November 11, 2020

Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,

The Connecticut College Board of Trustees came together via Zoom for its fall meetings Oct. 21–24. As our strategic plan enters its fifth year, the full Board focused attention on how the College has achieved distinction in three priority areas: the academic program, the student experience, and sustainability and justice. Trustees also discussed developments in career education, admission and recruitment, equity and inclusion, and faculty advancement; as well as current and future capital projects, College finances, and fundraising. This letter summarizes the range of issues discussed and actions taken.

Eight alumni were welcomed as new or returning members of the Board: Maria Wyckoff Boyce ’85, Ethan Brown ’94, Gregory Gigliotti ’88, Steven Jacobson ’85 P’22, and Leslie Rosen ’02 as new trustees; Jonathan McBride ’92 and Pamela Zilly ’75 returning for another term of service; and Shyanne Temple ’20 as our Young Alumni Trustee. The meetings coincided with the sixth annual convening of the Council of Former and Emeritus Trustees, with record turnout. In a year when the country has faced the ongoing challenge of a public health emergency, an economic downturn, and a racial justice crisis, it was meaningful to have board members past and present in conversation about our common aspirations. 

Building on Strength
Friday’s plenary session offered an opportunity for trustees to review our strategic plan: what we wanted to accomplish and what we have done since the plan was approved in the fall of 2016. The broad discussion centered on the impact of the plan in advancing integrative education, career development, and full participation, and, especially, on how these distinctive aspects of the Conn experience are being communicated to prospective students and beyond.

The theme of equity, inclusion, and full participation informed many of the weekend’s presentations. The Committee on Academic Affairs spent time considering the College’s new Social Difference and Power requirement with three faculty leaders: Deb Eastman, associate professor of biology; Cherise Harris, associate professor of sociology and co-director of the Center for the Critical Study of Race and Ethnicity; and Sufia Uddin, professor of anthropology and religion. The discussion touched both on the purpose and evolution of this long-desired curricular development, expressed in our strategic plan, and on its implementation with the Class of 2024.

The Committee on Student Experience took on the issues of federal Title IX legislation, campus climate, and the ongoing work of the new Agnes Gund ’60 Dialogue Project. John McKnight, dean of institutional equity and inclusion, reviewed the College’s plan for mandatory racial bias training for students, faculty, and staff to be implemented starting in November. Trustees also learned about the elements of the College’s new Career Action Program, another equity-minded initiative whose purpose is to enhance the ability of every student to find success in their lives after College.  

Capital Projects and Information Security
The Facilities and Infrastructure Committee focused attention on the considerable work undertaken since the spring to prepare for a safe reopening of the campus, including not just the opening of our own testing center but also adjustments to classrooms, dining spaces, and residence halls in accordance with state guidelines.

Vice President for Information Services and College Librarian Lee Hisle described the work done by the IS team over the last eight months to help faculty, staff, and students navigate the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. Trustees also heard from John Schaeffer, chief information security officer and director of networks, systems, and security, and Jean Kilbride, associate vice president for enterprise and technical systems, about the College’s information security environment. Results of a recent external assessment gave Conn high marks for its information security planning.

Part of the conversation was reserved for our most recent capital project: the Nancy Athey ’72 and Preston Athey Center for Performance and Research at Palmer Auditorium. This renovation, undeterred by the pandemic, has been supported by leadership gifts from the Atheys and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. The construction is currently on track and the building scheduled to open in fall 2021. 

Finances and Fundraising
The Finance Committee reviewed the College’s results for fiscal year 2020, which, once again, ended with a balanced cash operating budget. The impact of COVID-19 on budget and enrollment planning for fiscal year 2021 and 2022 was a major focus of discussion, along with financial projections for the coming year. Conn’s endowment weathered the volatile markets in 2020, maintaining a value of $325 million as of June 30.

The Trustees acknowledged receipt of several new gifts in support of faculty and student scholarship: $286,615 from the National Science Foundation to support Peter Siver, the Charles and Sarah P. Becker ’27 Professor of Botany and Environmental Studies, and his evolving research on fossils; $93,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program; $34,829 from the Social Science Research Council to support the research of Assistant Professor of Government Mara Suttmann-Lea on voter education in the digital age; and a $10,000 seed grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support E. Carla Parker-Athill, assistant professor of biology, and her research on the biological impact of childhood trauma.

Even in an unprecedented year, the College raised a record $6.4 million for the annual fund. The Advancement Committee reviewed progress on the Campaign, which in its quiet phase has now raised over $130 million in new gifts and commitments. The Connecticut College Fund for 2021 is off to a solid start this year with $2.7 million raised against a goal of $6.4 million. The College is fortunate for the generosity of a small group of current and emeriti trustees, who created a $1 million fund to offset COVID-19 expenses, a gift that is now inspiring other alumni to support the College during a challenging year.

Other business
The Board recognized faculty promotions for four head coaches: Matthew Anderson, head coach of men’s and women’s water polo, to adjunct assistant professor; Christina Chappell, head coach of women’s field hockey, to adjunct associate professor; Kristin Steele, head coach of women’s ice hockey, to adjunct professor; and James Ward, head coach of men’s ice hockey, to adjunct professor.

Four trustees who recently completed their terms of service–Bradford T. Brown P’12 ’15 ’20, Sarah H. Fenton ’63, Mark M. Iger ’75, and Annie M. Scott ’84–were awarded the title trustee emeritus in recognition of their meritorious efforts on behalf of the College.

Finally, Zoe Klein Henriquez ’99 and Maria Pellegrini ’69 were inducted as the newest members of the Ad Astra Society in a special online ceremony attended by the Board, the Council of Former and Emeriti Trustees, and the senior administration.

Katherine Bergeron