Year-end reflections and administrative update

May 30, 2013

Dear Willamette community members,

We mark the end of our fiscal year this Friday, and although the official end of the 2012-13 academic year won't come until the GSE graduation two weeks from now, I wanted to share a few reflections on the past year and some information about the year ahead.

First, consider the more than 800 graduates who completed their degrees during the last year, the great majority of which were bestowed at the joyous commencement ceremonies held this month. These new alumni enter the world carrying with them not just the benefits of their liberal arts or professional educations, but also an understanding of the value of service to others and the possibility of positive change in the world. We should all be proud of what they, and we, have accomplished together and contemplate the impact they will have on our region and the world.

Inescapably, the departure of the class of 2013 means the arrival of the class of 2017. Although the final numbers will not be known until the fall census, admissions in CLA had a very good year. As of this morning, we have 574 first-year students who have made deposits, giving us a fairly comfortable margin above our 525-student budget target even including projections for the inevitable "summer melt" as student plans change. We are also modestly above targets for transfer and exchange students. Academic profile is comparable to the class of 2016, with a modest drop in average test scores balanced by modest increases in class rank and GPA. We have more incoming students from Oregon, California, and non-western states, and fewer from Washington -- in fact, the University of Washington appears to have been the top choice this year for students who declined our offer. Preliminary diversity measures also look good, with significantly more students self-identifying as African American, Native American, Asian American, or Hispanic.

The strong admissions results came at a cost, with a significant overrun in the financial aid budget, presumably indicating higher than expected matriculation of high-need students. We hope and expect that the larger-than-projected class and lower revenue per student will roughly balance to a total revenue near our budget assumptions. I should note that although the class size will likely exceed the established target, the total number of undergraduates is still predicted to be smaller overall than last year.

Admissions numbers in the graduate schools are still very preliminary, though not as promising as in CLA. In law, the national enrollment numbers will be at their lowest point in several decades, and we have planned for a small class. It is too early to know if we will hit our reduced enrollment target. The College of Law's 2012 graduates reported much stronger initial employment data than did the class of 2011, suggesting that the market for new lawyers is beginning to pick up, and I am optimistic that we will see both applications and enrollment begin to recover over the next few years. MBA programs, too, have seen sharp enrollment declines nationally, and although the AGSM had a record sized class last fall, we don't expect to be able to repeat that performance this year. And early enrollment results at the GSE are very disappointing, down by about a factor of two from this time last year, reflecting recent trends in our region. We have considerable work to do across all three schools to finish filling the fall class and to align revenues with expenses should enrollments fall significantly shorter than projected.

Still, much has been accomplished in the last year. The Board's approval of the Strategic Plan in February was an important milestone for the university community, and elements of the plan are already reflected in the work plans the deans, VPs, and Board committees are developing for next year. Important progress has been made both in reducing the endowment spend rate and addressing much-needed deferred maintenance. Last summer good progress was made against a backlog of work on roofs and residence hall bathrooms, and furniture and equipment were refreshed in a number of classrooms. Upgrades for both residence halls and classrooms will continue to be a focus this summer, as will a needed replacement of the football field turf and the track. As you know, we have also raised sufficient gift funding to complete the first phase of the renovation of Sparks, which has already begun.

The Sparks gifts were part of a strong year for fundraising. Total giving should end at least 5% above 2011-12, and we are on track for what may be the best year in annual fund giving for at least 15 years. Eighteen sponsored awards totaling nearly $1.5M have been processed this year through the Office for Faculty Research and Resources (OFFRR), slightly ahead of the average in recent years.

Administrative changes this year have emphasized efficiency, improved coordination and service quality. A reorganization of the Center for Sustainable Communities, the Sustainability Council, and the Zena Advisory Committee into a unified Willamette Sustainability Institute brings new focus to our important work in this area of great strategic importance. The reorganization of Financial Affairs to allow the hiring of a dedicated Controller brings improvements in our financial controls and compliance and increases the office's capacity to provide strategic budget support to the deans' offices. The re-alignment of marketing and communications with enrollment and the hiring of an experienced VP of Enrollment and University Communications are intended to allow stronger, more coherent messaging, and clearer positioning of Willamette for all constituents from prospective students to alumni.

As we begin 2013-14, I would like to recognize a change in Marlene Moore's title, to Dean of the College and Vice President of Academic Affairs. This does not reflect a change in any reporting relationships, merely formalizing the long-established role of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts as the manager of cross-cutting academic support units including among others the library, museum, and office of international education. Marlene also manages our institution-wide accreditation activities, represents the university externally in various groups as chief academic officer (in lieu of a provost), and chairs the Deans' Council.

More significant are changes within the CLA Dean's office. As Marlene herself will explain in more detail soon, University Librarian Deb Dancik has agreed to expand her role, adding the title Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs. As AVP, Deb will take over day-to-day management of the crosscutting academic support units as well as Willamette Academy, freeing the Associate Deans of CLA and Marlene to focus more fully on direct student and faculty support.

I appreciate the willingness of both Marlene and Deb to take on these new roles, as well as the various faculty members, deans, and other administrators who have provided ideas and informal consultation as we have considered cost-neutral options for improving the management organization within CLA.

We continue to live in what can only be considered interesting times in higher education, made more so by the ongoing challenge of the economic environment for our new graduates and the families of our current students.

We have much to do together in the year ahead, including the important work of the new task force on sexual violence and the campus climate. But Willamette is extraordinarily well-placed to thrive, given our outstanding faculty, strong staff, beautiful campus, and, most important, our unwavering commitment to being, as the strategic plan puts it, the Northwest's leading institution for rigorous, personalized liberal arts and graduate professional education. After two years here, I am very proud and delighted to be a Bearcat.