The second St. Olaf College Board of Regents meeting for the 2022-23 academic year was held from February 1st to February 3rd 2023, in Bonita Spring, Florida. The February meeting is typically held off campus, allowing more time for both board business and social time, although this year marked the first in-person February meeting in three years. As the student observer to the Board of Regents, I, Fenton Krupp ‘24, write a report about the meeting. For further reading, see the faculty representative’s report.
The board began with an executive session. Executive sessions are closed to the student observer, the faculty representatives to the board, and members of the president’s leadership team (PLT).
The first board session I attend generally includes updates from the president and their leadership team, with time for board members to ask questions about the state of the College. Regents asked and learned about the Posse Foundation and the For Every Ole project, which is the result of the Visioning Task Force report from 2021. One of the salient takeaways from this discussion of For Every Ole was that the project needed a new name—the project aims to instill a sense of responsibility and help every Ole achieve their full potential, but the current name doesn’t quite capture that sense of self-actualization.
The board also asked about the upcoming upgrade to the College’s technical infrastructure by way of a cloud-based Enterprise Information System. Several Regents shared their experiences with this type of colossal technical integrations in their professional roles and particularly noted the importance of ensuring staffing levels were high enough to support the difficult work.
For the first time in several years, this meeting included a session with a presentation from BORSC to the entire board. BORSC presented a video featuring interviews with student workers from across the College. Discussion included questions about why EMTs were not paid, and what BORSC’s ask of the board was, and what sorts of changes would be needed to better support both student workers and their supervisors to build a better work environment for all.
The scope of the board’s work always makes it tricky to predict how sessions like this will impact their decisions and campus life. I feel confident saying that the board appreciated the opportunity to learn more about student work and are absolutely interested in doing whatever falls into their purview that will better those experiences for students.
The third plenary was about the College’s marketing position and how its rank in national college ranking lists is impacted by that position. I want to very clearly state that it is my understanding both the board and PLT have absolutely no interest in increasing the College’s ranking for an ego boost. However, market research shows that colleges in the top 25-50 ranks receive noticeably higher interest from both parents and prospective students, and a fair number of the factors that go into rankings are the sort of best practices that the College is already interested in enacting.
This plenary was notable by including a great deal of qualitative data from students about both 1.) what characteristics make up the ideal college and 2.) what sort of college they believe St. Olaf is. It’s interesting to see what sorts of things people associate the Hill with—one surprising insight is that many prospective students remain unaware of the College’s commitment to cover 100% of demonstrated financial need. This sort of research helps align marketing goals, and it made for a fascinating discussion about how to sell St. Olaf in an increasingly competitive market.
After the third session, the board broke into committees. Reports from each committee can be found below.
The fourth session with the whole board was a collaborative effort from VP for Enrollment and College Relations Michael Kyle ‘85 and VP and CFO Jan Hanson, along with the chair of the Finance committee. The session sought to address a serious concern: if the College makes and spends money as currently projected, we will soon be facing a substantial deficit. Worse, the scale of the deficit and historic budget cuts alongside lean spending mean this issue cannot be solved by decreasing the amount of money the College spends; doing so would fundamentally decrease the ability of the College to fulfill its mission. Instead, we discussed new opportunities to generate value and consequently revenue.
The chair of the Finance Committee posited that “high investment, high payoff” ideas were the sort of transformative ideas the College needs to be considering to address the eventual deficit. Many ideas were put out there: can we offer more summer sessions? More camps and conferences? Advanced degrees? As other liberal arts colleges expand their offerings (even athletics facilities at other Division III schools) it will be those transformative ideas that set St. Olaf apart.
Do you have a big idea to set St. Olaf apart? How would you spend $200M? (Note: this is a hypothetical number that mirrors Colby’s investment above.) If you have an idea to pitch to the Finance Committee, let me know. I’m serious! The board is excited and has ideas, but it is ultimately students that drive the College, and there are absolutely people who would be excited to hear from you.
The last board session I attended was a corporate session. This is the session where the full board votes on resolutions put forward by its committees. The board unanimously passed several resolutions, ranging from awards recognizing faculty to codifying how the PLT should continue to conduct and expand exit interviews and report to the board’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee as necessary.
This session also includes a report from a representative from each committee (generally the chair, unless they are unavailable.) Below is what each committee had to share at this meeting:
Academic Affairs Committee (Chair: Jeff Bolton)
The committee brought forth several resolutions to update the faculty manual and recognize the achievements of faculty members.
The chair also recognized Louis Epstein for singing an original piece during the Academic Affairs Committee meeting, as he tends to do.
Advancement and College Communications Committee (Chair: Jen Hellman ‘98, P’25)
Fundraising is going well. Over half of the money needed to support the 6-5 shift has already been raised (~$7M)
There are exciting opportunities for the College’s next campaign, which will be guided by the next president.
We have about 40,000 living alumni. The College has 30,000 of their emails. Based on recent survey data (n=1800):
72% of alumni identify as liberal
12% of alumni identify in the middle
15% of alumni identify as conservative
Interestingly, the people who choose to give to the College also resemble this breakdown (e.g. of the people who donate to St. Olaf, about 72% identify as liberal)
Audit Committee (Chair: Tim Maudlin ‘73, P’99, ‘02)
Did not meet since the last board meeting; no updates.
Buildings and Grounds Committee (Chair: Laurie Nordquist ‘81)
Many capital projects continue to be completed or on-track, including the Ole Avenue project (done), the King’s Dining Room renovation (done), the climate-controlled library vault (done), and the St. Olaf house (on-time, the new President’s house located between Regents and the highway.)
The HillKit renovation project has been shifted to a phased approach (rather than closing the halls next year) to account for rising labor and material costs. The halls will remain open, but new furniture will be installed over the summer.
The committee noted the difficulty of and labor required for the intensive Enterprise Information System project and highlighted the importance of having enough staff.
The physical plant is currently operating slightly (about 4%) over capacity, and the College will eventually need to either expand the facility or build another plant.
Community Life Committee (Chair: Bill Gafkjen ’79)
The committee discussed new ways for BORSC (hey, what’s BORSC you ask?) to facilitate connections between students and the board, with a focus on identifying common interests and having productive conversations.
Director of Athletics Ryan Bowles shared data from the Student Athlete survey and the committee discussed the findings and implications.
VP for Human Resources Leslie Moore spoke about the upcoming Enterprise Information System, which will unify many of the College’s computer systems, some of which date back to 1999.
VP for Student Life Hassel Morrison shared updates about mental health on campus, including a $250k grant the College received to facilitate mental health training for students, faculty, and staff.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (Chairs: Brenda McCormick ’89, Sean Burress ’94)
The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium is coming up on April 4th!
Several board members and the committee as a whole have been working on codifying exit interviews since May 2022. At this board meeting (February 2023), the board unanimously passed a resolution to support exit interviews to better support the College’s strategic goal of “increas[ing] the racial and cultural diversity of St. Olaf students, faculty, and staff.” Based on this resolution:
The board endorses the use of exit interviews, empowers the PLT to make meaningful changes based on those interviews, and asks the PLT to inform the committee should they make any significant changes to exit interviews or discover anything relevant to the committee’s responsibilities during an exit interview.
Executive Committee (Chair: Jay Lund ‘81 P’12, ‘14, ‘14)
The committee has been focused on the presidential search and the scheduling for board meetings.
Finance Committee (Chair: Paul Grangaard P’18)
The College is on track to finish in the black this year.
The Ole Ave project was completed under budget!
The College is investigating building a solar field, either to replace or augment Big Ole (the wind turbine)
Investment Committee (Chair: John Raitt P’12)
At the time of meeting (February 3, 2023), the endowment was approximately $701M. Private equity investments continue to supplement lagging performance in public markets resulting in endowment strength that is substantially better than benchmarks.
The committee completed its review of the annual endowment spending rate and determined that it remains satisfactory.
The committee remains satisfied with Cornerstone as the College’s investment partner.
Nominating and Governance Committee (Chair: Theresa Wise ‘89)
The committee continues to seek out new candidates for service on the board.
Per the College’s bylaws, 40% of the board must be members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA), and currently, the board sits at 39%. The committee is searching for new members to remain compliant.
Outside of formal meetings, the board also held receptions and meals as a space to unwind and connect, including one dinner with local alumni and friends of the College. The next meeting will be held on campus from May 2–3, 2023.