Letter to Faculty and Staff from the President - Oct. 10, 2018

October 9, 2018

Thank you to all who participated in last month’s college-wide activities. We ended September with a combined Inauguration and Westminster Weekend, and I’m deeply grateful for the staff and faculty who helped to make it a festive and beautiful series of events. For those of you who are interested, you can read the inauguration address online.

During the past month, in addition to attendance at various student and faculty events, I participated in my first Senate, all faculty, and Planning and Priorities Committee meetings, where I answered questions about searches, enrollment, and finances. The searches for a provost, chaired by Richard Badenhausen, and a vice president of enrollment management, chaired by Curtis Ryan, are underway with the assistance of their committees and the firm of Issacson & Miller. The committees will be reviewing applications and scheduling first-round interviews before the holidays. Open, on-campus interviews will follow shortly thereafter. We also said farewell to our chief student affairs officer, Mark Ferne, and Ron Headings, associate vice president for enrollment. Karnell McConnell Black is serving as interim vice president of student affairs, and Jennifer (Jen) Dahl is serving as interim vice president of enrollment management.

Some of the questions regarding enrollment will be addressed by Jen in the next issue of the Griffin Gazette, following our October census date. As a reminder, we have adjusted a few items in our financial aid and enrollment strategy for the 2019 class of incoming students. We are continuing the Griffin “Grant,” though renaming it a Griffin Scholarship to clarify that the aid constitutes institutional funding which is not repaid by students. Griffin Scholarships continue to be offered to qualifying first-year and transfer students who reside in Utah. Additionally, consistent with our strategy last year, our merit aid will increase to align with the packages offered by competitor institutions and may sometimes result in a higher financial aid package than what we offer based on need alone. Going forward, we will need to continue refining our strategy and create the best balance of need- and merit-based aid that serves our students while building financial sustainability.

We will also need to further advance strategies that improve student success and retention, one of which is residential living. First- and second-year undergraduate students currently have many ways to become exempt from our on-campus housing requirement; for the entering class of 2019, this policy will be modified such that living with a parent or guardian within 30 miles of campus will no longer be a condition for exemption. All of the other considerations, such as medical conditions, financial exigency, and primary caregiving will continue as exemptions. I initiated discussion about this change first in the Enrollment Management Steering Committee, then in various conversations around campus, and finally, in consultation with the President’s Cabinet. Consistent with our goal of creating a vibrant learning environment on campus, our colleagues in student affairs are also preparing to launch Westminster’s first living-learning communities next fall.

The Planning and Priorities (P&P) Committee met for the first time last week, to be co-chaired moving forward by Richard Badenhausen and Curtis Ryan. Look for updates from them in the coming year. The P&P Committee will discuss budget realities, major drivers of revenue and expenses, and compensation and benefits for faculty and staff. This committee is advisory to the president in that recommendations are reviewed by the full cabinet before presentation to the board of trustees. However, communication between the committee and cabinet will be reciprocal: I will discuss any cabinet decisions that may differ from committee recommendations with the committee, in full disclosure with them.

Finally, I realize that conversations about resources, institutional direction, student experience, and the quality of life at the college may sometimes be difficult and contentious, particularly when public discourse outside of the college generates outrage. We can all do better in modeling the kinds of constructive conversations we promote as characterizing our community.  I’ll be attending the October 17 Learn and Lead event on unconscious bias next week. Please see today’s Griffin Gazette message from Chief Diversity Officer Marco Barker for additional activities related to our We Are Westminster campaign. I hope we all continue to take advantage of opportunities to develop our capacities for successfully navigating difficult dialogues.

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