An end of semester update
from the President to the Campus Community
May 7, 2015
To the campus community,
With the semester coming to an end, I want to provide an update on a few key initiatives
and acknowledge, again, the very good work being done by so many people across our
entire community – staff, faculty, and students. I know that this is a particularly
busy time in the semester as faculty and students push hard to bring their coursework
to a close, our athletic teams wrap-up their seasons, and many others are working to prepare the campus for several
waves of visitors to arrive very soon – first for commencement, then reunions, and finally our summer programs. I wish all of you success in your various endeavors.
In many ways, Skidmore has never been stronger – our endowment is growing, our finances
are stable, and we have consistently met or exceeded our targets for entering classes.
At the same time, along with all other institutions of higher education, the College
faces many significant external challenges. Those range from continuing concerns
about cost and value to an increasingly difficult regulatory environment. We also
are continuously striving to make improvements and changes in the face of new challenges.
Of special importance is our determination to keep our community a place that is welcoming
and safe for all people regardless of their race, gender, religion, nationality, or
sexual orientation. With that as backdrop, there are three key areas of focus for
us at the moment: institutional planning, campus climate and community, and financial
We have been engaged over the past year in a number of major planning efforts – the
drafting of a new comprehensive Strategic Plan, our ten-year Middle States reaccreditation, as well as reviews of our general education requirements, our sustainability initiatives, our investment policies relative to fossil fuel holdings, the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS), and
our communications program. I note that we are making progress in each of these areas.
Progress, as charged by our Board of Trustees, includes reaffirming our core mission
and continuing with programs that contribute to it, but also making the tough decisions
to discontinue particular areas.
As you saw from Associate Dean Karen Kellogg’s recent email, we now have an exciting
new Campus Sustainability Plan. The five Middle States working groups have kept to their timeline and have just
finished drafts of their respective sections of the self-study report. Work toward
the Strategic Plan continues to be discussed with the Institutional Policy and Planning
Committee (IPPC) and the Board of Trustees. At its upcoming meeting, the Board of Trustees will
review recommendations from The Task Force on Divestment’s Report on our fossil fuel investments, our MALS program, and the reorganization of our communications
Some of the reviews referenced above will affect both our organizational structure
and staffing. The communications review, which has been underway since January and
is now complete, will lead to several major changes. This work was undertaken in
response to the transformation of higher education marketing and communication. The
most significant recommendation is to move the communications function out of Advancement
and establish it as a stand-alone division. In addition, we will make several key
programmatic shifts, reallocating resources to expand our marketing, social media,
and web units, and eliminating the Office of Community Relations. This work will
greatly enhance our ability to meet the many new challenges we are facing in this
fast-changing arena. As part of the reorganization, four colleagues will be leaving
the College, Debra Coleman, Kirstin Drabek, Dan Forbush, and Bob Kimmerle. I want
to recognize how difficult it is to eliminate an area of the College and to express
my deep appreciation for their good service and many contributions.
A second significant organizational change is the proposed closure of MALS. The Committee
on Educational Policies and Planning (CEPP) and IPPC reached this decision after careful
consideration. Their joint recommendation was accepted by the faculty at its meeting
this past month and will now be presented to the Board of Trustees for final action
at their upcoming meeting. MALS has served the College well for many years, and I
want to express great appreciation for the contributions of our colleagues Sandy Welter,
Jacqueline Scoones, and Ellen Eldredge, and others before them, in working to make
that Program a point of pride.
Skidmore’s funding comes principally from three sources: tuition revenues, endowment
income, and fundraising. We are nearing the close of another very successful admissions
season, and our current expectation is that we will open next year with a class that
is slightly (15-25 students) above target and with a lower-than-anticipated need for
financial aid. These two developments have positive implications for next year’s
budget and should ease, in the short term, some of the considerable pressure we have
felt in recent years on our financial aid budget.
We are also having another solid year in fundraising. Total gifts are projected at
$22-23 million, and the Skidmore Fund should exceed last year’s total and reach the
$7.1-7.3 million range. Creating Our Future: The Campaign for Skidmore, now in its
second year, stands at $84.5 million in gifts and pledges and should hit $86 million
by year’s end. One area of continuing focus is the Center for Integrated Sciences
(CIS). We now have $37 million in hand towards that project, including $32.5 million
in gifts, but this total is still a good distance from our ultimate fundraising goal
for this project. This project remains a top priority in the fundraising work the
Advancement staff, the Campaign Executive Committee, and Marie and I are doing.
Finally, the endowment continues to perform well and, as of March 31st, stands at
$338.2 million in market value. We have also received $5.6 million in gifts to the
endowment for the year and anticipate receiving another $5-7 million in the coming
year. The stability of our endowment, in addition to our strong admissions picture
and fundraising, contributes to our strong bond rating (currently A1) by Moody’s Rating
Service. The longer-term outlook, however, remains concerning, particularly in terms
of our affordability by middle class families. It is something we will need to monitor
closely and, when appropriate address proactively. We will have much more to say
about this and related issues in the fall as we return to more public discussions
relating to the new Strategic Plan.
Community and Campus Climate
First, recognizing that the Skidmore community now extends well beyond the borders
of the campus, Marie and I want to note that our continued thoughts are with those
victims of the earthquake that devastated Nepal on April 25, 2015. We thank those
who acted quickly to reach out to the members of our community who have connections
to that area, including a few of our current students, and to those who have facilitated
efforts by the Skidmore community to provide relief and assistance to those affected
by this tragic event.
More locally, building a strong campus community has been a primary focus for me for
much of the past several years – with special attention in the last two “Strategic
Action Agendas.” I want to acknowledge the work done in this regard by many members
of our community, but it is evident that we still have a long way to go. Student
activism surrounding the recent civic unrest in Baltimore touched off a series of
exchanges between community members on Yik Yak that make it clear that our community
is struggling with the very same issues of racism and intolerance that are present
in communities and college campuses across the nation. Dean of Students and Vice
President for Student Affairs Rochelle Calhoun addressed this issue directly with
our students in an e-mail she issued earlier this week, and I want to reinforce her
statement that these behaviors will not be tolerated on our campus. We are a community
that operates on a basis of respect and responsibility and I, once again, call upon
all of us to live up to those values.
I also believe that it is time for additional institutional responses to this challenge.
The Committee on Intercultural and Global Understanding (CIGU) proposed the creation of a new senior administrative position of Chief Diversity
Officer (CDO) to energize and lead our efforts related to diversity and inclusion.
After careful consideration and lengthy conversations, it is clear to me that we do,
in fact, need a senior member of our administration who can help us move this agenda
forward and achieve progress in areas such as campus climate and the retention of
faculty and staff of color. We will inform the community of how we will proceed in
the near future, but I expect to have someone in place by the end of our next academic
year at the latest.
A second area of focus this year has been sexual and gender-based misconduct. This
is another instance where the ultimate solution lies in how we – and, in particular,
how our students – treat one another. At the same time, we must continue to do all
we can institutionally to ensure the safety of the community and also to ensure that
we treat everyone fairly. The public conversations organized by the Advisory Council on Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct provided valuable feedback on our current practices and policies, and we will hold
additional sessions this coming year. We will also continue to monitor best practices
nationally, as well as the changing regulatory landscape to ensure that we remain
in compliance with all pertinent laws. We also will continue to explore new ways
of engaging all members of our community in affirming everyone’s right to live without
fear of sexual exploitation.
Finally, I want to report on some of the ways in which we are following up on last
year’s staff survey. This past week, I and several members of President’s Cabinet
held an open meeting with staff members to discuss how we might explore the suggestion
of creating a staff advisory group. While there is a range of opinion on what this
group might look like, there is general agreement that it is an idea worth pursuing.
Given that, I have asked members of President’s Cabinet and Human Resources to work
with interested staff to facilitate the creation of a pilot staff advisory group to
President’s Cabinet. The goal is to create a vehicle for staff to share ideas and
thoughts on a range of institutional issues, and I encourage all interested staff
members to participate. I appreciate the positive contributions that have been made
by those members of our staff who have been regularly meeting on this issue. Please
look for a forthcoming communication regarding the announcement of the next meeting.
One take-away from the range of topics discussed above is that we can never stay still
as an institution. Higher education, in general, and Skidmore College, in particular,
continue to operate within a framework of challenges and opportunities. Given the
rapidity, ubiquity, and unpredictability of the changes we must confront, it is evident
that the institutions that will flourish and grow are those that can anticipate the
challenges and embrace ways to see them as opportunities – both to improve what we
do and to distinguish ourselves, in a positive sense, from our peers. Given the abundance
of talent, creativity, and dedication on our campus, I am confident that as long as
we continue to be anchored by our tradition of liberal education, we will have great
prospects for continuing the successes of recent years. Together we are at our best.
I wish all of you well with whatever it is that awaits you this coming summer. And
I look forward to seeing our seniors and their families as well as our faculty and
staff at Commencement, May 16th.
Philip A. Glotzbach