October 2017 Post-Board Message to the Community | St. Lawrence University

October 2017 Post-Board Message to the Community

Dear Laurentian friends:

This past October weekend we welcomed the St. Lawrence Board of Trustees to campus for its meeting; my habit has been to write the community a brief review of their discussions and actions.  This fall meeting typically has few business resolutions for the Board; rather, we hold discussions about program status and opportunities; updates on local, state and national issues affecting higher education; and strategic challenges we must face together. 

Trustees began arriving as early as Wednesday for meetings of the steering committee for the renewal of Appleton Arena.  You’ll recall I announced on September 22 the gift of a planning grant to conduct a comprehensive study that assesses the possibilities for enhancing Appleton, one of the university’s significant “heritage” facilities. This grant provides for expert architectural assistance in considering our needs and design options. 

Several new members of the Board (Andrew J. Alvarez ’08, William Cowan ’86, Tabitha Ferrer Flood ’08, Zhihong “Hook” Huang’02, and Shauna Ryan King’79) completed their trustee orientation by meeting with faculty and student delegates and also with trustee committee chairs, who reviewed past and current agenda topics.

Trustees meet in plenary session on several occasions during the weekend.  At the first, we shared with trustees information about federal and state compliance and legislation related to immigration, Title IX, financial aid and other matters.  I reviewed with trustees the Fall Dashboard of strategic indicators of institutional progress, which is available to all at https://www.stlawu.edu/ir/dashboard.  At the second plenary session, trustees and delegates modeled the 2017 First-Year Orientation workshop about social identity and cultural awareness using the summer common reading What If I Say the Wrong Thing?  Close to 20 faculty members joined trustees for lunch on Friday to continue roundtable discussions on this topic.   A third plenary session focused on the progress of the “Campaign for Every Laurentian.” Our October 27 Info Informal will give us a chance to hear an update on the fundraising and planning to support our “big idea” areas.

Before sharing agenda topics from our committees, I’ll thank the staff and student leaders who developed another successful Junior-Senior Dinner, which offers valuable chances for networking and wise counsel from trustee table hosts.  The Class of 2018 also announced its plans to develop a class gift to support experiential learning.

Moving to a few highlights from the meetings:

University Properties Committee members heard about campus sustainability efforts and summer capital projects completed on campus and discussed updates on the Learning Spaces utilization planning. University Advancement Committee members discussed strategies and messaging for increasing annual unrestricted and restricted gifts that go to support the yearly operating budget.  Academic Affairs Committee members learned about campus conversations regarding academic freedom, civil discourse, and policies with respect to invited speakers.  And Budget & Finance Committee studied the first quarter “latest revised estimate” for fiscal 2018 and recommended the release of the second tranche of this year’s planned capital spending ($1.50 million).

As I prepared for the trustee weekend, and especially for discussions in the Budget and Finance Committee as well as in an Executive Session of the Board, I reviewed my campus remarks from a year ago:  https://www.stlawu.edu/president/imperative-attentive.  I said then “We will embark, therefore, on fresh ways of thinking about our future financial security. A new phase of planning must now begin as we imagine St. Lawrence’s sustainable financial footprint. Just as we have become “greener” on campus by doing things differently, such as reducing energy or water consumption, sometimes by doing without added conveniences, those same principles of sustainability should translate readily to our future operating statements. This is imperative hard thinking and important work for us all.”

Last spring, in several joint meetings with the Faculty Council and Senior Staff and in a spring campus forum, we discussed numerous ideas for revenue generation and expense reduction.  We are taking a number of steps to address the need to generate additional revenue, most importantly, the Campaign for Every Laurentian, which over the coming years will help generate endowment earnings and funds to renovate campus facilities in need of upgrade.  However, this alone will not close the gap between revenue and expenses, which has widened in the current fiscal year.  The fact of life is that in future years, our operating budget will need to generate $10-$12 million in additional cash.  This will ensure the adequacy of funding the University’s operations, the debt, and annual capital.  The primary near-term vehicles for improving operating cash flow are increasing student revenue and annual giving and reduction of expenses.

Consequently, we must find ways to reduce operating expenses. Those reductions may require acts of community thrift and sacrifice and they may also offer opportunities for innovative ways to be the St. Lawrence we admire and cherish. Fortunately, with the continuing generosity of St. Lawrence alumni and friends and solid investment performance in our endowment, we have a strong financial foundation to support our efforts to improve the annual operating results over the long-term while delivering an outstanding St. Lawrence experience to our students. 

I have asked our senior staff to work over the coming months to identify cost reductions and new opportunities to improve our net marginal revenue.  It is imperative that our report to the Board in 2018-19 delivers the financial strategy they require of us. 

I continue to feel grateful for your goodwill and faith in St. Lawrence.  It’s a spirit and confidence our Board shares and expressed throughout the weekend. Our Laurentian trustees unequivocally love this university, take resolute pride in all we are doing, and believe wholeheartedly that there is no challenge we cannot face together.

Sincerely,

Bill Fox