New Paltz.

Levulis: And Dr. Wheeler, we're speaking on a day when Governor Kathy Hochul announced a fall plan for COVID-19. What is SUNY New Paltz, what is your office doing in regards to heading into the busy fall semester in regards to the pandemic?

Wheeler: Yeah, in our office, we've already met this summer. The prior president’s leadership and the team that he amassed who focused on the COVID pandemic, have already been hard at work developing contingency plans. And so I will be working with that group to identify and incorporate new information, new data as it becomes available, including the governor's statements.

Levulis: Will there be a vaccine requirement for this academic year for students, faculty and/or staff?

Wheeler: Yeah, we're still looking at that. It will be in line with and developed in consultation with the working committee. It will be developed and implemented in a way that it increases the likelihood of students having an uninterrupted experience but it also will not violate, you know, the basic science around who should, who should not and under what circumstances should people have initial vaccines or be recommended for them.

After Wheeler's interview, SUNY New Paltz clarified that the school is following all SUNY COVID-19 guidelines for its campus policies, including the system-wide vaccination requirement.

Levulis: And when we spoke back in May, when it was announced that you would be taking over as president of SUNY New Paltz, we spoke about overall decline in SUNY enrollment over the past decade or so, including at SUNY New Paltz. Do you have any enrollment number of goals now that you're at the helm there at SUNY New Paltz?

Wheeler: In day three, I'm again working with the team to understand where we are, what our historical numbers have been, and what are realistic goals. Because I think we may have spoken about this in May. And you've just pointed out that the national trend is that we're seeing declines. And there are a number of contributing factors to that including people delaying college entry, or opting for employment and not pursuing college. So we really have to see the numbers in the context of what is the landscape of higher education. And the Northeast is one of the places where the age group of students eligible for college has been largely on a decline for a number of years. And so that has to be taken into consideration as well.

Levulis: And I know you're in your first few days as the president of SUNY New Paltz. But you do have experience in the SUNY system as well as the CUNY system and a search is on for a new SUNY Chancellor. What characteristics are you looking for in the next Sunni leader?

Wheeler: Again, in the context of having prior SUNY experience and just higher ed experience, you want a leader who brings innovative and collaborative thought to the enterprise who has the ability to articulate the value of public higher education and the skill set to work with the system's presidents to help achieve that mission.

Levulis: And finally, what's the next date on the academic calendar that you're looking forward to being that this is your first week at the helm?

Wheeler: So there are a number of things coming up including the opening convocation the welcoming of our students as they move in and we call it “move in day,” again, opportunities to engage very directly with family and students as they start that experience of collegiate life. So those are high on my list, and then the other ceremonial events in the fall semester that mark the beginning of the term.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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