Faculty Address - September 11, 2012

Dear Members of the Trinity College Community,
Attached, you will find the address that I delivered to the faculty this afternoon. As we have done each fall since I began my presidency, we are sending the address electronically to all faculty, staff, trustees, fellows, and those on the NAA executive committee. The address is also on the College’s website.
Please do not hesitate to contact our office should you have any questions or comments.
 
Yours very truly,
James F. Jones, Jr.
 
President and Trinity College
Professor in the Humanities

Faculty Address
September 11, 2012
James F. Jones, Jr.
 

Good afternoon and welcome once again to the opening of the 2012-2013 academic year. My comments today will highlight a number of important advances the College has made since I delivered my annual report to you a year ago. And they will also include several items of concern, as we will certainly continue to face challenges in the year ahead. We have a great deal to be thankful for as we begin this semester, and we also have much serious work ahead of us. Chief among the items for which I am thankful is this superb faculty, which is the core of the College’s strength. I am deeply grateful for the countless ways in which your individual and combined efforts continue to make Trinity a life-changing experience for our students.

There will be time at the conclusion of these remarks for your questions or comments, and, as always, I am ready to respond to questions and comments you—and those not able to attend this meeting—may wish to pose to me later electronically or in person.

The 2011-2012 academic year that concluded on June 30, 2012, was marked by significant achievements and equally significant challenges. We began last year with a marked increase in completed applications of 49%, and then witnessed another 11% increase in completed applications for the Class of 2016 that we just welcomed to the College family. And the student-centered research done by the faculty resulted in a number of publications, both books and articles, that highlight the extraordinary ongoing connections between faculty and students that are the hallmark of our work here. In this regard, I especially wish to thank the generosity of Paul Raether, our Board chair, for making discretionary funds available to me each year. I transfer the majority of these funds to the Dean’s Faculty Development lines so that the Faculty Research Committee can allocate them to those proposals it deems worthy. Raether funds support both student and faculty research. The College benefits immeasurably every time a member of the faculty publishes scholarly work and students engage in original research. The intellectual prestige of the College grows, and students become better prepared to cope with the complexity of 21st-century life, in which they will be constantly called upon to analyze information and judge veracities. I thank all of you for your efforts to engage our students in your work as scholars. I know what a difference it makes in the quality of their education and how grateful they are for it.

Surveys conducted by our marketing expert and by Trinity’s Office of Institutional Research have produced a clear sense that among both students and alumni the strength of the faculty and the strength of our academic programs are essential to maintaining the College’s reputation. As I have continued to report to the Trustees, the core of the College remains strong, as the faculty, this institution’s most valuable asset by any measure, is deeply dedicated to our academic mission. The faculty search committees have done remarkable work in attracting excellent teacher/scholars to Trinity who choose to work at a liberal arts college where teaching and research and service are intertwined. I think we all appreciate the unique opportunities that come from teaching at a small college like Trinity. We are privileged to work closely with undergraduates as they develop habits of mind that will shape their lives and help them fulfill their promise. And in terms of the development of our own careers, we have a stake in our institution that is often much more substantial than it would be at a larger school. Ultimately, we are all—faculty, staff, and students alike—citizens of Trinity, committed to achieving its highest aspirations.

There are a number of indicators that demonstrate the degree to which the outside world recognizes and supports the quality of our academic enterprise. In the area of faculty grants, for example, you continue to attract substantial support from major funders for both research and teaching. In fiscal year 2012, the faculty was awarded sixteen grants from outside funders for a total of $650,000. So far in fiscal year 2013, there have been seven grants awarded, seventeen are pending, twenty-one are in preparation, and the awards in the few short months since the start of the fiscal year on July 1 already total $1.1 million. These and other faculty achievements will be highlighted in a new online feature to be launched on the College’s Web site by our Communications Office next week. Our students, too, continue to be recognized by major foundations and other funders, with four students and recent graduates this past year receiving Fulbrights, while five others won a Projects for Peace award from philanthropist Katherine Wasserman Davis, and still others have secured additional nationally competitive distinctions. As this semester begins, an inaugural cohort of six Trinity students is beginning their study this term at our new program at Fudan University in Shanghai. Many of our students go on to graduate school, receiving acceptance from the likes of MIT, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Edinburgh, Yale, and the University of Chicago, among other top institutions. When I see these achievements and when I see the day-to-day successes of our students across the board, in all majors and in all class years, it is clear to me that it is our best students who remain the standard for Trinity, not the exception.

Now a quick word about major building projects for the College this academic year. First, I am delighted with the aesthetic difference the Gates Quadrangle has made to the most trafficked pedestrian space on campus. In that section of campus, we are also in the design stage for renovating Gallows Hill for use by faculty and students. And we continue to seek funding for the expansion of our neuroscience laboratories and for the music performance building that will be located at the north end of Jacobs Life Sciences. The Crescent Street residence halls project will move forward once we are confident we have the best plan in place whereby the College’s balance sheet is not subject to debt burden.

One of the most important achievements I have to report on today is the conclusion of the Cornerstone and Legacy Campaigns, both of which ended on June 30. Between them, the College raised a grand total of some $369 million, more than any previous fundraising effort has accomplished in Trinity’s history. And we were able to achieve this despite the economic meltdown of 2008-2009.

We have accomplished a great deal as a result of these campaigns, and the College is stronger in many ways. We have, for example, established more than 75 new scholarship funds and increased the number of endowed faculty chairs and professorships. We were able to establish the Center for Urban and Global Studies and the Center for Teaching and Learning. And throughout, we have established lasting relationships with major alumni donors, as well as foundation and corporate donors. Many of you here today have given your assistance to these campaigns, and I am grateful for your efforts.

Also in the area of fund raising, we closed the fiscal year on June 30, 2012, in the black, but our challenges were considerable since the Trinity College Fund came in hundreds of thousands of dollars below target. When we did a statistical analysis of the shortfall, we found that donors associated with the fraternities withheld their usual contributions to the Trinity College Fund because they disagreed with me personally over the part of the White Paper concerning the future of the Greek system on campus. This did not come as a surprise, given the harsh language directed at me for suggesting that the fraternities and sororities be transformed into theme houses with direct faculty and staff interaction with the students.

There were also several serious issues this past year having to do with our social fabric that threatened to overshadow the exceptional academic work that is at the heart of all we do here at Trinity. For example, as an immediate response to the perception that our campus was not safe, we increased the number of Campus Safety officers patrolling by foot, bicycle, and car on campus and in the surrounding areas. The Hartford Police Department increased activity on campus and on its periphery. We also increased the number of officers patrolling from dusk until dawn, seven nights a week. As a result, we saw an immediate decrease in campus crime. We also conducted a search for a new director of campus safety and were fortunate indeed to attract Cisco Ortiz to Trinity. Cisco is already making significant improvements, as evidenced by the fact that he stationed Campus Safety officers literally everywhere on move-in day for the Class of 2016 and then again last week when we started classes for the fall term.

And then there is the Chris Kenny incident. I must acknowledge that the College failed to communicate properly at the outset of this event and that we too hastily created an impression of who the perpetrators might be. I apologize for that. I have met with Hartford community leaders and talked with them about our hasty communications and will meet with them again to offer our apologies. I, along with other College officials, met again recently with the chief of the Hartford Police Department to discuss where the investigation stands. The police are continuing their work, but to date no new information has come forward as to who carried out the assault. If anyone has information about the incident, I ask again that you contact our office or that of Dean Alford or Cisco Ortiz, and we will put you in confidential contact with the police detective to whom the Kenny incident has been assigned.

Campus security issues, questions concerning student consumption of alcohol, and the discussion about the role of fraternities led the chair of the Board to appoint a Charter Committee last fall to review our social fabric. The committee is composed of five Trustees, three faculty, two staff, and three students, two of whom have formal votes. I do not know what the recommendations of the Charter Committee will be when they report to the Trustees on October 12 and 13. But whatever recommendations are supported by the Board, they will undoubtedly cost money that will have to be found within both the operating budget and the capital budget.

This means that the work of the Planning and Budget Council will be more challenging than ever before. The challenges before us come from a number of strains. The first is that we must appropriately fund our Advancement operation.

I was shocked when I did my due diligence before accepting the presidency here at the disturbingly small amount of money allocated to Advancement in the operating budget. To say that the operating budget line for Advancement was inadequate would be rhetorical hyperbole. We were under-budgeted by some $2.5 million. We funded the campaigns by relying on operating fund cash, to be paid back with unrestricted bequests, as is the norm for under-endowed institutions. This internal debt will be fully financed by bequests. The campaigns cost Trinity approximately nine cents for every dollar raised, a remarkable figure given that the national norms now are approaching twenty cents invested for every dollar raised. So, challenge one before the PBC will be to bring the Advancement operation into the operating budget effective July 1, 2013, when the next fiscal year begins.

The second major challenge before the PBC will be the increased financial resources we must provide for Campus Safety. The security of our students, faculty, and staff is essential to all that we do here, and we simply must not have a repeat of the difficulties that caused so much unease to our students and to their parents, friends, and families last year. The increase of part-time officers from dusk until dawn seven days a week during the academic year, the physical changes that are imperative (more surveillance cameras, increased bicycle patrols, more officers on patrol, and more visible uniforms), will cost ongoing dollars that will have to be found.

The third challenge before the PBC will be the prioritized recommendations from the Charter Committee on changes needed to ensure a more wholesome social scene on campus. Interviews with students who are considering transferring to other schools tell us time and again that one major reason for their discontent is the social atmosphere they find here. Retention is a critically important issue, not only for the College’s reputation, but also because of the effect of an ongoing stream of departures on our financial projections. And we know from data gathered nationally that decisions to transfer take place between the first six to eight weeks of a student’s first term. I will also return your attention to my remarks earlier regarding the reason for the shortfall in last year’s annual fund and note once again that how we conceive of the social fabric of our campus often has a direct correlation to our financial condition.

Finally, I also remain committed to continuing the five-year plan for faculty compensation that is intended to get us to the median of our peer institutions, as well as to the plan for returning the College’s contribution to faculty pensions to 10 %.

While we will undoubtedly not be able to fund everything on the prioritized list of social recommendations of the Charter Committee, we know for certain that bringing the Advancement operation into the operating budget and dealing with Campus Safety concerns are fixed costs that must be assumed in next year’s operating budget. The budgeting timetable will be a short one this fall since we will not have the recommendations from the Charter Committee until after the Board retreat. I therefore charge the PBC with beginning its deliberations immediately, so groundwork on the budget that must be advanced to the Finance Committee of the Board on or around December 1 can be finalized once we have the recommendations from the Board on the Charter Committee’s work post mid-October.

In my professional opinion, having been a dean and vice provost of a research university for five years and a president for the past sixteen, now going on seventeen years, we have cut everything that is obvious. We have reduced by a significant number the adjuncts upon whom Trinity depended for decades, we have staggered faculty searches as we have tried our best to provide a rich learning environment for our students, and now we are faced with yet another set of financial challenges. Our greatest challenge is to determine how best to sustain the ever-growing need for financial aid and simultaneously maintain the strength of our faculty in the face of ongoing financial strains. I have every confidence in the PBC to study our challenges on the financial front while doing everything they can to sustain the academic core upon which this institution is vitally dependent.

The PBC is a worthy example of how shared governance must work. The PBC comprises staff, faculty, and students, headed by our CFO, Paul Mutone. They work from the same spreadsheets we provide the Trustees of the College, who hold ultimate fiduciary responsibility here as at every college or university in the country. The PBC makes a recommendation to me, I study the recommendation carefully, and then I forward my recommendation to the Finance Committee of the Board. The Trustees sitting on that committee then review the recommendation, and when they are prepared to do so, the committee makes a recommendation to the Trustees at their January meeting so that the new fiscal year can begin on the following July 1.

In closing, I would like you to consider the following objectives that we can accomplish over the next three years. Each promises to have a tonic effect on Trinity.

  • Let us work together to undertake more initiatives like the Mellon program that create a sense of shared intellectual community across our campus. I charge Dean Fraden and the various faculty committees to think about ways in which we can continue to work on developing the Mellon proposals to strengthen our intellectual life even more. How might the faculty involved in the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Curriculum Committee and in the departments continue to have serious discussions about the quality of education at Trinity and the best ways to engage our students with the aim, among other things, of reducing the number who wish to transfer?

  • Continue our full-court press to raise financial aid to an appropriate level. Trinity needs to accomplish this soon to affirm its position within our NESCAC cohort.

I close by again thanking all those who helped get this academic year off to a good start, and I also want to thank all of you, and those absent, for your many expressions of kindness to Jan and to me throughout the past year, fraught as it was with so many challenges for all of us who care so deeply about this College. There are challenges ahead, as well, not only in the area of finances but also in discussions about our premises concerning what constitutes a great liberal arts college. We cannot rely on the balance sheets alone—important as they are—to determine our future. We must continue to weigh our resources in balance with our aspirations and to ensure that our actions will continue to position Trinity as a respected contributor to this nation’s academic life.

I now stand ready to try to answer any questions you may wish to ask. And again, I invite any of you who will read this document to contact me personally with any questions or concerns you may have about anything connected to our Trinity.