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Corona-Missive #5

Dear All,

If last week’s missive was a mere two items elaborated, this week’s is the opposite: multiple snippets to keep us informed and engaged.

Last Day of Classes in a Historic Semester. It was not easy, it was not normal, it was not satisfying in many ways. But in a time of rapid, extensive, and unprecedented disruption, we completed the Spring 2020 semester, safeguarded progress toward degrees, and preserved many culminating events (see next snippet). Together with the TCNJ Board of Trustees, which has rolled up its sleeves and had our backs this term, let me offer congratulations on this achievement, TCNJ, and extend utmost encouragement and energy for the final push through projects, exams, papers, and assessment. 

Culminating Events. It would have been easy to throw up our hands eight weeks ago and call it a day. Yet we did not. With characteristic creativity and resolve, we have mounted or have on the calendar an array of end-of-year activities. These include the Senior Graphic Design Exhibition, the Celebration of Student Achievement, TCNJ Lyric Theatre’s spring production, “Trial by Jury: Quarantine Edition” (Premieres at 8:00 p.m., Friday, May 8),  and numerous program- and department-level send-offs replete with awards and recognition. Please mark your calendars also for TCNJ’s Virtual Commencement, presented “live” at noon on Thursday, May 21, via our commencement website.

TCNJ Staff Recognition Awards. Long before we knew the word coronavirus, the Staff Senate was well down the path toward our second annual Staff Recognition Awards. Let me thank the many nominators and offer personal and public congratulations to this year’s eight winners (out of over 200 nominations!): Olivia Burton, Lindsay Barndt, Nikiya Reid, Wesley Labar, LaTresha Kennedy, Avani Rana, Shari Blumenthal, and Cecilia Colbeth. Thank you for being superb role models and representatives for TCNJ quality and character. Enjoy more at the virtual awards ceremony.

TCNJ in the News. We are fortunate that TCNJ’s planning and operations have brought journalists and reporters our way. In the past week, TCNJ faculty, staff, and students contributed to news stories on coronavirus and other topics. These included features on pandemic planning (John Donohue in Inside Higher Ed and Ian Krietzberg ’23 in The Wall Street Journal), virtual commencements (Heather Fehn in, newly released Title IX regulations (Jordan Draper in Chronicle of Higher Education), and teacher education (Suzanne McCotter in Congratulations and thanks to all for their contributions.

Board of Trustees Tuition Hearing. This past Tuesday, the TCNJ Board of Trustees held its annual tuition hearing, for the first time virtually. Keenly aware of the financial hardships facing TCNJ families and the college, the board took action to eliminate fees for summer 2020 courses and authorized TCNJ to restructure its debt to smooth payments in years to come. Despite revenue loss and financial uncertainty, the board is also considering no increase in tuition and fees in the year to come. Final action on this budget is scheduled for the public board meeting on June 30, 2020.

Budget Planning Principles. Guiding TCNJ’s work on the FY21 budget are budget principles developed and unanimously adopted by the Council on Strategic Planning and Priorities (CSPP). As aids to cabinet and the board in making final determinations on budget allocations, the principles prioritize safety of community members, long-term financial health, strategic investment, and the core mission of instruction, degree completion and direct student support. In advance of final approval by the TCNJ Board of Trustees, we will review these principles at upcoming budget forums with the Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Student Government, and representatives of TCNJ labor unions.

Data Governance. One opportunity available to TCNJ as it faces tight financial conditions is to restructure functions to achieve greater efficiencies without sacrificing quality. The college has reorganized the Center for Institutional Effectiveness to broaden and deepen our capacity in data governance. The assessment portion of CIE remains in Academic Affairs and now reports to Associate Provost Kit Murphy. The institutional research portion of CIE moved to Information Technology and now reports to CIO and VP for Information Technology Sharon Blanton. For matters related to Institutional Research and Data Analytics, please contact Marie Tuscano, Assistant Director of Institutional Research. For matters related to Assessment please contact LaMont Rouse, Assistant Director of Assessment.

Campus Climate Survey. In Fall 2019, before coronavirus became a daily part of our lives, TCNJ’s Division of Equity and Inclusion and Center for Institutional Effectiveness collaborated on a campus climate survey to establish a baseline of data on campus diversity, equity, and inclusion. Kerri Thompson Tillet, AVP for Equity & Inclusion, and LaMont Rouse are compiling the data, synthesizing findings, and readying “equity dashboards” to gauge our efforts and monitor progress. I paint with too broad a brush, given the rich data set, but note that employees and students generally find TCNJ to be friendly, respectful, collaborative, and welcoming, but there are important differences by gender, race, ethnicity, age, and political expression. Campus members also indicate a lack of awareness of the existence and resources of the offices of equity and inclusion. In coming weeks the Division of Equity & Inclusion, now under the leadership of permanent VP for Equity & Inclusion James Felton, will post and communicate particular findings en route to formulating with wide input TCNJ’s first formal action plan for Inclusive Excellence.

It seems that many short topics made for just as long a missive as a few long ones. Thank you for your continued attention to and engagement with this correspondence. Hearty good luck in the week ahead as we put finishing touches on the remarkable Spring 2020 semester.

With warm regards,

Kathryn A. Foster