April 27, 2020
Dear Trinity College Community Members,
In writing to you with updates from our recent Board of Trustees meeting, I’m following a standard practice in far-from-standard times. This past week, the board held its first-ever fully remote meeting, a historic moment in what truly is a historic period in the life of the college.
Despite our being apart physically, the board was deeply engaged in the business of the college, which, as you can imagine, felt highly consequential, as we took up discussions related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our college in the short, medium, and long term. I hope you will be reassured to know that the trustees, to a person, were focused on their role as stewards of our beloved institution and, chiefly, to protecting our core academic mission and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the college.
What I want to reinforce with all of you now is that, as an institution, we are in full planning mode. In a typical year, the April board meeting is the one at which trustees vote on a proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. But because of the pandemic, the variables are still too great to be able to set a budget for FY21 right now. We don’t yet know when we will be able to resume full, in-person operations, for instance, and that one variable has significant implications on enrollment, the student experience, support for faculty and staff, cost of operations, facilities and infrastructure, and more.
The Next 15 Months
Everyone wants to know what will happen in the fall. We simply don’t know right now. What we do know is that we will resume normal operations only when it’s safe to do so. At the moment, it is prudent to plan for a variety of circumstances, including both in-person and remote possibilities for the fall semester. We expect to know more and to make decisions about the fall by mid-June.
The board considered a number of scenarios for the coming year that vary depending on the course of the pandemic. And we are planning for and evaluating the likely financial impacts of the crisis over the next 15 months, understanding that even amid the uncertainty, all three of our primary sources of revenue likely will be negatively and significantly affected (net student revenue, endowment income, and philanthropy). The trustees brought valuable insight and ideas to those conversations, informed by their deep knowledge of Trinity, as well as by their professional expertise in a variety of sectors both public and private. Trinity is truly fortunate to benefit from the counsel and care of such dedicated alumni and parent board members.
These issues are complicated, and the decisions are numerous and intertwined. The circumstances demand that we work together, relying on our shared governance structures, and they call on our collective good faith, patience, and understanding as all of us grapple with challenges, the likes of which we have never before experienced.
Cabinet members and I will continue to work diligently with trustees and our other governance structures, and we will continue to consult with and seek guidance from external sources, including the Education Committee of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group that Governor Ned Lamont announced last week. We anticipate guidance from that group by late May.
Thinking Boldly Beyond the Next 15 Months
In this unprecedented time of challenge that the COVID-19 pandemic represents, the board recognizes that we must consider how Trinity can weather this crisis and come out stronger on the other side; it’s a time when we can and should position the college to lead and differentiate ourselves in the future. The board is charging the recently announced President’s Commission for Trinity’s Future to surface creative, bold ideas and to take a blue-sky outlook. This small, nimble commission will be chaired by Trustee Lisa Bisaccia ’78 and joined by Trustees Lou Shipley ’85 and Craig Vought ’82, P’17; Acting Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sonia Cardenas; Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer Dan Hitchell; Professors Christopher Hager, Susan Masino, and Garth Myers; Dean of Admissions Adrienne Oddi; Director Research, Instruction, Technology Jason Jones; and students Mia Conte ’22 and Giovanni Jones ’21.
The commission’s work will span now through the fall, and it will report to the Board of Trustees and me during the spring, summer, and fall before it sunsets. The commission is not intended to make operational decisions; instead, it is conceived of as a small think tank that will allow us to tap into some of our community’s talent and experience. It will be a starting point of dialogue about the future, and many opportunities will exist in the months ahead to include more voices in this critical work.
Board Actions and Milestones
As is customary for the April board meeting, trustees heard annual reports from our Student Government Association president, Trinity College Alumni Association president, and faculty secretary. These were thoughtful reports by Trinna Larsen ’20, Eric Estes ’91, and Mark Stater, all of whom have devoted countless hours to their leadership roles during the past year.
One key vote by the board on Friday was to approve a resolution to draw on the full amount of a $10 million line of credit that the college has with JPMorgan Chase & Co. This decision will provide us with additional flexibility during these uncertain times. We may not avail ourselves of that additional debt, but it is important to be able to access it should we need to do so. The board also agreed on a strategy for addressing our long-standing heating and cooling infrastructure needs with a hybrid of a fully localized and a fully centralized system. The hybrid plan, which would be implemented over several years as budget allows, would replace the campus’s central boiler and reduce the demand on it by installing two additional plants, one in north campus and one in south campus.
The board took other significant actions during this April meeting, including some that celebrate milestone events in the life of the college. One was the awarding of tenure and promotion to associate professor to two highly deserving faculty members. They are:
Ethan Rutherford, in English, whose fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, American Short Fiction, and The Best American Short Stories, and whose first book, The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories, won the Minnesota Book Award and the Friends of American Writers Award, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award, and received honorable mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award; and
Per Sebastian Skardal, in mathematics, who specializes in nonlinear dynamics, stochastic processes, and complex networks and teaches courses in applied mathematics, dynamical systems, differential equations, and more.
The board also awarded emeriti status to several faculty members who have retired or are retiring this year: Raymond Baker; Lesley Farlow; Gerald Gunderson; Michael Lestz ’68, P’13, ’19; Craig Schneider; Mark Silverman; and Michal Ayalon. On behalf of the board, congratulations and thank you to all of these outstanding faculty members. Your work is at the heart of what makes Trinity an exceptional educational institution and community.
Trustees also approved a resolution brought by the faculty to award honorary bachelor’s degrees to Cinestudio founders James Hanley ’72 and Peter McMorris ’73. The independent movie theater they started 50 years ago is a cultural destination for the entire region, and we are forever indebted to James and Peter for creating such a beloved institution on our campus. Congratulations!
We also honored and thanked retiring trustees, all of whom have given of their time, talent, and treasure to the college and we know will remain engaged with Trinity: Scott C. Butera ’88, P’18, ’20; Jeffrey E. Kelter ’76, P’18; Pamela D. McKoin P’15; and Shawn T. Wooden ’91. I am grateful for the incredible dedication of the members of the Board of Trustees and for their support of all of us and this great institution.
For faculty and staff, I hope you’ll join us tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. for the next in our ongoing series of Virtual Town Halls. Several trustees and cabinet members will participate to respond to your questions and to provide you with perspective and information about our continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our plan is to keep hosting these virtual gatherings with our community and to stay connected with all of you during this time when we can’t be together in person. Alumni and families, I encourage you to check out the recently launched Virtual Long Walk, where you’ll find many ways to connect, including virtual events like the terrific panel discussion planned for Friday that will include several alumni who are leaders in professional sports. And you can learn more about how you can help current students and the college in these challenging times.
Students, to you I want to say how much we miss having all of you on campus and how deeply we all continue to feel the sense of what you’ve lost this semester. At the same time, we are inspired by you, as we see you rise to the challenge of remote learning, engage in the life of your college, and care for yourselves and for one another. As we near the end of the academic semester, keep an eye out for ways we’ll mark important moments and celebrate you, especially our graduating students. We’re apart, but you are in our hearts and minds every day.
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience