February 14, 2018

Dear Members of the Trinity Community,

At the heart of all institutions of higher education is shared governance. The term “shared governance” connotes different things to different people and looks different from one institution to the next. It’s a principle that all of higher education embraces in theory but often struggles with in practice.

Trinity is no different in this regard. At last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, we talked quite a bit about shared governance—as a board, in discussion with consultants from the Association of Governing Boards and in the context of a number of agenda items concerning short- and long-term planning, as well as in a lunchtime conversation with the faculty, considering issues of decision-making authority and our individual and collective responsibilities to the institution. These are important discussions at any time, but they are especially critical at this moment, as we make strategic decisions that will set a course for Trinity’s future.

Effective shared governance is not a system of divided authority with different groups having absolute authority over different domains; it is a system of collective responsibility and shared aspirations for the future. Our work to develop Summit, our new strategic plan, modeled shared governance in the sense that everyone had a role. Its successful implementation requires a shared model, too, as we build upon the broad framework of the plan to undertake specific initiatives, devote resources to achieve our goals, and—importantly—decide together what not to do, how to focus and refine our efforts on those things we believe are most fundamental to our mission and will most effectively position Trinity as an institution of great import as it heads into its next 200 years.

At our meeting last weekend, we updated trustees on the work to implement Summit, and we shared with trustees the details of our recent reaccreditation from the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the scheduling of our next comprehensive evaluation in 10 years. We are delighted by the confidence that this reaccreditation from NEASC shows in Trinity’s strength and its plans for the future. We will do a standard interim report for NEASC in five years, and, before that, we will report back to the commission a year from now with progress on our plans in a few specific areas, including those to achieve long-term financial sustainability. You can read the details on our accreditation website.

Key to achieving long-term financial sustainability—which is a central goal of Summit—is our ability to steward resources carefully and strategically, as well as to build resources for the short- and long-term future. The board took two key steps in this regard. First, the board approved a 3.9 percent increase in the comprehensive fee for next year. The rates for the 2018–19 academic year will be:

Tuition and General Fee: $56,500
Room: 9,600
Board: 5,150
Student Activities Fee: 410
Total: $71,660

None of us takes this decision lightly, and we understand the contexts in which we and other institutions are asking families to pay such steep costs. We know that fewer and fewer families can afford to invest so deeply in their children’s education. We are profoundly grateful to the generations of philanthropy that have allowed Trinity to remain one of the few institutions in the country that meets the full demonstrated financial need of admitted students. But we must do more. As we raise the cost of attendance (and work to limit such increases), we must simultaneously ensure and enhance the value of a Trinity education and build philanthropic support so that we may attract the most talented students from around the world and from all economic backgrounds.

To that end, the trustees have authorized the college to undertake a comprehensive fundraising campaign. To be clear, this wasn’t a vote to launch the campaign fully now. It was a vote to begin planning and preparing for one. You will hear much more about the campaign as it takes shape in the coming months. The campaign will be critical to our ability to achieve the goals laid out in Summit and to create the future we want for Trinity College.

In other business, the board voted to authorize two projects that will address important health and safety issues: replacing the underground steam and condensate piping on campus (at a cost of $4.2 million) and replacing the turf on the Robin L. Sheppard Field (at a cost of $1.4 million). The steam-pipe project is scheduled for the summers of 2018 and 2019; the turf field will be replaced in time for the field hockey team to play on the field in the fall.

You will hear more soon about budget planning for the coming year and how we will continue discussions on shared governance. The trustees engaged in a preliminary discussion of the budget, which they will consider fully and vote upon at their meeting in April. In the lead up to April, we will look to employ effective shared governance—collective responsibility—in thinking about strategic decisions we can make this year that will build upon our positive momentum and position Trinity to thrive for decades to come.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience