Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,
I write to share with you a summary of the most recent Bucknell Board of Trustees meeting, which took place in Washington, D.C., from Thursday, Jan. 28, through Saturday, Jan. 30. I would like to thank Prof. Kim Daubman, chair of the faculty; Prof. Andrea Halpern, interim secretary of the faculty; and Profs. Jan Knoedler, Greg Krohn and Nancy White for attending various sessions as faculty representatives. I'd also like to thank Profs. Elizabeth Durden and Chris Martine for delivering well-received snap talks during the Academic Affairs Committee meeting.
As is customary during its winter meeting, and among its most important fiduciary responsibilities, the Board spent considerable time discussing the University's finances. During the past several years, Bucknell has grown significantly through investments in people, programs and infrastructure. As we conclude that period of growth, we also find ourselves confronted with significant uncertainty in the world's financial markets. Our endowment, which contributes almost one-fifth of our annual operating budget, experienced very little growth in the last fiscal year (FY '15) and is likely to retract by the close of this fiscal year. Thankfully, through the careful stewardship of our resources, Bucknell remains on very solid financial footing. To maintain that standing, however, we must demonstrate prudent financial restraint at every turn and be highly intentional about the resources we expend. We will of course continue to make appropriate strategic investments. We will continue the major capital projects currently underway, such as renovations to Roberts Hall and the construction of the Graham Building. We will also move forward with plans to transform the former Delta Upsilon fraternity house into a physical space for our newly formed Humanities Center. To replace the bed spaces lost as a result of both that conversion and the renovations to Roberts, we will also build two additional affinity houses. But in the interest of preserving financial flexibility, we have decided to delay by at least a year a nearly $8 million renovation to the second floor of the Elaine Langone Center. We have also decided to postpone a $1.5 million addition of a south entrance to Bertrand Library. These are discernible examples of the fiscal prudence we all need to embrace as we begin to build an operating budget supported by fewer resources for the next fiscal year.
Fortunately, we do not appear to be headed for a financial crisis similar to what we experienced in 2008-09. The Board also recognizes the need to compete for the very best faculty and staff. In light of that, I am pleased that the Board accepted the recommendations of the administration, which were informed by the recommendations of the University Planning & Budget Committee, for an increase in faculty and staff compensation in the coming fiscal year. The Board established a 2.75 percent salary increase pool for staff, and a 3.25 percent increase for faculty. A percentage of that increase will be reserved for promotional or market-driven adjustments. As is done every year, the merit portion of the staff wage pool provides resources to be allocated by different percentages to each staff member by supervisors for implementation July 1, 2016.
Remaining competitive means continuing to attract excellent students, faculty and staff, as well as strengthening our relationships with our alumni and donor community who so very generously support much of what we as an institution do. Our effectiveness in areas of recruitment and philanthropy depends a great deal on how those with whom we engage think, feel and talk about Bucknell. We discussed with the Board the need for the University to better establish a comprehensive, well-defined, authentic and aspirational identity, and how best to communicate that identity to our various constituencies. In other words, borrowing terms that I have described before as often being uncomfortable for many in academe, we must think carefully about our brand and how that brand is marketed. Such an initiative has been discussed within the Board for several years and is in fact among the initiatives outlined in The Plan for Bucknell. To maximize the effectiveness of our efforts and to better position Bucknell in the competitive landscape of higher education, we will soon partner with an outside consultant to help define the story we have to tell — one that I believe will distinguish Bucknell from our peer and aspirant institutions.
The Board also continued what has been a robust discussion around increasing the student body by about 200 students, a process to be phased in over a period of several years. As I have previously shared with you, new tuition revenue from this modest growth would support the operation and maintenance costs of future capital projects. We shared with the Board the many ways in which we have modeled how such an increase would impact campus, looking at areas such as academic resources, housing, parking, dining and many others. I anticipate that this particular issue will come to a vote during our next Board of Trustees meeting in April.
Apropos to our meeting location, the Board enjoyed a presentation by Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government & public affairs at the American Council of Education. In his talk, titled "The Federal Government, the Election & Bucknell," Mr. Hartle discussed the increasingly regulated environment in which higher education lives. He also focused on significant developments predicted to impact colleges and universities in 2016, including changes to the regulations implementing the Fair Labor Standards Act, which will impact employee classification; the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; possible limitations on the ability of private institutions to award federal student aid; and the much-anticipated Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. the University of Texas, addressing the constitutionality of using race as a factor in admissions processes. It was exciting to hear Mr. Hartle applaud the many ways in which Bucknell is well positioned to address the challenges facing higher education, but I also appreciate his caution that we cannot "rest on our laurels." We must continue to adapt and grow in order to succeed in the 21st century.
In December, the faculty endorsed a change to our mission statement that reflects our commitment to creating a more diverse and inclusive institution. I'm happy to share that the Board voted unanimously to adopt the change and revised the mission statement to read:
Bucknell educates men and women students for a lifetime of critical thinking and strong leadership characterized by continued intellectual exploration, creativity, and imagination.
In that same vein, though not a Board action, it seems appropriate to share with you here that the University has expanded its statement of nondiscrimination to include gender expression as a basis upon which discrimination is prohibited. These are both important expressions of the values Bucknell must hold dear as we continue to forge a more inclusive campus community.
Finally, I had the great and rare pleasure of sharing with the Board news of two very special gifts to the University. One you are no doubt already familiar with — a pledge of $20 million, the largest in University history. The pledge by Bob Malesardi '45 and his wife, Doris, is in the form of a commitment from Bob's estate, and will be used exclusively to support financial aid. In recognition of this magnificent gift, the Board will name the main academic quad in honor of the Malesardi family. I was also able to inform the Board that their Trustee colleague, Randy MacDonald P'02 and his wife, Kathy, made a naming gift to the University for our new Commons Building. Randy and his family have been great friends to Bucknell, and Randy is a loyal steward of the University in his role as a Trustee. I am proud that the new MacDonald Commons Building — which was just certified as our first LEED Gold building — will honor the MacDonald family's strong commitment to this University.
My best for a successful spring semester.