February 3, 2015

Dear Trinity Faculty, Students and Staff,

In September, I promised that after each Board of Trustees meeting, I would share some of the highlights with you in order to improve transparency in our governance processes.  I am writing now to provide you with a summary of the meeting of the board in New York City on January 23, 2015.

Traditionally, the board meets in January to approve the operating budget for the following year.  During this meeting, the board approved a budget of $135,040,000 for fiscal year 2016, an increase of 3.88 percent over the current year’s budget.  The budget presented, and subsequently approved, represents a number of compromises in what was another challenging budget year.

Robust endowment returns of approximately 17 percent (for the year ending June 2014) helped to support an operating budget that does not contain special draws from the endowment.  I am particularly grateful to the Planning and Budget Council (PBC) for its tough decisions and recommendations that were necessary to create a balanced budget.  Here are a few highlights from the budget:

  • The budget approves an increase of 25 students in the entering class.  We hope to draw much of this increase from a healthy pool of transfer students, such as we saw in the applicant pool last year.  These additional entering students will replace some students who are lost to attrition each year from the first-year class. To support these additional students, we have budgeted increased financial aid and student services resources.  To maintain our student-faculty ratio, over the next two years, we propose to increase faculty FTEs by two.  We will ask the faculty to vote on this increase in the spring.
  • The budget provides for a new tax-exempt debt issue.  This bond will cover the costs of beginning to replace our antiquated (and frequently failing) utilities systems and the renovation of the Mather basement.  This space will support mentoring networks when the Bookstore and Cave move during the summer.  The bond also will cover the remaining unfunded portion of the long-awaited renovations of the Austin Arts Center in support of our academic infrastructure in the Music Department and a new artificial surface for the football field and running track, and it will allow us to start renovations to the baseball, softball, and soccer fields.
  • The budget approves monies to support the College’s continued commitment to bring faculty and staff salaries to the median of a prescribed peer group and to increase support of our beautiful, but aging, building infrastructure.  However, it does not include the restoration of all personnel benefits to the pre-2008 level.
  • The operating budget does not account for any costs related to the acquisition of the property at 200 Constitution Plaza because we are having ongoing discussions about how to position that purchase in the endowment holdings.

In the board’s budget discussions, we recognized the challenges this year that accompany a volatile stock market and its effect on our endowment returns and of how to engage alumni and the resulting impact on our fundraising operations, as well as the challenges of managing an undergraduate admissions cycle during the transition of the dean of admissions.

In addition to the primary discussion of the 2016 Operating Budget, we provided the trustees with interactive updates on mentoring networks, the 200 Constitution Plaza purchase, and other topics around campus.

The energy and enthusiasm that began with my first board meeting in October continued in this January meeting.  I remain realistic, but also optimistic, about Trinity’s challenges and opportunities.  The trustees and I continue to feel that the institution is on a positive spiral upward.  Together, as a community, we will continue to move Trinity forward boldly.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College
Professor of Neuroscience