Photo: Michael Turner '24
The first St. Olaf College Board of Regents meeting for the 2023-24 academic year was held from October 12th to 13th 2023, on campus. The October meeting is generally the longest meeting of the year, and this meeting was no exception. As the student observer to the Board of Regents, I, Fenton Krupp ’24, write a report about the meeting. For further reading, please see the faculty observer'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).
This October meeting included four plenary sessions. In a plenary, a handful of presenters speak to the board for about 20–50 minutes about a topic that is relevant to the board’s mission. Then, presenters generally allow time for discussion of their presentation or questions from the board.
As an aside, our board’s mission is to “oversee the college’s academic quality and fiscal integrity and ensure the college’s ability to accomplish its purposes both now and in the future.” In contrast, the day-to-day operations of the college — such as its academic and co-curricular programs, policies, department expenditures, (most) hiring decisions, communications, and community connections — are the responsibility of the college’s employees under the leadership of the President and the President’s Leadership Team. Read more about the board’s role here.
Back to the meeting! The first plenary was about campus security and the findings from the comprehensive campus security analysis that was conducted over the summer by Security Risk Management Consultants. Director of Public Safety Derek Kruse presented about how the college will continue to implement security measures to ensure the safety of St. Olaf students, staff, and faculty.
The second plenary was about implications of the Supreme Court’s June 2023 ruling against use of race in college admission decisions. Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Chris George ’94 presented alongside Vice President and General Counsel Carl Crosby Lehmann ’91 and Interim Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Reginald Miles.
Although race can no longer be used as a factor in deciding whether or not a student is admitted to St. Olaf, students are still able to discuss how their race (or any part of their identity) impacted their life. St. Olaf will continue to collect information about the racial background of applicants, but racial information will be suppressed when staff members are making admissions decisions. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling was narrow in that it only precludes race from consideration during the decision about whether or not a student is admitted — once that decision has been made, our admissions team is not prevented from being aware of a student's race or ethnicity in their yield activities.
Even in wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the college and the board remain committed to supporting diversity at St. Olaf, as reflected in Priority III of St. Olaf’s Strategic Plan: “Continue to increase the racial and cultural diversity of St. Olaf students, faculty, staff, and Regents.”
After the second plenary, Susan Gunderson ’79 (the chair of the Board of Regents), spoke at Chapel.
After Chapel, students, faculty, and staff had lunch with members of the board to discuss the implementation of the Ole Core curriculum, which was formally adopted by both the St.
Olaf College faculty in November 2019 and the Board of Regents in January 2020. It is always great to get more students involved in conversations with the board, and I urge you to email me if you’d like to get involved in the next one!
Following lunch, the board returned for the third plenary, which was focused on how St. Olaf is nourished by contemporary Lutheran thought and practice. This plenary included four speakers:
Deanna Thompson ’89, Director of the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community; Martin E. Marty Regents Chair in Religion and the Academy
Anton Armstrong ’78, Harry R. and Thora H. Tosdal Professor of Music - Voice; Conductor, St. Olaf Choir
Anthony Bateza, Associate Professor of Religion; Department Chair of Race, Ethnic, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Matt Marohl, Senior College Pastor
These speakers spoke about how St. Olaf is uniquely positioned to succeed as an institution with resources like the Lutheran Center and how having “roots” by being a religiously affiliated school provides opportunities for people to both explore their existing faiths and learn about new ones.
After the third plenary, the board split into committees to meet in smaller groups.
There were four committee meetings at this board meeting — some of the committees meet in between the board’s regularly scheduled meetings. The student observer (again, that’s me) sits on the Community Life Committee, which “provides counsel and advice regarding enrollment; student and employee physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being and engagement; and programs and services affecting learning in the co-curriculum.” You can read more about the board’s committees here.
At this Community Life Committee meeting, there were three topics (and many speakers!) on the agenda:
Fall 2023 enrollment outcomes and international student admissions
Chris George ’94, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
The international student experience: Perspectives from students
Fenton Krupp ’24
Will Asinger ’25
Serena Mbonye ’25
Nhi Luong ’26
Lara Janine Oliveira Cutrim ’26
Isabel Dias de Oliveira ’25
Miri Yang-Stevens ’27
The international student experience: Perspectives from staff
Martin Olague ’04, Director of the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion
Caitlin Kreienkamp ’12, Assistant Director of International Student Compliance
Brisa Zubia, Associate Director of International Student Programs
This was a packed meeting with five Regents, eight students, and four members of the President’s Leadership Team and a handful of other staff members.
During the first topic item, George presented (with a Kahoot!) details about the class of 2027. This class is on par with previous years in terms of international and domestic students of color, although we saw a slight increase in number of students who are from Minnesota (up to 49% from its usual 42–43%) George also spoke about the work that goes into recruiting a class — this past year, his team handwrote 10,000 postcards to send to prospective students.
The rest of the Community Life Committee meeting was focused on the international student experience. Will and I briefly presented key findings from research that he spearheaded about the international student experience. Through interviews and a survey of international students in addition to conversations with staff members who have a particular focus on support international students, we determined three key topics to discuss with the board:
Transportation at St. Olaf
Career connections for international students
Belonging for international students
After Will and I presented, we opened the floor to the five international students who were also present to share their experiences with the topics we spoke about and potential solutions to some of the problems that came up. While the board was interested in how we could improve all of these areas, improving access to transportation was a key area the board wanted to know more about. Especially since we advertise “being in the backyard of the Twin Cities,” Regents wanted to make sure that students are in fact able to affordably reach Minneapolis/St. Paul. I believe this is a topic BORSC will continue to research and possibly present about later this year, and please get in touch with me if you’d like to be involved.
Following the committee meetings, members of the Board were invited to an open house of the Lutheran Center and to a poster session from CURI research projects. I especially enjoyed the poster session, where some awesome students made complex research clear and impactful.
After a break, the board convened for the first-ever board dinner at the new St. Olaf House, which is also known as the President’s House. It was a wonderful time to connect with members of the board outside the formal setting of meetings.
On Friday, the board had its fourth and final plenary, which was about the For Every Ole (FEO) project and led by Provost and Dean of the College Marci Sortor, Vice President for Student Life Hassel Morrison, and Vice President for Advancement Enoch Blazis.
The FEO project involves a lot of big new ideas, some of which are already being implemented and improving student success. One of those ideas was pairing first-year students with an advisor who was also one of their first professors, with the thought that an advisor who saw a student in class every week would be better able to ensure that student is successfully adjusting to college life and therefore more likely to remain at St. Olaf. This thought was correct: last year, during the pilot of this idea, students with a fall professor-advisor combination made students more likely to return for a second year at St. Olaf, even when accounting for socioeconomic background, race, and gender.
Student retention from first to second year, 22-23 to 23-24
Advisor is not fall professor
Advisor is a fall professor
While an 8.9% increase may not seem huge, if a class has 800 students, that 8.7% is nearly 70 students who are now better able to succeed at St. Olaf. This year, 90% of the first-year class was paired with an advisor who is also one of their fall professors.
The FEO project will continue as St. Olaf focuses on “preparing solution seekers.”
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, such as the adoption of the FY23–24 budget, several changes to the faculty manual, and the conferral of tenure to President Rundell Singer.
The board did not pass one resolution that it generally passes at the October board meeting: the adoption of the comprehensive fee for the 2024–25 academic year. The rationale is explained below, in the Finance Committee report.
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: Joan Erickson ’76 filling in for Jeff Bolton)
The committee brought several resolutions to update the faculty manual and confer endowed professorships on several faculty members.
Advancement and College Communications Committee (Chair: Jen Hellman ’98 P’25)
The committee updated the board about campaign and general fundraising updates.
Our board generously gave a combined $362,000 to the St. Olaf fund last year. The St. Olaf fund supports the college’s operating budget, and a total of $6.1M was gifted to the fund last year.
The committee shared updates about planning of the celebrations for the college’s sesquicentennial next year.
Audit Committee (Chair: Tim Maudlin ’73, P’99, P’02)
The committee provided updates about the risk assessment process the college is monitoring, including bias incidents, Title IX cases, and general wellbeing of students.
Building and Grounds Committee (Chair: Laurie Nordquist ’81)
The committee shared updates about recent capital projects, including the St. Olaf House and the new vault in the library.
The committee spoke about how future capital projects are being prioritized, noting a shift from “fun new things” projects such as the Ole Avenue housing project to “maintaining the things we have” projects, such as updates to our facilities building.
The committee provided an update on the Hill-Kit renovation project:
Estimates for the cost of the renovation have nearly doubled from $13.6 million a few years ago to $24 million today. Part of this rise is inflation, but costs have also been driven up by inspections revealing some problems to be worse than anticipated, such as a plumbing system that needs to be entirely replaced.
The committee underscored the importance of taking Hill-Kit offline for the 2024–25 academic year to prevent these costs from rising even more.
Chief Financial Officer Mike Berthelsen provided an update about how the college will have capacity for next year’s students without Hill-Kit being operational and noted opportunities in Ytterboe Hall to add more beds.
Community Life Committee (Chair: Scott Okuno ’85)
The chair recapped the discussion I summarized above.
Finance Committee (Chair: Paul Grangaard P’18)
The committee brought resolutions to adopt the finalized college budget for FY23–24 and to allow the Finance Department to seek a loan through a bank to support the renovation of Hill-Kit.
The committee shared concerns of continually increasing the comprehensive fee while maintaining essentially the same net revenue per student, particularly as college costs continue to soar and the value of a college degree is called into question. The board will reconvene virtually in November and plans to set the comprehensive fee by December 1st.
Investment Committee (Chair: John Raitt)
The committee shared updates about the health of the endowment, which is considered good in light of the strength of private investments and hedge funds.
The preliminary estimate as of September 30 for the endowment was $718M
20% of this year’s revenue is from the endowment, up from 10% in 2014.
The committee rejected a proposal from St. Olaf’s investment club. The club asked the committee to let them manage a portion of the endowment to apply their knowledge to a real-world investment (this is apparently a somewhat-common practice.) There was interest from some of the board members to find a way to make this happen in a less risky way.
Nominating and Governance Committee (Chair: Theresa Wise ’89)
The committee shared updates about potential future Regents and encouraged members of the board to submit recommendations about others who could serve St. Olaf as a Regent.
The next Board of Regents meeting will be held off campus from January 31st to February 3rd 2024.