February 10, 2014

Update from Winter Trustee Meeting

President Alison Byerly sent the following message to the campus community this afternoon.

I write to provide an update on the Board of Trustees meeting that took place one week ago.  I plan to provide such updates after every Board meeting, and hope that they will help to keep the campus community informed about key initiatives and decisions.

The Board of Trustees meeting weekend began with a full-day retreat on Thursday, Jan. 30, followed by committee meetings on Friday, and the Board meeting on Saturday, Feb. 1.  For the Thursday retreat, the Board was joined by invited members of the three Presidential Task Forces, the Faculty Academic Policy Committee (FAP), and the Faculty Governance Committee.

The retreat began with a discussion of governance, featuring presentations by myself, Chair of the Board Ed Ahart, Provost Wendy Hill, and Professor Jennifer Talarico, chair of Governance.  In these increasingly complex times for higher education, it was a good opportunity for all of us to reflect on our individual and collective roles in shaping the institution. While the formal structures of shared governance between Trustees, Administration and Faculty are clearly articulated in the College’s by-laws, shared governance is always enhanced by a culture of trust among those charged with overseeing the College’s direction and progress.  Comments from both trustees and faculty colleagues reflected a shared commitment to continuing transparency, trust, open dialogue, and good will.

We then engaged each of the three topics currently under discussion by the presidential task forces.  Recognizing that the task forces are still in the early stages of discussion, the three chairs–Professor Larry Malinconico, curricular innovation and technology; Professor Jamila Bookwala, enrollment size and program capacity; and Professor Yih-Choung Yu, the integrated student experience—and their colleagues talked about the major trends of their discussions thus far, and sought input from the trustees on a number of issues.  The retreat concluded with a presentation and discussion on the topic of “MOOCs and Current Trends in Online Education.”  Because there has been so much commentary in the press on this topic over the last year, the Board was interested in learning more about the implications of online learning for higher education as a whole.

The Friday committee meetings included updates on current building projects, recommendations regarding tenure and promotion, and other reports. The Student Life committee was informed that the Implementation and Assessment Group on Greek Life (IAGGL) expects to report to the Board in March.  The IAGGL report will be considered by the Board in conjunction with the ongoing work of the task force on the integrated student experience, and the vision of residential life that is being articulated through that process.

At its meeting on Saturday, the Board approved several resolutions and recommendations. Work on the College’s budget is not yet completed.  For a variety of reasons, FY14-15 presents some challenges, and a number of items remain under discussion.  As a result, the Board approved a fee increase range to provide the administration flexibility as we continue to work on balancing the 2014-15 budget, which will be presented to the Board for approval in March. The Board also approved an increase in the financial aid grant budget. We will be sharing more information about the budget soon through an additional memo and open meetings.

The Board received a report on the highly successful admissions recruiting for the Class of 2018, with 7,696 applications received as of Jan. 20, a 15% increase from last year’s record. The applicant pool includes a 30.9% increase from students of color and 21.6% from international students. The states with the largest application increases in descending order are: Texas, Massachusetts, New York, California, Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Invitations have been extended to 120 of the top candidates to participate in the new Marquis Fellowship selection process on Feb. 22 and March 8.

The Board discussed progress on the Oechsle Center for Global Education, and the renovation of the Mohican Building as part of the Williams Arts Campus.  Both are proceeding on schedule. Oechsle is expected to be completed by the fall, with classes starting in January 2015.

The Board was also updated on processes under way to fill several important administrative positions, including the provost, vice president for communications, and chief investment officer. The CIO position, approved by the Board and reported last October, has become necessary due to the intensive time and attention needed to effectively manage the College’s growing endowment.

Board Chair Ed Ahart reported that the scope of the Easton Committee, a subcommittee of the External Affairs Committee, will be expanded to include the broader Lehigh Valley. The committee’s purpose is to strengthen the college’s reputation as a major academic center that is involved in and supportive of the region’s economic, social, and cultural well-being.

Finally, the Board welcomed the new president of Student Government, Connor Heinlein, who provided an informative report. He noted that one of his major goals in the coming year will be to shift the perception of Student Government from being a funding agency to being seen as a powerful advocate for students.

As this lengthy report indicates, the College has plenty on its agenda. My thanks to all the staff and faculty colleagues whose preparation contributed to making this a successful set of meetings.  I look forward to the busy semester ahead.

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