College Updates Following Board of Trustees Meeting

May 1, 2018

Dear Members of the Trinity Community, 

The April meeting of the Board of Trustees is always significant in terms of actions taken and information shared. This year’s meeting was no exception, so there’s plenty to report (i.e., warning: long letter ahead!). One consequential vote by the board was the approval of the budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which I’ll share more about in a moment. In addition to reaching that milestone, we moved forward significantly on our course for the future, and we heard from key members of the community about the progress made this year. We also celebrated the service of retiring faculty members and trustees, and the board awarded tenure to six outstanding members of our faculty. 

First, a huge thank you to all who made last week’s Giving Day a resounding success! That includes the 2,078 who made gifts—contributing more than $2.2 million—and all of those whose work on behalf of the college (staff, students, and alumni and parent volunteers) helped us exceed our goal. Your support means a great deal and is more important than ever in helping us advance our liberal arts mission. 

Toward a Sustainable Future

I want to thank the campus community for its input in the various meetings and community forums (both in person and online) about achieving long-term financial sustainability. The budget for FY19 that the trustees have just approved took shape over the last few months with involvement from our governance committees. This budget may have been the most difficult budget we’ve developed since I arrived because it was about implementing our strategic plan and making steps toward sustainability. We made decisions to reduce our overall spending—to balance the budget—while creating flexibility to invest in some key areas to help advance the college. The work that we did this year lays the foundation for the development of sustainable budgets for next year and beyond.

I’ve often said that at Trinity we can do almost anything, but we can’t do everything. This year’s budget process was a challenging exercise in figuring out what we can’t or shouldn’t do anymore. The impact will be felt differently across campus because we’re not making indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts. In fact, in some areas, like advancement, we will invest significantly through a special draw from the endowment over the next five years. We expect this investment in advancement to pay off with significant increases in current-use and endowment dollars and alumni engagement. 

We also will invest in areas to help advance our strategic goals of providing a top-quality educational experience for students and making Trinity even more of a first-choice college for students, faculty, and staff. And we’ll invest in efforts to increase flexibility and add new revenue sources for the college in ways that will help us ensure our financial health long into the future. 

The trustees passed an FY19 operating budget that is balanced and $2 million smaller than the FY18 budget. The FY19 budget reflects an increased commitment to financial aid (thereby lowering net tuition revenues) to recruit the best possible student body, annual salary increases for faculty and staff, higher employee-benefit costs, and increases in the cost of running the college’s facilities. Therefore, to balance the budget, we cut operating expenses by $4.8 million to arrive at an operating budget of $136.9 million. You can read more about the budget here.

The board also approved an FY19 capital budget of $9.7 million, which includes the replacement of the turf on the Robin L. Sheppard Field and underground condensate piping across campus, as well as additional capital spending to address a range of pressing needs related to safety, health, accessibility, and classroom technology. You can see details here.

I’m pleased to share some other specific updates that are related to the successful implementation of our strategic plan, Summit. 

  • ​​Final sale of 200 Constitution Plaza. In April, the college finalized the sale of 200 Constitution Plaza, the building we had previously purchased (purchase price, $2.17 million; sale price, $2.6 million). We are now leasing space in two other Constitution Plaza buildings (One and 10). The new Liberal Arts Action Lab is in 10 Constitution Plaza, and One Constitution Plaza is planned to support graduate and certificate programs—ideal given its location in the heart of the city’s central business district. Both spaces allow us to deepen our involvement with our Hartford home. You can see more details about the purchase, sale, and carrying costs of Constitution Plaza here.

  • Sustainability coordinator. I was delighted to announce at GreenFest the creation of our first full-time sustainability coordinator position. Funded through the repurposing of vacant roles in the finance and operations division, the coordinator will focus on advancing urban environmental sustainability, working with the sustainability committee and partnering across campus and in Hartford.

  • Change in endowment management. As we shared in the winter issue of The Trinity Reporter, the college is transitioning its endowment management from Investure to Commonfund, a move that will be complete by July 1. The team from Commonfund presented to the board its robust research and analysis of Trinity’s endowment compared with that of our peers. We will invite the team back to present endowment workshops to the campus sometime in the fall. 

  • Summit Fellows. I will use money from the president’s discretionary account to create a small number of short-term (one or two-year) Summit Fellow positions. We hope to employ top-notch recent graduates—in a format similar to Trinsition Fellows—to implement specific projects that will help us achieve the goals laid out in our strategic plan. If staff members have ideas for how best to use such positions, I encourage you to share them with your division leader

Shared Perspective

At the April board meeting, trustees heard annual reports from the faculty secretary, Student Government Association (SGA) leadership, and the president of the National Alumni Association (NAA). Their thorough, informative reports—indications of the dedication with which they serve—made it clear that we have made much progress this year. These reports were the perfect precursor to a thoughtful lunchtime discussion on Friday between faculty and trustees about shared governance, led by the small group of trustees (Lisa Bisaccia ’78, Steve Elmendorf ’82, Kevin Maloney ’79, and Craig Vought ’82, P’17) who had convened a listening tour with faculty and staff this spring. 

We hope it’s the first of many such occasions for trustees, faculty, and administrators to understand their different perspectives and come together over shared goals. The trustees will report back soon with learnings from their conversations with staff. The trustees will be using these conversations to recommend next steps in this continuing dialogue. My thanks to all who took part. 

Milestones

The board voted to promote to the rank of associate professor with tenure six accomplished faculty members: Cheyenne Brindle, Shane Ewegen, Meredith Safran, Kari Theurer, Thomas Wickman, and Abigail Fisher Williamson. I want to extend my personal congratulations and gratitude to each of these faculty members, whose scholarship, teaching, service to the community, and dedication to students epitomize the Trinity scholar-teacher. With this board meeting, we also celebrated retiring faculty members William Butos, Leslie Desmangles, John Georges, Joan Hedrick, Gerald Moshell, Ralph Moyer, and Patricia Tillman and retiring trustees Nina McNeely Diefenbach ’80, P’18, and Paul Mounds Jr. ’07. 

Finally, it’s May 1—our deadline for enrollment for the Class of 2022. It’s too early to know full details about the group, but I can share preliminarily that we’ve recruited another exceptional class—academically talented, diverse in every way, and full of talented students who are eager to be part of the Bantam family and engaged on campus and in the world around them. We’ll have a fuller picture and much to celebrate soon!

For those on campus, I hope you’ll join me for tomorrow’s Town Hall in the Washington Room at 12:15. I’ll share with you some updates on what we’ve accomplished together this year, including progress in implementing Summit, and you’ll have a chance to share your thoughts and ask questions of members of the administration and me. 

Sincerely,

Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience