September 10, 2010
To the University Community:
As classes get underway, I want to update all of you about the challenges and decisions we face in the year ahead. We enter it as strong as the University has ever been, despite the recent economic downturn. As all of us know only too well, Washington and Lee was not spared some difficult choices. I can't promise there will not be others down the road. We are watching trends carefully and managing and investing with prudence. Still, our budget is balanced for the current year. Our tuition increase was the lowest in percentage terms in a decade. Our Annual Fund set a record by surpassing $7 million. Our endowment, at $719 million, is now back to nearly its high-water mark of two years ago, when it stood at $723 million.
The reasons for our strength are twofold. First, we have a strong sense of mission and a clear direction for the future, and that imposes a discipline upon us to focus on what matters. Second, we had a shared commitment as we entered these difficult economic times. Our alumni continued their generous support financially and in so many other ways, and faculty and staff made daily decisions that enabled us to weather the storm. Our students were the beneficiaries, as we continued with our educational innovations and enhancements.
At the October Board of Trustees meeting, we will launch the public phase of our capital campaign, Honor Our Past, Build Our Future: The Campaign for Washington and Lee. It will be ambitious and historic, not only for Washington and Lee, but for any liberal arts college. The goal will be announced at the kickoff on Oct. 22, along with a report on progress to this point. The campaign will conclude in 2015.
Also at the October board meeting, we will update the trustees on the strategic plan. Since we adopted it three years ago, it is now time to see where adjustments, if any, are necessary. I do not anticipate any changes in the priorities or the fundamental goals. But we need to be more precise in our planning for duPont Hall. We need to determine if additional funds are needed in areas such as financial aid. And we need to consider whether new priorities have emerged since the adoption of the strategic plan. The priorities have held up well. The plan's emphasis on people — students, faculty and staff — academic innovation and endowment were appropriate before the economic downturn. They are even more appropriate now.
On the facilities front, faculty and students return this fall to a beautifully restored Newcomb Hall. Payne Hall goes offline this year for what promises to be an equally beautiful restoration. Planning advances for Washington and Robinson, and duPont. The new Hillel House is open and offers a facility the entire community can use. The frame of Alpha Delta Pi, our sixth sorority house, is already visible across the footbridge, with occupancy scheduled for next fall.
Those who were here this summer witnessed perhaps the least glamorous part of the Colonnade project: the reworking of the utility infrastructure in Stemmons Plaza. As long as we had to endure that disruption, we considered it an opportune time to enhance the landscaping. In the coming weeks, trees will be planted along the new footpaths and sidewalks, and some of the details and view lines that the planners carefully created will become apparent. The area behind Payne Hall will be cordoned off for the construction required for its restoration.
In academic affairs, the School of Law and its faculty will continue to assess and refine the curriculum, primarily related to the third-year program and also beyond it. We will begin to plan our search for a new law dean, with the intent to conduct the search next year. On the undergraduate side, we enter the second year of the new Spring Term with the continued addition of new and innovative courses. Also this year, we will take up a series of recommendations for enhancing international education.
We welcomed to the campus this fall 144 new law students and 472 first-year undergraduates. The academic credentials and the personal qualities of the newest members of our community are stellar and among the best we have ever seen. In addition, while we still need to build our financial-aid resources, our entering classes this year are the most economically diverse in our history. One's academic ability and personal promise, not one's financial circumstances, determine admission to Washington and Lee.
A theme in student life will be respect — respect for one's self, respect toward each other, and respect toward neighbors and fellow citizens in the local community. We will also decide on any revisions to the adjudicatory procedures in the area of harassment and student sexual assault and misconduct. While it is important to settle on whatever changes are necessary, it is more important still to commit ourselves to individual responsibility and a community of respect that makes such adjudicatory actions less and less necessary.
I also will be reminding our students, faculty and staff of the significance of the honor system at Washington and Lee. Because it is so much a part of our everyday lives, and, admirably, so much a habit of the heart, we risk taking it for granted. I know of no other college or university where the student culture is as deeply committed to honesty and therefore so closely aligned with the faculty's commitment to academic integrity. I will ask us to reflect upon that piece of common ground, distinctive in higher education, as the year goes on, and to embrace the advantages it provides as well as the responsibility it imposes upon us to preserve it for the future.
We will keep in mind the commitment we made three years ago to continuously improve our communications within our community and to audiences beyond the campus. This year, we will conduct a series of town hall meetings for staff and faculty, beginning on Sept. 16 with an overview of the year, which I will provide. During the year, we will hold topical meetings on sustainability initiatives, finances and the budget, student life, communications, and the capital campaign. In addition, I have formed a Strategic Communications Committee. Its purpose is to bring together representatives from across the University to be sure that the messages we send to audiences beyond the campus reinforce common and consistent themes.
Finally, the University continues to be mindful of our role as a citizen of the Lexington and Rockbridge community. The latest news is that we have received a federal grant in support of a joint effort with the city and the county to bring broadband to the region. Washington and Lee took the lead in terms of planning and financial commitment. We will build the requisite facility on the back part of our campus. We also are continuing with our community grants program, which provides up to $50,000 a year for local nonprofits and community organizations, our sustainability initiatives, a separate grant for the Rockbridge Area Transportation Services, and of course the literally hundreds of individual volunteer efforts from our students, faculty and staff throughout the year. Those personal and individual commitments make us most proud.
As I have said to many of you these last few years, there is never a day that I do not find a specific reason to be thankful for the privilege to be working at a place where people truly care about the institution. We will continue to address together the challenges we face, and for that I truly appreciate and am grateful for everyone's efforts.
My very best wishes for the year to come.