August 30, 2013

Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,

I hope you have had a good summer and are looking forward to the new academic year. The campus is buzzing with activity as classes begin, an exciting reminder of our students' potential and the energies we are charged with nurturing and guiding. Thank you for all you do to help our students as they learn and grow. I'd also like to extend a special thanks to everyone who helped with another highly successful New Student Orientation program; from move-in day through our beautiful Candlelighting ceremony on the quad, the work you did garnered high praise and heartfelt thanks from students and parents alike.

With thanks to the faculty and staff who assembled these activities, I hope you and your family can enjoy two great events that begin today:

Our third annual Community Street Fair from 4-6 p.m. today at the corner of South Fourth and Market Streets. The fair features free food, beverages, children's games and entertainment. At 6:30 p.m., the Campus Theatre will show the movie "Oliver!," a 1968 musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic. Admission is the same price charged when the theatre first opened in 1941 -- 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children -- and free popcorn and refreshments will be provided.

The third annual Bucknell Arts Everywhere Festival also begins Friday and runs through Sunday, Sept. 1. The festival features an eclectic array of artistic creation, such as the Soul in Motion: African Dance and Drum Troupe and a community tour of the new Poetry Path poems. All the events, gallery exhibitions, music, poetry, and theatre and dance performances comprising the festival are free and open to the public with no tickets required.

I write with my customary summer update of recent University initiatives, which are summarized below, including reflections on the response thus far to our decision to cancel House Party Weekend.

Here is wishing you a great start to the new academic year.

My best,

John

 

New Students

We are proud to welcome to Bucknell the 934 students in the Class of 2017, along with 28 transfer students, 15 of whom are Bucknell Community College Scholars. These newest members of the Bucknell community have impressive records of achievement and leadership, and interests that span the disciplines. It is the most diverse class in University history (17.5 percent students of color and 10 percent international students), is academically talented (aggregated higher GPA than last year along with 10-point increase in the composite SAT), and includes students with personal talents and achievements too numerous to summarize. Even before arriving on campus, the Class of 2017 demonstrated its intention to fully engage in campus life as a record number registered for pre-Orientation activities and 350 (37 percent of the class and 100 more than last year) chose to enroll in a Residential College. The Class of 2017 includes 92 international students and represents 35 states, the District of Columbia and 35 countries. Thanks to the many staff, faculty, alumni and parents who played such an integral role in the recruitment of this great class. I invite you to see some of the special moments captured at this year's New Student Orientation at bucknell.edu/2017.

New Faculty

The strength and quality of our faculty are the core reason our students come to Bucknell, and this year we are fortunate after national searches to be able to welcome 23 new tenure-line faculty members to the University:

Full Professors
Marcellus Andrews, economics
Anthony Stewart, English

Associate Professors
Neil Boyd, management
Matias Vernengo, economics

Assistant Professors
Ashli Baker, classics
Jonathan Bean, management
Leandro Benmergui, Latin American studies
Fernando Blanco, Spanish
Van Cyr, mathematics
Mehmet Dosemeci, history
Joaquin Gomez-Minambres, economics
Richard Kedzior, management
Jeffrey Langford, mathematics
Erin Lentz, international relations
Sarah Manoogian, mechanical engineering
Alan Marchiori, computer science
Derek Palacio, English
Deborah Sills, civil engineering
Ron Smith, international relations
Alia Stanciu, management
Andrew Stuhl, environmental studies
Mizuki Takahashi, biology
Nikki Young, women's and gender studies

We wish each of them a great start and long and fulfilling careers as part of our community.

Academic West

The opening of Academic West marks a tremendous addition to our academic facilities. The faculty moved into this 70,000-square-foot building during August, and the students are now encountering for the first time its wonderful array of classrooms, meeting rooms and hearth spaces. In October, we will host the dedication of the building when our trustees are on campus for the fall board meeting. If you have not taken a walk through the building yet, I encourage you to do so soon. You can learn more about the building and see a time-lapse video of its construction here. More than half of our faculty were relocated (some twice) as a result of the domino effect of the construction of Academic West, and we greatly appreciate the partnership between the faculty and facilities team that made this massive shift in office locations possible. If you have any questions about where offices are located, please check here.

The WE DO Campaign

Bucknellians are providing great support to the WE DO Campaign, which this summer surpassed $286 million in gifts and pledges toward our half-a-billion-dollar goal. In fiscal year 2013, the University set a fundraising record, as donors contributed $53 million in new gifts and pledges, breaking Bucknell's previous record of $50.5 million (FY08). The Annual Fund exceeded $12 million for just the second time, coming in at $12.1 million. Perhaps most exciting, though, is that alumni participation rose to 34 percent.

The WE DO Tour continues to bring faculty and top students to meet with Bucknellians in major cities across the country. Last spring, enthusiastic crowds gathered in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. This academic year, we will host WE DO events in Boston, New York City and Florida. Our warmest thanks to the faculty, students, volunteers and trustees who are attending these events and making them so enjoyable and informative for our guests.

Digital Scholarship Initiative Grant

In June, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded Bucknell a $700,000 grant that will give an important boost to our faculty's growing use of digital technologies in teaching and research. The funds will be used to support faculty development, course development and summer research in the humanities and social sciences; and will allow Bucknell to share its resources with peer institutions through workshops and conferences.

This brings our total funding from Mellon since 2009 to $1.32 million for environmental, arts and digital scholarship initiatives -- a meaningful endorsement of the quality of these programs and affirmation of the University's continuing investment in the Digital Scholarship Initiative. Most recently, we have added two digital scholarship coordinators and a GIS specialist, and established a Digital Scholarship Center in the library.

Meanwhile, we have been told by two other foundations that grants totaling nearly $1.5 million have been awarded. We will announce those details when the official paperwork is in hand. Our congratulations to the faculty and staff involved in putting these compelling grant proposals together.

Middle States Re-accreditation Update and Visit Overview

With Bucknell's decennial reaccreditation evaluation visit approaching in spring 2014, the Middle States Steering Committee, led by Profs. Katie Faull and Tom Solomon, has made significant progress in drafting a self-study document. Middle States has identified the chair of the evaluation team as Philip Glotzbach, president of Skidmore College. Dr. Glotzbach will visit campusOctober 7 and 8 for a preliminary visit in preparation for the full team's spring visit. Thanks to Katie and Tom and their committee as well as the working groups -- which include more than 60 faculty and staff -- involved in our Middle States preparation for the many hours they have committed to this demanding and critically important process. We will share the draft of the self-study in mid-September and hold a campus open forum on that draft on September 24 (please look for later announcements with forum details).

Faculty Total Compensation Study

This past spring, with the support of the Board of Trustees and faculty leadership, we hired an outside consulting firm to conduct a comprehensive, detailed study of faculty total compensation practices and examine more closely the nature of differences between compensation for faculty across peer and similar institutions. We were pleased that 22 institutions agreed to participate in the study with us and to share their detailed compensation practices with that firm. Specifically, the study is examining institutional factors that potentially influence compensation levels, exploring compensation policies and benefits that may be critical in attracting and retaining faculty, and analyzing faculty salaries by rank, discipline, years of service, course loads and several other variables of interest. The firm is nearly finished with its report, and we expect to have well-informed conversations with the relevant campus governance and trustee committees during this year.

Changes to Faculty and Staff Health Insurance Offerings

As you know, the costs of health insurance continue to escalate at dramatic rates. To address the impact of this reality on the budgets of both the University and its faculty and staff, Bucknell has been collaborating with an employee benefits consulting firm to develop the Bucknell University Health Plan, designed especially for our campus community. This new self-insured administrative structure promises to help the University more actively manage its healthcare options for the benefit of faculty and staff.

As a result, and following consultation with relevant campus and trustee committees, Bucknell faculty and staff will be able to select the same types of healthcare options during open enrollment in late October that were available to them last year: the health maintenance organization (HMO) plan; a preferred provider plan (PPO), with access to a national network of physicians and facilities; and a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), that offers access to this same national network at lower premiums and higher deductibles. These plan options will be under the Bucknell University faculty and staff health plan umbrella, with claims processing and other back-office administrative services provided by Geisinger.

At the same time, another change will occur that is worth noting for those currently on the Blue Cross/Blue Shield network (Bucknell's PPO plan), as the BC/BS network will be replaced by the MultiPlan PHCS national network. The University, however, will offer short-term transitional coverage, by approval, if you are part of the BC/BS network and undergoing an active course of treatment with a non-PHCS provider. Please look for more information soon from Human Resources that will help you learn about and prepare for these changes for calendar year 2014.

Associate Vice President for Human Resources

With the changing national demographics, the important next phase of the faculty total compensation study, diversity initiatives and the complicated health and welfare landscape, we have created the new position of Associate Vice President for Human Resources. A national search is just beginning and faculty, administrative and support staff are on the search committee. Our current HR team is looking forward to this investment in Bucknell. Fortunately, this new position will be funded mostly by retirements and the re-purposing of responsibilities in administrative areas. We will keep you informed as the search progresses.

Campus Climate Update

Since we published the Campus Climate Report two years ago, the University has taken numerous steps to strengthen our campus climate with investments in staff, programs and communications around such issues as academic student engagement, student alcohol consumption, student events, diversity and more. This fall, we will be publishing a report that provides a comprehensive update for the campus and all interested constituencies about these steps, actions now underway and initiatives that we still intend to pursue. Our aim with this report, which we plan to publish in October, is to provide feedback through the governance system to related committees, to be responsive to the many valuable suggestions in the Campus Climate Report as well as to provide a campus resource for anyone interested in these activities or ways that they can be involved in campus-climate related efforts.

The President's Diversity Council

In the spring semester, as an important component of campus climate efforts, the President's Diversity Council developed a draft of a Diversity Strategic Plan and facilitated campus conversations toward creating a Bucknell Diversity Vision and Diversity Statement. We appreciate the valuable feedback about these ideas. In mid-September we will share the draft of the Diversity Plan with campus and initiate further conversations about the document and how to improve it. Our goal is to have a final Diversity Strategic Plan for Bucknell -- complete with timeline, responsibilities and methods for measuring progress -- in spring 2014.

House Party Weekend

My deepest thanks to all of you who wrote me about the decision to cancel House Party Weekend. This has been a challenging month at times. Your letters of support for this change were among many hundreds of letters in support of this decision that arrived from faculty, staff, parents and alumni, and strongly affirmed that this decision was the right one. The alumni office received more than a hundred letters from alumni, and they were in favor of the decision by about a 6.5-1 margin. I received about 600 letters, with more than 95 percent indicating support. Many of these letters were deeply moving. It is reassuring that so many Bucknellians stand together around the well-being and safety of our students.

We have no illusion, however, that these sentiments reflect the full range of opinion, or the force of it, in our student or alumni community. We know from social media and numerous informal contacts that many students and alumni are angered by this decision. If any students raise this issue with you, I hope you will encourage them to read closely my August 1 letter, and help them understand that this decision was grounded in our mission as a university, the nature of what House Party had become and our commitment to our students' safety.

Notably, I received about 80 letters from current students, most in support of the decision. Many of these letters, like many letters I received from young alumni, were moving and powerful testimonials, often running pages long, to the struggles that they have had reconciling the nature of House Party Weekend with the University's academic mission. They often shared unsettling experiences they had or witnessed as a result of overconsumption of alcohol combined with what they perceived as the University's allowance and even tacit support for such behaviors. These letters are a reminder of how many of our students need our encouragement and support in making strong, safe, independent decisions in their social lives.

Our student life staff is doing everything they can to encourage students in making wise choices with their free time. But we all know the challenge that our students face today in making good choices is considerable and cannot be addressed by any one office. Especially at this early phase of the school year, as students are adjusting to the decision about House Party, new students are getting acclimated to campus, and the campus social scene is beginning again, if you believe it appropriate in your classes, in your offices, or in meetings you have with students to encourage them to be smart at all times on campus -- and to look out for their own well-being and that of students around them -- I hope you will take the opportunity to do so. Sometimes the simplest, clearest expression of interest in a student's well-being from a respected professor or staff member can make all the difference. Thanks for considering communicating to our students in this way your interest in and concern for them.

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