October 24, 2019

Dear Trinity College Community,

Around this time five years ago, I wrote to you with my first post-board meeting letter, beginning a tradition of sharing the major actions and discussions from every meeting of the Board of Trustees. Back then, I had been on the job for only a few months, and the excitement about new beginnings was palpable. At last weekend’s meeting, the appreciation for all we’ve accomplished together over the last five years was terrific, and the board is feeling even more positive about the direction in which we’re headed.

At this meeting, the board took action on some items that will help ensure our long-term financial sustainability and dramatically improve the student experience. And it took up important conversations with faculty about the future of our curriculum and with faculty, staff, and students about employee engagement and satisfaction. All of this work is done in the context of Summit, our strategic plan, and its three overarching goals: positioning Trinity increasingly as a first-choice destination for students, faculty, and staff; connecting Trinity more deeply to the Hartford region and the world beyond, and building on Trinity’s historic past to ensure a vibrant, sustainable future.

Board Votes

The two most significant actions occurred during the Financial and Physical Resources Committee meeting. The committee (and subsequently the full board) voted to authorize the administration to review our current debt structure and investigate refinancing and new debt during this time of record-low interest rates. Any proposed new debt would be used primarily to address deferred maintenance needs on campus.

The Financial and Physical Resources Committee (and subsequently the full board) also authorized spending $1.6 million to proceed with the design phase of a renovation and addition to Ferris Athletic Center. The two-story addition, which would be built on the north side of the existing building, would provide state-of-the-art squash facilities and a dedicated home for Hartford’s Capitol Squash, as well as a new student health center and renovations to the fitness complex. The project is the centerpiece of an ambitious athletics fundraising effort, led by Trustee Peter Duncan ’81, P’13, ’14 and Elissa Raether Kovas ’93, which also includes athletics endowment and a new stadium at Jessee/Miller and Sheppard fields.

As is a regular part of the October meeting, the board received and approved the college’s consolidated financial statements by our independent auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Those statements are available online here: https://www.trincoll.edu/AboutTrinity/Offices/Accounting/Pages/Financial.aspx.

Critical Conversations

The board had thoughtful conversations about a number of topics, among them the external challenges facing higher education and more meaningful ways to connect our alumni back to the life of the college. Two conversations stood out, in particular, for their importance to our strategic goals.

The first was a plenary focused on shared governance at which different campus constituents discussed with trustees the findings from last spring’s employee engagement survey. Those findings will be shared soon with the campus. Though the survey represents data from a single point in time, it denotes one of our many efforts on a path toward continuous improvement for those who work here. I am reminded of the exceptional level of participation in the survey—66 percent of all employees took part. That level of involvement shows us how much you care and want to be part of moving Trinity forward. Thank you!

Later that day, faculty and student members of the Curriculum Committee shared with the board the progress made toward a new curriculum—an effort to emphasize the core liberal arts education and add practical and experiential elements and a wellness requirement that ensure our relevance well into the next decade. And if anyone needs a reminder of the value and relevance of the liberal arts in today’s world, here are two: This one, by Infosys President Ravi Kumar, on CNBC, about the importance of liberal arts to the future of tech, and this from The Washington Post, covering Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller’s new book, Narrative Economics. Shiller reminds us of the essential role of narrative in understanding economic trends and the value of the humanities in helping us develop those narratives.

Celebrations and Milestones

Finally, it was a meeting of milestones, celebrations, and meaningful interactions between trustees and members of the campus community. Before the meeting, we started with a conversation on women in leadership with our board chair, Cornie Thornburgh ’80, and me, moderated by News 8 reporter Sarah Cody ’95. My thanks to Cornie and to Sarah for leading us in such a great conversation as part of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Trinity. You can watch the whole discussion here if you missed it. I hope you can attend or watch afterward today’s Women at the Summit event, “Sororities Then and Now, A Conversation with Jane Swift ’87, H’02.”

At the board meeting, we welcomed four new trustees and gathered for a reception with student, faculty, and staff leaders. We also celebrated a very special occasion, to thank and recognize the newest Wall of Honor inductees, whose extraordinary generosity, leadership, and vision have benefited all areas of the college and enhanced the lives of many Trinity students. And thank you for your continued support and engagement in so many ways, whether you’re here on campus contributing as a community member every day or keeping in touch from afar through emails like this one. I hope to have the chance to celebrate with many of you at Homecoming this weekend. Come on home to Trinity!


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience