At Monday’s faculty meeting, a number of updates were given regarding the college’s finances, faculty’s international travel, CAPP’s proceedings, and strategic visioning. A discussion surrounding how to rework the student advising system also took place.
THE FINANCIAL REPORT
Lynn Valenter, Reed’s Vice President of Finance and Treasurer, provided a long-term financial update for the college. Valenter anticipates a 6.5 percent annual increase in the college’s endowment, noting that, although this number is conservative, the estimate is designed for years with higher investment to offset years where the endowment does not reach the 6.5 percent threshold or takes a loss. At the end of the fiscal year 2019, the college’s endowment was at 602 million dollars, but, in 2020, the pandemic resulted in an endowment of 576 million dollars. At the end of the fiscal year 2021, the numbers rose tremendously, as the endowment rose to 778 million dollars.
Valenter went on to talk about how incremental changes to college practices would be implemented to create improved outcomes and avoid sharp spikes and drops in financials. Valenter then stated that the college anticipates using funding in the long-range model to increase financial aid for students, capital renewal funding, and salaries and benefits. Additionally, the college hopes to modify annual fund contributions and fund additional data expenses.
Valenter went on to articulate how there will be an anticipated operating surplus in the short term, informed by cost projections for the fiscal year 2023. This projection is modeled such that the operating surplus will rise until the fiscal year 2025, a plateau in 2026, and then begin to fall, dropping below breakeven by around 2030. These long-term projections assume current levels of expenditure in terms of faculty, and staff, discretionary expenses. Valenter highlighted that the college has resources for the short-term and is planning to sustain these in the long run. More than this, although current markets are down substantially, the large increases in endowment in fiscal year 2022 should cushion the loss.
THE ADVISING SYSTEM PROPOSAL
Morgan Luker, an Associate Professor in the Music Department, spoke on behalf of the Academic Success Committee, articulating proposed changes to the student advising system for implementation by around the 2023-2024 academic year and seeking feedback on these plans.
Luker highlighted two key goals that revamping the student advising system would achieve: improving the college’s retention rates and enhancing the Reed academic experience. Luker noted that more than 10 percent of a typical student class does not return for their second year; not only does this pose financial issues for the college, but replacing these students is inefficient from an admissions perspective, and students leaving harms faculty-student relationships that are cultivated in a student’s first year. He went on to mark academic advising before a student declares their major as a weak point in student experience because the system is uneven and inequitable.
Luker and the Academic Success Committee proposed the creation of a comprehensive advising center on campus, which would centralize tutoring, the writing center, and academic support services into one space. They intend to hire three to four full-time academic advisors, and this group of staff would advise students up to the point of major declaration when they would select a faculty advisor within their major department. The current estimated salary that these staff advisors would receive is $50,000 plus benefits. Staff advisors would fulfill technical roles, such as supplying SOLAR pins, but also provide academic coaching and connect students with the support and resources that they need. Luker then mentioned that one faculty member from each department would serve as an advising partner, as a resource for students with departmental questions or concerns. Luker hopes that this new system will create an equitable student advising experience with professionals who are trained for academic advising and providing student support. He also stated that this system would allow for easier summer advising, which would help prevent students from falling through the cracks over the summer, as well as help predict registration and classroom space needs.
An alternative model would be to overhaul the faculty-only advising system. Luker stated that a new system would involve earlier and more frequent contact with students, rather than beginning the process during orientation week. A set of roles and expectations, which are currently nonexistent, would have to be set, and all faculty advisors would have to undergo training with respect to disability and accommodation, academic support, and curriculum changes. Lastly, a protocol for advisor evaluation, akin to teaching evaluations, would need to be developed. Luker went on to highlight that neither model solves all the problems present within the system, and neither model is revenue neutral. Luker further stated that, although hiring new staff is obviously expensive, making advising a more robust system would also not be revenue-neutral.
Luker once more stressed the urgency of finding a solution to the advising issue and sought feedback on the proposal. A number of faculty members expressed concerns about the staff hiring proposal. A prime concern that was raised was that hiring staff would result in weaker student-faculty relationships and increase the distance between students and meaningful connections within their departments. It was suggested that when a student develops a relationship with a department earlier on, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging, which works to benefit retention rates. Moreover, there is worry surrounding whether or not four staff advisors can mentor 600 students in a more effective manner than distributing them across faculty. Faculty also raised concerns around the cost of hiring new professionals, especially when Reed has been short on funds for hiring faculty already. Ultimately, Luker thanked individuals for their feedback and highlighted their intent to workshop and improve upon the current proposal.
Kara Becker, Associate Professor of Linguistics, reported on strategic visioning, first covering areas of the curriculum that are experiencing low demand, and how best to support them. She then mentioned three options for response, namely reducing or sharing costs, increasing demand, and reallocation. Becker stated that CAPP met with divisional representatives and that the key takeaways was to leverage interdisciplinarity through strategies such as merging departments, expanding the disciplines that contribute to HUM 110, and allowing double majors to write a single thesis.
Becker then discussed whether or not faculty should aim to shape student demand for involvement in particular classes or departments. Becker shared that CAPP plans to discuss group and major requirements, admissions, orientation, advising, and demographic changes in higher education. CAPP also intends to meet with Admissions and Financial Aid, the Academic Success Committee, and the Registrar, and will report their takeaways to faculty soon.
After the strategic visioning updates, Theatre Professor Kate Bredeson expressed concerns on reallocation, stating that the theatre department has been denied hiring for two years in a row, and that there are conversations surrounding merging the theatre and the dance departments and hiring adjuncts. Bredeson stressed that the use of market value language like “demand” highlights a shift of Reed’s values in a direction that she feels is concerning.
CAPP also voted on a few large changes, including the addition of a Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies Minor patterned after the major. A number of new courses were approved, including Ancient Greek Athletics, Greek and Roman Mythology, and Self-narration Before and After Proust. Foreign language requirements were changed for both the Division of the Arts and the Art Major (more information on these changes is available on the change log).
In her report, Kathy Oleson mentioned a new policy on faculty travel amid the pandemic. Faculty that intend to travel to countries under an Alert Level 4 COVID rating can petition for an exception. This policy applies to Reed-funded grants.
Hugh Porter also provided strategic planning updates. The Strategic Planning Committee was formed in October, and they have been meeting every month since. Porter recommended long-term priorities to be taken into consideration, namely student success, academic planning, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Porter stated an intent to return to present fleshed-out recommendations to the faculty in April or May.