February 2020 Board Report

Dear Members of the Campus Community,

The board of trustees met on campus last week for a very full series of meetings, spending time with university leadership, students, faculty, staff and alumni. Thank you to everyone who participated and made our time on campus so welcoming. We especially enjoyed attending presentations of scholarly work by students and faculty, and a performance of excerpts from the School of Music Opera Theater’s spring production.

An overview of key decisions and activities:

Financial stress testing. Mindful of challenges affecting higher education nationwide, a key focus of our February meetings was a workshop on financial stress testing. We examined markers of financial health for colleges and universities; reviewed Puget Sound’s core financial ratios, credit ratings and strong position relative to other private colleges; and discussed the importance of continually strengthening the long-term financial health of Puget Sound. Maintaining our financial strength is critical to our ability to deliver on our mission and achieve strategic goals.

Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Sherry Mondou took us through an overview of key stress events and mitigations in place to address them. Hypothetical examples included a decline in enrollment, increases in the tuition discount rate, loss of endowment value, decline in annual giving, and cybersecurity attack. President Crawford followed with a review of the financial opportunities associated with successful implementation of strategic plan initiatives, including improving student success and retention to graduation, expanding graduate enrollment, seeking other new sources of revenue, and conducting a successful fundraising campaign.

FY21 budget approval. One of the most difficult decisions we made concerned approval of next year’s operating budget. As discussed on campus throughout the fall, university expenses must be reduced by 5% to align with reduced enrollment and revenue levels. We appreciate the thoughtful work of the Budget Task Force in making its recommendation to President Crawford, and had a full and lengthy discussion about the budget proposal in the Finance and Facilities Committee.

The FY21 budget proposal prioritizes and supports student success, increasing funding for financial aid, minimizing tuition increases, providing salary pool increases for faculty and staff, and preserving the ability of the endowment to continue to grow and provide a non-tuition revenue source of support. It also targets various areas for reductions, and we heard and discussed a range of responses to the proposed reduction in the FY21 retirement benefit, from 12 percent to 10 percent, for exempt faculty and staff members.

Compensation of our faculty and staff is critically important, and makes up about 75% of Puget Sound’s operating budget. It makes it very difficult to find reductions outside of the compensation budget—and strengthens our resolve to get revenue-generating strategic initiatives up and running as quickly as possible.

The committee was briefed on how benefits fit into total compensation and upcoming plans to conduct a holistic total compensation review for faculty and staff, which we fully support. With understanding of and sympathy for the concerns of faculty and staff members and acting on what we believe is in the best interests of the university as a whole, the full board approved adoption of the FY21 budget as proposed.

We understand that a campus forum will be held on March 6, and encourage those who have questions about the budget, the endowment, and Puget Sound’s long-term financial projections to attend.

Tenure and Promotion. In closed session, we were very pleased to support promotion and/or tenure of the following outstanding faculty members:

  • Tenure: Rachel Pepper (physics)
  • Tenure and promotion to Associate Professor: Lea Fortmann (economics) and Megan Gessel (chemistry)
  • Promotion to Associate Professor: Andrew Gomez (history), Courtney Thatcher (mathematics and computer science), and Carrie Woods (biology)
  • Promotion to Professor: Tim Beyer (psychology), Kena Fox-Dobbs (geology), Jeff Grinstead (chemistry), Brendan Lanctot (Hispanic studies), Julia Looper (physical therapy), Dawn Padula (music), and Jennifer Utrata (sociology and anthropology)

Staff Representation. We approved a change in our bylaws to provide staff with the opportunity to have representation on board policy committees in a manner comparable to the roles served by faculty and students. New appointments for students, faculty, and staff will go into effect in October 2020 (our first meeting of the academic year).

Welcome Center. Trustees joined major donors, faculty, staff, students and alumni in dedicating the new Welcome Center, which is scheduled to open next month and will play an important role in our campus visit program for prospective students and their families.

Business Meeting. In addition to approval of the FY21 budget, trustees approved a proposal to amend the Faculty Bylaws regarding the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, as recommended by the Academic and Student Affairs Committee; and approved funding to execute the upcoming campaign to support the Leadership for a Changing World strategic plan, as recommended by the Finance and Facilities Committee. It was good to have several students, faculty, and staff members in attendance at the business meeting, and we appreciate the opportunity to share the work of the board with you.

Events with Students, Faculty, Staff and Alumni. Trustees enjoyed the opportunity to engage with student leadership and graduating seniors at the third annual ASUPS-sponsored wine tasting event on Wednesday evening. On Thursday, we gathered for our annual dinner with members of the Alumni Council Executive Committee to thank them for their service to our alumni and the university. We were also pleased to welcome members of the Staff Senate leadership to a breakfast with trustees and faculty members on Friday morning, and to have several students, faculty, and staff members in attendance at our Friday business meeting.

Leadership Transitions. We thanked Mushawn Knowles ’20 for their service as ASUPS president, and look forward to meeting new ASUPS leadership in the spring.

We mourned the loss of trustee Susie Wilson ’87, who passed away in December. Susie was devoted to Puget Sound, serving as a member of the Los Angeles alumni chapter and on the National Alumni Board prior to her election to the board of trustees in 2016. A resolution was read in her honor. We also marked the passing of trustee emeritus Bill McCormick P’97, who joined the board in 1978 and completed his final term in 2011. Bill followed both his father and grandfather in service on the board, and with his wife Flora, endowed chairs in both the natural sciences and biophysics.

For more information on the work of the board, including the work of committees and their membership, please visit pugetsound.edu/trustees. We hope to see many of you during our May meetings, and look forward to celebrating the commencement of the Class of 2020.

Sincerely,

Robert C. Pohlad P’07
Chair, Puget Sound Board of Trustees