Board of Trustees meeting focuses on student retention, COVID-19 mitigation

By Haley Hadge

News Editor

By Sophia Harris

Asst. News Editor

The Board of Trustees discussed recent events on campus and efforts to improve student engagement and retention during its March 22 meeting.

Cevallos addressed the “visitor” on campus who was an anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrator. He said the visitor came to campus to “incite students intentionally.”

He said the person who came to FSU was “well-versed in the law” and “knew exactly what he could do and couldn’t do in terms of not crossing the line and trying to get a reaction.”

Cevallos said it was important to defend the First Amendment and the individual had a right to say “whatever he wants to say.”

He added after the demonstration took place, Eric Nguyen, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, held a meeting in the CIE for students to communicate their concerns and said the conversation went in a “positive way.”

Cevallos gave an update on the searches for provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement (DICE). 

He said the provost search is “right on track and moving ahead.” He added the search committee has found candidates and will be reviewing credentials. 

Cevallos said during the month of April, the committee is planning to “interview semi-finalists between April 8 and 18” and will bring the finalists to campus in May.

He said the vice president of DICE search was delayed because “the timing was too complicated” to have the searches occurring simultaneously. He said the search will resume, at the earliest, in the fall.

Cevallos said the Richard “Dick” C. Logan Gymnasium-naming ceremony will take place on April 9 at 5:30 p.m. He said he hopes the Trustees will attend in order to honor “the memory of our friend, trustee, former chair, benefactor, and distinguished alum.”

Cevallos addressed the plan for COVID-19 protocols and said, “As we get the test results from this weekend and next week, we will know if we can relax, even more, some of the COVID mandates.” 

He said they plan to keep the classroom mask mandate in effect until the end of the semester. 

He added, “Hopefully, by the summertime and by next fall, we will not have to do so.”

Cevallos said COVID-19 testing will be reduced and it will not be mandated for asymptomatic individuals.

Cevallos said voluntary testing will still be available to any individual who would like to for the rest of the semester. 

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for Enrollment and Student Development, said in her Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement Report that the directors of the CIE, student involvement, athletics, as well as several faculty members asked executive staff to review the University’s regalia policy in order to be more inclusive.

They passed a motion that would give students an option to choose from more than one identity when ordering stoles and pins. 

Holloway said, “Graduation and commencement are really for the students – they should be able to celebrate every aspect of themselves.” 

She said Nguyen served on a panel for the Rotary District 7910 Inaugural, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit.

“What that says about not only him but also Framingham State is that Framingham State is becoming known for being a place for other people to get resources about diversity issues and diversity training,” Holloway said. 

Eric Gustafson, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, presented his report next.

He said at the time the report was submitted, $1.49 million was raised, and in the week between when he submitted the report and the time of the Board of Trustees meeting, the number jumped to $1.53 million. 

He said, “A number of notable larger gifts” were donated. 

Gustafson said a $50,000 and $10,000 gift has been given to support the operations of the Danforth Art Museum and a $25,000 gift to support operations at the Danforth Art School. 

Two pre-existing endowed scholarship funds received additional gifts of $20,000 and $10,000, he said.

He said they received gifts for a scholarship program within the art school for “community members, adults, and children who don’t have the means to pay the fees to take art school classes.”

He said they can apply now for scholarships to cover those costs.

During his Administration, Finance, and Information Technology Committee Report, Trustee Michael Grilli said the committee has refinanced some of FSU’s debt service. 

He added they have allocated $5 million to student enrollment enhancement. 

He said $3 million of the “$6 million of federal money that falls out of the sky into our lap” was used to balance the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budget. 

The remaining $3 million was saved in anticipation of balancing the FY23 budget, he said. 

The money that was approved to be invested “dipped” with the market, but Grilli said it has “rebounded” and the board is “in black ink.” 

He said he “appreciate[s] everybody’s efforts but can’t confuse efforts with results,” referring to the drop in enrollment.

Grilli said, “The Finance Committee is going to be worn out this time next year” if the projections for future enrollment fall short. 

Dale Hamel, executive vice president, said the Board is “fortunate” to have been able to store enough funds with the debt services reserves to relieve “a large portion” of the deficit projected for FY23. 

He added, “We will have an overall deficit even with supplemental funding.” 

Kevin Foley, Board of Trustees chair, said they have “pulled a lot of levers” regarding debt restructuring and they are fortunate to have federal funds. 

The combination of declining enrollment and the “out years” is “worrisome,” said Foley. 

When asked what the next key steps toward developing the capital budget would be, Hamel said they will be undertaking a utilization study for the first time in 18 years. 

He said the study will “inform allocations of the next five-year critical repair program of the Commonwealth.” 

They have “left room” in year five and out to either use the savings toward the budget or to fund new capital programs depending on whether projections are met, said Hamel.

Trustee Nancy Budwig responded to Grilli’s report by saying she wanted to be “really clear” on behalf of Academic Affairs that University programs are functioning the best they can with the resources they have. 

She added, “That’s not an easy task.”

Regarding Grilli’s concern of “efforts versus results,” Budwig said she thinks they are “aligned,” but also wanted to “underscore” that she feels “very confident” the efforts made and steps taken will lead to success. 

She added she is “confused” about the dropping enrollment numbers. 

During Budwig’s Academic Affairs Committee Report, she said the committee is reporting on five areas they have recently studied.

She said these pillars are student engagement and retention, faculty and student research, academic advising, civic engagement and service learning, and anti-racist initiatives. 

In addition to increasing student engagement and retention, Budwig said they expanded their focus to include the MetroWest community as a form of “public-facing engagement.” 

They are aiming for a “win-win on both sides,” she said.  

Regarding faculty and student research, Budwig credited Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, with supporting “faculty research for student success.”

She said the research faculty conducts and gets published in higher-ed journals is “not separate from the student experience.”

Budwig said there will be new academic initiatives, including an advising model that will “guarantee from the get-go first-year students immediate faculty advising,” new general education programming, and “an advising system that works.” 

She added that a center for civic engagement and service learning is “in progress.”

Budwig said there were “exciting” visuals of the planetarium plans that are “reimagining” how it will be used outside of its original public purpose. 

It will continue to be a public service space, but it will also be able to accommodate new classrooms and facilities and project-based learning and teamwork, she said. 

Budwig added this will provide increased accessibility to this information. 

The McAuliffe Center “is the only space of its kind in Massachusetts,” and they want it to be used fully, she said.  

Academic Affairs is in the process of implementing two main anti-racist programs, she said. 

Budwig said they are the Fellow Search Program, which “stands to move the needle” in terms of increasing recruitment of diverse faculty in fellow positions, and the Faculty of Color Mentoring Program. 

She said Framingham State is becoming known as an example institution for equity practice and “there is a lot of institutional pride.” 

She added these programs are not “one-and-done.” 

They “represent a deepening of the strategic framework by looking at the structures, the processes, the facilities, and importantly to the Board, the dissemination of all the good work that is going on that makes ‘fRAMily’ and some of the initiatives function,” she said. 

“You can have the ideas on paper, but now, what we’re really beginning to see is the building,” she said.  

Budwig asked Marc Cote, dean of arts and humanities, to explain the proposed changes for the fashion design and retailing major. 

Cote said the fashion design and retailing major currently offers two concentrations that they want to change to majors. One in apparel design and the other in fashion merchandising. 

This change will be sent to the Board of Higher Education for final approval. 

Cote said the department has recorded “fairly even [student] interest in both apparel design and fashion merchandising through the years,” and this will allow “targeted marketing to prospective students. 

“Anytime when you can elevate concentrations to majors, it becomes much more marketable and much more visible,” he added. 

Budwig said the Academic Affairs Committee received a “very thorough report” on this and “voted unanimously” to bring this proposal to the Board of Trustees. 

The motion to bring this proposal to the Board of Higher Education was approved unanimously.  

During the Enrollment and Student Development Committee Report, Holloway discussed the University’s COVID-19 plan and response to the governor’s “imploring” for higher education institutions to “roll back” COVID-19 mitigations. 

Holloway said they “scaled back” COVID-19 regulations in line with recommendations made by the state’s health department, and ensured their approach was organized and allowed them to “pivot back based upon the needs.”

Holloway said this approach was proven successful when it was necessary to pivot back to temporary COVID-19 testing for student onboarding post-spring break. 

She said in their meeting, they highlighted that the University is a “mask-friendly” campus in an effort to make all students feel welcome and comfortable no matter their decision to wear or not wear a mask when in mask-optional spaces. 

She said the committee held a meeting with University Chief of Police John Santoro to outline what it means to practice 21st-century policing on a college campus. 

They also discussed increasing the University’s police staff, which has been “a continuous struggle to get qualified candidates,” said Holloway. 

She said strategic enrollment initiatives, such as a “website redesign” and “branding initiative,” were discussed and their timelines were cut down while maintaining the needed “nimbleness.” 

Trustee Diane Finch asked Holloway what the demographics are of the accepted students and if the University is “doing anything different” for the upcoming student receptions based on demographics. 

Holloway responded that faculty and staff “strive” to focus on inclusion and presenting a “wide variety” of academic programming and student leader representatives. 

During her Governance Committee report, Trustee Beth Casavant said with the passing of Trustee Logan, the position of vice chair needed to be filled, and Trustee Anthony Hubbard “graciously” agreed to serve for the remainder of the term through June 30, 2022. 

The motion for Hubbard to serve as vice chair passed with Hubbard abstaining.  

Casavant requested a motion to extend Foley’s time as chair beyond the usual four-year period in light of Cevallos’ retirement and the need for “stability” as the University brings on a new president. 

The extension would not exceed an additional 12-month period, Casavant said. 

The motion passed with one abstention – Trustee Foley abstained due to his vested interest in the vote.  

Casavant requested a motion to vote on the position of vice chair for the July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2023 term. 

The motion passed to enstate Casavant as vice chair with one abstention – Casavant. 

Trustee Hope Bielat announced her retirement from her position. Her term expired and she said her career path is “taking [her] in a different direction.” 

She said, “It has been an honor” to serve in this position.