The third and final Board of Regents meeting of the 2021-22 academic year was held on May 5th and 6th right here on campus. As the student observer to the Board of Regents, I (Fenton Krupp) write a report about the meeting.
The meeting began on Thursday, May 5th with a tour of the new Ole Avenue project. Despite some supply chain delays, the complex is on track to be operational this fall. While the newest residence hall (which I’ve been assured will not be named Sprinstaag, in spite of student rumors) is still an active construction zone, it’s clear that the dorm will be a pleasant place to live next year. Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life Pamela McDowell noted that while the bathrooms in the new building will be nicer than those in current dormitories, the actual rooms will be comparable to those in other residence halls.
Following the tour, the Regents held an executive session to discuss (among other things) the future of the Institute for Freedom and Community. Executive sessions are closed to the President’s Leadership Team (PLT), the faculty representatives, and the student observer (me), so I did not attend this session.
Following the executive session, the PLT, faculty, and I joined the Regents for a plenary about student well-being. Vice President for Student Life Hassel Morrison presented and facilitated the discussion. Although this plenary was abbreviated due to the length of the previous session, there was a rich discussion and Morrison noted several gaps in the college’s current work, such as a need for more preventative work and additional staff to support the Title IX office.
After this plenary, the board attended chapel and the awarding of an honorary degree to Dr. Bruce Herbert Kirmmse at Steensland Hall.
After a break, we heard a report from the For Every Ole task force. For Every Ole is a project created after the Board of Regent’s Visioning Task Force charged the PLT with building “a collaborative and comprehensive advising and mentorship model which will include a four-year, personalized development plan for each student.” For Every Ole is chaired by Kirsten Cahoon ‘98, director of the Piper Center, and the group includes staff and faculty from multiple divisions of the college.
The For Every Ole model presents a bold new vision for advising, mentoring, and orientation at St. Olaf. The model would expand programs on campus, but also weave resources together while maintaining a foundation based on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. One idea is changing St. Olaf Orientation to Academics and Resources (SOAR) to include course credit and last for two years. Another is expanding advising from a single faculty or staff member to include peer leaders and a “success coach.” A notable point is that this work is intended to be a reallocation (of both time and money), rather than just another box for students, staff, and faculty to check.
The board was impressed with the plan and satisfied with the resources ($1.5 million over the next two years) allotted to the proposed program. The board agreed that implementing this plan could dramatically differentiate the college and applauded the work of both the For Every Ole team and the Visioning Task Force for daring to imagine such a bold future.
After the For Every Ole Task Force update, the board split into committees, and four different meetings were held simultaneously. The student observer (again, that’s me) sits on the Community Life Committee, which is responsible for advising the 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.” You can read more about the board’s committees on the St. Olaf website.
The Community Life Committee is composed of six Regents, one of the faculty representatives, and the student observer. During this particular meeting, the committee was joined by additional members of the St. Olaf community: eight staff members, ten students, and one faculty member. The committee addressed three topics: student employment, student (dis)engagement with the co-curriculum, and the role of BORSC as liaisons between students and the board. Overall, these discussions highlighted the need to address what Professor Louis Epstein described as “time poverty” at St. Olaf. That term is used here to describe the wealth of opportunities to take advantage of without enough time or structure to focus on the things that would benefit students, staff, and faculty the most.
The third and final plenary of the day brought the entire board back together from different committee meetings. This plenary was led by Marci Sortor, Provost and Dean of the College, and focused on the process of how faculty are hired. The process takes a great deal of time (1–2 years) and involves input from faculty, students, the PLT, and the board. The board seemed content with how the process currently functions and there was not a great deal of discussion. This plenary was followed by a brief update and discussion about the presidential search. Afterward, there was a reception and dinner.
The next day, Friday, May 6th began with a tour of the King’s Dining Room (KDR) renovation. The remodel, which is scheduled to be finished by next fall, is being financed by Bon Appetit. The food service provider is spending $2 million on the project, in part because of a 10-year contract between the group and the college. While some rooms will look similar to their remodel appearances, the space already feels more adaptable and the kitchen is no longer immediately visible.
Following the KDR tour, the board entered a corporate session, which is where committee chairs report back to the board at large and formally vote on resolutions such as approving the Class of 2022 for graduation and the election of new Regents. At this corporate session, the board discussed the exceptionally large first-year class next year and made a few exciting decisions, such as choosing to renovate rather than demolish HillKitt (unfortunately).
Excitingly, the board voted to appoint Mariem Zaghdoudi ‘20 to serve as the recent graduate Regent for three years. Mariem (well, Regent Zaghdoudi now) served as the chair of the Board of Regent Student Committee (BORSC) for two years during her time on the Hill, and she will join the board as a Regent next October.
After the corporate session, the board had a brief executive session and then attended Honors Day.
The next full board meeting is scheduled to be on campus next October, and that meeting will likely include the election of the college’s twelfth president.