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Wesleyan Student Assembly — Wesleyan University

WSA Report from the November Board of Trustees Meeting November 23, 2008


This year’s annual November meeting of the Board of Trustees ran from Thursday, November 20 through Saturday, November 22. This gathering constituted the Board’s first official meeting of the academic year, following the retreat which was held September 27. As guests of the board, the WSA President and Vice-President attended the meeting alongside the six Executive Committee members who serve as Student Representatives to the Board in accordance with the WSA Constitution and University by-laws.

As the Board had previously emphasized the need to prepare the University for the long-term impact of the global financial crisis, the main topic of discussion during this meeting was “The Economic Framework Going Forward.” In a break with tradition, the Board committee sessions were held consecutively, enabling the trustees and President Roth to attend each of the separate meetings and address this topic from multiple angles. At General Session, the Board considered the administration’s proposed multi-pronged approach to addressing an expected budget shortfall of over $15.5 million in the next few years. First, the administration proposed an extensive “belt tightening” exercise to eliminate $5 million from the annual budget. In addition, the Board considered a proposal for instituting significant across-the-board cuts (including a salary freeze for staff and faculty and a substantial reduction of the budget for major maintenance projects) and revenue enhancements (including a temporary rise in undergraduate enrollment and a one-time boost to the rate of tuition increase). Although the proposed solutions for rightsizing the budget were viewed as in line with the University’s core values, there remains concern that the dwindling size of the endowment will force the Board to consider even more painful sacrifices when it meets again in February.


On Friday, the student representatives to the Board split up to attend meetings of the following three Board committees:

  1. Campus Affairs is responsible for the Board’s activities relating to the educational 0program of the University as well as student affairs, including admission, residential life, health services and more. Trustee, student and faculty representatives serve on this Committee and have both voice and vote except for the Executive Session involving personnel issues. The Executive Session of the Campus Affairs Committee is usually attended by trustees and the vice chair of the Advisory Committee of the Academic Council only.

Campus Affairs was attended by Mike Pernick, Becky Weiss, and Benedict Bernstein. In addition to the normal attendees of the meeting, numerous Trustees took advantage of the new schedule to observe the Campus Affairs meeting.

After taking care of Committee governance, the Committee proceeded to a lengthy discussion of “Assessment” both of the Academic and co-Curricular aspects of a Wesleyan education. The committee sought to provide input on the faculty and administration’s ongoing work towards implementing a system of qualitative and quantitative assessment that will both satisfy NEASC and will provide Wesleyan with an opportunity for self-reflection and improvement. It was noted that Wesleyan has the opportunity to become a leader in this field and to “brand” itself if we can find a way to successfully measure the “intangibles” of what makes a Wesleyan education great. The Trustees’ suggestions as to how this might be done will be valuable as the EPC and the administration continue their work on this issue.

We then moved on to our second item for discussion: “capstone” experiences. Again, as the process of thinking about capstones is still in its early phases, the main purpose of this discussion was to provide suggestions for what capstones might look like and how they could best be achieved. It was remarked that capstones provide a valuable opportunity for a synthesis of multiple disciplines, continued academic engagement of seniors, and a shared senior experience. However questions of resources and effectiveness were also raised. Joe Bruno, Vice President for Academic Affairs, informed the committee that Academic Affairs is hoping to institute a capstone program for next year.

While it had not been on the agenda for discussion, the pleasant surprise of a 38% increase in ED1 applications—as reported in the New York Timesóled to a discussion of admissions. Nancy Meislahn, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, reported that the percentage of applicants asking for financial aid in the pool had not changed significantly, and reported a huge increase in the number of black students applying ED1 (a 74% increase from last year). While Dean Meislahn and Greg Pyke speculated as to possible contingent explanations for the increase, it is clear that a significant portion of the increase was thanks to the hard work of Admissions staff and coaches (peer schools only saw about a 10-20% increase in applications).

The committee received reports on new faculty appointments and on the activities of the WSA. The Committee then went into executive session to hear tenure case(s).

  1. Finance is responsible for the Board’s activities relating to the University’s capital and operating budgets, which include the establishment and monitoring of long-range financial planning for the University. It is also responsible for the investment policies of the University. Trustees and student and faculty representatives serve on this Committee and have both voice and vote.
  2. Finance was attended by Chris Goy and Jen Liebschutz. Under the topic of facilities, the committee discussed the completed construction of the two new senior houses on Pine and Fountain, the Vine St. co-generation facility which should be up and running by the time students get back from break, hedging fuel costs through 2010, and the exterior renovations that were made to 28 houses on Braindard, Wyllys, etc.
  3. The committee also discussed the current condition of Wesleyan’s endowment. The endowment has lost $129 million since August, when it was valued at $651 million. This loss amounts to 20% over the past 4 months, which is comparable to the 21% decline of the Russell 2000 index over the same period. Assuming a 5% endowment return during years subsequent to the current fiscal year, we will return to the 2007 level of $710 million in 2013 at best.
  4. University Relations is responsible for the Board’s activities regarding the University’s relationships and communications with off-campus constituencies, including its alumni/ae and the University’s development efforts. Trustees and student and faculty representatives serve on this Committee and have both voice and vote.
  5. University Relations was attended by Saul Carlin and Elise Rosenthal. The meeting began with an overview of University Relations’ progress towards its annual and campaign fundraising goals. A measurable decline in participation due to the current economic climate now poses a serious challenge to our fundraising efforts. As of October 24, $11.2 million in gifts and pledges have been raised since this fiscal year began on July 1; an additional $63.8 million must be raised by June 30, 2009 to meet the annual goal. Surprisingly, fundraising for the Wesleyan Annual Fund is actually ahead of where it was at this point last year.
  6. Next, Campaign Director Anne Bergen presented UR’s metrics for analyzing Wesleyan’s donor base. The presentation was followed by a discussion of the strategic use of price points for endowed scholarships and professorships when making solicitations for campaign donations.
  7. Director of Communications Mark Bailey presented the strategy for synthesizing Wesleyan’s “Big Ideal” of Practical Idealism with ongoing and future communications efforts. This concept, which was developed by University officers in consultation with the public relations firm Ogilvy and Mather, describes how Wesleyan “transforms individual potential into purpose and result”. Associate Vice President for ITS Ganesan Ravishanker added to the presentation by outlining “Wes2.0”, the University’s strategy for using electronic media to aggregate and distribute content over the Internet.
  8. Newly elected committee vice-chair Robert Allbritton ’92 then led an open discussion of ideas for incorporating electronic media more directly into the University’s communications strategy. The discussion focused on the need to redesign Wesleyan’s homepage to deliver abundant and meaningful content in a simple, streamlined way, while incorporating features that will set the homepage apart from others. The Wesleyan-Allbritton Studio, a plan to help Wesleyan speakers get airtime on television networks, was also discussed before time ran out.

General Session

On Saturday morning, the Board met for a two-and-a-half hour General Session before entering their afternoon Executive Session. Presentations and discussions at this meeting included:

  1. Martha Gilmore, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, gave the faculty presentation. Her talk began with an overview of her work studying the surface conditions of Venus, Mars, and Earth via sample retrieval and remote sensing. The presentation ended with a discussion of Wesleyan’s role as a regional leader in the study of planetary science, and the need for Wesleyan to continue to be regarded by its peers as a trailblazer in academia.
  2. President Roth and Jim Dresser, Chair of the Board of Trustees, both spoke to the need for Wesleyan to come together and defend our core values during the present crisis, while also being mindful of the established guidelines for how the endowment may be spent, which are designed to protect the future capacity of the University.
  3. John Meerts, Vice-President for Finance and Administration, presented the administration’s recommendations to the Board of Trustees for eliminating $15.5 million from the University’s annual operating budget.

The administration’s recommendations for budget reductions are as follows:

  • It was proposed that approximately $5 million of the deficit be eliminated by extending the University’s current departmental “belt tightening” exercise. Of this amount, approximately $1.7 million would be eliminated from Academic Affairs and $329,000 from Student Affairs.
  • It was proposed that $2 million of the deficit be eliminated by freezing staff and faculty salaries for the 2009/2010 academic year.
  • It was proposed that a proportion of the deficit be eliminated by cutting the annual increase of the budget for major maintenance projects.
  • It was proposed that $200,000 of the deficit be eliminated by canceling two of the four new faculty lines planned for 2010/2011.
  • Other major cuts would include, but would not be limited to, reducing the number of graduate stipends, as well as eliminating annual increases in the technological development fund, the library acquisition fund, and the capital budget.

The administration’s recommendations for revenue enhancement are as follows:

  • It was proposed that $3.9 million of additional revenue be realized by increasing undergraduate enrollment by 30 students over the next four years, for a total of 120 students.
  • It was proposed that $870,000 of additional revenue be realized by increasing tuition in 2009/10 by 5.9% instead of 5% as originally planned.

John Meerts concluded by presenting the sobering calculation that an additional $1.7 million will have to be eliminated from the operating budget for every $25 million of further loss from the endowment. The Board encouraged the administration to make cuts in a timely fashion, while acknowledging that all of the proposed changes will all come with considerable pain. Finally, members of the Board asked the administration to be mindful of the potential unexpected or long-term damage to the University’s core values that might accompany the two major proposals for revenue enhancement, such as adverse effects to student life and goodwill among middle-class students or prospective students impacted by the tuition increase.


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