Board of Trustees Focuses on Budget, Academic Initiatives at February Meeting
MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - The Middlebury Board of Trustees held its winter meeting February 11–12 via Zoom. Board members received an update on academic initiatives, finances, and fundraising, and participated in a professional development session on the campaign, now in the leadership phase. At an earlier meeting in December 2021, the trustees approved tenure for five faculty members.
In the opening session on February 11, Vice President for Human Resources and Chief People Officer Caitlin Goss, who joined Middlebury in September 2021, provided the trustees with a look at her priorities for the year ahead, including a focus on accelerating the hiring process, supporting professional development, and retaining staff. She said that her office is emphasizing the importance of welcoming new employees, fostering belonging, and creating a sense of shared participation in Middlebury’s educational mission—all efforts to build a positive employee culture.
In the afternoon, board members participated in a professional development session on the campaign that included a discussion on campaign messaging. They also reviewed the objectives of the current phase of the campaign—the leadership, or “quiet,” phase—when conversations take place with those donors closest to Middlebury. Vice President for Advancement Colleen Fitzpatrick told board members that she is very encouraged by the results so far and by the strong support Middlebury has received from alumni, parents, and friends.
Trustees also learned about the following campaign highlights:
All new donor commitments count toward the campaign, including the $534,175 raised during the MiddWinter Challenge February 3–10, 2022.
Middlebury has $170 million in total commitments to the campaign to date, and $58 million of those have been made since July 1, 2021.
Donors have made commitments to all of Middlebury’s campaign priorities—Access, Academic Excellence, and Experience.
Commitments from donors are both for the endowment to support long-term stability and for immediate use.
On February 12, Middlebury President Laurie Patton and members of the Senior Leadership Group provided the board with updates. Patton discussed Middlebury’s goals, including those related to global engagement and environmental leadership. She noted that a search is in process for a new vice president for equity and inclusion to support the institutional priority of belonging and inclusion. She also shared news of a likely institutionwide grant that will support faculty and staff in their ongoing work in conflict studies, particularly the management, resolution, and transformation of conflict.
David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration, said that Middlebury is in a strong financial position. The projected deficit for fiscal year 2022 has decreased from $5.9 million to $5.5 million, and revenues, including those from the College, have largely returned to prepandemic levels. Enrollment is improving at the Middlebury Schools Abroad as programs continue to reopen after several semesters of pandemic-related cancellations. Middlebury is also still incurring expenses for health measures related to COVID-19. With financial markets remaining unpredictable, Provost does not expect this year’s endowment performance to be as high as it was last year, but he pointed to successful fundraising results as another positive trend.
According to Provost, the focus for the fiscal year 2023 budget will be faculty and staff salaries and the administration’s commitment to the board to achieve a budget surplus to reinvest in the College’s mission. “Our budget will confront two sources of pressure—inflation and rising interest rates,” he said. Provost observed that inflation is now at about 7 percent but is expected to drop to 3 or 4 percent by the end of 2022. The Federal Reserve plans to raise interest rates over the next 18 months. Middlebury’s budget will not be affected by the change, since the rates on its loan payments are fixed, but the increase will be a factor when the institution borrows money in the future.
Provost Jeff Cason highlighted academic initiatives, including the successful launch in January of the California Climate Semester, a program for undergraduates at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. Six of the participants are students from the College. He noted that Middlebury continues to expand the Beyond the Page initiative, which brings the pedagogy of the Bread Loaf School of English to the College, where actors in the classroom help expand students’ understanding of the work they are reading for classes that range from English literature to political science to psychology. Cason also announced the new 4+1 master’s degree programs—a collaboration between Goucher College and the Middlebury Language Schools—and discussed the new public humanities initiative at the College.
Trustees took several actions at the meeting in anticipation of rising interest rates, including authorizing the refinancing of Middlebury’s 2012 bonds to fund capital projects. Board members requested, for consideration at their next meeting, an outline of the anticipated costs for construction of a new first-year residence hall that will replace the current Battell Hall. They also discussed the College’s tuition for the 2022–2023 academic year and will finalize their decision about the new rate in mid-March.
At a meeting in December via Zoom, the trustees approved the tenure recommendation for the following faculty members, whose promotions from assistant to associate professors will be effective July 1, 2022:
Merrill (“Mez”) Baker-Médard, Environmental Studies
Michael Dash, Psychology and Neuroscience
Michael Durst, Physics
Sebnem Gumuscu, Political Science
Martin Seehuus, Psychology
The board will meet again May 12 through May 14.