Dear Faculty & Staff Colleagues,

Welcome to the start of Bucknell University’s 171st academic year. The return of our students brings a renewed energy to campus, and I look forward to what I know will be a rich and rewarding semester. I’m delighted that it has become routine for me to write to you about the success of a near seamless move-in process, our New Student Orientation program and Convocation. I again was greeted with high praise from students and their families about their first set of experiences on campus, for which all of the credit goes to you. Thank you for your hard work and commitment. You can find a few photo highlights of those events online as well as a brief video capturing some of the many special moments for our new students. You may also read the full text of my Convocation address.

Please find below my customary summer update on University issues and initiatives. I look forward to our continuing conversations around these and other endeavors important to the success of Bucknell. I wish you my best for a successful semester, and please know that you have my gratitude for all that you do to make Bucknell an exceptional place for our students to live and learn.

My best,
John

 

New Students

We are excited to welcome a remarkable group of new Bucknellians: 950 first-year students and 27 transfer students, 12 of whom are Bucknell Community College Scholars. These students possess impressive academic and extracurricular accomplishments and come to us from 35 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and 55 countries. Additionally, we continue to recruit more diverse classes than we historically have done. Students of color make up nearly 18 percent of the Class of 2020, more than 7 percent are international students and more than 9 percent are the first in their families to attend a college or university. Approximately 7 percent of our new students are Bucknell legacies. Congratulations to our admissions team and our many faculty and staff colleagues, alumni and parents who helped recruit this talented group of individuals to Bucknell.

New Faculty

Each year, new faculty members bring to Bucknell a breadth of perspectives and experiences that benefit our students and our entire community. With the successful conclusion of national searches, we welcome 21 new tenure-line faculty members:

  • Anna Baker, assistant professor of psychology
  • Moria C. Chambers, assistant professor of biology
  • Douglas Dexter, assistant professor of education
  • Dabrina Dutcher, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical engineering
  • Jonathan Frey, assistant professor of art & art history
  • Vahid Gholampour, assistant professor of economics
  • Owais Gilani, assistant professor of mathematics
  • Christina Hamlet, assistant professor of mathematics
  • Qing Jiang, assistant professor of music
  • Allison Lockard, assistant professor of education
  • Eddy Lopez, assistant professor of art & art history
  • Jasmine A. Mena, assistant professor of psychology
  • Emma Gaalaas Mullaney, assistant professor of international relations
  • Chinelo Okparanta, assistant professor of English
  • Or Rogovin, assistant professor of languages, cultures & linguistics
  • P. Khalil Saucier, associate professor of Africana Studies, director of Africana Studies
  • Joseph Scapellato, assistant professor of English
  • Mark Sheftall, associate professor of history
  • Brian J. Smith, assistant professor of chemistry
  • Joshua Stough, assistant professor of computer science
  • Yunjing Xu, assistant professor of East Asian Studies

Please join me in congratulating our new faculty colleagues and wishing them well as they begin this journey, one which will undoubtedly lead to exciting and meaningful contributions to our students’ educational experiences.

Administrative Changes

We begin the academic year with several key administrative changes as well. I’m hopeful that many of you have had an opportunity to meet our new Dean of Engineering, Pat Mather, who officially joined Bucknell on July 1. As I shared with you in May, Pat came to Bucknell from Syracuse University, where he led the creation of and served as the founding director of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute, an interdisciplinary center with more than 20 faculty spanning three institutions and eight departments, including Syracuse’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering & Computer Science and its College of Arts & Sciences. You can read more about Pat’s background and accomplishments. We will formally welcome Pat to Bucknell at a campus reception tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 31 from 4–5:30 p.m. in the Weis Center lobby. I hope you can join us.

July 1 also marked the start of Karl Voss’ two-year appointment as Interim Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. Karl brings to the position 17 years of experience at Bucknell, including serving in a variety of roles, such as Chair of the Department of Mathematics, Chair of the Planning & Budget Committee and Associate Dean of Faculty for the Division of Natural Sciences & Mathematics. Karl was selected from an excellent group of internal applicants for the position. I will of course keep you apprised of the search for a permanent dean, which I expect to begin approximately one year from now.

I am pleased to announce that we have begun the search for our first Kenneth W. Freeman Professor and Dean of the College of Management. (In 2008, following the Board of Trustees' decision to establish a School of Management that would evolve into a college, Ken Freeman `72, who is currently Chair of the board, pledged a large gift to endow this position.) We expect to have the dean in place by July 2017, when the transition from a school to a college will be effected. I would like to thank the members of the search committee, including Provost Barbara Altmann, who serves as the committee chair. We have again partnered with Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates to aid this search. Storbeck/Pimentel is among the most respected recruiting firms in the country and specializes in higher education. As you may recall, their work was instrumental in helping us identify and recruit Pat Mather, Barbara Altmann and me to Bucknell.

Commencing that search is an important milestone in the evolution to a College of Management, a process that, as many of you know, Michael Johnson-Cramer has been instrumental in helping guide. The work involved in creating a third college has required Michael’s position to evolve as Management becomes increasingly independent. For the past year, he has sat on my Operations & Management Group and on Provost’s Council, and his reporting line has moved from the Dean of Arts & Sciences to the Provost. Michael is thus fulfilling many of the functions of a dean. In recognition of the foundational role he has played and the responsibilities he has assumed, and in a parallel to the title of our current Interim Dean of Arts & Sciences, we are modifying Michael’s title to Interim Dean of Management. His appointment as such will last through this academic year, until the inaugural dean is in place.

Workday Software System

I have often talked about Bucknell as principally a human organization. All of us in some way contribute to our mission of educating our students. There are certain tools and processes necessary to carry out that mission, both on an individual and an enterprise level, including Banner. For more than a decade, we’ve relied on Banner to manage, among other things, human resource- and finance-related activities. Unfortunately, that system is inflexible and antiquated. The reporting and analysis tools enabling the Banner financial and human resource (HR) platform have failed to evolve and in many ways have grown to be more of a burden than a resource. With that in mind, we sought an alternative solution, and after an extensive and comprehensive review of what the marketplace has to offer, we selected the Workday system.

Workday is a modern, cloud-based software solution that addresses HR, payroll and financial needs and is used by dozens of highly respected institutions, such as Bowdoin, Brown, The Claremont Colleges, Cornell, Georgetown, LSU, Yale and many others. It is not a mere replacement for Banner; it is a transformation in how we access and interact with those systems. Once implemented, Workday will enhance our ability to manage personal information, such as addresses and phone numbers; direct deposit accounts; information on dependents; and tax withholdings. Workday’s robust reporting features will also put important data and information directly in the hands of designated users, as appropriate, allowing those individuals to better manage budgets and staffing and make data-informed decisions that currently require multiple steps.

This transition to Workday, with all of its capabilities, also provides Bucknell with an opportunity to not just replace Banner’s HR and finance functions, but to reimagine and align certain business practices in those areas, enabling our colleagues in HR and Finance to better support the campus and develop more efficient processes. While we are still evaluating the opportunities to be more effective and intentional in this area, the University as a whole will benefit from these changes. For the present, we will continue to use Banner for our student and other academic information (Registrar’s functions) systems, though we have begun preliminary conversations on finding a modern software solution in those areas as well.

In the weeks ahead, we will launch a web area to serve as a resource for updates, training and other information pertinent to this endeavor. And as we work toward our goal of launching Workday in summer 2017, we will provide updates on the initiative, as well as outreach and training based on your job responsibilities. This project is a significant undertaking, and it would not be possible without the dedication of our colleagues primarily in HR, Finance and L&IT, who have been working in earnest on this since January. I’m grateful for the work already done by our colleagues on this complex project.

Campus Construction & Facilities Projects

Thanks to the work of our facilities team, two significant construction projects recently concluded successfully. The historic Roberts Hall — originally constructed as Old Main in 1858 — has been renovated. The residence hall now features two-, three- and four-person suites throughout, along with community kitchens, lounges and meeting spaces, and a new HVAC system, giving the residents (all sophomores at this point) a contemporary living experience. In a first for Bucknell, a large faculty apartment was also constructed within Roberts. Later this fall Provost Altmann and Dean of Students Amy Badal will describe a process for selecting the faculty member who will move into the apartment in fall 2017.

The building is also now ADA compliant, and many of the building components are new, including the roof, brick facade, windows, electrical system and plumbing. We also upgraded the facility’s safety features, such as its key card access, fire alarm and sprinkler systems. Between the entrance to Roberts and the rear of the Carnegie Building, which you’ll recall was renovated last year, is a redesigned quadrangle, which will soon feature new landscaping and outdoor study spaces. It is a remarkable transformation.

Those of you who were able to join us for the campus open house this month have already seen the wonderful new Graham Building. The 36,000-square-foot facility provides a new home (and much-needed space) for Bucknell Student Health and our Counseling & Student Development Center, along with dedicated space for wellness programing for students, faculty and staff. The second floor of the facility houses a new training facility for the Bison wrestling team. In the coming weeks, we will also install outdoor fitness stations for students, faculty and staff. You can read much more about the Graham Building here. I would like to again express my deep gratitude to Trustee Emeritus Bill Graham ’62 for his generous gift that made this facility a reality, and for his continued commitment to Bucknell.

We continue our work on creating a physical space for our newly founded Humanities Center to support the work of our faculty, staff and students in the humanities. As I’ve previously shared, we’ve identified for that space the house formerly occupied by Delta Upsilon (DU) fraternity, which is temporarily closed due to non-disciplinary recruitment challenges. We are currently in the design phase for renovations to the building and plan to install an elevator and meet other ADA accessibility standards. We anticipate the work will commence in the summer of 2017, pending the identification of funding and final approval by the Board of Trustees.

We have for several years used the house formerly occupied by Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity, located at 400 St. George Street, for the Entrepreneurship & Innovation affinity house. SAE is set to return to campus this fall and, pending a satisfactory recruiting process, will return to fraternity housing in fall 2017, in accordance with parameters negotiated by the University at the time of SAE’s departure from campus. We anticipate that DU will return to campus within the next several years as well.

As the result of decades-old leases with both organizations, if we remove or repurpose an existing house we are obligated to provide housing similar to that which they last occupied. In light of those agreements, and considering the reduction in bed spaces resulting from the creation of the new Humanities Center and the renovation of Roberts Hall, the Board of Trustees voted at its spring 2016 meeting to approve the construction of two 26-bed affinity houses adjacent to the South Campus Apartments. That construction work is underway and set to conclude next summer. With meeting, dining and kitchen spaces to facilitate community living, these houses will be nearly identical to the two built in 2013; those two structures were necessitated by the razing of the Kappa Delta Rho and Lambda Chi Alpha houses, which were demolished to accommodate the construction of Academic West. The two new houses now under construction are smaller than the former DU and SAE fraternity houses, and like the two built in 2013, neither will have basements. This project also involves parking and infrastructure work, along with an expansion to a water management rain garden and a set of steps to connect this expanding area of campus with the South Campus Apartments.

We expect to complete a schematic design for Academic East in September. As we’ve discussed, most recently in the spring, the facility will house new classrooms and modern space for engineering, with a particular focus on biomedical engineering. Based on an extensive departmental space analysis, we are proposing that it also be a new home for our Department of Education, allowing for much needed subsequent renovations to Olin Science for the Departments of Mathematics and Physics, and followed by improvements in the Rooke Chemistry building. We hope to bring Academic East before the Board of Trustees for final approval during our winter board meeting. Moving forward with construction will be contingent upon fundraising.

The Student Experience

Shortly after I arrived at Bucknell in 2010, our campus community engaged in a deep, frank and critical analysis of the campus culture. Prompted by a series of troubling events, I appointed a President’s Task Force on Campus Climate to candidly assess a variety of issues and offer recommendations on how we, together, could improve. In the years since, we’ve invested a tremendous amount of mental, physical and financial resources toward addressing those recommendations, and, as a result, have seen measured improvement in areas such as diversity, gender equity and sexual misconduct education. Given the critical and complex nature of many of the Task Force’s suggestions, however, it’s hard to imagine ever completing our work in many of these areas. I’ve been very public with the fact that there remain many challenges and opportunities to improve upon issues of campus culture. Across the nation, in fact, there has been a dramatic new emphasis on many of the same issues that challenge us here.

One area in particular that continues to demand our attention is our students’ social environment. That is why, as I announced in my May Board of Trustees meeting update, we are developing a new assessment tool that takes a comprehensive view of students’ experience outside of the classroom. Our principal goal of this initiative is to collect both quantitative and qualitative data that helps us identify current challenges and real, feasible solutions to those issues. To that end, we are working to ensure students are heavily involved in the creation and implementation of the survey. We have partnered with Royall & Company, a consulting firm that specializes in higher education, to aid in this endeavor. During the summer, Royall led several focus groups with students and will return to campus early next month to continue development of the survey, which will be distributed to the entire student body in early November. In the coming weeks, I will write to our students with more information, a detailed timeline and specific opportunities to participate in both the creation of the tool and in the survey itself. I greatly appreciate any encouragement you can provide to our students to participate in this critically important undertaking.

Federal Overtime Rules

Our colleagues in HR continue their work to address the federal government’s changes to overtime eligibility rules. As we shared with you in June, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states the following three criteria must be met for an employee to be exempt from overtime pay:

  • The employee is paid on a salaried basis;
  • The employee’s position responsibilities meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Labor’s duties test; and
  • The employee meets a certain salary threshold.

Since 2004, that salary threshold has been $455 per week, or $23,660 per year. In May, the Department of Labor revised that figure up to $913 per week, or $47,476 per year, effective Dec. 1, 2016. In other words, any employee classified as exempt whose salary is less than $47,476 would lose their exempt status.

This new government mandate will result in employees across the country, including at Bucknell, losing their exempt status, making them eligible for overtime pay. The changes affect dozens of our staff and will have a significant impact on our annual operating budget. HR has been working with division heads and other managers to review each case individually. We expect that process will conclude by November, at which point all affected employees will be notified of how this change specifically affects their position.

Congress is currently considering legislation that would extend the effective date of the new minimum exempt salary. H.R. 5813—the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act—would raise the new minimum exempt salary incrementally over the next three years, beginning with an increase on December 1, 2016 to $35,984 and ending at $47,476 on December 1, 2019. We will continue to monitor that potential legislation and any impact it may have on how Bucknell addresses the changing regulations.

Branding Initiative

On several occasions, I have shared with you information on our efforts to better leverage the unique experience that Bucknell offers by establishing a compelling, distinctive and authentic identity. Our progress on this front continues. Most recently, Ologie, the firm with which we have partnered, completed a survey focused on defining a brand strategy, identifying how we can better communicate our various strengths to key audiences, and discovering what our audiences see as some of our greatest challenges and opportunities pertaining to how we tell Bucknell’s story. The survey was sent to a random, representative sample of students, alumni and more than 420 faculty and staff. The response rate of approximately 1,300 members of our community is gratifying.

Although our work will continue for some time, one particular takeaway from the survey that I’d like to share with you is how closely aligned our community is on the values and benefits of a Bucknell education. For instance, one question asked: "What would you prefer Bucknell University to be known for?" Out of 31 possible choices, from which respondents were asked to pick their top three, our faculty, staff and students were in lockstep with their selections:

  1. High-quality academics
  2. Well-prepared graduates
  3. An appreciation of diversity
  4. Active, high-achieving students

Ologie reports that they have never experienced such alignment between internal stakeholders. It is a small but meaningful affirmation that Bucknell has a great story to tell. Thank you to those who participated. I will continue to provide updates as this process moves forward.

Campaign Update

In June, I emailed with the news that the WE DO Campaign had reached the $400 million milestone — a truly special moment for our University. The success of the campaign continues and now stands at more than $406 million in gifts, pledges and bequests. That includes more than $46 million for faculty support, such as professorships and fellowships, $144 to support academic programs, and more than $141 million for financial aid, the campaign’s top priority. The historic generosity of Bob ’45 and Doris Malesardi continues to inspire other donors to support financial aid through the Malesardi Match, a program that will expand our ability to enroll the very best students, regardless of financial need. My thanks to everyone involved for your deep, continued commitment to this transformational endeavor.

University Calendar

I am pleased to share with you that we will once again extend the winter break. Because New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, the federal holiday will be observed on Monday. Therefore, our winter break will begin on Monday, Dec. 19, and run through Monday, Jan. 2, 2017. Expanding the winter holiday period allows us to greatly reduce University operations, which results in significant energy savings. As always, those required to work during these periods will take time off during other periods, in consultation with their supervisors. I hope the extended break affords you the opportunity to rest and enjoy time with your family and friends.

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