Board Chair's Report -- winter 2021

The College’s Board of Trustees met during the week of Founders Day, as we reflected not only on the College’s past 226 years, but also on the last year, when every member of the Union community rose to meet the challenge of a global pandemic.

In 2020, Founders Day and the launch of the Powering Union campaign were our last major in-person events before the pandemic. So, this year’s Founders Day was a fitting occasion to celebrate all that we have accomplished. You can watch the virtual Founders Day event here.

As I said in my Founders Day remarks, I am proud to be part of a community whose members have worked so tirelessly and creatively to meet the challenges of the past year. We are eternally grateful to President Harris and the faculty, staff and students – both on- and off-campus – who have pivoted so quickly to the new normal.

Though we are by no means back to “normal,” there are signs that we are getting closer. The College’s testing and isolation protocols were highly successful in curbing the predicted surge of positive cases in January. As the number of positive campus cases rose, Union reacted quickly with a campus quarantine and in two weeks, positive cases were under control. Also, just days after the Board met, the College announced the resumption of spring sports, a welcome change to all, but especially to our student athletes, coaches and athletics staff.

Academic Affairs

Jennifer Currey, associate professor of electrical, computer and biomedical engineering, has been named interim director of the Templeton Institute. Together with Strom Thacker, dean of faculty, she is leading the planning effort for a program that will further integrate engineering and computer science across the entire curriculum. The Institute is made possible by a gift of $51 million from 1980 graduates Mary and Rich Templeton. You can read more about Jenn Currey and the program here.

A task force is developing a proposal for a new GenEd curriculum. It will advance the goals of the Strategic Plan, including immersive, experiential learning opportunities and classes with a focus on large and complex issues. Those include race, power and privilege; global and grand challenges; and the intersections of science, technology and society. These pedagogical models have been central to our highly successful Minerva online offerings over the past year.

We mourn the passing of Prof. Michael Hagerman of Chemistry in December after a four-year battle with melanoma. Beloved by students and colleagues alike, he was known especially for his dedication to working closely with students in the research lab. A scholarship in his memory has been established to support mentoring and professional development. Read more about Mike here.

Administration and Finance

Finance has been monitoring costs associated with maintaining a safe campus during the pandemic. Fortunately, deficits are somewhat lower than forecasted due to savings across all functions, lowered medical claims and CARES Act revenue. However, we recognize that future costs due to the pandemic are uncertain and we will continue to carefully monitor and respond.

The Board approved a comprehensive fee for the 2021/22 academic year of $76,857, a 3.7 percent increase. Mindful of the sacrifice that families make, the Board also set the amount of financial aid awarded to first-time and returning students at $57.5 million.

Admissions

Despite limited opportunities for campus visits, admissions officers continue their outreach in new and creative ways, including virtual open houses with department breakout rooms for prospective students to “meet” faculty and students in their intended major. At the mid-point of recruitment for the Class of 2025, we are down 30 deposits compared to the same time last year. The volume of applications lags last year’s record by 93 applications, down 1 percent date to date, but is up 22 percent from two years ago.

With the overall recruitment landscape remaining competitive and unstable, yield is even more important and less predictable than in past years. We will be aggressive with the number of students admitted to the College in our attempt to enroll 570 first-year students.

College Relations

We are grateful to the many alumni and friends who are coming forward to support the College during unprecedented and challenging times.

I am pleased to report that the Powering Union campaign has raised $238,176,196 or 79 percent of our campaign goal. We are preparing for our first campaign event since the campaign launch in February 2020, a virtual event hosted by Trustee David Henle ’75 that will focus on scholarships and student support.

After a very successful October Challenge, about 150 donors contributed more than $28,000 on Giving Tuesday in November. The Annual Giving team is confident that it can meet its FY21 goal of $6 million, which includes $3.6 million in unrestricted monies for the Union Fund.

Planning is underway for #ADAY4U, the College’s annual giving day, on April 20-21.

Communications and Marketing

The Communications and Marketing team, besides leading a number of initiatives to protect the health and safety of the Union community, is promoting the excellence of the faculty with a system for soliciting and sharing faculty activities. A faculty news web page is designed to improve internal communication and centralize information for current faculty and prospective hires.

In media relations, Union has been mentioned in some of the most prominent national media outlets:

  • Feb. 3: President Harris spoke with WAMC, Northeast Public Radio, about the impact of COVID-19 on the campus.
  • Feb. 3: Sophie Brown '23 was interviewed about the pandemic by NPR
  • Feb. 3: A study on conspiracy theories by Joshua Hart, associate professor of psychology, and his student, Molly Graether ‘17, was cited by Thomas B. Edsall in a column in the New York Times
  • Feb. 2: In an op-ed in Inside Higher Ed, President David R. Harris shared lessons Union has learned as students returned to campus during the pandemic.
  • Jan. 20: Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal about the impact of the decision the College Board made about eliminating SAT subject tests.
  • Nov. 25: As a new season for college applications began, Matt Malatesta offered some advice to prospective students and parents for Money Magazine.

Facilities and Environment

Facilities staffers continue to play an invaluable role in ensuring the safe operation of campus during the pandemic. They moved the testing center from Memorial Fieldhouse to the Viniar Pavilion to make the Field House available for students to use for recreational activities in limited numbers.

In the area of social distancing, they have ensured that all buildings conform to state and federal guidelines. Environmental Health and Safety has developed a classroom database of vital information for use in the event of a positive COVID case.

They have upgraded ventilation systems throughout campus, including a new bipolar ionization system in Viniar to accommodate the testing center.

They have established a comprehensive protocol for the regular cleaning of all campus spaces and a deep cleaning protocol for spaces that have been occupied by a COVID-positive person.

Investment

The Board’s Investment Committee is focused on the performance of the endowment to secure the future of the College.

In the current fiscal year, the endowment has had a return of 17.8 percent, outperforming the benchmark of other institutions by 4.5 percent.

As of Jan. 31, the market value of the total endowment was approximately $544 million.

Student affairs

Much of the College’s success in controlling the spread of COVID is due to a combination of testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation. All of these require a substantial effort by staff across campus, from Health Services to Campus Safety. The College has rented a number of nearby hotel rooms for students in quarantine and provided meals and transportation for all.

This has been a difficult year for many members of the campus community, particularly students who have been dealing with isolation and the challenges of keeping each other safe. Programs throughout Student Affairs have been focused on addressing mental health issues and providing creative and safe ways to foster a sense of community. Staff in the Eppler-Wolff Counseling Center have been offering services to students both on- and off-campus.

Student Activities has hosted a number of major events with national headliners. Union was one of five colleges that organized a popular program in which Trevor Noah of the Daily Show answered students’ questions moderated by Saturday Night Live’s Heidi Gardner. Students also have been enjoying socially-distanced indoor activities. These include a winter club expo, Super Bowl party, and “This or That,” an informal series that takes on contentious issues (DC vs. Marvel, Harry Potter book vs. movie, The Office vs. Parks & Recreation). New outdoor fire pits around campus have been popular safe gathering places, and on many snowy days students took full advantage of a fleet of sleds for use on the hill next to the softball field.

Among club activities, the Film Club is streaming movies every weekend; WRUC has begun to host shows in a socially distanced manner; Black Student Union sponsored a month-long celebration of Black History Month with programs including streaming movies, a trivia night, a Black Excellence Ball and a showcase of cultural foods.

Dean of Students Fran’Cee Brown-McClure put it best: “I continue to be in awe of the way that everyone has stepped up and pitched in to ensure that we can continue to meet the ever-changing needs of our community.”

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Last year, President Harris launched the Presidential Initiative on Race, Power and Privilege, which identified key areas of focus in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. He also created a four-member team of chief diversity officers who have been leading efforts to advance this important element of the Strategic Plan.

In November, the College launched the History and Symbols Committee, which is examining how campus spaces, symbols and monuments influence and advance an inclusive learning environment. In January, the president announced the Presidential Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which will work with the chief diversity officers, and the entire campus, to create an even more diverse, inclusive and equitable Union.

Board membership

The Board is pleased to welcome a new member. Linda Abriola is the Joan Wernig and E. Paul Sorensen Professor of Engineering at Brown University. Before that, she was University Professor and Director of Tufts University Institute of the Environment, and the inaugural dean of the Tufts University School of Engineering. Prior to joining Tufts, she was the Horace Williams King Collegiate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan. A civil engineer by training, she is an expert in the multiphase transport, fate, and recovery/destruction of contaminants in the subsurface. She is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). You can read more about Linda here.

We are also pleased that Dr. Shari Midoneck-Pochapin ’85 will continue as a trustee after accepting a second two-year term as chair of the President’s Council. Shari is a physician with MD2 in New York City. She previously served as associate professor of clinical medicine and associate dean of academic affairs at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Finally, on behalf of the Board, I thank all alumni and friends for all they are doing for Union in this challenging year. As I said at Founders Day, I am confident that precisely because we have overcome so many unique challenges together, the bonds of the Union community are stronger than ever and will be more meaningful in the years to come.

Robert Bertagna ’85
Chair