For the second time in a row, due to challenges presented by the global pandemic, the Centre College Board of Trustees held its meetings virtually. While individual committee meetings were scheduled throughout the weeks of Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, the full Board met the morning of Friday, Oct. 9.
Board Chair Mark Nunnelly ’80 began the meeting by enthusiastically thanking the College “for its extraordinary efforts to prepare for and manage the pandemic.”
Centre adopted a rigorous testing protocol for the fall semester, including frequent surveillance testing. The current student positivity rate is a slight 0.33 percent, with 3,988 tests administered so far this fall to students alone, and the overall campus rate is 0.45 percent, with 4,938 tests administered to students, faculty and staff.
This was the first official meeting for Milton Moreland, who began his tenure as Centre’s 21st president on July 1. He described the many components involved in the College’s success in planning for a safe and healthy fall semester. Approximately 1,100 students, or 82 percent of those enrolled, lived and learned on campus for the first of two fall “blocks,” he reported, and about 40 students learning remotely planned to return to campus over the weekend for the second block, which begins Monday, Oct. 12.
Having recently surpassed the 100-day mark since arriving, Moreland also shared his vision for the College’s future beyond the pandemic.
He made clear to trustees his interest in “increasing access and availability to this excellent Centre education for an extremely competitive and diverse student body of the future. We need to plan on growing scholarship funds and expanding our regional, national and international recruiting.” Above all, he added, “we need to be proactive in making strategic decisions.”
Moreland also provided details about immediate tactics that need to be pursued in addition to the College’s next strategic planning process, its overarching goals, and six specific areas that will be his primary focus for the College in the coming years.
These include increased access and availability, curricular innovations and new revenue streams, an enhanced residential experience and enriched engaged learning, increased success in recruiting and retaining a diverse employee base and student body, supporting athletics as a core strength, and fully connecting the College to Danville, Boyle County and the broader region.
In addition to learning about these initiatives in its Friday morning meeting, trustees also heard from four students to understand their experiences learning under COVID-19, both this past spring and currently during the fall.
Participants included three seniors and one sophomore: Stephanie Akota Bamfo ’21, Gracie Fitzgerald ’21, Cesar Romero ’21 and Sienna Joseph ’23. They spoke from their perspectives not just as students but also from the lenses of their significant involvement in areas such as student government, athletics, student organizations, and in various scholarship and service programs. All were grateful for the efforts to keep the campus open.
Trustees also heard reports from faculty President John Wilson, Staff Congress President Russ Strunk, Student Government Association President Cole Newton ’21 and Alumni Association President Pam Deitchle ’97.
In other College updates, CFO Brian Hutzley reported that, despite the myriad of financial challenges presented by the global pandemic, such as partial student refunds for housing and meal plans distributed in the spring, Centre ended its fiscal year on June 30 with a small operating surplus. Several rounds of adjustments to departmental budgets, along with reduction in College travel, athletic activities, and overall utility usage and building maintenance throughout the spring and summer, helped trim costs. And despite significant market volatility, Hutzley reported that Centre’s endowment portfolio saw a 1.1 percent increase the past fiscal year, ending at $325.7 million.
Dean of the College Ellen Godley, Centre’s vice president for academic affairs, reported on the significant efforts undertaken by faculty over the summer to prepare for a hybrid learning environment this fall to accommodate in-person and remote learners. After a campus wide audit of traditional and non-traditional teaching spaces, sensitive to room density and social distancing requirements, courses are being taught this fall in a number of novel spaces, including a dozen tents set up across campus.
She credited Associate Professor of Anthropology Robyn Cutright, who is serving as interim director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, for leading the effort to facilitate training for her colleagues on new technologies. Cutright was invited to describe these efforts to the Academic Affairs Committee and also share information with trustees about her teaching and scholarly interests.
Beyond a focus on current challenges related to the pandemic, Goldey also provided details on a number of new curricular initiatives that include CentreWorks, focused on developing an entrepreneurial mindset across the campus community, and the new Centre Learning Commons devoted to student success. The latter involves an extensive renovation of Centre’s Grace Doherty Library in Crounse Hall, a project that also includes moving the Center for Teaching and Learning from the lower level of Crounse to the third floor. Goldey also provided an update on the other major campus renovation of Olin Hall to create the Austin E. Knowlton Center for Mathematics and Science, home to the College’s new major and minor in data science and other STEM majors.
While many colleges across the nation have seen steep declines in enrollment due to the novel coronavirus, Bob Nesmith, Centre’s dean of admission and financial aid, reported on a strong entering class of 352 students that represented the academic strength and increasing diversity—the hallmark of recent recruitment efforts.
In addition to an average ACT score of 29 and an average of five Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, 21 percent of new students are U.S. students of color, 26 percent are first-generation students, and 16 percent are from Appalachia. Nesmith also pointed out that 26 different languages are spoken in the homes of the new students. Entering students also include Centre’s first student with tribal enrollment, a graduate of the Kentucky School for the Deaf, and international students from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Nesmith credited a new Trustee Grant program for helping achieve Centre’s highest yield rate in the last decade, even in the face of a global pandemic and economic downturn, and also reported on the College’s decision to become test-optional.
Kelly Knetsche, Centre’s newest member of the senior administration who started her duties as vice president for development and alumni engagement on Aug. 10, reported that the recent fiscal year raised $13.1 million in total donations, thanks in part to a more than $3 million estate gift. While members of the Centre Associates, who give at $1,000 or above, grew slightly over the past year, the economic downturn negatively impacted annual giving and young alumni participation, a nationwide trend.
Despite only starting 60 days earlier, Knetsche shared a series of initiatives and a strategic plan for the year to increase fundraising and stewardship efforts that involved a thorough analysis of her office’s staffing, data, vendors and overall organization.
In related news, Jamey Leahey, vice president for legal affairs and gift planning, brought seven new endowed funds and scholarships to the trustees for authorization, which were all approved unanimously.
- The Burbank Family Endowed Fund, established in honor of the late William F. Burbank ’49; his daughter, Jane Burbank ’78; and his sister, Ruth Resch ’42, to be awarded to a student with financial need who is a member of an underrepresented population from Jefferson County.
- The John and Montie Hankla Frazer Scholarship, established by the Centre trustees from an estate gift from John Frazer ’51 and Montie Hankla Frazer ’51, awarded to worthy full-time students at Centre College.
- The Emily Hundley Scholarship, established by the Centre trustees from a trust from Emily Hundley, awarded to full-time worthy students at Centre College.
- The Dr. Jeffrey Johnson and Ken Michael Endowment Fund, established by Dr. Jeffrey Johnson ’95 and Ken Michael, to support programs and activities at the Norton Center for the Arts.
- The E.E. and Martha McGuire Scholarship, established in 2020 by a bequest and the McGuire family, awarded primarily to eastern Kentucky students with preference to those from Boyd, Carter and Harlan counties.
- The Colvin Patterson Rouse and Helen Dedman Rouse Scholarship, created by James D. Rouse ’62, to honor his mother and father, awarded to students demonstrating both financial need and academic excellence, with primary consideration given to financial need, and with a preference for students from Kentucky.
- The Robert H. Stewart Memorial Fund, established in memory of the late Robert H. Stewart ’74, awarded to a student with financial need representing a county in Central Kentucky.
In other business, the Board approved additional four-year terms for four trustee colleagues as part of the Class of 2024: Jess Correll, Craig Hille ’97, Lea Stromire Johnson ’82 and Amul Thapar.
The Centre College Board of Trustees meets three times per year and will gather again after the first of the year and in April.
by Michael Strysick
October 12, 2020