Board of Trustees meeting focuses on enrollment decline

By Steven Bonini

News Editor

By Ashlyn Kelly

News Editor

The Board of Trustees discussed enrollment, fundraising initiatives, the search for a new president of the University, and equity practices during its meeting Sept. 22. 

During the Academic Affairs report, Trustee Nancy Budwig said enrollment decline across the state is an issue, but specified it is especially acute at FSU. 

The University has seen a decline of 45% in enrollment of white students, 40% of women, and 41% of residents, said Budwig.

She added the report emphasized the need to keep a “very careful eye on where enrollments are going.”

Budwig said that some departments, such as political science and global studies, have combined into one department, and certain programs have been discontinued. 

“It’s not like these were bad programs,” she said. 

She added Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, cited a program FSU took on after Mount Ida closed. 

“We finished that ‘teach out,’ and therefore, the program closes,” she said.

In his report, Eric Gustafson, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, said Fiscal Year 2021 was a “really strong year” for fundraising. 

According to Gustafson, the total was just under $2.6 million. 

He highlighted some gifts, such as $100,000 from Stop & Shop to endow the Diversity of Nutrition Scholarship in the Food and Nutrition Department, as well as $5,000 to the Rams Resource Center. 

Gustafson also spoke about the alumni night at Polar Park watching a Worcester Red Sox doubleheader Aug. 13. President F. Javier Cevallos was interviewed on the NESN broadcast and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. 

“That pitch was a strike right over the plate to the catcher,” he said. 

He added Alumni Relations has a “few more things planned for the fall. 

“We’re going to take a wait-and-see approach – each event we have to see what the public health conditions look like,” said Gustafson. “As long as we feel like it’s safe to continue to gather in person, we will.”

In her report, Trustee Beth Casavant said the Presidential Review Committee is producing “a document that will be helpful in guiding the next president in understanding the needs of the University and the expectations of the Board of Trustees.”

The committee thought it was important the review showed an “accurate” picture of the declining enrollment that “cannot be wholly attributable to the pandemic,” she said.

She added the committee also focused on the equity agenda to “dismantle barriers and move toward a system that ensures equitable outcomes for all students.

“Both President Cevallos in his self-evaluation and our evaluation expressed support for the decision made by the Trustees to embed DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] initiatives in every operating area, rather than create a stand-alone DEI committee,” said Casavant.

She said the committee also discussed their recommendation to increase Cevallos’ salary by the maximum available.

She added the committee is “pleased” by Cevallos’ “strong leadership” and is “grateful for his steady hand during this ever-changing dynamic environment.”

A motion was then passed to approve the recommendation and submit the evaluation to the Department of Higher Education, including the compensation recommendation. 

In the Administration, Finance and Technology Report, Trustee Michael Grilli said declining enrollment is the “biggest issue” the Administration, Finance and Technology Committee faces. 

The University has recently closed on two properties, Franklin Street and Mayhew Street, to alleviate its “debt service obligations,” he said.

Grilli added they have “picked off all the low-hanging fruit” with refinancing and underusing the federal programs and the money that has been given to the University. 

The only good news he said he had was the investments are “doing well.”

During Cevallos’ report, he informed the board of the bargaining agreements for the University’s three main unions and said, “We are in the process of finalizing those contracts.”

He said they are still bargaining with the Division of Graduate and Continuing Education because their contract is more “complicated” as it is separate from that of the MSCA day contract, but he is hoping this will be resolved in the next few months.

Cevallos said one of the positives of these contracts is the specification of required vaccinations and masking on campus, and he was “happy” to report that a majority of students, staff, and faculty have adhered to the vaccination requirement.

He thanked Ilene Hofrenning, director of the Health Center, and the individuals working there, for reviewing the student databases and identifying who had yet to be vaccinated.

One of the last points Cevallos discussed in his report was the departure of Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (DICE) Constanza Cabello. 

He said while the search for a new vice president is underway, Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, and Ann McDonald, chief of staff, general counsel, and secretary to the Board Trustees, will take up some of the job’s responsibilities.   

Holloway gave a brief DICE update, first informing the Board that the new director for the Center of Inclusive Excellence, Eric Nguyen, was recently out on parental leave.

She then reassured the Board that some of Cabello’s responsibilities are now being temporarily handled by others, such as the Bias Education Response Team and the Beacon Award Selection Committee.

Holloway discussed the “two-day racial equity policy institute” that was held Aug. 3-4. She said Cabello obtained the grant for the conference, calling it a “last gift” from the former vice president.

She said the first day of this event focused on “particular learning outcomes to better understand systemic racism in education and how it manifests [itself] on our campus as well as really talking about looking at policies from an equity lens.”

Chairman Kevin Foley gave an update on the Presidential Search Committee, which is in the process of selecting candidates for a new University President, as Cevallos announced his retirement last spring.

Foley said the committee is dedicated to transparency throughout its search process. He said the committee is using the search firm WittKieffer to help select candidates for the position. 

The firm is the “recipient” for the candidates’ resumes and curricula vitae, he said.

Foley added candidates will apply for the position throughout the month of October, and the first time the committee will meet to review candidates’ materials is Oct. 15.

Once the committee has selected particular candidates, interviews will be conducted by mid-November, “and from that point in time, the committee will make the selection of the finalists … to bring forward to the Board of Trustees,” he said.  

“[In] December, we’ll have a special meeting of the Board of Trustees to go through and to make that selection and the recommendation to the Board of Higher Ed. for the next president of the University,” Foley added. 

Cevallos’ introduced Catherine Dignam, chair of the Chemistry and Food Science Department, who gave a brief introduction to Jamiyae Mattress, the Student-in-the-Spotlight.

Dignam highlighted a few of Mattress’ accomplishments, including her time in the STEM Scholars’ Program.  

She added Mattress has had the opportunity to work with staff directly as a supplemental instruction leader, which is essentially serving as a tutor and teaching assistant with no grading responsibilities.

Dignam said Mattress aspires to be a medical doctor and said she has participated in many “structured experiences” to prepare her for the field.       

Mattress said she is a senior chemistry major with a minor in mathematics.  

She discussed many of her accomplishments as a student, including being named to the Dean’s List for multiple semesters. 

She is currently an Academic Strategy Peer Tutor at CASA.