An end of semester update from the President
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 stability.
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 area.
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 standalone 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 toward 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 31, 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 email 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 16.
Philip A. Glotzbach