Faculty Address - October 8, 2013

Dear Members of the Trinity College Community,

Below, you will find the address that I delivered to the faculty yesterday 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.

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  - October 8, 2013


Good afternoon. 

As mandated by the Faculty Manual, the Dean of the Faculty, the President of the College, and the Chair of the Board of Trustees are to address the faculty formally each academic year.  We heard from Dean Mitzel last month.  Today, I present my annual address, with the Chair of the Board to speak to this body later this academic year.  I am following the same tradition started in our first year together by which we are sending electronically a copy of this address to all members of the faculty and staff, to the Board of Trustees, the Board of Fellows, and to the NAA Executive Committee so that there is a written copy of the address before each member of these critically important College constituencies.  In what follows this afternoon, I will attempt to lay out frankly the state of our College and to comment upon questions many of you have asked me over the course of the months following the announcement last May of my retirement from the presidency here on June 30, 2014.  Following my remarks, I will open the floor for your questions and comments, and, as always, I will respond to any inquiries that you may have after this meeting should you prefer to send them electronically.

I am filled with a variety of conflicting emotions as I deliver my final annual address to colleagues and friends who have come to mean so very much to Jan and me over the course of the past decade here at Trinity.  Eighteen years of two presidencies will come to an end in the short span of eight months and two weeks.  I have now delivered my last Convocation address, my last address to parents on Family Weekend, and now I am to deliver my last address to a faculty with whom I have been honored to serve for such a large percentage of my professional career.  I am deeply grateful to all of you, and to our emeriti faculty, for so much and for so many kindnesses extended to Jan and me all these years. 

A number of you have written to me with concerns about campus safety, so I want to address these issues at the outset, as I did this past Saturday morning for the parents assembled in the Washington Room for Family Weekend.  In the last year-and-a-half, we have made a number of substantial improvements in our campus security program, under the leadership of Cisco Ortiz.  These measures have led to a dramatic reduction in crime on and near our campus over that period of time.  Unfortunately, we have had several very troubling incidents since the school year began, centered on the theft of cell phones.  The same pattern of cell phone thefts that law enforcement agencies in cities across the country are struggling to deal with has made its way to our campus.  Why, you might ask, cell phones?  Crime statistics nationally demonstrate that pawn shops will buy cell phones without any questions being asked, normally for ten dollars each; cell phones are followed by portable GPS systems and then by laptops in the ease in which such items may be traded in for quick cash.  In all but one of the recent incidents here, the criminals were targeting cell phones.  As I wrote to you on September 24, we were able to apprehend one of the suspects and provide critical evidence that led to the identification of several others.  Our new security cameras have yielded clear images of suspects and vehicles in some cases whereby, had they occurred only a year ago, the police would not have had any leads upon which to begin their investigations.  However, we recognize that we need to do still more to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.  We are in daily contact with the Hartford Police Department, and we are working closely together to put an end to this recent uptick in crime.  The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is of utmost importance, and we continually review and modify our practices so that we can most effectively respond.  We take this issue very seriously, and I invite you to contact Cisco, Paul Mutone to whom Campus Safety officially reports, or me with any questions, concerns, or suggestions.

Another topic at the forefront of your minds is the presidential search.  Many of you are concerned, as am I, that the media reports on the latest controversy surrounding former President Dobelle at Westfield State University will negatively affect the search.  The news coverage, which began in The Boston Globe, the Springfield newspapers, and Inside Higher Ed and which has now spread to The Chronicle of Higher Education and to NPR, is very hard to ignore.  I do not have any answer to the question of how this will impact the cohort other than to say that I have full confidence in the firm hired by the search committee chaired by Cornie Thornburgh, Chair-Elect of the Board of Trustees.  In my opinion and in that shared by most of my peers in the country at this time, Shelly Storbeck is simply the best in the business.  I strongly encourage you to look through your networks and submit nominations to the search committee.  If you wish, your nominations can be made anonymously through Mary Jo Keating, Secretary of the College and Vice President for College Relations who is staffing the search, or through any of our other colleagues serving on the search committee itself.  I want you to know that I am not involved in the search process, and I will not be offering any nominations, as is only proper for a departing president.

I also wish you to know that I understand the anxiety about the search on and off campus.  Whatever else one might say, Jan and I are known quantities, having served here with you since July of 2004, a decade out of the eighteen years I have been a president at two different institutions.  But searches should optimally be times of great optimism and great hope:  a new individual in the front office of Williams Memorial Hall with a different set of tools in her or his tool box, experience in schools different than the four in which I have served these past thirty-eight years since I started my career at Washington University in 1975, which seems at once another lifetime ago and yet just last month, so quickly have the years disappeared with the snows of yesteryear, to borrow from Villon’s immortal line about the passage of time in our adult lives.

Notwithstanding the security incidents I just mentioned, we had a strong start to the year with a revamped first-year orientation program thanks to the vision of Alison Draper and her implementation subcommittee, and the hard work of countless others.  We added nine pre-orientation programs and the new Venture Trinity offering to the existing lineup that includes Quest, the P.R.I.D.E. Welcome Weekend, and International Student Orientation.  These programs brought over 200 first-years to campus early and allowed them to ease the transition to college by bonding over common activities and shared interests with a small group of peers and upperclass leaders.  Nine years ago in my first State of the College Address to the Faculty, I introduced the idea of the Quest Leadership program.  Under the capable leadership of Andy Miller, that program has become a highlight of each new year as well as a significant factor for the retention of our first-year students.  Andy has passed the torch to Kevin Johnson so that he can focus more on his important role in Advancement as Director of Parent Giving.  Now that Kevin has successfully led his first Quest pre-orientation trips, I have tasked him with extending Quest by offering an experiential education program throughout the year.  Kevin will plan outdoor trips, teach wilderness skills courses, and implement leadership training, in addition to advising our outdoor and rock climbing clubs, both of which are growing in popularity at a fast pace with the student body.  When the remainder of the incoming cohort arrived on the Thursday of orientation week, we divided the class into six groups for their first days on campus.  We were very pleased that this measure, in part, led to attendance rates at orientation events far greater than what we have seen in recent years—better than 95%—for each of the mandatory sessions on Saturday and Sunday.  Eboo Patel delivered the most engaging speech to the new class that any of our first-year common reading authors has given to date.  Those of you in attendance witnessed the mass of students who stayed behind after the talk to ask questions of Eboo and then line-up to receive his autograph on their copy of Acts of Faith.  By the time the Block Party was held on Sunday evening, there was a palpable sense of comfort among students that we have not seen in years past.  Alison’s committee is conducting a more formal evaluation of orientation, and I encourage you to support plans for making next year’s orientation even better.

    On the admissions front, Dean Dow and his team did a remarkable job of recruiting and enrolling the Class of 2017.  This year’s applicant pool numbered 7,653, within less than one percentage point of last year’s all-time high total of 7,720.  52% of the candidates were women and 48% were men.  We offered admission to 32% of the pool and ended with an enrollment yield of 25%.  The Class of 2017 numbers 607 students against our increased enrollment target this year of 605.  Our Summit Merit Award program was successful far beyond our predictions with 53 students accepting our offer—nearly six times last year’s enrollment and more than double the yield.  Four Presidential Scholars accepted their admission to Trinity, although one has decided to enroll after a year of study in England.  The new class has a strong interest in STEM majors with 33% indicating a preference for a math or natural science major, 31% for social sciences, 18% for humanities, with the remaining 18% undecided.

I need to ask for your continued assistance with a very important initiative of the Admissions Office.  This past year, we launched a pilot program to match our most attractive candidates with department chairs very early in the admissions cycle.  Response to this targeted and personalized communication was exceedingly positive, resulting in a number of these top-rated candidates attending VIP Days because they had already established relationships with faculty members.  What we are attempting to do is to replicate the early establishment of personal relationships between faculty and prospective students, mirroring what our coaches have been doing with their targeted recruits for some years now.  This targeted group of students also received newsworthy e-mails throughout the remainder of the admissions cycle.  We will expand this effort this year by matching more of our most desirable applicants with more faculty members.  Associate Director of Admissions Deborah Haskins will coordinate this program.  I encourage you to do what you can to support this program.  I cannot overstate the impact your personal involvement will have on recruiting our top prospects.  A second goal for the immediate future is to place greater emphasis on enrolling qualified transfer students.  Associate Director of Admissions Tim Cross will spend a substantial amount of his time, creativity, and effort on this initiative, which will help offset some of the lost tuition revenue due to the attrition of some students every year.

Our marketing firm 160over90 is focused on ensuring we put our proverbial best foot forward in our communications to prospective students.  We do not have the best track record of celebrating our positive attributes and all of those things that make us unique, and we have been conservative in our marketing efforts for decades.  So, from time to time, it is helpful to bring in an external viewpoint to recalibrate our marketing materials, especially considering the lightning fast pace with which digital trends now change within the high school cohort.  160over90 is currently fielding an online questionnaire to high school seniors in order to test and then further refine the key language and visual concepts that will be featured across print, web, and multimedia formats.  These projects will continue through the fall, and you will start to see the touches of the new branding appear in the meantime—for an example, see the impressive Presidential Search Committee’s Prospectus that was published last week.  I would like to thank all of you who opened your classrooms and laboratories in recent days to allow our photographers to capture images of the essence of a Trinity education.

Marketing is important for us to tell the Trinity story, but obviously, marketing alone can get us only so far.  In order for the Admissions Office to be successful in their efforts to improve the quality of our enrolling cohorts, we must have more funds available for financial aid.  Every year, we have no choice but to turn away some of our brightest applicants because we are far from having a need-blind admissions policy.  Therefore, our primary fundraising priority this year is an initiative to secure significant new commitments for student aid that can be spent immediately rather than to be set inside the College’s endowment.  Our goal is to raise spendable funds that can add $2-3 million to the financial aid budget per year over five to ten years.  Jack Fracasso and his Advancement team will have more to announce in the future regarding their specific fundraising plans for financial aid.

To continue on the advancement front, I would like to recap last year’s fundraising results and share some of the Advancement team’s early successes since July 1.  Despite the challenges of the past fiscal year on the social front, the Trinity Fund brought in $8.7 million, a 1% increase over our final campaign year.  Since the start of this current fiscal year, we have received nearly $1 million in bequests; the Trinity Fund is tracking 16% ahead of last year at this time in cash and pledges, and we continue to encourage gifts before Homecoming through the “Early Bantam” campaign; fifteen new families, a 43% increase, have joined the Parent Directors at a giving threshold that has been increased to $10,000 annually, a figure that one rarely if ever sees at schools across the land and testimony to Andy Miller’s fine work in his capacity as Director; and in Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations, 13 awards have been received, totaling just over $800,000 toward a FY14 goal of $3 million and in addition to 22 other pending proposals worth $3.5 million.  Grants include support for scientific research, financial aid, international visiting scholars, campus sustainability initiatives, and guest lecture series and reading groups, from notable funders including the National Science Foundation and Institute for International Education.  Over the summer, 425 parent and alumni families attended receptions held in 13 cities across the country to welcome the Class of 2017, and more than 100 meetings have been held with prospective donors at the capital giving level, including a briefing for 15 priority prospects in Silicon Valley and another to follow at Bain Capital in Boston. 

Our Advancement professionals will tell you that their job is more about “friendraising” than fundraising, and it is in that context that we are going to establish a set of Academic Advisory Boards.  The purpose of this program is to reconnect groups of alumni with keen affection for the College back to the heart of their alma mater.  Board members will be assigned to a particular academic division: Math and the Natural Sciences, Humanities and the Arts, Social Sciences, Graduate Programs, and Athletics.  In their role as advisory board members, these alumni will be asked to help move the academic mission of Trinity forward on a variety of fronts:

1.    To become familiar with the academic programs and sponsored events of the departments comprising a particular academic Division;

2.    To advise the Dean on current issues in the various fields and suggest new departmental and Career Development programming initiatives;

3.    To participate in and support activities of the Division that enhance student education within the Division;

4.    To undertake special assignments and reports;

5.    To assist in promoting the mission and objectives of the Division and the College; and

6.    To advise and assist the Dean of Faculty in obtaining external funding to support the programs of the Division.

Richard

Prigodich will coordinate this program and we hope to have each board constituted by the end of the semester so that the inaugural meetings can be held in the spring.

    Twenty students have already declared the urban studies major, which was just formally launched.  Later this month, the second book from CUGS will be available.  Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England’s Forgotten Cities, edited by Xiangming Chen and Nick Bacon ’10, is the first academic book to analyze specifically small cities and regions in New England.  Among the contributors to the book are six faculty members, one staff member, two recent graduates, and an alumnus from the 1970s.

 

Dean Mitzel reported the good news last month that our one-year retention rate has returned to 91%, which had been our baseline from 2006 to 2011.  Of the students from all classes who did not return this year, including 9% of the first-year class, 101 withdrew voluntarily and the remaining 63 were considered non-voluntary withdrawals.  This represents an average number of voluntary withdrawals but a slight increase above the average (57) for non-voluntary withdrawals.  While I am pleased that last year’s drop in retention may be just an outlier, I am fully aware that we have much work left to do on this front in order to improve our retention rate to the mean of our peer group at 94%.  I have asked Richard Prigodich and Sonia Cardenas to take the lead in coordinating our efforts, and they have already implemented several initiatives while planning for additional measures is underway.  Rich spoke to first-year seminar instructors and presented the history, probable causes, and possible remedies to the College’s “retention problem.”  This was followed by an appeal to notify Rich, Sonia, Nancy Wyshinski, Interim Director of the First-Year Program, or Ann Reuman, Associate Dean of Students, of students who are contemplating transfer or appear unhappy at Trinity.  We know that by the time students bring their consideration of transferring to the attention of any faculty member or dean, their resolve to transfer may already be quite strong, so I urge all of you to send prompt notice to Rich, Sonia, Nancy, or Ann whenever you first notice signs of concern.  Rich and Sonia are focusing on more proactive steps that we can take earlier on in order to help students find a connection when they might feel out of place.  For example, we are going to connect the Dean’s Scholars (the top 25% of the sophomore class) with those students who are most at risk for transfer—students with a high GPA, a high academic rating by Admissions, and who are not on financial aid.  There is evidence that academically ambitious first-year students often become disaffected with peers who are not intellectually engaged, so this outreach initiative will connect those first-years with a similar cohort of upperclass students.  In many ways, these pairings will mirror the same sense of belonging that forms when you mentor a student on a research project.

Faculty-mentored research projects involving our students, broadly defined, are one of our points of pride.  Did you know that we average over 1,100 of these experiences every academic year?  In addition to that count, over 100 students typically spend the majority of their summer engaged in a research project.  Multiple studies have revealed that students who are given the opportunity to participate in these types of experiential projects have much higher retention rates, graduate with more confidence and better communication skills (from presentation of their work either on campus or externally), and enter into their first working experience more quickly.  Coupled with small classes in the traditional classroom setting, these types of faculty-student interactions are truly what separate the liberal arts experience at Trinity College from that of a larger university.  Please keep this in mind throughout the year as we develop our academic plan.

As soon as Tom Mitzel agreed to return to Trinity as Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, I congratulated him on the decision, and my next words were to give him his first assignment: to begin thinking about how we might structure a strategic planning process for the academic side of the house.  Tom will lead this critical undertaking, but let me be clear that this will not be the plan of one dean or even one committee; no, this plan must emanate from the faculty at large.  The goal is an ambitious one: the planning must encompass the entirety of our campus of 38 departments and programs and must result in a final document upon which the faculty can agree.  In his address to you last month, Tom repeatedly referenced the notion of one faculty voice.  I cannot underscore enough how much weight this document will carry with the trustees if the faculty comes together with one united voice.  With a solid academic plan of faculty origin, the trustees may then help guide resources to where the faculty feels they will be most helpful.  There will be some difficult conversations to come, but I know you will approach them in the spirit of scholarly debate and with Trinity’s long-term interests in mind.  The EPC has suggested that the planning process might begin by studying enrollment data of the recent past and as predicted into the near future.  These data will prompt questions and further studies of enrollment trends nationally and at Trinity.  Department and program chairs will receive these initial data sets early this month so that discussions can begin within each division.  The EPC will receive divisional reports by the middle of March, and Tom will present the comprehensive plan to the trustees at their May meeting.  Now, no such planning process can proceed without acknowledging our financial realities, so let me speak on that topic next.

In the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2013, we received a 15.7% return on our endowment.  This remarkable achievement places us in the top tier of national academic investment returns for the year and is thanks to the team of talented professionals at Investure.  The selection of Alice Handy’s firm to manage our endowment investments was, in my opinion, one of the best decisions the Board of Trustees has made during my tenure.  I have said time and again that Trinity’s Achilles’s heel is not our geographic location in the City of Hartford—that is actually a positive—but rather the size of our endowment minus the size of our debt.  Therefore, it is critical that we have the best people we can find to manage our endowment.  On the operating budget side, we closed the year with a small surplus and with transfers to our reserves, but that budget included a supplemental draw from the endowment of $2.5 million.  That is, of course, not a sustainable practice, so we must work to get our expenses in line with revenues.  At the request of the trustees, yet another ad hoc committee is now working to reorganize our operating budget so that we may respond to the stresses that we face on our annual financials. 

    On the capital improvement front, Vernon Social speaks for itself.  I could never have imagined that the cavernous space on that site could be transformed into the wonderful, inviting space Vernon Social is today.  If you have not gone over there, I invite you to do so.  We have Paul Mutone, Tom Fusciello, and the various architects and contractors to thank for the transformation that occurred in the past seven or so months there.  The Crescent Street townhouses were put up at, to me at least, a truly remarkable pace this summer.  The flatbed trucks would arrive in the middle of the night because they had to maneuver through the city streets after coming down from Maine, the townhouses would be put up, and four days or so later, the water, sewer, and electrical systems were installed.  The students love these new spaces, and the second phase will be completed in January.  The auditorium in Jacobs was completely renovated this summer, and Gallows Hill, at long, long last, was renovated this summer as well. 

I have reported officially to the trustees many times that the one thing they do not need to worry about in the future at Trinity is the quality of the faculty.  The more than thirty individuals who have joined the faculty in the past five years are as good as I have ever seen, and proof of the faculty’s devotion to the academic mission of the College is seen in survey after survey of alumni, young and old, who extol the education they received from those of you who are the core of the College—the faculty.  Throughout all the administrative turmoil at the presidential, vice presidential, and decanal levels in the past, the faculty have never flinched from their central mission of providing the best possible quality education for our students.  No one can ever thank you enough for remaining steadfast and upholding the highest principles of teaching those for whom the College exists.

Many of you have asked me over the course of the last academic year about administrative bloat.  Not so many years ago, Trinity had an Executive Vice President, a Chief of Staff, a Vice President for Student Life, a Vice President for Community Relations, all at very high salaries, four Associate Deans in the Dean’s Office, and four administrative secretaries in the President’s Office.  In the past, we have eliminated the positions of Executive Vice President, Chief of Staff, the Vice Presidents for Student Life and Community Relations, we have reduced the number of Associate Deans from four to two, and we have cut by 50% the number of aides in the President’s Office.  Based on data compiled by COFHE, as of 2011 the number of non-faculty staff at Trinity was 485 while the median for all COFHE schools was 513.  Since 2005 Trinity reduced the number of non-faculty staff by 16 while COFHE schools averaged an increase in the number of non-faculty staff.  In my opinion, we are as lean as humanly possible to administer a college as complex as Trinity.  I do not think the case for administrative bloat can be made here at Trinity at this time.

By this time next year, the first phase of the House System will be in place for the Class of 2018.  This program will allow us to capitalize our most valuable asset—our dedicated faculty and staff—to better shepherd our students through their four years.  Five of you will serve as the faculty heads of the houses—I plan to make those appointments shortly—and there will be many more opportunities for each interested faculty and staff member to take an active role.  Dean Alford will have more information to share in the coming weeks and months as we solidify the plans of this implementation subcommittee.  This program, along with the financial aid goals I mentioned earlier, has the potential to change the culture of Trinity for the better, and it is my hope that all of you will get involved.  Once we set these two programs in place, the impact on our prevailing campus culture will be dramatic.  For an excellent history of the change in culture that happened at Williams in the mid 1960s, I suggest that you read the just-published book titled Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft.  The major text of this fascinating historical account is that a college can in fact make substantial changes in its social fabric by weaving together threads of institutional change simultaneously.  You will be as fascinated by this historical account as I and the members of the senior administration have been since the book appeared this past summer.

I will end today’s address with one final request that you submit your nominations to the Presidential Search Committee.  You may do so through your faculty representatives on the committee, Susan Masino, Craig Schneider, and Sean Cocco, to staff representatives Sue Aber and Jason Rojas, or anonymously via the links provided on the Trinity Web site.  From April through the end of June, my focus will be on the transition, and I will do my best to ensure that it is as seamless as possible. 

As should be the case for every departing president, my pledge to you is that beginning July 1, I will never intrude in any way into Trinity affairs.  I will return to campus—only when invited—to officiate at weddings, funerals, and the like, but I will always be available to help faculty, staff, and students with letters of recommendation or in any other way I can assist any of you from afar.  Many of you have asked what I intend to do once I am no longer president here.  We are moving back home to Atlanta, near our children and grandchildren, and I hope to teach and work part-time at Emory, chair the board at my prep school, and become involved in civic and religious organizations in the Atlanta area.  Retiring presidents should ride quickly off into the sunset and disappear over the horizon with the snows of yesteryear, and I give you my word that that is what I shall do come June 30, 2014.  Finally, I want each of you to know how touched I have been since the announcement last May of our departure by the scores of letters, e-mails, and oral comments you have sent my way.  I know in years to come that I will revisit all your kind comments and will remember the work we have all done to further the mission of the College through some challenging and indeed turbulent times. 

Thank you for your attention.  I now stand ready to answer any questions any of you may wish to raise with me in this forum.