The College’s second Board of Regents meeting for the 2021-22 academic year was held over Zoom on February 3rd and 4th. As the Student Observer to the Board, I sat in on most of their sessions. As the president noted in his report to faculty and staff, some Regents have now been on the Board for two years without ever having set foot in a physical boardroom together.
The first day of the meeting began with an Executive Session. Executive sessions are closed to members of the PLT, the Faculty Representatives, and the Student Observer. During this session, the Board elected a new Regent, Craig Dean ‘78.
The first session I attended began with a report on St. Olaf’s current state of affairs. Members of the President’s Leadership Team updated the Board on enrollment, marketing, housing projects, COVID, and wellness. Some Regents inquired about specific regions, such as which countries the College’s international students hail from and why the College saw a decrease in applications from Chicago.
Following this, in the first plenary session, VP for Equity and Inclusion María Pabón Gautier highlighted the College’s recent diversity, equity, and inclusion work. This work includes a particular focus on groups the College is struggling to retain, such as Black women (73% retention rate) and Latinx men (76% retention rate). This presentation was followed by discussion by the Regents, and DEI topics remain a focus of the Board.
Following the first plenary, the Board broke into smaller groups for committee meetings. I sit on the Community Life Committee, which advises the larger Board on “enrollment, student and employee engagement, and programs and services affecting learning in the co-curriculum, with particular attention to the diversity, equity, and inclusiveness the college seeks to foster in all these areas of community life.”
During this meeting, the committee heard about DEI work in three different aspects: advancing diversity in the St. Olaf community, increasing diversity among St. Olaf students, and increasing diversity among St. Olaf faculty and staff. This included presentations from staff members and discussion about the motivation and results of this work.
In the second plenary session, the entire Board was back together to hear about the PLT’s work on the charges from the Board’s Visioning Task Force. The Board received an update on the College’s market position and plans to increase the St. Olaf’s US News and World Report ranking to fall within the top 40 liberal arts colleges in the US. The Board also heard about the For Every Ole initiative, the PLT’s response to the Board’s charge of “develop[ing] a collaborative and comprehensive advising and mentorship model…for each student.” This initiative is being developed by a task force that includes professional staff and faculty members and is chaired by Kirsten Cahoon, director of the Piper Center. While the task force does not include a student representative, the group promises to inform their work with input gathered from students, staff, and faculty. According to the timeline set by the Board in October, the task force will present a plan to the Board in May 2022 and begin implementation in Fall 2022.
On the second day, the Board began with an Executive Session about the search for the next college president, which included the Regents and two representatives from Storbeck Search, the search firm charged with helping find the next college president. While neither the Faculty Representatives to the Board nor I attended this session, we met directly afterwards for a seperate briefing about the status and timeline of the search. This briefing included those two representatives from the search firm, the Faculty Representatives, the chair of the Search Committee, and me. We had a discussion focused around what made St. Olaf unique and what sort of president would best further its mission.
Following this briefing, the Faculty Representatives and I rejoined the rest of the Board for a Corporate Session, where the Board hears updates from the committee chairs and formally passes resolutions. Following this session I left the meeting, and the Board held an executive session.
The next meeting is scheduled to be in-person and on-campus on May 5th and 6th.