For the first-time ever, in response to challenges arising from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Centre College Board of Trustees met virtually via teleconference.
While the usual in-person meetings occur over two consecutive days each winter, spring and fall, this year’s digital spring meeting was spread out over five days, beginning with committee discussions Monday, March 30 and culminating with a gathering of the full board on Friday, April 3.
It was the last official meeting for President John Roush, who is set to retire on June 30, 2020, after 22 years at the helm of the 200-year-old liberal arts college.
In expressing his deep gratitude for Roush’s remarkable service, Board Chair Mark Nunnelly said, “Your legacy is and will remain a bedrock on which the campus stands.” Nunnelly also complimented Roush’s creative and adaptive leadership during this time of crisis.
Roush admitted, in accepting this appreciation, that these are not the circumstances under which he and his wife, Susie, the College’s beloved first lady, imagined to end their long tenure. At the same time, he was circumspect about the current challenges.
In his final written report to the Board, Roush noted that “While we can’t direct the wind, we can adjust our sails.” He added that this is what leaders at Centre have done throughout its 200-year history, remaining focused on making the College better in all ways, in spite of what current challenges might exist.
While the full complement of Board of Trustees committees were unable to meet due to the virtual format, circumstances dictated the meeting of those committees focused on finance, investments, governance and academic affairs.
The usual plenary session was also held, which included important coronavirus-related ideas and recommendations from President Roush, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Bob Nesmith, Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Goldey and CFO Brian Hutzley.
Plenary topics focused on aggressive plans to strengthen recruitment and retention efforts, including the College’s plan to address student financial aid concerns for both new students in the fall and those current students whose family situations may be negatively impacted by the novel coronavirus; continued exploration of how business, entrepreneurism and creativity can make their way into the academic framework of the institution; moving forward with plans to establish a student success center in Crounse Hall by fall 2020, to be called the Learning Commons; and improvements to first-year residence halls, also by fall 2020.
Based on these reports, trustees expressed unanimous gratitude for the phenomenal efforts being made by Centre faculty and staff in the face of remarkable challenges. They also agreed that this is not the time to be timid, and the full Board unanimously approved funding for the recommended investments in financial aid and capital projects intent on keeping a Centre education affordable and maintaining the quality of excellence for which the College is known.
In particular, despite the turmoil caused by COVID-19, Centre’s Investment Committee saw wisdom in making funds available to support these significant initiatives, recognizing the urgent need to mitigate a range of anticipated challenges. Their confidence in doing so was based on reports about sound investment strategies that have been able to reduce by nearly half the significant portfolio declines seen globally, along with the College’s healthy position from a liquidity standpoint.
With the campus relatively empty, capital projects will begin soon and continue over the summer.
Centre’s new Learning Commons will be devoted to positive learning outcomes for all Centre students, enhancing an enduring commitment to prepare students for lives of learning, leadership and service in a global context.
The approved residential projects come on the heels of the recently completed Northside Residence Hall, a new 176-bed facility which opened last fall that features large, double rooms arranged in suites, super-suites and pods.
All projects will coincide with other current capital projects, notably the renovation and expansion of Olin Hall, supported in part by a $3 million gift from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation of Cincinnati to create the Austin E. Knowlton Center for Science and Mathematics.
While the College’s response to COVID-19 consumed nearly every conversation, trustees attended to other business as well.
Most importantly, trustees approved tenure and promotions for current faculty and the appointment of new tenure-track faculty, offering their congratulations to all.
Those awarded tenure and promotion to associate professor include Willie Costley (Spanish), Patten Mahler (economics and finance), Kelly O’Quin (biology), Bruce Rodenborn (physics), Iulia Sprinceana (Spanish) and Kaelyn Wiles (sociology).
In addition, three faculty members were promoted to full professor: Genny Ballard (Spanish), Melissa Burns-Cusato (behavioral neuroscience) and Amos Tubb (history).
New tenure-track faculty joining Centre in the fall will be Sarthak Behera (economics and finance), Chelsea Ebin (politics), Mei Li Inouye (Chinese) and David King (art).
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Centre College Board of Trustees is set to take place October 8-9, just prior to the annual Homecoming activities.
by Michael Strysick
April 6, 2020