This year, given the number of highly visible (and reputation-damaging) examples of governance failures at colleges and universities, trustees—and the higher education governance structure itself—are being widely scrutinized and criticized. Wellesley is blessed in its board, but most are not so fortunate.
In my latest Huffington Post blog, I write about what part of the problem is.
The start of the spring semester has been one of the snowiest on record and yet even the mountains of snow can’t quash the palpable energy always on campus. As this semester gets underway, I am reflecting on our recent Trustees meetings.
At the end of January, our Trustees convened on campus for several days. Our time spent together was both informative and productive, and I thought the discussions reflected the good forward momentum on campus.
There are several items from those meetings that I want to highlight.
EBURS. By now you have probably heard a little about the process we are using to organize our comprehensive facilities planning, a process which we call EBURS (Evaluate Building Utilization and Renovation Strategies). A steering committee is reviewing prior reports on facilities and current programmatic needs laying the groundwork for a comprehensive planning process. This steering committee is led jointly by Provost Andy Shennan and Andy Evans, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer. The steering committee will be forming small, multi-constituent project teams, which will further develop the principles that will shape the priorities in their areas for building and renovation on campus. The Trustees will be involved in this process, and they are enthusiastic about it.
Residential Life. At the Trustee meetings, there was a discussion of the importance of community and residential life. Several students joined us for this lively discussion on the value of residential life at Wellesley. Not surprisingly, the resounding theme was that Wellesley’s residence halls foster a strong sense of community and encourage friendships and connections that might not otherwise be made. As we consider residence hall renovation as part of EBURS, the points made in this discussion will be useful.
Tenure. We also had an in-depth discussion with the Trustees about tenure and our rigorous tenure process. It is important for the Trustees to understand why tenure is crucial to the academy, since they officially grant tenure as one of their major responsibilities. I thought Faculty Trustee Jim Kloppenberg, the Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard, was particularly helpful in guiding the Trustees’ appreciation of the tenure process and its value to higher education.
Separate from that discussion, the Trustees voted to approve the tenure appointments of six faculty members: Rebecca Bedell (Art), Bryan Burns (Classical Studies), Sealing Cheng (Women’s and Gender Studies), Donald Elmore (Chemistry), Robin McKnight (Economics), and Ismar Volić (Math). Congratulations to all on this career milestone!
Tuition. There was also an intensive and thorough discussion of next year’s tuition, and tuition-setting in general. There are many factors that affect the setting of tuition. The Trustees approved a 2.5 percent increase in our comprehensive fee. This decision to increase tuition only modestly was influenced by our recognition of low rates of inflation, but was primarily driven by our historical commitment to affordability and our awareness of the economic difficulties many students and their families are experiencing.
Admission. At the Board meeting, I also updated the Trustees on our excellent pool of applicants for the incoming class. Just over 4,400 women applied for a spot in the Class of 2015, a 2 percent increase over last year. Additionally, there was an 18 percent increase over last year in early decision applications. Of particular note, the geographic diversity of our applicants is consistently strong—among both international and domestic students. This good news reflects the focused outreach efforts of our Admission team, as well as alumnae and students who have worked to enhance the College’s visibility. Specifically, we have seen increases in applications from the West/Northwest, South, and mid-Atlantic regions of the country.
This was a long entry, but a lot goes on at Trustee meetings—I didn’t even cover it all! I will return to EBURS for updates in future blogs, and will branch out into many other topics, as well.