October 24, 2016
The fall meeting of the St. Lawrence University Board of Trustees was held Thursday through Saturday, October 20-22; I write now to offer a brief update on deliberations and actions.
In mid-September, I wrote to the campus community about St. Lawrence’s “business particulars.” I described the national economic conditions in higher education that cause us to reorient our efforts for a financially strong and sustainable St. Lawrence, efforts that must include campus innovation, program building, and building renewal. The discussions shared over the weekend traced these themes from committee to committee and in our plenary sessions.
We did this work drawing on a depth of confidence and aspiration. You know by now the many instances of St. Lawrence receiving favorable attention in the college guidebooks and reviews. Our well-deserved reputation is now worldwide. We’ve announced that the National Science Foundation awarded faculty over $1 million in grants and that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation committed $800,000 for our new “Sophomore Journeys” program. Two newly endowed faculty chairs, each created by gifts of $2.5 million, are in place. Visitors continue to arrive in record numbers for our fall admissions events. By all measures, we merit the admiration of all who serve our mission, of all who have made and will make investments in our future.
Such investments have been made by many trustees, and many of them have already expressed their support of our planned comprehensive campaign; trustees know that alumni, parents, and friends who will soon hear about St. Lawrence’s ambition and hope will appreciate having our goals expressed more concretely. In a natural sequence of enthusiasm, trustees dedicated time to hearing more about the outcomes of numerous campus discussions on the “Big Ideas.” The document they reviewed, linked for your own review here, (your most recent SLU network ID and password will be needed) serves as an evergreen draft, descriptive of our collective aspirations, not definitive or final. As a signal of our progress, the Board so valued the engagement of the faculty and staff in the expansiveness of these ideas as well as the dedication of the faculty and staff who contributed to the process, that it was inspired to pass a resolution endorsing the categories and select features of the Big Ideas. In addition, the Board directed that this framework be the solid basis of consideration by prospective donors. The resolution, a vote of confidence, reads:
Whereas St. Lawrence University Resolution 15-53, June 25, 2015, ratified the Board of Trustees’ unequivocal commitment and leadership to the success of the University’s next comprehensive campaign; and
Whereas that commitment and leadership were inspired by the University’s visionary ambitions to enhance the student experience, inspire its faculty, staff, and alumni, and secure its future as a leading liberal arts institution; and
Whereas the University has engaged faculty, staff, students, and alumni in an eighteen-month process to imagine, share, and deliberate on such initiatives—our “Big Ideas”—to form the basis of this campaign, a process that in itself serves as a touchstone for involvement and inclusivity; and
Whereas the Board of Trustees has itself discussed these ideas as they evolve, appreciating their expansiveness and creativity, as well as the dedication to St. Lawrence that their sponsors offer;
Therefore, the Board of Trustees resolves to endorse the Big Ideas and directs that the Big Ideas be connected to campaign initiatives for consideration by prospective donors throughout the world.
Understanding that St. Lawrence’s goals and challenges exist in the context of a national setting, we listened to a panel discussion by a quartet of faculty members on American higher education and its social and economic landscape. Alison Del Rossi, Howard Eissenstat, Melissa Schulenberg, and Bob Thacker, with Dean Karl Schonberg, offered their perspectives on the question, “What does St. Lawrence, and particularly its faculty in science, arts, humanities, and social sciences, need to be thinking about into the 2020s?” The Board, with student, faculty, and alumni delegates, participated in this lively strategic conversation.
In addition, there was another opportunity for faculty and trustees to exchange ideas informally at lunch on Friday. We paired faculty members and trustees for conversation from among these sample topic questions:
What aspects of the student experience do you hope are shared by all St. Lawrence students? To what extent should programs and opportunities for individual interests be supported? How has the student experience evolved over time, and how should it change in the future?
What new areas of knowledge do you believe should be part of the St. Lawrence curriculum, now or in the years ahead? What skills or ways of understanding the world should be taught that we do not yet teach?
What makes St. Lawrence unique and distinctive among other colleges? How can we do more to ensure that these attributes are well known to the wider world, and that the university is recognized for its strengths?
Our fall meeting also gives trustees the chance to meet several hundred students at the annual “Planning Your Future” dinner for juniors and seniors. Students connected with trustees, the Alumni Executive Council (which also met this past weekend) and the participants of our LINC program (Laurentians Investing in Networking and Careers) to open new contacts and create new friendships.
After each Board meeting, I also take stock of how much and how often our campus interacts with our trustees. This is yet another example of a St. Lawrence tradition meeting the test of national leadership in its good and smart shared governance. Thank you for being informed and involved.