Memo from President Lewis
Office of the President
To: Those Interested in Carleton's Future
Subject: Carleton in the Twenty-First Century
For the past year, nineteen faculty, students, staff, trustees, alumni and parents have worked long hours together as members of the Twenty-First Century Committee. They have consulted broadly to assess the major issues facing Carleton in the next decade and the new century. I am extremely grateful to all of them, especially to the Chair, Professor Shelby Boardman, for taking on this major task in addition to their other responsibilities. I also wish to thank the many others who shared their advice with the Committee. The attached Report, "Carleton in the Twenty-First Century," highlights a number of issues that must be high on the agenda of the College as we look ahead. I hope the Report will be discussed widely in the coming months. Carleton has just completed a successful, indeed, transforming, comprehensive fund-raising campaign; we are near the end of the decade of projects outlined by the 1988 report, "Navigating the Nineties;" and we undergo our decennial review for reaccreditation in September. Thus the Twenty-First Century Committee's Report is especially valuable and timely.
I want to provide some preliminary reactions to the Report, and to indicate some first steps I am taking to move ahead on the agenda the Committee has suggested. Their focus on the quality of people, the quality of the relationships among students, faculty and staff, and the growing sense of partnership with alumni is most welcome: Carleton is about people and the opportunities they have to grow and learn.
The Committee puts the issue of increasing our admissions applicant pool first on its list of priorities. For those who have not followed recent developments in college admissions, this may seem strange, since Carleton has been continually attracting an extremely strong group of students. However, the nature of the competition for high quality students has changed dramatically due to several factors: the rapid growth in many other institutions of scholarship awards that have no relation to financial need; the heightened competition among institutions not only for the most able students but for all students; and no-need "merit" awards reaching $10,000 to $15,000 per year at some schools. Given this already stiff and still growing competition, we risk losing high quality students, we risk losing our diversity, and we risk losing control of our financial aid budget. If Carleton is to continue to attract classes of talented, promising, diverse students, and simultaneously control the growth of the financial aid budget, we simply must have a larger pool of applicants from which the Admissions Committee can make its selections. I have asked Dean of Admissions Paul Thiboutot to work with relevant committees and offices, on campus and off, to develop a strategy for substantially increasing the number of applicants, and to increase the diversity within the applicant pool. He will make periodic reports during the coming academic year. To support these efforts, I expect to use a portion of the Knight Foundation Presidential Discretionary Fund award Carleton received this past year.
In light of the current disarray in financial aid policies throughout the country, and the marketplace bidding approach being taken by a growing number of colleges and universities, even among the highly selective institutions, I agree with the Committee's recommendation that we review our own principles to be sure we have standards which are widely understood and, hopefully, widely agreed upon. Therefore, I plan to ask the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee to undertake such a review this year. We will ensure that issues are discussed at the College Council and with the Trustees Enrollment and Admissions Committee, as well as with alumni and parent groups. Carleton's long history of meeting the full demonstrated need of all admitted students, even if the need changes while the student is at Carleton, seems to me to be one of our central principles. The issues raised at other institutions, such as differential packaging, loans and grants, not meeting full need, and using financial aid not related to need, must be addressed squarely and openly.
I was pleased to see the Committee's emphasis on the need to strengthen the communities of color in the faculty and staff. The changing demographics of this country make it even more important that Carleton take aggressive measures to be sure we have the best and the brightest from all parts of the American population. I have already discussed some of these issues with Dean of the College Elizabeth McKinsey, and with Vice President and Treasurer Carol Campbell. We will be introducing a regular series of training and coaching sessions for departments with vacancies, so that we can ensure the applicant pools and the finalists for all positions include talented people from diverse backgrounds.
On the matter of competitive compensation for faculty and staff, I have initiated discussions with the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, since the question of attracting and retaining the highest quality faculty and staff is a matter of importance matching that of the quality of the student body. The Trustees hold the College "in trust" for the rest of the society, so it is very important that they review and approve our policies on compensation, and their assistance in meeting our objectives is critical.
The Committee notes that there is, from time to time, confusion about decision-making processes, and problems of communication on the campus. Some of this arises, I suspect, from Carleton's unusually participatory and open structure of on-campus governance. I will be taking this important matter up with the College Council in September, seeking its input on how we can improve the way these issues are understood and handled. I already have talked with my colleagues who are responsible for major administrative areas of the College. We will do our best to be clear about how, why and when decisions we have to make have been made.
Other issues such as the review of academic programs, and the continued development of co-curricular student life, will move into regular channels this fall.
The Committee lays out an ambitious list of bricks-and-mortar projects, some that will involve renovations, others that will involve new construction. Events have already overtaken us in this regard. At its May meeting, the Board of Trustees asked the staff to review the planning for the new dining hall, which is sited on the hill between Myers and Nourse, overlooking the upper of the Lyman Lakes. The question is whether the project should be expanded to take advantage of a first-rate site and of the possible economies of adding one or more floors to the project--provided any added space could be used for a high priority set of needs. A review with the architect and our cost consultants in the past few weeks suggests (1) we might be able to provide significant space at lower cost than building on another site, and (2) this space could be used for a range of needs such as substantially improved classrooms and instructional spaces for the modern languages--items three and four on the Committee's list. We will be proceeding this summer with further explorations to see if this is feasible. If so, we might be able to make a major start on the next decade's priority needs in the final building project of this decade. We have already discussed this with the Twenty-First Century Committee and have begun discussions with relevant departments.
Finally, the Committee briefly addresses financial assumptions for the decade. Let me expand on this subject.
Carleton has a remarkable history of financial stability and prudence in its management of resources. In the past fifteen years, it has also been the beneficiary of a major upward movement in the prices of financial assets. In the past decade the growth of alumni giving, and of all voluntary support, has added substantially to the educational budget. Carleton has long engaged in regular and systematic long-term financial planning. The goals for our "Assuring Excellence" Campaign were framed using comprehensive planning models which tied together major elements in the College's programs, and in its financing: tuition, financial aid, student body size, numbers of faculty and staff and their compensation, physical plant, annual giving, capital and deferred giving, and endowment performance.
I believe it is useful to think of these financial models and their assumptions as a concrete manifestation of a "social contract" that holds all the parts of Carleton together--a set of mutual expectations and responsibilities. The principal assumptions are these: Students and parents will pay a comprehensive fee that will probably continue to grow modestly relative to inflation, but one that covers less than two-thirds of operating costs, and less than half of the total cost of educating a student. Financial aid will at least keep up with the growth in the comprehensive fee. Compensation of faculty and staff will increase in real terms, roughly in line with the growth of incomes in the American economy; faculty and staff, in turn, will continue to be devoted to Carleton students and their learning, and they will do their jobs with distinction. While some expansion in total programs may be possible as new funds are raised, the faculty and staff also will, as the Committee recommends, look at ways to drop less essential current activities in order to take on promising new programs or functions. By the year 2000, alumni, parents, trustees and other friends will provide ten percent of the College's educational budget through annual giving, year in and year out, and their capital and deferred gifts will continue to grow over time. Trustees, and relevant administrative officers, will manage the College's affairs so that the endowment will continue to maintain its purchasing power and provide modestly growing support of the annual budget as well. The Trustees will not build buildings, or take on debt, beyond the capacity of the operating budget to maintain the continuing costs. There is no "silver bullet," but if every part of the Carleton extended family pulls its share of the weight, the College will remain healthy.
These factors may sound either prosaic or self-evident. But my observation from over three decades in senior positions in higher education is that institutions which have found themselves in trouble--financially and educationally--are ones that did not pay attention to all the pieces of the puzzle; or, they neglected to make clear the mutual responsibilities on which educational soundness and financial strength depend; or, both of these things together.
In the past decade, Carleton has added substantially to its physical plant, to its support for faculty and staff development, to the financial aid budget, and to the nature and quality of the educational program for its students. This has happened primarily because of an unprecedented outpouring of financial support through the campaign "Assuring Excellence." This support came from alumni, parents and friends of the College, led by the Board of Trustees, the Board of Directors of the Alumni Annual Fund, and hundreds of volunteers. As I listen to those who have made major commitments, as I hear stories from my colleagues and from volunteers, and as I read letters from parents after graduation, it is clear that the motivation for support of the College comes from a series of convictions: that Carleton's fundamental mission is sound; that the quality of students, faculty, and staff is first rate; that Carleton's faculty and staff are firmly devoted to the College's mission; and that the College is well managed by its Trustees and administrative staff. The "social contract"
seems to be in good shape, and we need to be sure it stays that way.
There are always areas where we can and should improve, and "Carleton in the Twenty-First Century" provides a most useful agenda for that purpose. As we move forward on that agenda, I hope we can continue to do so in ways that recognize our mutual responsibilities as members of a remarkable institution.
Stephen R. Lewis, Jr.