Summer Letter - August 3, 2010

 

Dear Laurentian Friends:

One of the small, recently recovered memories of being a student at St. Lawrence in the early 1970s, one nearly unremembered with the passing of the years, is that tender feeling sparked by a letter from home. Then, the daily mail came to each student residence, not a central campus student mail center. So right after lunch, it was the common routine to check your box in Sykes, Dean-Eaton, or wherever for those hand-addressed envelopes, the special ones with an “air mail” stamp in the upper right corner. Somewhere in the attic, in a long-unopened trunk, is a collection of those letters from my mother and father.  Now, as I’ve discovered after a year in a new job, one of the greatest privileges of serving St. Lawrence is the thoughtful, personal correspondence that I receive, particularly from parents. Let me share a sampler of these old-fashioned missives from the “folks back home” that have brightened the in-box this summer:

“From the beginning…everything has been easy, well organized, responsive, and welcoming…Over his three years, Ross has encountered one wonderful, standout professor after another—approachable, knowledgeable, effective, but most of all, dedicated to making each course and interaction a success for the student…And it’s not just the professors…Every operator, support staff member, tour guide, bookstore employee, and café worker has been beyond generous with their time and helpful attitude…Quite the spectacular place you have!”

“I am writing to thank you and St. Lawrence for providing Tim with an exceptional education as well as four blissfully happy years of college. I owe so much of his current success to your caring faculty and staff…I don’t know if you went by the senior townhouse apartments after graduation…I was shocked at how many students hung around until the bitter end. They were all hugging and crying; obviously embracing each fleeting last moment …You are doing something right at St. Lawrence!”

“We have been blessed by the wonderfully nurturing experience that St. Lawrence has offered our children (two recent graduates). While their future is in their hands, they have been given the tools to make that as bright as possible….Every single individual with whom we interacted over the past nine years treated us and our children with the greatest respect and dignity. For all of this we say thank you.”

“My husband and I felt it was important to tell you how delighted we were with the graduation festivities this year… Clearly St. Lawrence traditions are valued…Charlie was very happy… It’s sometimes nice to know when things are just right.”

The Laurentian story, told by letter or pictures in the mind, is contained in thousands of family albums… and there are pages yet to fill as it extends into the new academic year. Here are some general highlights of campus news:

The Class of 2014

More than six hundred members of the Class of 2014 will arrive in a few weeks, selected from 4,900 applications, the second-highest total in St. Lawrence’s history.  Representing coast-to-coast and international hometowns, the class includes one of the highest percentages of students of color ever. Academic preparation is as high, or higher, than any other class ever admitted, with 44% ranking in the top 10% of their high school class. More details are posted on our Web site. 

Summer Projects

Noble/Griffiths Arts Phase III – Begun a year ago, and thanks to donor funding, it will open this fall with extraordinary new features:

*The 19,000-square-foot Peterson-Kermani Performance Hall for music, theatre, and public events for audiences of up to 200. 

*An addition to the back of Griffiths Arts Center, with new classroom and climate-controlled storage space for musical instruments.

*A newly winterized Barnes Sculpture Yard for metal sculpture production and study.

*Improved accessibility, elevator, heating, ventilation and safety systems.

*New faculty offices, allowing 21 Romoda Drive (formerly the Pi Phi House) to return to its original purpose of student housing.

Our dedication event is planned for October 22, 2010.

Athletics Facilities Improvements – Part of the long-term 1997 master plan, three projects are in final stages and will be ready for the fall semester. 

* North Country Field and Hall-Leet Stadium will be renewed with a turf surface (synthetic grass like the World Cup venues), used primarily by the field hockey and lacrosse programs, and will include a new stadium constructed around the bleacher area to honor retired coaching legends Dotty Hall and Don Leet. Replacement of the field is entirely funded by individual gifts. Mark your calendar for dedication on October 1, 2010.  

* The football program moves into a beautifully refurbished locker room made possible by gifts from many Laurentians of the '50s, '60s, and '70s gridiron teams honoring the late Ted “Bear” 
Stratford ’57.  We’ll dedicate this space on October 2, 2010.  

* The Sammis Tennis Courts, built over 10 years ago, are newly resurfaced for team and recreational play, again thanks to generous donor support. The courts will now feature “U.S. Open blue” between the lines.

JAVA/KSLU/Center of Campus combined initiative – Another project from the master plan, the 1950s-era building that once housed the St. Lawrence Bookstore and the Winning Health Center, and recently was the temporary home of Java House performances, has been razed, and new green space in the center of campus is being created.  A student team has worked with us to design new permanent space for Java and for KSLU, both of which will be in a renovated building behind Brown Hall. Thanks to alumni and parent donors for funding these projects; a dedication will take place October 21, 2010.

Sustainability:  Campus regulars and summer tourists may have been wondering about the “big dig” in the Hepburn/Sykes and Carnegie/Gunnison areas. No, we’re not installing a pedestrian subway. Rather, 500 feet of steam tunnels, new pipe and insulation will be brought up to date. We expect significant energy savings from this project, part of our capital investments approved by the Board.

Annual Giving at St. Lawrence

I’ve mentioned in the summer projects inventory our gratitude to generous donors, and want to offer some preliminary insight into our 2009-2010 fundraising results.   Gifts to the St. Lawrence Fund, to endowment, and for special projects totaled $17.7 million, a 25% increase over last year when the effects of the recession were felt most acutely by our supporters.  The month of June was especially noteworthy with 2,347 alumni gifts to St. Lawrence, inspired by friendly competition going by the name “Settle the Score: St. Lawrence - Hobart and William Smith Colleges Challenge.” Both institutions are winners because we received the highest number of alumni donations ever for the month of June. For the record, St. Lawrence won the match.

Looking Ahead

Our goals and objectives for 2010-2011 will, of course, take aim at more sharply defining the framework of the “new norm” economy that St. Lawrence is now entering. Even before the world begins a period of recovery, the “new norm” at St. Lawrence has, thus far, reduced the University payroll by 50 positions. We face the unpleasant prospect of a continuing budget deficit for 2011-2012 and beyond, because of lower endowment income and reduced revenues from other sources. These are facts that cannot be ignored, so let me provide brief insight on our main priorities for the fall and spring:

*Recession Response—Phase 2: We will form another faculty-staff task group this fall to lead a campus discussion and exploration of the question: what will be the optimal structure in the next decade for St. Lawrence—its administrative organization and academic program—to meet its central mission? Resource conservation and revenue development will drive much of the deliberations.

*Market research results implementation: The project by Hardwick Day is complete; trustees and the campus Institutional Strategy and Assessment Committee heard early reports, with a final narrative coming to us later this summer.  We’ll plan campus meetings for further discussions, and then we’ll set about creating a new enrollment plan and marketing strategy. In my view, constraint inspires creativity, which for us may serve as a silver lining in the clouds of recession. We have some very exciting ideas to consider. We’ll ask ourselves a key strategic question: what is St. Lawrence’s ideal size and how do we balance academic quality with affordability? 

*Academic planning:  Val Lehr, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean, will work closely with faculty as we consider the evolution of our curriculum, particularly enhanced opportunities for professional development and student experiential learning. 

*Sustainability:  genuine admiration and appreciation to the faculty and staff committee that worked so hard for most of the past year to write the draft of our Climate Action Plan.  This document will receive careful review and discussion on campus, placing its recommendations in the context with other resource investment questions. 

*Student Life:  Joe Tolliver, Vice President for Student Life, will work with students to develop a list of facilities needs for the next decade; this project will, in time, inform the new Campus Master Plan, an exercise that will naturally follow the second phase and year of the St. Lawrence Recession Response described above.  

*Momentum St. Lawrence:  With a deadline of December 31, 2010 to complete the current comprehensive campaign, we will hit the tape sprinting, while looking forward to a celebration of our success sometime in early 2011.

Earlier in my career, I spent many days reading thousands of letters in archival collections as I prepared to be a historian. The pleasure of reading old letters, the smell of them, even the weight of the rag paper, the beautiful fountain-pen script, whether written from a Civil War battlefield still smoking or the seaside porch of a Maine cottage on a summer’s yesterday of the 1890s, is a wonderful stimulus to a student’s imagination. There is, however, a certain and sad realization that the great age of letter-writing is fading. I would not anticipate ever seeing a Norton anthology of e-mails, tweets, or faxes. And yet, when I receive a letter, such as those I excerpted to begin this one, it not only cheers me about St. Lawrence and how a shared affinity becomes more vivid this way, but it also revives my faith in the virtues of epistolary writing itself—spontaneous, reflective, and humane. So, I encourage you to write. Often. E-mail, of course, is fine. I’ve even learned 2 txt (sic).

Sincerely,

William L. Fox
President