Institutional Priorities 2013-14
September 10, 2013
To: The University Community
From: President Ruscio
Date: September 10, 2013
At the beginning of each academic year, I provide an overview of what lies ahead for us-the decisions facing the university, the topics on our agenda, the themes that will shape our discussions, the tasks we must complete. We are still guided by the strategic plan passed in 2007. First and foremost it ensures we continue to attract and retain the most capable students and the most dedicated faculty and staff. It seeks to establish new academic programs and strengthen existing ones. And it includes several capital projects, many of them now moving to the top of the agenda.
We have accomplished a great deal since this plan was adopted. The very presence of the plan has constantly reminded us of our goals even as the turmoil throughout higher education can tempt quick fixes to perceived problems. There is, however, much to be done before we can declare success.
For the coming year, our tasks fall into two broad categories: the character of our community and the character of our campus.
At Washington and Lee we take pride in the strong character of our community. This is a place that fosters life-long friendships among students, faculty, and staff. Each and every year we renew our commitments to the honor system and to the principles of respect and mutual support that should guide all our interactions. During this coming year, we will draw upon those principles to focus on decisions related to residential life and student housing.
Work on the renovation of Gaines Hall is underway and should be completed by the end of the academic year. Then the renovation of Graham-Lees begins, culminating in a reimagined first-year student community, with the two main residence halls bracketing an open space, all of it in proximity to the athletic facilities, the Elrod Commons, and the performing arts venues. That project will be completed by January 2015.
The Board of Trustees has also been analyzing options for upper-class housing on campus. The changing patterns of off-campus housing and concerns over availability, quality and affordability have led us to ask whether we need additional options for our students. Equally important is ensuring that we preserve the environment that fosters close-knit friendships. How do our campus housing patterns affect class unity, support for athletic, artistic and other extracurricular events, and the possibilities for a strong social life and a vibrant academic community? The Board will continue its analysis throughout the coming months.
Other capital projects will come to the forefront of the agenda. In the planning and design and even in the choice of which projects to undertake and when, we seek to preserve and enhance the character of this historic campus. On the Colonnade, we have finished with renovations of Newcomb, Payne, and Washington Halls. Robinson is well underway and will be completed by the summer. Once we have raised the funds, we will then move either to Tucker or to the creation of the Center for Global Learning, which would incorporate a renovated duPont Hall. The decision about which project to tackle next depends on which of the two fundraising goals is first met. From a planning and design standpoint, we will be ready for either. We cannot, however, do both at the same time.
We also will be moving forward with designing and planning our new indoor athletic facilities. The Board has decided to renovate Doremus and construct a new building on the site of the current Warner Center that utilizes the existing foundation and is architecturally compatible with the rest of the campus. A new natatorium is also being designed and a decision on its exact location lies ahead.
It is important to note that these new facilities, as well as the renovation of the Colonnade and also renovations of space in the law school, are dependent on the support of our alumni and friends. They are not, in other words, supported by tuition dollars, nor will they draw from existing programs in the University. Although this is a time in the strategic plan when our capital projects will take center stage, other priorities, such as student financial aid and faculty compensation and development, have come first and taken a justifiably larger commitment of resources. This has not been a conventional "bricks and mortar" strategic plan, but it may seem that way over the next couple of years as these projects get underway.
Other priorities this year include our academic programs. They will continue to develop in innovative ways. Besides the now well-known changes to the law school curriculum and the revitalized spring term, both of which continue to receive the attention of our faculty, we will hold the inaugural event for the Mudd Center for Ethics; open the IQ Center, a technologically sophisticated space for teaching and research in the sciences supported by gifts from alumni and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; name the entrepreneurship program in recognition of a substantial gift from alumnus Larry Connolly, of the Class of 1979; further develop of our global learning initiative; and initiate new courses and research in the emerging area of "digital humanities." All this is in addition to the ongoing work in our departments and longstanding interdisciplinary programs. In the midst of an environment for higher education that has been anything but innovative these last few years, the creativity and professionalism of our faculty have been evident to all.
As we consider the many strides that the University has made, I think it is worth noting that this year represents a major milestone in the University's history. The first coeducational class arrived at W&L in the fall of 1985. That class - the Class of 1989 will celebrate its 25th reunion in the spring, and we will call attention to this important anniversary in other ways during the year.
Finally, a word about the financial strength of Washington and Lee. Our capital campaign will conclude in the summer 2015. The goal of $500 million is the second largest ever for a liberal arts college. We have so far raised $425 million due to a dedicated and generous group of alumni, friends and parents. Our endowment stands at $1.35 billion and represents one of the strongest in the country on a per student basis. Our tuition increases have been restrained the last few years and this year's comprehensive fee increase of only 2.7% is the lowest in ten years. Moody's gave us a credit rating of Aa2 with a stable outlook. Our annual fund this year set a record in dollars raised ($8.7 million) and undergraduate participation (53.7%.) The Law School has the second highest participation rate among law schools at 40 percent. We are very fortunate.
Our good fortune is not accidental. It has required the hard work of all the members of our community - staff, administration and faculty. We have benefitted from savings in several key areas. For instance, the energy education program has recently passed a milestone with more than $1 million in savings since it was launched in 2011. In every department and at every rank, individuals have been effective stewards of the University's finances. One of the statistics to which I pay special attention is the average that we spend per student in the budget. Compared with a group of "Top 25" peer liberal arts college, we spend $1,750 more per student toward educational expenses but $6,500 less per student in aggregate expense. We are being successful in putting our money into the heart of the enterprise - teaching our students.
And yet, we are not immune from the economic headwinds in society and those facing higher education. If we have been ambitious, we have also been disciplined. I'd like to be able to say that once we emerge from the downturn the discipline we have adopted will be a thing of the past. But it is part of the so-called new normal. We are not planning on growth in the size of our student body. Significant tuition increases are not foreseeable. Projections of endowment returns are conservative. We are unusually well positioned among institutions of higher education, but that is because our ambition has been balanced by discipline. That is our future as well as our recent past.