Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,
We’re building Academic West. We’re investing to prepare the way for new student housing, and we’re streamlining Board of Trustees committees for more extensive dialogue among all trustees.
These were the major outcomes of our Tuesday, September 27 conference call with the trustees. Almost all our trustees were able to participate in this call, which allowed us to complete the urgent business pending after the cancellation of the on-campus September meeting due to the flooding.
Summaries of the board’s decisions are below. Each of these actions reflects a considerable amount of work by many people from departments across the University. I am energized by the future for Bucknell that these decisions promise, and congratulate the board and everyone involved for bringing these important matters to this critical turning point.
I have continued to keep the board fully apprised of the on-going campus discussion of the Campus Climate Task Force report, and of the action steps I announced in my public letter of September 22. The board feels strongly that it is important that the University confront openly and directly the issues discussed in the task force’s findings.
Last weekend, the University welcomed more than 1,050 families back to campus for Family Weekend – a record. More than 3,500 family members visited campus, about half representing families of the Class of 2015, and the other half spread across our other class years. Congratulations to the Office of Parent Relations, led by Ann DiStefano; the Office of Development and Alumni Relations; and the many other colleagues in offices across the University who made this weekend such a success.
It is a great time to be part of Bucknell. Thanks to all of you for your hard work on behalf of our students, our community and the future.
The board unanimously approved seeking construction bids in early 2012 for Academic West. This momentous decision takes us an important step closer to meeting our goal of opening the building by fall 2013. Academic West will be built on the southwest side of the Bertrand Library, and will house various types of modern classrooms, faculty offices, laboratories, meeting rooms, and offices for academic support staff. We have identified available gifts to address most of the $24 million necessary to fund construction of this building, which allowed the University to initiate construction. We are confident we will surpass our fundraising goal for this building, and continue to seek a large naming gift for Academic West through discussions with several interested friends of the University.
The creation of new classrooms and faculty offices is the single most important issue that we must address in the University’s physical plant. Academic West will have the added benefit of creating a domino effect in opening up offices across campus as the faculty currently in other office space move to Academic West. While this building will not solve all the space problems that we face, it will be an important step forward.
The board’s discussion of Academic West began with the implementation of the campus master plan several years ago. Last fall, the full board voted unanimously to use University resources to begin building the infrastructure for it and the other new buildings that will be placed south of the library in coming years. This infrastructure and fraternities relocation investment, totaling about $17 million, includes utility lines, sewage and water lines, internet lines and other essentials. The construction you see in that area is going well.
The board authorized the University to add to its current debt additional borrowings of up to $40 million. Debt is an important tool for investing in a university’s future. Today, as you know, loan rates are the lowest they have been in many decades. The University’s current debt will be fully paid by 2022, and so this is a great time to take advantage of low long-term interest rates. The prudent use of this new debt combined with the University’s cash will position us to complete the current infrastructure improvements, fund the construction of Academic West as we wait for gifts to be received, and plan financially for the cost of new student housing, for which it is historically difficult to raise private gifts.
As part of its student housing discussions last Tuesday, the board authorized the administration to complete this construction on a timeline other than the original 2013 deadline previously identified by the board. We now plan for this new housing to open no later than fall 2015. The change allows the University sufficient time to develop ideas for the layout and design of student housing that will meet our residential living and learning priorities and the needs of the upper-class students for whom this new housing will be intended.
The board and I have come to believe that a more streamlined committee structure will provide more time at each meeting for the board to be in plenary sessions as a committee of the whole. Currently the board has 13 committees. With the support of the board, the board’s Executive Committee and I have been working on a different approach. On Tuesday’s conference call, we discussed the structure that we will likely propose officially to the board in November, and they expressed unanimous support for it. The structure we discussed entails seven committees, with sub-committees that would evolve over time as necessary to address board business. Once the board approves the committee structure, I will ask Tony Massoud, chair of the faculty, to work with the faculty committees to appoint appropriate faculty representation to the board committees.
On this conference call, the board also expressed its unanimous support for a new board meeting schedule. We currently meet as a board four times per year – in September and January (off campus) for retreats, at which the board meets as a whole rather than in committees; and in November and April for regular board meetings, at which committees meet before the meeting of the full board. Having discussed alternatives with the Executive Committee, our intention is to propose instead that the full board meet in October and April, and hold a retreat in January (off campus). This schedule will allow us to devote sufficient time between meetings to the business directed by the board, and to engage board members more fully in meetings, especially with the new committee structure. We also would look forward to hosting October board meetings around Homecoming and to hosting the January meeting in cities where alumni events could also be organized for board interaction.
These changes in board structure and schedule, while largely technical in nature, will be important steps, notably to meet the increasingly time-sensitive decisions in the current higher education environment and to improve the depth of decision-making within the body that governs our University. I am grateful to the board for their openness to these ideas, and am looking forward to the benefits these changes will have on the quality and pace of our discussions.
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