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Board of Trustees discusses anti-racist training and University restructuring

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

a photo of Nancy Ludwig giving her report at the board meeting
Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

By Sophia Harris

News Editor

By Branden LaCroix

Asst. News Editor

Board of Trustees Chair Kevin Foley issued an apology at the Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 21 concerning his lack of judgment at the Board of Trustees subcommittee meeting Sept. 13.

At this subcommittee meeting, Foley asked whether the term anti-racism had negative connotations when considering the University’s rebranding.

In his apology, Foley said, “I sincerely express my regrets to all those who are offended by my comment questioning the use of this term [anti-racism] … Let me affirm to you today … my commitment … to anti-racist initiatives on campus, as well as our support for all diversity, equity and inclusion practices at this university.”

He added the Board of Trustees will hire a consultant to conduct educational anti-racism training within the next 90 days.

At another subcommittee meeting Sept. 14, Trustee Mike Grilli made a comment about Jussie Smollett in connection to the University’s decline in enrollment.

[Editor’s Note: See “Community outraged following comments at Trustee subcommittee meetings” in The Gatepost’s Sept. 23, 2022 issue for more information on the Trustee subcommittee meetings.]

During the open forum, the community had an opportunity to contribute to the conversation concerning this incident.

Sociology Professor Ben Alberti read a letter on behalf of faculty and staff that emphasized “the gravity of the crisis.”

He said the community is “outraged” not only by the comments made by Foley, but also his response to the incident.

An email sent by Foley to the community on Sept.16 included statements such as “If I expressed myself poorly and offended anyone,” and followed with an apology due to those circumstances.

Alberti said the community was “deeply hurt” by this response and outlined what he, on behalf of the Framingham State community, would like to see the Board of Trustees do to educate themselves and support faculty, staff, and students who were impacted by the comments.

The first action he would like to see implemented is a session held by the Board of Trustees with students, faculty, and staff to “address this crisis.” Second, he said, ongoing anti-bias and anti-racism training for all board members is needed. Lastly, he advocated for an increase of BIPOC members on the Board of Trustees.

Raffi Elkhoury, vice president of SGA and class president of 2024, read an email from President F. Javier Cevellos from June 2020 that outlined the University's commitment to anti-racism.

In his email, Cevallos said, “We ask all members of our community to reflect on the historic racist policies and actions of our country and the bias created by them. With this knowledge, our community will actively work together to ensure the physical and psychological safety and success of our community members of color, especially our black community.”

Dara Barros, SGA president, said the statements made by Chair Foley and Trustee Grilli “brought into question the wisdom of the University's commitment to anti-racism.” She added the initial email sent by Foley was not an adequate response.

She said prior to the University’s commitment to anti-racism, she experienced racism on campus only two weeks into her first semester. She added her experience has been “invalidated” by the comments made by the trustees.

Barros said she still sees and experiences racism at FSU to this day.

She said Foley's concern about marketing invites prospective students who view the term “anti-racism” negatively.

“If a student does not want to come to FSU because they are against anti-racism, we don't want them here,” she said.

Barros said, “As a student of color on this campus who represents the whole student body, I don't feel comfortable with someone making these comments to continue representing me in my pursuit of higher education and to continue governing the University for all the students that I was elected to represent.”

Foley thanked those who spoke, and said, “There's a lot to learn.”

During the president’s report, Nancy Niemi addressed the events of the prior week.

“We need to refocus on diversity, equity and inclusive practices, knowing that our advances in policy, curriculum practice, and enrollment and admissions mean that we will need to continuously hold ourselves accountable to the ways in which we are called to meet the needs of our Framingham communities, all of them in new ways,” she said.

In her report, Niemi said the reorganization was implemented to “serve our students and community more effectively.”

Niemi said she needed to “highlight the importance of several areas” to effectively support the success of FSU students and create new opportunities for staff and faculty.

She added because of the reorganization, a new division was created as part of Academic Affairs - Academic Enhancement - which will be led by Vice President Lorretta Holloway.

The division of Academic Enhancement was created to ensure students had support in addition to academic affairs and student affairs, becoming the “third pillar of their success,” she said.

Niemi said there are still a few departments, such as Marketing, that have been neither affirmed or reaffirmed to change or stay as they are.

She said there is an ongoing search for a permanent dean of enrollment management, but hopes to hire an interim in the next couple of weeks.

Niemi concluded her report by saying that on Oct. 1, she will be 90 days into her presidency, adding, “I'm only reaffirmed in my decision that this is the place that I most want to be.”

She said she will be writing an assessment on her performance on meeting the goals of the Board of Trustees in the past 90 days that will be available by the end of the month.

During Wardell Powell's diversity, equity, and inclusion report, he said the Center for Inclusive Excellence will “offer an advance in racial equity through policy review” in a mix of in-person and virtual workshops.

Powell said the Bias Education Response Team will meet monthly and will focus on three priorities: to review/redesign the bias reporting process, to create response protocols, and to support the First Amendment.

During the student trustee report, McKenzie Ward highlighted the Administrators’ Forum that will be held by SGA for students to address concerns with the administration. It will be held Oct. 11 at 7:00 p.m. in the Alumni Room.

Ward addressed concerns with students' mental health and quoted from an independent study conducted by the Lumina Foundation which found 75% of college students have “considered taking a break from college” due to their mental health.

She added a key part to Framingham State’s retention efforts has to be supporting students' mental health.

Dean of Students Meg Nowak Borrego reported on mental health initiatives.

She said the Counseling Center is fully staffed with four full-time counselors, two part-time counselors, and three master’s of social work interns.

Borrego said the Counseling Center received a $140,000 grant for training and staff development, adding the Counseling Center is also expecting a “large sum of money” from the state.

Trustee Claire Ramsbottom asked if the staff at the Counseling Center is representative of the student body.

Borrego said, “It's really close” depending on what lens of diversity it would be evaluated on.

She said students who request an appointment at the Counseling Center would have to wait “at worst a week,” but as of now, it takes about 24 to 48 hours to receive an appointment.

Borrego said three vaccination clinics - COVID-19 booster, flu, and monkeypox - will be available for students.

In her reorganization committee report, Ramsbottom said they have been working with the firm Primacy to help develop Framingham State’s brand message.

She said Framingham State has to expand its marketing past undergraduate students to reach students of all degree studies.

Ramsbottom said FSU has strengths to build from as a university that make strong marketing messages, such as “affordability, diversity, and some very unique programs.”

Holloway added by October, the firm will be testing out brand ideas and by November, will “have real concrete brand ideas.”

In Holloway’s report, she discussed the new Academic Enhancement division. She said these three divisions are like the “three legs of a stool.” They all work together for the mission of not only recruiting and retaining students, but also their families.

She said in order for all students to succeed, the division has to look at the backgrounds of students. She said she recognized some students are not being supported by their families, but might be supported by other people in their lives such as a “neighbor or a pastor or a school guidance counselor or a coach.”

Executive Vice President Dale Hamel provided the University’s financial report. He said the budget that was approved in May for Fiscal Year 2022-23 (FY22-23) had a deficit of about $4 million, but he added, “It was balanced because of use of one-time funds” such as grants from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

Hamel said the board designated approximately $3 million for FY23, “which was the last remaining piece of HEERF funding available to us.”

Hamel said the University budgeted at a prospective “10-and-a-half percent reduction” in enrollment, but added, “We are probably going to see something closer to 12.

“That has an impact of about $725,000 on college operations and $75,000 on other trust funds that have direct fees associated with enrollment,” he said.

Hamel said one of the more significantly impacted areas of the University’s budget is in the reduction of student residents.

“The hope was that students having been home for two years would want to come back on campus,” he said.

According to Hamel, during past semesters, about 65% of undergraduate students would be on-campus residents, but said, “They’re only coming back to about a 50% level.

“That's having a significant impact on the residence hall trust fund, as well as the associated dining trust fund. So, we're looking at about a $2.3 million deficit before we do anything in terms of Residence Life and about $900,000 on food services,” he said.

Hamel explained one of the main reasons for the decline in residency is that approximately 25% of students are “taking two or more online courses.”

To address the budget issues, Hamel said many University departments have made “adjustments,” and the University is offering fewer core courses due to low enrollment this semester.

He added the University has also “accelerated the use of the debt service reserve.” The reserve was originally intended to be distributed over the course of five years, but the “accelerated” reserves will impact FY23 and FY24, with $1.3 million available for the current year, according to Hamel.

He said the reserve funding will be used unless other sources of funding are found.

“We don’t have a lot of levers to pull anymore - we’ve pulled a lot of levers over the last couple of years,” he said. “There's no way you can be an institution with 40% less students and do everything the same way you did when you had those additional students.”

He said the application for FEMA reimbursements “has gone through” and “we’re just waiting for the money.”

Hamel said a potential source of funding is the Fair Share Act, which will be on the ballot this November. “If passed, it [The Fair Share Act] would provide additional funding for K-12, higher ed, and transportation.”

He added, “If we don't lobby for our fair share of the Fair Share of funding if it passes, we'll be left out, and it does promise to offer significant new funding to higher ed. That would have a huge benefit and address many of our concerns about the out-year deficits.”

Hamel said potential funding from the Fair Share Act would affect next year’s budget.

Hamel detailed the $34 million “five-year-plan” for the University’s capital budget, which will provide funding for the Christa McAuliffe Center, the Warren Center, the Dining Center, and Residence Halls.

Hamel detailed the University’s investment fund performance, where investments are down 8.1%. Hamel said, “That sounds bad,” but added the previous year’s investments were up 26.7%.

“That’s actually greater than what we assume average investment return will be, but it’s been a roller coaster ride,” he said.

Hamel said Patricia Whitney, assistant vice president of Facilities and Capital Planning, will be retiring this fall, and Dan Giard, director of Facilities Operations, will “step into a management role” until a replacement is found.

Eric Gustafson, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, reported his office ended FY22 with a total of $2.16 million in private donations, and $283,000 has been raised so far for FY23. “So we’re off to a good start,” he said.

Gustafson said the University is now “back” with the Endowment Setup Program through the Commonwealth. He said the University has $555,555 available in “state matching funds,” which the University can claim through June 30, 2023.

He added, “Any gift made to an endowment fund is eligible” to be matched by the state.

“It’s a great time to set up or help expand the endowment scholarship fund or endowment for any purpose on campus,” he said.

Gustafson said Alumni Relations “had a great summer” with “big events,” including a WooSox game where President Niemi threw out the first pitch.

He added there are “big events coming up this fall,” including Homecoming Weekend and the 50th anniversary of FSU football.

Gustafson said the Danforth Art Museum had a “phenomenal” FY22, with an increase in admissions and a doubling of memberships.

The Museum held its annual juried exhibition over the summer. Gustafson said the exhibitions were on hold for several years during the Museum’s transfer to FSU, adding, “It will definitely be coming back next year and every year forward, as well.”

He added revenue from the Museum’s summer programs increased by 34% and registrations increased by 50%.

Gustafson said the Museum will also be launching a “corporate membership program” sometime this year, which could provide extra funding.

The Danforth Art Museum is holding an opening reception for its new exhibits Oct. 22.

History Department Chair Maria Bollettino introduced senior history major Meeghan Bresnahan as the Student-in-the-Spotlight.

Bollettino said, “She has dedicated herself throughout her time in the history program to bring to the fore unrepresented voices, particularly those of women.

“She is a uniquely curious, enthusiastic, moral, empathetic student of history and I just can't even say enough about her, and that's just her in the classroom,” she added.

Bresnahan is a Mancuso scholarship recipient, a member of “three honors societies,” was an SI leader for a liberal studies course and worked as a tutor for liberal studies and history, is president of the Hilltop Players, and is a member of the Arts & Ideas Committee.

Bresnahan said, “There are so many people in history who have amazing stories to tell, and it helps you learn not all of the bad things about history, but the good things too.

“Everybody's story I think should be told and given praise in the world,” she added.

[Editor's Note: McKenzie Ward is Opinions Editor for The Gatepost.]



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