May 26, 2020
Dear Members of the College Community,
The Connecticut College Board of Trustees convened for its spring meeting via Webex on May 15 and 16. The College’s response to COVID-19 was the focus of the plenary session and of every committee meeting as well. Other topics included our six-year graduation rate; Title IX; faculty promotions; capital projects; College finances; and fundraising. This letter summarizes points discussed and actions taken.
Repopulating the Campus: Health, Safety, and Financial Considerations
Friday’s plenary session centered on our efforts to enable a safe and healthy fall 2020. Dean of Students Victor Arcelus presented the latest state guidelines as a framework for the College’s phased approach to reopening in August. Dean of the Faculty Jeffrey Cole reviewed ongoing discussions of the academic calendar and social distancing measures in classrooms. Trustees discussed progress on testing, redesign of community spaces and residence halls; PPE; and visitor and event protocols. Vice President for Finance and Administration Rich Madonna described the financial impacts of different scenarios as well as key decision points in the College’s planning, which will continue through summer.
Academic Affairs and the Student Experience
The Committee on Academic Affairs discussed recent departmental reviews, lessons learned from remote teaching, the online course pilot for Conn students this summer, and alternative calendars for 2020-21. Vice President for Information Services Lee Hisle also shared the results of the biennial Measuring Information Services Organization (MISO) survey, showing high levels of satisfaction with IS services from students, faculty, and staff.
The Committee on Student Experience focused on COVID-19 planning, Title IX, the College’s six-year graduation rate, and the results of a survey on remote learning, which found that students overwhelmingly preferred face-to-face over remote instruction. Dean of Students Victor Arcelus reviewed in more detail the College’s arrangements for testing, contact tracing, and housing in the wake of COVID-19, as well as partnerships with local healthcare providers to strengthen our campus health network. Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight discussed equity concerns raised by the pandemic in the areas of mental health, wellness, and digital access, and also reviewed the new Title IX regulations recently released by the U.S. Department of Education. Finally, Dean of the College Jefferson Singer presented a comparative peer analysis of six-year graduation rates, showing Conn’s strength relative to the cohort. With first-to-second year retention having improved for the classes of 2018 and 2019, our six-year graduation rate is on track to achieve even better outcomes in the coming years.
Facilities and Infrastructure
The Facilities and Infrastructure Committee discussed new pandemic work requirements, including campus health and safety; regulatory compliance; cleaning and disinfecting protocols; social distancing in classrooms, dining, and social spaces. While most capital projects remain on hold, the renovation of Palmer Auditorium is moving forward, with bidding completed and a general contractor identified. Construction is slated to begin in June, as more Connecticut businesses reopen. The Board also reviewed, with enthusiasm, a landscape renewal project being undertaken at the waterfront by Conn's facilities staff while students and coaches are away from campus.
Trustees met with members of the Information Services team to discuss remote learning and IS objectives for the coming year. Lee Hisle reported on a recently completed cybersecurity assessment and a security camera installation, providing new and updated equipment across campus.
Finances and Fundraising
The Finance Committee, meeting weekly with the senior administration since late February, continued its analysis of budget impacts related to COVID-19. Through budget and workforce reductions the cash operating budget is expected to balance this fiscal year, but significant revenue shortfalls are projected for fiscal 2021, related to likely changes in enrollment, fundraising, and financial aid. With the deposit deadline for the Class of 2024 postponed, trustees will approve the budget for FY 2021 later in June. New marketing strategies to engage prospective and admitted students were discussed, along with the launch of a new admission campaign and plans to reduce summer melt.
In the area of fundraising, the Connecticut College Fund, which has raised $5.3 million in gifts and pledges, is on track to finish strong this year. In the third year of its silent phase, the campaign is making steady progress as well, reaching $125.5 million. A bequest of $540,000 from the estate of the late Ann Shields Koepfli ’47 was formally accepted by the Board for inclusion in the Connecticut College endowment.
The College participated in a global giving challenge on Tuesday, May 5, which raised more than $230,000 from nearly 500 donors. We will launch a second Camel challenge, Stronger Together, on June 1 to 3 with a $250,000 matching grant donated by generous trustees. The Board was excited about the June launch of Conn’s new online alumni community—the CONNector—offering information on career and internship opportunities, mentoring, affinity groups, and alumni events.
Appointments, Promotions, and Departures
As is the custom each May, the trustees reviewed the faculty staffing plan and approved recent promotions. In light of the financial challenges brought on by COVID-19, the Dean of the Faculty explained that there will be no tenure-track searches in the coming year. A number of faculty, however, received promotions. Purba Mukerji (Economics) was elevated to full professor; Loren Marulis (Human Development), Michelle Neely-Yates (English), and Michel Seifert (Physics, Astronomy, Geophysics) achieved the rank of associate professor with tenure; and Jillian Marshall (Psychology) and Emily Tarsis (Chemistry) were promoted to senior lecturer. The Board extends its congratulations to all these exemplary teacher-scholars.
The Board made appointments of its own, voting in seven new trustees for terms beginning July 1: Maria Boyce ’85, Ethan Brown ’94, Gregory Gigliotti ’88, and Steven Jacobson ’85 P’22 will join the Board for the first time; Jonathan McBride ’92 and Pamela Zilly ’75 will return to the Board for new terms of service; and Shyanne Temple ’20 will begin as Young Alumni Trustee. Seth W. Alvord ’93 was reappointed for a second, four-year term, and Karen Quint ’87 was elected as vice chair.
Finally, five members of the Board were honored with tributes for their distinctive contributions to Connecticut College: Bradford T. Brown P’12 ’15 ’20, Sally Fenton ’63, Mark Iger ’75, Annie Scott ’84, and Maurice Tiner ’17 will end their service on June 30. The Board also presented a special resolution to Bonnie Wells, Secretary of the College, in honor of her retirement.
Our first virtual major Board meeting culminated with a first-ever virtual graduation event, a live broadcast featuring remarks from Founder and President of Ashesi University Patrick Awuah, tributes to and from the Class of 2020, and a special remote performance of the R&B alma mater with students, faculty, and staff. The celebration received positive feedback from seniors, parents, families, alumni, and many of you. The Class of 2020 will reconvene on Memorial Day weekend 2021 for their in-person celebration.