Kick-Off Luncheon Remarks on the State of the College

From President Amott

Dear Knox Community,

It’s hard to believe that we are approaching the start of a new academic year! Yet when I look back at all the hard work that’s taken place on campus this summer, I am so very impressed at how much has been accomplished in the last three months. It has been a summer of transformation, with extraordinary renovations and facelifts to our learning spaces and the launch of the much-anticipated next generation of Knox print and web publications aimed at attracting students of talent and promise to our campus. It’s no wonder that I look forward to the coming year with confidence and much excitement, and I hope you do as well.

I write today to provide updates on a few matters of interest to us all. While this is a long message, I encourage you to keep reading!

Facilities. Nearly every day this summer, a campus visitor or a faculty or staff member has remarked that the campus has never looked better. For this we have many people to thank: our Facilities staff, outside architects, contractors, designers, carpet layers, painters and craft workers, and the student workers who painted and cleaned campus buildings. Most of all, we can thank the State of Illinois for the nearly $1 million in capital grants that we received last year. These funds are appropriated by the State for private colleges and universities to use in facilities renovations, and with those funds we have created a 21st-century learning space in Founders Lab, replaced aging carpet in Seymour Union with sustainably manufactured carpet tiles, repainted the first floor of Seymour and added an accessible ramp, and turned the Alumni Room into a functional space for meetings and lectures. The new bookstore management is well in place now, and I hope you all have had a chance to visit the space and see some of the changes under way. Stay tuned, though, as there will be further renovations over winter break to help showcase the bookstore offerings and serve the campus community. And most of all, I am delighted to report that we remain on time and on budget for a Homecoming opening of Alumni Hall, with LEED Silver certification! As with all major construction projects, work will continue up to the last minute, and I will keep you all posted on our progress.

Admissions. At present we have 407 deposits from new students and anticipate that we will have close to 400 new students arriving for orientation very shortly. While we — along with most of our sister liberal arts colleges — had hoped for larger enrollments, we anticipate that total on-campus enrollment will be slightly smaller but still comparable to last year; however, we do expect that net tuition revenue will fall short of our expectations, adding to the projected deficit for fiscal year 2015.

To put this news into context, we are not alone. The majority of our competitor institutions in the ACM and the Great Lakes have also experienced declines in deposits or tuition revenue. This fall, we will assess all the measures we introduced this past recruitment season, but it is our sense at this point that without our efforts in admission marketing and the interim web design, the shortfalls would have been significantly greater. We are very confident that our new admission publications and website will begin to have an impact with next year’s entering class.

Budget. We will not have final numbers for fiscal 2014 until the financial auditors have completed their work, but with the help of a portion of gift receipts from unrestricted bequests, we will balance the budget without any additional endowment draw.

Turning to fiscal 2015, you recall that the budget presented to the Board at its June meeting provided for modest increases in salaries and a full restoration of the six percent retirement contribution in January 2015. The Board gave preliminary approval for the budget but requested that the compensation increases be held until the fall when we would have firm data on the size of the class and the amount of net tuition revenue. I am grateful to all who sacrificed last year as we sought to eliminate the structural deficit that has persisted at Knox for decades. It is my view, and that of the President’s Council, that an additional year of freezes and reductions would significantly damage the College’s ability to attract, retain, and motivate the faculty and staff, who are our most important asset. As a result, despite the shortfall in net tuition revenue, we intend to proceed with both increases in compensation — salary and retirement contribution — for final approval at the October meeting. The shortfall will be addressed with our normal budget protocol, newly received unrestricted gifts and other measures that will ensure that we balance the budget by the end of fiscal 2015. We will need your help in identifying ways to do more with less, and I thank you in advance for those efforts.

New Campus Initiatives. As described in Dean Behling’s summary of last spring’s town hall meeting, and as we reported in the draft version of Knox 2018, many of you have asked that we provide more robust communications and opportunities for all members of the College community to participate in the decisions that affect us all. The President’s Council took these requests very seriously and spent a good deal of time this summer thinking of ways that the College can better address campus communications and participation. We are pleased to share with you the following four initiatives:

1. Staff Association. This coming fall will see the formation of the Knox Staff Association, an organization of all staff members at Knox (with the exception of those on the President’s Council). The Association will be led by an elected body, the Staff Council, charged with advising the President and administration of the College and working to build a sense of community among staff, faculty, and students. The mission of the council is to advocate for and promote the quality of working life of Knox College staff in a manner that advances the College’s mission and to act as a representative body that can be consulted on College initiatives and policy. To aid in organizing the new association, the President’s Council will appoint 8 representatives to an Interim Council that will design and hold elections for the new Staff Council. Stay tuned for more information about this opportunity for our staff members to have an association and leadership group that will parallel that of the faculty. One of the important roles for this group will be to represent the staff on two new campus-wide committees described below.

2. Institutional Planning and Priorities Committee. After consultations last year with FASCom and in response to comments we received at the Knox 2018 forums and the spring town hall meeting, I am establishing a new campus-wide committee to facilitate faculty and staff involvement in resource allocation decisions on the campus. Starting this year, an Institutional Planning and Priorities Committee will be comprised of members of the President’s Council, 4 faculty (appointed by FASCom), 3 staff members (chosen by and from the Staff Council), and 2 students (appointed by Student Senate). We would expect that the staff representatives would include one hourly staff member, one member of the bargaining unit, and one salaried staff member. Depending on the time of year, the group will:

1) Review the five-year budget planning model developed by the Vice President for Finance.

2) Review recommendations for compensation, staffing, tuition and fees.

3) Monitor progress on strategic planning goals and alignment between budget allocations and institutional priorities.

The group will receive confidential information and is responsible for safeguarding that information, but may issue communications to the campus.

3. President’s Council on Campus Sustainability. Over the past year, the President’s Task Force on Sustainability has suggested that a more formal and permanent group be convened to monitor and make recommendations on the College’s policies and practices. They have also recommended that the new body be more representative of various campus constituencies, including student groups like Eco-house, KARES, Resident Assistants, and Student Senate. The Task Force also recommended that various College offices be represented on the group. To that end, and in the hopes that the Staff Council and FASCom will also nominate members to the President’s Council on Campus Sustainability, I have asked Froggi VanRiper, director of campus sustainability initiatives, to work with me to restructure the Task Force into the new Council.

4. Communication Initiatives. Last year’s open forums on strategic planning and the spring town hall meeting were well-received by the Knox community, so we want to continue that momentum. To that effect, we have planned a number of formal and informal gatherings throughout the academic year that will not only address campus priorities and initiatives, but will also provide members of the Knox community with opportunities to learn more about different areas of the College. Here’s what we have planned to date:

President’s Council Open Forums–three times a year, members of the President’s Council provide status reports on their respective areas for the Board of Trustees meetings, and many campus-wide decisions and discussions take place at those meetings. To better inform the campus community about what takes place at the Board meetings, we are planning for open forums with President’s Council members following each Board meeting (fall, winter, and spring). Dates have already been set for these forums: October 14, 8:00 a.m. and October 16 at noon; February 24, 2015, at 8:00 a.m. and February 26 at noon; June 9,at 8:00 a.m. and June 11 at noon. More information about the forums will be released prior to the event, and we encourage everyone to attend.

Annual Town Hall Meeting–nearly 200 faculty, staff, and students gathered on the South Lawn of Old Main last May to participate in a Town Hall discussion. Much was discussed, but one request was mentioned by nearly everyone in attendance: let’s have more of these! And we agree. We plan to host another Town Hall gathering on Friday, May 1, to review how the academic year has gone. Again, we’ll share more information as the Town Hall approaches, but we encourage you to please add this date to your calendar.

Brown Bag Educational Series–even though we are a small campus, it’s often hard to know what’s happening in various offices across the campus. To help us learn more about what our co-workers and doing, we plan to host an informal brown bag lunch each month starting in October. Our first lunch will focus on Advancement and the College’s current fundraising initiatives, our second will be focused on the new website and Admission publications. Dates have not yet been set for these, but we’ll send out information as soon as we have it. We’ll plan more of these throughout the year, but we need your help, which takes me to . . .

Internal Communications Survey–Charles Clark in Institutional Research and Assessment is helping us conduct a survey of all faculty, staff, and students to help us better assess how, when, and what to communicate to the campus community. One question on the survey will ask you what topics you’d like to learn more about from your colleagues. More information will be forthcoming on the survey soon.

I know this is a lot of information to cover in a single e-mail, but all of it is important to share with you as we stand on the threshold to a new academic year. Always, if you have any questions or concerns, my door is open.

Here’s to a great new year of teaching and learning on our prairie campus!