PAUL SMITHS — For the past seven years, Nicholas Hunt-Bull has always spent the first day of classes at Paul Smith’s College anxious about how the day would go. But that was when he was the college’s provost. After being appointed as the college’s 13th president on Aug. 12, he said he wasn’t anxious when classes started last Tuesday — his vision is now on the long term.
“It’s the provost’s job to focus on the academic curriculum, the lives and talents of the faculty, and the success of the student,” he said. “Now I have to worry about our facilities, now I have to worry about the student affairs programming, I have to worry about the fundraising for the institution.”
Hunt-Bull had been the interim president for Paul Smith’s College over the summer after former president Scott Dalrymple resigned in April after less than a year leading the college. Hunt-Bull, who was then the provost, was named as the interim president in the unexpected administrative shift.
In April, PSC Board of Trustees Chair Mark Dzwonczyk said Hunt-Bull would be considered to stay on as a full-time president if he did well. On Aug. 12, the board voted unanimously to appoint him as their permanent pick.
“Since his arrival on campus seven years ago, Nicholas has embraced the core values of our campus; individual attention to our students who seek a practical career path through experiential education,” Dzwonczyk said in a statement. “With this vote, the board fully endorses his calming, hands-on approach to issues on campus as we prepare for significant growth at the college.”
Hunt-Bull joined the college in 2015 and worked as its provost and vice president for academic affairs. He said he’s seen two generations of students come through the college, and a lot of faculty hired or promoted in that time. He oversaw the addition of new programs — including psychology, disaster management, integrated programs in business, as well as the college’s first master’s-level program in 2020.
Hunt Bull said he wants to “double down on graduate education” and announced that the college plans to launch a second master’s degree program for sustainable tourism next year.
Catherine Lalonde has been serving as the college’s interim provost. She had been the associate provost with Hunt-Bull for three years and she knows the college well, he said.
“With the disruption we’ve had we need as much continuity and stability as possible,” Hunt Bull said.
An informal meet-and-greet with Hunt-Bull will be held at the Paul Smith’s College VIC on Sept. 13, and and they can learn more about the college’s strategic plan and its relationship with Fedcap Group, a 501(c)(3) the college is merging with to bolster its academic and financial situation. To learn more about the event, contact the president’s office directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hunt-Bull said it took the summer to mentally shift from managing to leading, and to make time for reflecting on the state of the college. He sees his role as being a cheerleader for the college.
Hunt Bull is developing a “one-year stabilization plan” with a focus on improving data collection, internal transparency and making sure the college stays relevant and sustainable, as well as a long-term strategic plan for the college.
One decade from now, he hopes the college will be “indistinguishable” from what it is today. But he hopes it will have academic additions.
“Historically, we’re been a private residential college,” he said. “We’ll still be a private college. We’re not going to be quite so residential.”
In addition to more graduate programs, he wants to bring more online courses, more workforce development certifications for the community and more attractions for non-traditional students.
“There’s tens of millions of people in America who have college credit but no degree,” Hunt Bull said.
Hunt-Bull said the college experienced a “COVID Bounce” in enrollment last fall. He believes this is because the outdoors, in-person classes that are part of the Paul Smith’s College experience were a desirable rarity during the pandemic. But that boost is now over; the freshman class is smaller than it was a year ago.
Raising enrollment is a continuing challenge, Hunt-Bull said, adding that it’s a tough time for rural colleges, and demographic changes are responsible for declining enrollment. The pool of people going to college is smaller in northern New York, he said.
This is partly driven by migration within the US As the demographics of northern New York skew older, and there are fewer young families living here, the population of high school graduates here dips.
People attend college where they feel comfortable, so fewer rural young people means fewer PSC attendees, he said.
“The majority of our students come from high schools with fewer than 50 students in their graduating class,” Hunt Bull said.
New York City has the most robust supply of high school graduates in the state, he said, and these urban areas also don’t always realize how big the forestry industry is, yet every city has forestry jobs.
The college needs to appeal to non-traditional students, he said — people older than the 18- to 21-year-old population colleges cater to.
The college has an academic and career focus, he said. He wants to add trade certifications, and to focus on smaller, shorter courses with specific certifications, rather than general education degrees.
Paul Smith’s College is not well designed for someone who is 35 and wants to improve their skills, he said. It is currently meant for someone looking to live on campus for two or four years and immerse themselves in a wide academic study.
In October last year, dozens of Paul Smith’s College students walked out of their classes to protest the college’s handling of a variety of issues — particularly its treatment of queer students, handling of sexual assault and harassment cases involving students and faculty, and reports of racist incidents.
Hunt-Bull attended this protest at the time to listen and was the focus of some of the students’ administrative complaints.
“There was this part of me that was like, ‘Oh, I’m so glad the students are protesting. I’m so glad they’re expressing themselves,’” he said. “Even if I don’t agree with much of what they’re saying, I think students should be empowered to do that.”
He said students raised valid concerns, but that some of them were “really an issue with our society more than our institution.” The college is a microcosm of society, he said, adding that violence and white supremacy are challenges that are part of the world, so they are challenges for the campus, too.
“Legitimately, probably more should have been done,” he said. “I think there was also an element of some confusion.”
He said students wanted Title IX to cover more issues than it is meant for. Title IX is specifically meant to address sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
Things like sexual harassment complaints go to a conduct board and are handled internally within the college. Hunt-Bull said he thinks this is the best way he sees to do it, even if it is frustrating for victims. He said the college doesn’t want the victim and perpetrator to go through a long legal process.
Hunt-Bull said the college has hired a new Title IX coordinator who will start in September.
He said the college’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committee took what was said at the protest into consideration. He said he made a decision that DEI issues will not be part of the college’s one-year plan — it’s not top down
But, he said, DEI will be “significant” in the college’s long-term strategic plan. He said there is a perception that the college is in a “white” area. Historically, that’s not the case, he said.
Hunt-Bull mentioned research Paul Smith’s College Professor Curt Stager has done recently showing that Native Americans were living on the college’s land long before the Paul Smith’s hotel — originally the Saint Regis House — breaking misconceptions that native people did not live here before white settlers arrived . He wants to address this and also call attention to the many African Americans who worked at the hotel.
Hunt-Bull said he wants students to be comfortable at the college but also prepare them to address the systemic problems of the world with systemic solutions.
There were Confederate flags on campus when Hunt-Bull arrived, he said, and he was glad the college told their flyers to take them down. These flags represent a history of white supremacy, he said, and are not appropriate on campus.
“We’re very supportive of political diversity, but flying a Confederate flag is not political diversity. It’s taking a stand for an immoral position.”
Vaccine requirement for freshmen, not returning students
Incoming freshmen joining the campus this fall were required to be vaccinated to attend Paul Smith’s College, but returning students were not.
Hunt-Bull said this decision was made because the vaccine was voluntary when these returning students started, and he “didn’t want to pull the back out on them” and change the rules after they had already started.
“Our sense was that there were students who, because of their political or ideological commitments, wouldn’t come back,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in a situation where we were denying people an education because of that.
“I think everyone should have the vaccine,” he added, but he did not want to set that as a “litmus test” for people returning to school.
He said around 86% of the students at the college are vaccinated.
Hunt Bull said the college was “Lucky” through the pandemic — it never had a serious outbreak and was able to stay open for classes nearly the entire time. They did better than he thought they would.
This was partially luck, partially due to Paul Smith’s emphasis on outdoor education, and partially because a group of 20 representatives from around the college met weekly to discuss campus safety from March 2020 until last spring.
Paul Smith’s College has had a lot of changeover in leadership recently.
Cathy Dove, PSC’s president of six years, retired in September 2020. The board of trustees appointed Jon Strauss to serve as an interim president as it conducted a search. Dzwonczyk said Dalrymple was the best candidate in that search and Dalrymple became PSC’s 12th president in July 2021.
Because of this turnover, Hunt-Bull said he feels he owes it to the college to be there for years.
Hunt-Bull has spent years studying for a PhD in college, working as a faculty member and administrator at Southern New Hampshire University and working at Paul Smith’s College.
“My aspiration was eventually to be a college president,” he said in May.
Now, he’s seen that aspiration realized in a school he says is “evolving.”
Hunt-Bull and his spouse, Freb, have three children. His youngest son moved into his sophomore year of majoring in disaster management and recovery at Paul Smith’s College this year.
“I think sending my own son here shows my confidence in the quality of teaching and student support at PSC,” Hunt Bull wrote in an email. “He is still living at home, which makes it easier.”
Hunt-Bull lives on campus, as he has for many years now.
“Look, I really love this school,” he said.