May 9, 2022

Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,

The Board of Trustees gathered for its spring meeting on April 29 and 30, convening earlier than usual to mark two important milestones: the campus launch of the Defy Boundaries campaign and the public reopening and rededication of Palmer Auditorium as the Nancy and Preston Athey Center for Performance and Research.  I am writing to report on the meeting and accompanying events.

The Athey Center

The opening of the Athey Center was made possible by the generosity of several individuals and foundations, beginning with two transformative gifts in 2018—one from Bonnie Himmelman ’66 of the Sherman Fairchild Foundation and the other from Nancy ’72 and Preston Athey. The meticulous restoration of Palmer includes a modernized hall with restored natural light, spacious seating, state-of-the-art lighting and sound, and a resilient floor for dance. The building offers a new home for the Theater Department and the office of Arts Programming; new areas for collaboration and teaching; a refurbished costume shop; video displays; a new marquis; energy-efficient lighting, heating, and cooling; an elevator making the building fully accessible for the first time; and a redesigned garden on Tempel Green. The day-long program included a ribbon cutting; tours; a community lunch; a signing of the Covenant of Shared Governance; a formal rededication ceremony; and an evening of music, theater, and dance showcasing student and alumni talent.

Asset reinvestment

As the first major capital project of the Defy Boundaries campaign, the Palmer renewal is also the first full-scale renovation the building has seen since its opening in 1939. In that respect, it represents a significant reinvestment in our campus infrastructure, and Friday’s plenary session offered an opportunity for the Board to engage the topic of rebuilding our physical endowment. The Vice President for Finance and Administration Rich Madonna, the Dean of Strategic and Global Initiatives Amy Dooling, and the Dean of Students Victor Arcelus led a discussion on the importance of capital renewal for academic research and innovation, student recruitment and retention, and for the College’s sustainability, including the recently announced goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.

The Board reviewed the timeline for accelerated capital improvement over the next several years. Projects planned for summer 2022 include focused work in residence halls; upgrades to 24 classrooms and two departmental buildings; the creation of the new Stark Center for the Moving Image; the repurposing of Gallows Lane to support field research; the rebuilding of the Thames River waterfront to support marine science as well as rowing, sailing, and outdoor recreation; enhancements to Dayton Arena; and several campus energy improvements. Projects anticipated for summer 2023 include critical dining and residence hall renovations as well as landscape interventions to make a greener and more pedestrian friendly campus. Beyond Palmer, the Board took note of the other major capital projects of the Defy Boundaries campaign, including the renovation of the College Center at Crozier Williams, a planned addition to the Athletic Center, and the restoration of Bill Hall.

On a related note, trustees heard from Miles Sax, Charles and Sarah P. Becker ’27 Director of the Connecticut College Arboretum, about investments that have expanded the capacity of this unique asset for teaching and research—an action called for in our strategic plan. Connecticut College is the only college among our NESCAC peers and one of just a small group of schools in the U.S. with an accredited arboretum.

Financial Sustainability

Discussion of capital investments connected to the larger theme of financial sustainability, a strategic priority and a continuous focus of our work. The Finance Committee recommended and the full Board approved a cash-operating budget for FY23 of $105.7 million, which includes a 3% increase in tuition and fees for AY 2022-23 as well as an increase in financial aid, a 2% increase to the faculty and staff salary pool, and a partial restoration of the 403b retirement contribution to 7.5%. These budget decisions were taken with the understanding that, in light of continuing economic uncertainty, the College must be more disciplined in addressing the challenges of our tuition-driven, high-touch residential model. And that will require producing not just budgets that balance every year but also a financial plan that works over the long term. The Executive Committee and the Finance Committee will work with senior administration and faculty leaders in the coming months to bring a discussion of both the FY 24 budget and the long-term plan to the full Board for discussion in October.

Enrollment is, of course, a key driver of financial strength. This year, with the Board meeting before May 1, the discussion of enrollment for the Class of 2026 was limited to what we could know as of April 29—and, at that point, the news already pointed to record commitments. By May 1, the number had climbed beyond 650, by far the highest in College history. Members of the senior administration, faculty, and staff are now working on curricular, advising, and housing needs for this bountiful class. The financial planning for FY 24 will also have to figure in the larger class, which will stay with us for the next four years.

Faculty and Student Affairs

Finances were a central theme in other committee discussions. The Committee on Academic Affairs discussed the outcomes of recent faculty recruitment; plans for increased support and mentoring of pre-tenure faculty; next year’s staffing plan; as well as compensation. Board members were advised on the reissuing of appointment letters for tenure-track and continuing faculty, in cases where the initial offers had included inappropriate terms. They also discussed the importance of maintaining competitive faculty and staff salaries for recruitment and retention.

Retention of students was another theme. The Committee on Student Experience discussed ongoing initiatives focused on both first-to-second year retention and student persistence. Related to this are data now being analyzed from the HEDs Diversity and Equity campus climate survey, on which the Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion Rodmon King gave a preliminary report. Dean of the College Erika Smith also led a conversation with Persephone Hall about the transformation of career services since the relocation of the Hale Center to Fanning Hall in 2019. Of particular note are the strong enrollments in the new career foundation course; the value of the flexible career action funding; and the expanded networking emerging from stronger collaboration with the Office of Alumni Relations.  

Fundraising and Endowment

The Committees on Advancement and Marketing and Communications considered the progress of the Defy Boundaries campaign in its fifth year. With new gifts and commitments for this year reaching $35 million as of April 30, the campaign total is projected to exceed $220 million by June 30, or 75% toward the $300 million goal.  Also noted was the robust participation of students in the Camels Count giving challenge this year, up 150% from 2021.  

On the endowment, the Board voted to support the incorporation of environmental, social, and governance (or “ESG”) factors into the College’s investment strategies to reduce risk and improve the long-term returns of the portfolio; as well as to increase diversity and equity in its portfolio through more inclusive investment practices. The revised investment policy statement will take effect July 1, 2022.

Appointments, Promotions, and Departures

According to custom, trustees reviewed appointments of new faculty and approved recent promotions. Fourteen faculty will join the College in the fall in the departments of Botany, Computer Science, Economics, Education, English, Film, French, Government, History, Human Development, Music, and Psychology. The Board approved one promotion to full professor;  two to full professor continuing part-time; five to associate professor with tenure; one promotion to associate professor continuing part-time; and one to senior lecturer, all effective July 1, 2022. Promoted to full professor was Ross Morin (Film) and full professor continuing part-time were Warren Johnson (Mathematics and Statistics) and Lisa Race (Dance). Promoted to associate professor with tenure were Joyce Bennett (Anthropology); Taegan McMahon (Biology), Jeff Moher (Psychology), Mark Stelzner (Economics) and Jacob Stewart (Chemistry). Shawn Hove (Dance) was promoted to the rank of associate professor continuing part-time; and Vince Thompson (Mathematics and Statistics) was promoted to senior lecturer. The Board extends its congratulations to all these faculty.

The Board formally welcomed Reginald White as the new Vice President of Human Resources and John Cramer as the new Vice President for Marketing and Communications.

Finally, four members of the Board were honored for their notable contributions of time, talent, and philanthropic support. All agreed that Nicole Abraham ’19, Carlos Garcia ’88, Eric Kaplan ’85, and Evan Piekara ’07, who end their service on June 30, will be greatly missed. New trustees will be approved later this month. Trustees will return on May 22 and June 12 for the commencements of the Classes of 2022 and 2020.

Katherine Bergeron