October 24, 2019

Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,

The Connecticut College Board of Trustees convened for its fall meeting last weekend. I am writing with a summary of the major topics discussed and actions taken.

The board welcomed five new Trustees: Nicole Abraham ’19, Evan Piekara ’07, Leslie Rosen ’02, Rajneesh Vig ’93, and Leslie Wong. Joining us on Friday were 16 members of the Council of Former and Emeritus Trustees, who convened for their fifth annual meeting. It was wonderful to have current and past board members together for the meeting’s discussion of one of this year’s priorities­­­–elevating our athletics program at Connecticut College.

Friday’s plenary session focused on the work the College has undertaken since 2016 to advance Connecticut College within the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), the most elite and competitive Division III conference in the country. Dean of Students Victor Arcelus, Director of Athletics Mo White, and Vice President for College Advancement Kim Verstandig reviewed the goals of the new Action Plan for Competitive Success, which include elevating student-athlete satisfaction through coaching excellence, recruitment, facilities, and alumni and parent support. The presentation placed emphasis on the important role played by athletics in admissions and retention of students at the College and on opportunities to increase the participation of alumni athletes in the Camel Athletics Network.

Academic Affairs

The Committee on Academic Affairs met with Jessica McCullough, director of research support and curriculum technology, who led a demonstration of the College’s electronic portfolio tool. Anticipating our inaugural All-Campus Symposium on Nov. 7, three students in the Global Capitalism Pathway­–Anna DiGravio ’20, Amelia DeFrancis ’20, and Juliet Levesque ’20–discussed their portfolios and the interdisciplinary research they have done in and out of the classroom over the past three years.

The Student Experience

Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight and Professor of Psychology Audrey Zakriski provided an overview of the Agnes Gund ’60 Dialogue Project along with one of the new initiatives to emerge from that project: a first-year seminar, “Conversations on Race,” that they teach together. The course is designed to help students develop greater awareness of themselves, their community, and the world, by teaching them the art of courageous conversations. Several students were on hand to offer testimony about the course’s impact.

Dean McKnight was then joined by Dean of Students Victor Arcelus and Dean of the College Jefferson Singer to discuss student safety, and the new measures the College has put in place since spring 2019. These include the Rave Guardian app, which provides access to services and safety information for the campus community; phased installation of campus security cameras; a new after-hours hotline for students seeking counseling support; and a 24/7 on-call service to enhance support for students studying away.

Capital Projects and Information Security

The Facilities and Infrastructure Committee discussed the progress of several campus projects, both large and small, currently in design phase: the renovations of Palmer Auditorium, Castle Court, and the College Center at Crozier-Williams; upgrades to the reception room in Horizon House; and the conversion of part of Hillyer Hall into a home for Film Studies, the latter made possible by a grant from a family foundation. The Palmer and Hillyer Hall projects are slated to commence in Spring 2020. The committee also considered major accomplishments in Information Services last year, including the successful implementation of both a new Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol telephone system for the College and a new customer relationship management system for Advancement. John Schaeffer, acting chief information security officer and director of networks, servers, and Security, presented the 2019 Information Security Review and discussed best practices to protect the College’s data from compromise and to strengthen our information security environment.

Finances and Fundraising

The Finance Committee reviewed year-end cash results for the College, which again ended its fiscal year with a balanced cash operating budget. The committee also looked at financial projections for fiscal year 2020 and 2021, with a focus on finding the right balance between future enrollment and financial aid to augment net tuition revenue. To that end, the Board announced the formation of two working groups with the senior administration–one on endowment, another on future growth–to develop new paths toward future financial sustainability. The College’s investment portfolio earned 4.9 percent in the last fiscal year, bringing our endowment to $313 million on June 30.

The Trustees acknowledged the receipt of a gift of $1,080,000 from the estate of the late Ann Woldman ’64 to be used for general purposes of the College, as well as several grants in support of faculty and student research: a $326,801 grant from the National Institutes of Health to support the research of Associate Professor of Chemistry Tanya Schneider; a $156,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program; a $97,900 grant from Learn to support the College’s Child Development Lab School; and a $70,000 grant from the American Chemical Society’s Petroleum Research Fund to support Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jacob Stewart’s research project “High-Resolution Infrared Spectroscopy of Jet-Cooled Conjugated Dienes.” The Board was proud of the faculty’s continued success in securing competitive research funding.

In reviewing fundraising results for fiscal year 2019, the Advancement Committee was pleased to note that the College had had its best annual fund ever, bringing in more than $6.2 million, an 11 percent growth over 2018. The committee also reviewed progress on the current campaign, which, in the second year of its quiet phase, raised $35 million to mark the second-best fundraising year in College history. This brings new gifts and commitments to a total of $115 million as we begin year three. The Connecticut College Fund for 2020 is also off to a solid start this year with $2.2 million raised so far against a goal of $6.75 million.

Other business

The Board voted to confer trustee emeritus status to Jamie Glanton Costello ’89 for her outstanding contributions to the College. And the weekend included a number of other special tributes. On Friday, the College formally dedicated the new Hale Center for Career Development in the presence of the generous benefactors Trustee Rob Hale ’88 P’20 and Karen Hale P’20, along with Rob’s mother, Judith Hale GP’20. Later that day, we held an induction ceremony for 11 new members of the Ad Astra Society, recognizing lifetime giving in excess of $1 million. Present at the ceremony were Rob and Karen Hale, Duanne Schmitz Tansill ’64, Emerita Trustee and former Chair of the Board of Trustees Pamela D. Zilly ’75, Chair of the Board DeFred (Fritz) G. Foltz ’82, Nancy S. Newcomb ’67 and John A. Hargraves and Carrie Santore ’75. 

The weekend concluded with a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Palmer Auditorium renovation. Nancy Athey ’72 and her husband Preston Athey joined a large number of students and the current and former chairs of music, dance, theater, donning hard hats and wielding shovels, to mark the immanent next phase of the project. In spring 2018, the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, together with the Atheys, provided the $20 million in funding that will support this historically informed renovation, slated to begin in Spring 2020.

Katherine Bergeron