Dear Faculty and Staff,
With yet another unusual academic and fiscal year behind us, I write with an end-of-year message to summarize progress on key goals and outline the approved FY22 budget.
But first, let me seize the moment to express in writing my gratitude for your perseverance, positivity and contributions in the year that was. Your focus and achievement in the face of challenges, through pandemic-driven disruptions, racial reckoning, and national events, has been remarkable. Thank you again for your personal sacrifice—furloughs, testing, trainings, mask wearing—and your significant contributions through your teaching, mentoring, and service to our community, not least from our home-town heroes who remained on campus all year. I am truly indebted and know I speak for the entire community in saying so.
Themes for the Year. At the start of the last academic year I set forth three themes for the year, action on which will continue in the year ahead. Let me summarize progress here.
- Managing and Leveraging Covid-19. Many of us have been struck in recent weeks by feelings of “near normalcy” as we conduct college business on campus—Commencement, admissions tours, the MUSE program—in person and often without masks and physical distancing. Thank you to our superb faculty and staff for giving your all to monitor conditions, sustain operations on campus, and return our buildings and grounds to pre-pandemic set-ups.
We credit in part the growing vaccination rates and consequent lower case rates for the possibility of an in-person fall, and remain grateful to our students and the roughly 70 percent of employees who have uploaded their Covid-19 vaccination cards. For those who have already been vaccinated, but have not yet uploaded their card, please see these easy-to-follow instructions. Know that we continue to pursue with State leaders a vaccination requirement for employees that will mirror that for students. Particularly with the rise of Covid-19 variants, we are following science and public health expertise in determining that vaccines are an essential means to a robust, in-person, on-campus experience in coming months. Those who still have questions about the vaccine may find excellent Covid-19 information resources (scroll to the bottom) compiled by our Student Health Services team.
Lessons from the pandemic continue to emerge. Faculty and staff are crafting guidance reflecting what we learned about remote advising and mentoring (positive), attendance at Zoom meetings (positive), and hybrid instruction (possible, but problematic). They are also looking to the future as we note the popularity of remote instruction for summer, winter and graduate courses particularly. In coming weeks we will more systematically collect your thoughts on what we have learned from the pandemic to ensure that we capture good ideas and practices for the road ahead. Thank you in the meantime to participants in the Staff Salons, which have facilitated sharing of experiences and provided direct input to me on this important topic.
- Strategy Framework. As described in earlier correspondence, in February we paused our efforts on TCNJ’s next strategic framework to secure external expertise to assist with its preparation. This is important work for the future of the college and we wanted to be sure that we were better informed with data and intelligence on the external dynamics of higher education, TCNJ’s position and distinctions vis-à-vis our competitors, and how to assess the potential and tradeoffs of alternative strategic pathways. I am pleased to report that we have secured the services of Tyton Partners, a highly regarded strategy consultant to be a strategic thought partner with the college. Because of the rhythm of the academic year, the consultancy will begin in early September, allowing TCNJ to use the summer months to prepare data foundations and set the stage for a successful partnership.
In the coming weeks we will finalize the composition of a Strategy Working Group, which will work most closely with the consultant and create communications channels with campus and board constituents. There will also be regular reports and opportunities for input as the project proceeds, with anticipated approval by the Board of Trustees at its February 2022 meeting. In the meantime, we continue to think and act strategically based on our current plan toward educational excellence with financial sustainability, and particular goals of diversity, equity and inclusion, operational efficiency, differentiation, and community impact and success.
Not specifically tied to the strategy framework, but serving to inform it, is the Administrative Review and Academic Portfolio Analysis currently being conducted for TCNJ by Huron Consulting Group. Thank you to the many of you who have been involved as members of steering committees or as interviewees on this project. The effort will yield a set of opportunities for the college (on the administrative side) and comparative data (on the academic side) to operate more effectively and inform our choices. I anticipate receiving the final report in early July, with plans for the cabinet to meet later in the summer to consider the material. Expect to hear back in early fall about opportunities and priorities.
- Inclusive Excellence and Anti-Racism. The pause for strategy also meant a pause in preparing an Inclusive Excellence framework, with goals and metrics to drive progress. In anticipation of broadly consultative effort on this front in the months to come, much activity occurred nonetheless, driven by campus activism and commitment. In addition to department- and school-level curricular change and efforts sponsored by administrative divisions, Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, and Student Government, the Division of Inclusive Excellence organized and hosted over 35 workshops, trainings, and talks, many highly attended by members of the campus community. The Campus Diversity Council focused its energy on a framework for reviewing and reforming through an equity and inclusion lens each of TCNJ’s 200 policies.
Campus commitment was seen also in the creation by the TCNJ Board of Trustees of its Committee on Inclusive Excellence, which has as its charge to hold the campus accountable for clear goals and progress in equity and inclusion through every realm of the college. Many contributed to activities for Black History Month and Women’s History Month, and programs sponsored by LGBTQ groups and the Pan-Asian Alliance among others. Some participated in Intercultural Development training and the Diversity Narratives Project, and others contributed to the Equity Scorecard to monitor action on anti-racism policy, practices and outcomes. Also creating a foundation for inclusive excellence and action is I Am TCNJ: A Docu-Story Project, at once an educational resource and a brilliant and moving audio-visual rendering of our community as told by our students. Credit again to the Division of Student Affairs, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Dr. Lorna Johnson-Frizell, project director and professor of communication studies, for their exceptional work on this project.
Last spring, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) selected TCNJ through a competitive application process to participate in its Summer Institute on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation. A team from TCNJ participated in the intensive program in late June. I look forward to learning from their experience and supporting next steps toward racial healing within TCNJ and with our neighboring communities.
Finally, if you have heard or seen action on the second floor of Roscoe West ’68, it is the creation of office spaces for the Division of Inclusive Excellence. Co-located there will be two centers, the Accessibility Resource Center, with facilities and equipment to serve campus members seeking accommodations, and the Intercultural Center, a place where students and student groups can gather to socialize and host programs.
FY22 Budget. At its meeting on June 29, 2021, the last of the fiscal year, the TCNJ Board of Trustees approved the budget for the fiscal year we have just begun. The Division of Finance will disseminate the budget in coming weeks. In the meantime, here are some highlights.
- At $270 million, the budget is balanced with a small projected surplus. The budget assumes that we are back on campus in fall 2021. Enrollments and housing occupancy levels are running at or above the budgeted levels.
- The budget does not require furloughs or layoffs. It restores deferred compensation from FY21, including COLA and step increases, and anticipates merit increases for non-unit employees.
- The budget reflects an increase in institutional financial aid to over $19 million, the highest in TCNJ history. Combined tuition, fees, room and board charges for undergraduates are only modestly above FY20 levels—0.2% and 1% for in-state and out-of-state students, respectively.
- The budget includes distribution of an anonymous $5 million unrestricted gift to the college through the TCNJ Foundation. We will use $4 million to create two funds, the proceeds of which will support in perpetuity two strategic initiatives for TCNJ. The first is an Academic Innovation Fund to support development and implementation of innovative educational ideas. The second will endow the Greater Trenton Commitment to support college efforts and opportunities with Trenton, Ewing, and environs. I will work with cabinet and campus members to shape these initiatives in coming months. The remaining $1 million will be used to refurbish the weight room, lobby and corridors of Packer Hall.
- The budget includes a $4 million investment in other strategic initiatives, including graduate education, institutional marketing, refurbishment of public spaces, grants capacity, and sustainability projects, including LED light replacements and investment in our tree canopy.
What strikes me most about the progress of the past year is that we achieved it despite the disruption, distraction and separation caused by the pandemic. If this is what we can accomplish under those conditions, I am excited to see what we will achieve when we are back together again on campus. How fortunate TCNJ is to have such talent, will, and dedication for the year to come. Thank you, all.
Best wishes for the holiday weekend.
In anticipation of the coming year and with appreciation,
Kathryn A. Foster