Board of Trustees meeting focuses on diversity, academic programming, and tuition freeze

By Leighah Beausoleil, News Editor

By Steven Bonini, Staff Writer

The Board of Trustees discussed increased diversity initiatives, two new proposed bachelor of fine arts degree programs, and a tuition freeze at its hybrid meeting Jan. 27.

Diversity Initiatives

Constanza Cabello, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, discussed the increase in professional development opportunities available that focus on race, racism, and white privilege.

Cabello said her office applied for a Higher Education Incentive Grant Fund. She added those funds would provide the University with the ability to “run a multi-day anti-racist policy review institute for our campus leaders.”

She said the goal for next academic year is to begin putting what was learned through the programming into practice.

“It’s great that we’ve been able to spend some time learning,” Cabello said. “But our equity outcomes aren’t going to change unless we actually apply that learning to our practice.”

She highlighted the importance of keeping in mind not only students of color, but also faculty and staff of color.

Cabello said she works closely with the Employees of Color Affinity Network. The group has been collecting data of colleagues at the University on “how best to support them moving forward.”

She added the data will be presented to her team within the next week.

“There will definitely be some action items from that in terms of how we can create a climate in a culture for faculty and staff that is welcoming and inclusive as well,” she said.

Cabello said the Institutional Excellence Committee is continuing to meet.

“The group is comprised of individuals from all over campus, and our main goal is being able to really be a sounding board in a place where policy review can take place,” she added.

“We want the individual departments to really do that, but we also understand that there are also policies or practices that might need a home for review, and so our group has been thinking about what that process might look like in the coming year,” Cabello said.

She announced she is co-chairing the Steering Committee of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education New Undergraduate Experience Project.

Cabello added the project is “centered around racial equity,” and is “really informed by the campus-level work that we’re doing in terms of – how do we not only do this work within FSU, but create racial equity throughout all of public education in Massachusetts?”

She said the committee will have a new document by April with more information.

Cabello discussed work the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) has been accomplishing, including programming for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, planning for Black History Month, and launching a racial healing transformation program.

She highlighted the discussion space the CIE created for students after the insurrection that took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Cabello said, “We had a really healthy discussion on that, but it really highlighted some of the ongoing inequities in our nation.”

Academic Affairs

During the Academic Affairs report, Trustee Nancy Budwig presented the two potential bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree programs for graphic design and studio art.

Budwig said the benefit of having a BFA instead of a bachelor’s of arts degree in these areas is the ability to go on to graduate school.

“The idea here is that we are not simply adding on majors, but we’re reshaping some of the existing majors to make sure that we’re delivering in the ways that will be helpful for our students,” she said. “Not only while they’re at FSU, but as they continue on their career path.”

Trustee Hope Lozsno Bielat said, “The BFA program really is a professional degree, and I think it allows the students to go on immediately into the job force and get a return on their investment.

“It really does play into our goals of higher enrollment and racial equity,” she added, “and I think it’s a program that’s worth getting behind.”

The Board voted unanimously to allow the University to seek approval of the degree programs from the Board of Higher Education.

Budwig discussed a “cross-divisional initiative” aimed at helping enrollment and retention.

This initiative includes closer collaboration with the Early College Program and additional support for transfer students, she said.

Budwig added one of the initiative goals is to design a program similar to the first-year RAMS 101 program for transfer students, but the program will be at a higher level.

She said the program is meant “to help them feel like they belong and onboard them in a smoother way, so they have higher retention.”

Budwig said another initiative within Academic Affairs is to have policies “reviewed for any kind of unintended effects that might inhibit students’ success.”

She added collaboration efforts with the MetroWest community is another initiative.

“This is obvious for so many reasons as a public university,” she said. “Despite COVID and everything going on – how are we making sure that FSU is seen as a value to the communities of which it’s a part?”

One example of how the University is involved with the community is through STEM Week, Budwig said.

She discussed the increased number of faculty taking sabbaticals.

“At first, you might say that seems odd,” Budwig said. “But it turns out that there were a lot of delays. … Given that enrollments are a little bit low, and we are not only hoping – we’re expecting them to be on the up and up.

“If there was a time where we had to have more faculty on sabbatical, this would be it,” she added. “So, this is a contractual kind of obligation, and what we heard about were the plans in place by the various deans and provost to just make sure that the courses could be covered.”

Finance Proposals

During his report, Trustee Michael Grilli presented three resolutions that were voted on by the Board.

The first proposal was for the FSU Budget Committee to develop the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget with the cost of fees for day undergraduate students and room rates remaining the same as in the FY21 budget.

The Board voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. Student Trustee McKenzie Ward abstained.

The second proposal was for the Board’s authorization of FSU’s participation in the Retirement Incentive Program.

“Any of the actions here will require higher ed to take action on it,” Grilli said. “But what we’re looking for is the trustees to endorse our association with this proposal.”

Trustee Lozsno Bielat said she was concerned the University might be “overloading” on adjunct faculty.

President F. Javier Cevallos said the University is limited to 15% adjunct faculty, adding hiring part-time faculty is not the University’s goal.

He said the program is not mandatory, and the vote would only be authorizing the University to move toward discussions with the unions.

The Board voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.

The last proposal was for the Board’s support in the organization of a “University Community Club” at the Warren Conference Center.

The Board voted unanimously to support the proposal.

Enrollment Updates

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, said the number of applications is down, with those from students of color down approximately 20%.

She said nationally, this is a problem students of color face for reasons including being a first-generation student, having other responsibilities, the online school experience, and receiving little to no support in applying for college in the current remote setting.

She added although the number of applications is down, the number of students of color who have accepted admission has increased.

According to Holloway’s data, out of five of FSU’s sister institutions, FSU ranks the lowest in change for aggregate applications from Fall 2020 to Fall 2021 – down by 10.7%. Salem State University applications are down by 10.9%, Bridgewater State University 13.3%, Fitchburg State University 17.3%, Worcester State University 18.9%, and Westfield State University 28.3%.

The total spring semester headcount for undergraduate degree-seeking students decreased by approximately 11% – with 2,901 students enrolled in the spring 2021 semester compared to 3,264 students enrolled in the spring 2020 semester, according to Holloway.

As of Dec. 11, 2020, resident housing occupancy for the fall was at 699 students. Spring housing resident reservations decreased to 599 students, with 57 of those being new reservations, according to Holloway.

Alumni Relations

Eric Gustafson, vice president of development and alumni relations, said fundraising “is going well,” and the University has successfully leveraged the “Commonwealth Endowment Incentive Program.”

Gustafson said the Program was created by the state Legislature to match 50 cents on the dollar and new gifts to endowment to the Framingham State University Foundation.

He reported a grand total of approximately $1.473 million in donations.

“We’ve been able to leverage that matching money pretty successfully, and not only some existing donors, but also brand-new donors,” Gustafson said.

He added his office has seen their big donors stay with them, but are struggling with small donors.

“We are trying to work on the what we’ll call ‘the bottom of the pyramid’ of fundraising in terms of the smaller gift donors, and how we can get some of those folks who we may have lost over the last year back to supporting the University, and the alumni engagement side,” he said. “We continue to be all virtual – no events in person.”

He hopes come summertime, Alumni Relations will be able to have modified in-person events, but said it will rely on when the vaccine is rolled out.

“We had to defer last year’s 50th reunion class,” Gustafson said. “We don’t want to have to do that again.”

In the meantime, Gustafson said Alumni Relations are trying to build up their social media presence and create more video content to keep alumni engaged.

He added the Danforth Art Museum has been receiving great attendance via digital events.

Gustafson said his department is trying to promote the museum “as a really safe place to go to see some art and that’s not crowded.”

He said the Danforth Art School has been significantly affected by the pandemic as they are not able to host most classes in person.

“We’re hoping that by the end of the school year we’ll be able to bring youth together in some form for in-person classes, and then they’re just starting a number of new initiatives right now to try to bring in additional revenue to make up the revenue lost from those in-person classes,” he added.

Compliance Audit and Risk Committee

Trustee Dana Neshe gave the Compliance Audit and Risk Committee (CAR) report.

She said one of the main goals for the University is to construct a standard and a template for all policy-making areas to use when they create their policies and procedures.

“Once that’s done, there’ll be some training that’s done for the entire community,” she said. “And that should put us into really good speed when it comes to having a consistent approach to departments, and other areas having policies and procedures that we have to help guide our activities.”

In regard to the Commonwealth Commitment audit, Neshe said the audit lasted 13 months and the final report had “no findings.

“The program is running well, controls are in place, and the auditors had no new criticisms or even suggestions for us,” she said.

Neshe said the CAR meeting ended with some updates from Roy Galang, information security officer.

She said the first report Galang gave was on a Blackboard breach that occurred during the summer.

“Blackboard was in fact breached and some other universities that were using the system had confidential information and PPI basically, that was exposed,” said Neshe.

PPI stands for pay-per-install, which is a file-infecting virus used to steal personal information.

“Roy was able to confirm for us that additional research into the issue confirmed that we had no exposure,” she added. “All of our information was encrypted, but we went ahead and actually took one more step and physically removed all social security numbers from the system to further mitigate any future risks.”

Neshe said another hack was attempted, but Galang confirmed that neither the University nor any of its vendors were affected.

Another topic Neshe discussed was Cyber Awareness Month in October.

She said Galang’s team provided some “additional training to the University population.”

In regard to cybersecurity, Payment Card Industry (PCI), and phishing, Neshe said the University has had “very, very good adherence” to phishing standards and is “exceeding national [the] average” on the issue.

Neshe said the last thing Galang reported at the CAR meeting was a couple of new projects the area is working on.

“One is a new security information event manager which is very exciting for those folks – probably not for anybody else, but it’ll help them track all of their alerts, fraud alerts, and other things in a more holistic and appropriate fashion,” she said.

“They’re also getting ready to implement LogicManager, which is a governance risk and compliance system to help with reporting and compliance testing,” she added.

Student Trustee, Sports, and Student Spotlight

Student Trustee Ward reported a new initiative signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration allowing part-time students to now run for student trustee in colleges across the state.

This is a change from the former law which only allowed full-time students to run for student trustee.

Ward said this is a “great” change as it opens up a lot more accessibility to students attending community colleges where “about 70% of those students are part-time students.”

President Cevallos then gave the athletic program update, reporting that the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) decided to cancel the fall and winter season for sports.

He added there has not been a decision on spring sports, but a call will be made sometime in February.

Cevallos said he hopes they can have spring sports events such as baseball, softball, and other outdoor activities.

He turned the floor over to the Student-in-the-Spotlight, introduced by Bruce Bucci, an American Sign Language (ASL) professor.

Student-in-the-Spotlight Emily Pacheco is majoring in ASL and is working to become a sign-language interpreter.

Pacheco thanked Luce Aubrey, an ASL professor, who she said drove down to Rhode Island and gave a presentation about a new four-year program focused on interpreting at FSU.

Pacheco said she attended the presentation, spoke with Aubrey, and applied to FSU.

She added at FSU, she had the opportunity to study abroad in Scotland, where she learned a new form of sign language.

“Sign language is not international. Every country has their own, so I decided to learn a new language – that was one semester,” she said.

Pacheco said in her junior year, she started an ASL club.

“There are beautiful clubs and communities here at FSU, but there really wasn’t anything for the deaf community, and that is where my heart is,” she said. “My parents are deaf.”

She said as the president of the club, she’s been able to accomplish a lot and it’s been “an amazing experience” watching it grow.