Board of Trustees meeting focuses on anti-racism and enrollment strategies

By Ashlyn Kelly, Asst. News Editor

By Steven Bonini, Staff Writer

The Board of Trustees discussed the white supremacist decals found on campus, the University’s anti-racist initiatives, and new enrollment marketing strategies during its meeting March 24. 

Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, touched on the white supremacist decals found on campus and said she was “not necessarily surprised” this group – Patriot Front – came to campus, but said she is “concerned. 

“I think we all share the concern that this type of messaging has no place at FSU,” said Cabello, praising President F. Javier Cevallos for his email to the campus community. 

She said the investigation into finding the individuals who brought the decals to campus is ongoing, and “if nothing else, it provides us even more ammo to double down on our anti-racism efforts.” 

Cabello said departments have been meeting to have anti-racism conversations, using “four guides for departments to engage in conversations around anti-racism – really building our collective capacity to talk about this work and to be informed about this work.” 

To build on these conversations, the University applied for a higher education innovation grant from the Department of Higher Education and received $62,000 “to run a multi-day racial equity policies institute which will occur before the fall semester, and it will be virtual,” said Cabello. 

The goal will be for participants of the institute to leave with “action plans to review their practices and policies by department with a racial equity lens,” she added. 

Cabello said a piece the Inclusive Excellence Committee is working on right now is policy review and “creating mechanisms … to dig into policies” they believe are “essentially having disproportionate outcomes on BIPOC [Black Indigenous People of Color] students.” 

She said the group will not only aim to challenge campus policies, but also policies at the state and federal level. 

According to Cabello, there is also a new employee affinity group, “Black Faculty and Staff Association,” and said her office would like to work with this group to “think about how we can best serve our Black faculty and staff.” 

She also discussed the new “undergraduate experience” project steering committee she is leading and said this initiative will essentially help the University find out who the “next generation of students” is and what “qualities” they “embody.” 

The name of this project will be changed at a later time, she said. 

As part of this project, Cabello added the committee is working on a document called the “Student Bill of Rights” which will cover what the “promises” are to students who are in Massachusetts public schools, colleges, and universities. 

During the Academic Affairs report, Trustee Nancy Budwig spoke further about this project and said, “It’s not only that we’ll have an early ear” on what the “blueprint” for what the next generation of students will look like, “but we also will see that FSU has the opportunity to shape that.” 

As part of her report, Budwig highlighted a few anti-racism initiatives Academic Affairs is focusing on. 

The first program she discussed is an initiative that will focus on faculty hiring and diversity, adding, “Retention, we all know, really depends on students feeling that they belong at the University, and part of that belonging is seeing people who they can identify with in the role of faculty and staff.” 

The second initiative she highlighted was the Anti-Racism Pedagogies Academy. 

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Budwig said this academy will build off “the lessons learned” last year with regard to the “HMMI grant that several of the Academic Affairs staff and others have been working on. 

“There’s a kind of continuation of the work and a spreading of the work, which to me shows sustainability,” she added. 

The last initiative Budwig discussed is a faculty of color mentoring group which she said will serve to help retain faculty of color. 

According to Rincón, the group will have “monthly meetings with five pre-tenured faculty of color to discuss topics such as scholarly productivity, time management, burnout, as well as the challenges associated with being a faculty member of color at FSU.” 

Budwig provided some projections stating that the Academic Affairs Office is planning on having 1,491 residents on campus, or approximately 75% capacity, for the fall semester. 

The projections also stated, “approximately 84% of classes, including lectures, labs, and studios, will be taught at least partly on campus,” and “approximately 96% of Day Division faculty will be teaching at least partly on campus.” 

During the Enrollment and Student Development Committee report, Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, shared the Marketing Campaign Report. 

The report compared FSU to its sister institutions in regard to media coverage and enrollment rates. 

Holloway said, “What I had asked [Dan Magazu, director of communications] to do was to compare us to our sister institutions, percentage-wise, as well as to go look at what are the top schools that our students who we admitted chose to go to instead.” 

The sister institutions FSU was compared to were Fitchburg, Westfield, and Worcester state universities. 

Holloway said, “We’re doing very well in comparison to our sister institutions, meaning the system institutions that are the most like us and the closest to our size.” 

According to Holloway, the top three schools admitted students chose to attend were University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Bridgewater State University. 

“These three places that we’re losing students to are much larger than we are,” said Holloway. “They have a bigger staff, for example, for marketing.” 

The report also reviewed the marketing budget. 

According to Holloway, changes to allocations are dependent on what the marketing review completed by “the firms” her office works with say. 

She said the review will tell them, “‘You’re getting more hits here,’ ‘You’re getting less with website listings or less with print here,’” which informs her office of what marketing strategies are most effective. 

In the 2016-17 marketing budget, “print” was allocated 6% of the budget. 

In the 2020-21 marketing budget, “print” marketing was allocated less than 1% of the budget. 

Holloway said some new initiatives marketing has been undertaking are TikTok ads, personalized acceptance videos, and the “Refer-a-Ram” program. 

Trustee Brian Herr said, “The numbers still are the numbers for enrollment and so perhaps it’s a budget thing. Instead of spending $380,000, we need to spend $786,000. We’ve got to start getting that in more detail to figure it out.” 

In the Administration, Finance, and Information Technology Committee report, Trustee Michael Grilli said the University’s portfolios and investments have “rebounded” since last year. 

Dale Hamel, executive vice president, said, “We’ve got two situations kind of going on at the same time – one is the COVID situation and the impact of it short term, and then this longer-term trend of enrollments and being a different size institution than we were a number of years ago and trying to realign that to align revenues with expenditures.” 

According to Hamel, the University did a bond restructuring of its debt this fiscal year, which created $6.5 million in savings for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) and reduced the current projected deficit to $4.4 million. 

Grilli said there should be no deficit for FY22 due to the COVID-19 relief bills. 

Hamel said, “We currently have a plan in place – and will present in April – that looks like we can address the structural deficit or deficits that have been identified through FY23.” 

Grilli said, “It should be noted, we [FSU] were the leaders in freezing tuition and fees.” 

The Board of Trustees voted on three resolutions during its meeting. 

The first resolution was a proposed schedule for the upcoming Board of Trustees meeting dates, which passed unanimously. 

The second resolution was for the nomination of officers to the Governance Committee. 

The Board voted unanimously for Kevin Foley to continue as chairperson of the Board and Richard C. Logan to continue as vice chairperson of the Board. 

The third and final resolution was to have three amendments made to the bylaws concerning the chairperson of the Board of Trustees, the Executive Committee, and the University seal. 

The first amendment would grant the chairperson the power “to charge each of the committees to include matters addressing anti-racism practices at the University,” according to the edited bylaws. 

The second amendment would grant the Executive Committee the power “to oversee actions made by the President and the administration during the summer delegation of authority to the President,” according to the edited bylaws. 

Trustee Anthony Hubbard said this amendment change was proposed due to COVID-19, and the decisions that needed to be made over the summer break when the trustees do not meet. 

The third amendment change proposed would be a re-writing of the bylaws pertaining to the Common Seal of the University and the Board of Trustees. 

The amendment would not require the University to use imagery depicting “a shield bearing a Native American with bow and downturned arrow with a star overhead,” and instead allows alterations to the seal “be subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees,” according to the edited bylaws. 

The amendments to the bylaws were unanimously approved by the Board. 

In the General Counsel Report, Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees, discussed two executive orders (EO) issued by President Joe Biden. 

The first EO was “Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity.” 

“This executive order, while it cannot reverse that policy [from the last administration], it asks for a reexamination of those policies and a reissuance of recommendations for change,” said McDonald. 

The second EO was on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” 

“On September 22, in the former administration’s term, there was a previous executive order that was done combating race and sex stereotyping and was very, very, very concerning to those of us in higher ed.,” said McDonald. “It contained a lot of things we would have been subject to given our receipt of federal funds.” 

According to McDonald, President Biden’s EO cancels the previous EO. 

“If the prior executive order in the Trump administration had held, it would have disrupted much of the work that you have seen come out of our diversity and inclusion and other kinds of training based on the prohibitions that were placed into that,” said McDonald. 

During the President’s report, Sarah Pilkenton, professor of chemistry and food science, presented this meeting’s Student-in-the-Spotlight, Morgan Failla, who was the first student of the chemistry department enrolled in the 4+1 Program, “where students can complete their bachelor’s and master’s in five years,” said Pilkenton.

Failla completed her bachelor’s degree in food science and her master’s degree in food and nutrition, Pilkenton added.

Failla said she’s “thankful” for the opportunities FSU has given her and she was “honored” to be the Student-in-the-Spotlight. 

She highlighted her opportunity “to become a supplemental instructor for both Physics I and Intro to Chemistry.” 

Failla added, “The Supplemental Instruction Program at FSU has been something that has helped me immensely by attending sessions for my own classes, but I’ve gained even more from being an instructor.” 

[Editor’s Note: Leighah Beausoleil contributed to this article.]