VSA Council Meeting—1 December 2013
Hey, everyone, we’re off to a slow start today. Hope everyone had a wonderful break. Happy first of December!
7:03 // Call to Order….President
OPERATIONS: We’re going to go around and everyone will say what their favorite food they eat this past week was.
Absent: Cushing, 2016
7:06 // Consent Agenda…President
Minutes, November 24, 2013
Consent Agenda Passes
7:07 // Forum with Chris Roellke, Dean of the College
ROELLKE: Thank you very much, Deb, for having me involved. As you know president Hill and i sent out an email last week discussing two students withdrawing from the college. Some rumors are swirling around and I hope to dispel some of those rumors. People have wanted to know why we couldn’t name these students and why wasn’t a process involved. In this case, students chose to wtihdraw after admitting to egregious violations of College regulations.
PRESIDENT: I was hoping you could speak to what kind of information is allowed to be communicated to students?
ROELLKE: We felt that it was in these students’ best interest not to reveal their names. The College never reveals the names of students
FINANCE: Is it standard to email the entire student body in these instances?
ROELLKE: I think so because the community has been greatly affected by the bias incidents so we wanted the community to know that some of them were self-inflicted.
MAIN: Any specific reason why administration chose to reveal the cause behind the bias incidents until after the town hall meeting?
ROELLKE: It was a timing factor. Decision with students was made at 6:30pm and the town hall took place at 7pm.
STUDENT LIFE: I’ve been hearing now that administration have found the two students, they think the problem is solved. Can you speak to that?
ROELLKE: The College believes very strongly that these incidents go back to April with these two students. But that doesn’t account for all 17 bias incidents that have occurred on campus. We have to keep our feet to the fire.
2015: I’ve seen a few things on some blogs, are you confirming if what they’re saying and also do you have insights into how they got that information? Also, if you could talk to the process behind the bias incidents email sent?
ROELLKE: The College did not reveal the names, so I don’t know how they received that information. BIRT sent out that message so that would be a questions better suited for them, but I think they’ve been doing a good job.
FINANCE: A lot of us are student leaders—how can we support student fellows, etc. who have to be there for there community?
ROELLKE: A lot of folks feel betrayed, sad. I think the resources are on campus, I would encourage those who are in student leader postions to take advantage of those. These upcoming lunches will help with the recourse centers. Talking to the senior council level, a larger venue for us to discuss this. I’m interested in listening to any ideas you may have.
ACADEMICS: How do you think an incident like this impacts the process of having a social conscientiousness requirement?
ROELLKE: As you probably heard at the town hall meeting that the curriculum is under the domain of the faculty. It’s the Committee on Curricular Policies that have the vote. I don’t think I can make a prediction on how the faculty may fall on the discussion.
TAs: You said negotiations with students ended AT 6:30, can you speak
ROELLKE: We have gathered information that we felt suggested these two students hhad played a role in this. We called the students in separately. Julian Williams charged them with 6 or 7 violations. They had the opportunity to choose to admiti to committing them or not. We gave them the opportunity to either withdraw or to face a College Regulations Panel. One of the students filed a false police report, which is a serious crime, and the police were willing to interview them and move forward on a criminal perspective. The police agreed to let the College take care of it. We wanted to see these students to be able to move forward. So the police were called off.
JOSS: I’m curious how the investigation process goes, knowing that a lot of the bias incidents you receive you can’t go about solving.
ROELLKE: In this case we had handwriting analyses and logs for rooms students checked out. And they took responsibility. We interview folks, photos were taken. We’re not police officers but we try out best and we were right.
STRONG: Can you talk about why the email was sent in this way and didn’t provide much information on how students chose
ROELLKE: Our conclusion was that it would make more sense to have meetings where we can talk freely to one another. Another email message would have fallen short.
2014: Can you talk about how faculty has been involved?
ROELLKE: Steve Rock will be talking about it in the next faculty meeting on the 11th.
FINANCE: How did the police get involved?
ROELLKE: In this case the students got them involved. But generally, if we ever feel like we’re in over our heads we like to engage other experts, like we did back when WBC came. But in this case, the student filed the report with the police.
PRESIDENT: Are all students offered the same option?
ROELLKE: No always. I chose to say this was an emergency situation. The students chose not to go to the panel, and in that case my decision was final. I would have to say it was an emergency situation because the police were banging on our doors. I did not make this decision in isolation.
OPERATIONS: I want to talk about police involvement. The crime that they would have been punished with is vandalism?
ROELLKE: And filing a false police report.
OPERATIONS: I guess it seemed like the action was very strong from every direction. I guess, you tell me the police are knocking on our door, but are they going to knock on our door every time there is a misdemeanor?
ROELLKE: They had been on campus to investigate these bias incidents and they told us we’re interviewing these students and we’re going to arrest them.
TOWNHOUSES: Have you guys looked at other ways of communicating with students, maybe like a website—emails can be a lot at once.
ROELLKE: Communication is always tricky. BIRT is working on having a separate website you can choose to read over yourself. These are hard emails to write, they are always incomplete. Students want more information. We have to balance them out with confidentiality.
STUDENTLIFE: I wonder if you could speak about protecting anonymity going forward, especially since there have been other incidents this year where students were able to leave from campus with reputations in tact, though they didn’t necessarily leave on good terms. I think that, for example, the communication between VSA Exec board and administration in terms of how the emails were sent out became an issue.
ROELLKE: Our policy is the best we can do, to not name students. I honestly don’t know what we can do to prevent some conservative blogger from printing information when they didn’t speak to us.
TAs: I got an email from “Free Cappy”—is this being considered a prank or is is cyber terrorism?
ROELLKE: I don’t think Cappy was concerned about it. It was unfortunate, but a short-lived scenario.
2015: Do you know which bias incidents these two students were responsible for? Do you know of any bias incidents that have happened since these two students have withdrawn?
ROELLKE: BIRT reported a total of 17 since last year. We’re going through them to determine
FINANCE: Downstairs it’s posted what the College Regulations panel determined. How come you can’t answer Casey’s questions?
ROELLKE: We haven’t finished the investigation. I can’t answer it at time.
OPERATIONS: Can you tell us what they admitted to?
ROELLKE: No, because the investigation is still going? If the students withdrew the point is mute. We know they committed egregious violations.
FINANCE: I would like to pinpoint the exact violation we’re talking about.
ROELLKE: They took responsibility for the most recent bias incidents reported by BIRT, that’s all I can say.
7:39 // Forum with Robert Walton, Chief Finance Officer
PRESIDENT: If you would like, introduce yourself and how you engage with students on campus.
WALTON: Went to University of Texas, Austin. Then went into the software business for 25 years. Was CEO in Cambridge, MA and then did a start up with a friend in Berkley, CA. Everything you use in the Library was our software. I thought working on higher ed was the way to go. I worked as the CFO of a liberal arts school in Ohio…
Vassar contacted me when they were looking for a CFO. So I moved backed here to the East Coast and I’ve been at the job since Oct. 1. I came because I have a lot of admiration for Cappy and what she’s done, I want to be able to interact with students and faculty, and use my next five or six years to move the ball down the field. And I prefer that people call me Bob, please.
TAs: What does you day-to-day look like?
WALTON: I spend time on the endowment, risk management, all of buildings and grouns, all the purchasing that goes on, all the benefits for students and staff, and all the contractual stuff. Most of my time, now that I’m here, I spend half of my week managing people who manage areas of responsibility. One of my due diligence points was to make sure I wasn’t coming in to a turn-around. The other half is working with the Board. A lot of my time is spent doing Board governance.
2015: I was curious, I was told that you’re the point person for Student Labor Dialoge to communicate with for their goals. I was wondering if you could speak to a summary of them.
WALTON: So Student Labor Dialoge, originally SLD, I don’t know their organizational structure, but they met with President Hill. All the unionized employees fall under my jurisdiction, plus benefits, etc. So I met with the three students. Their desire was for the student body to have a direct interface with the staff and the administration in a forum. They felt the students have a seat at the table. I told the students I respect what they were doing, but I didn’t agree with them. That didn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a dialogue. I recommended we invite those students to the forum. They think they, to quote, “need to protect” the employees. But our employees are really tough. A point came up, why do these three students get to go, so I suggested one or more from VSA come to be observers. I would be happy to meet with any member of the student body to discuss their concerns. The forum will be in late December. It will be a meeting with all of our union employees. It’s unfortunate that we put our employees in categories here.
The forum shouldn’t be a show-and-tell. It will to some extent because we need to give them the facts that everyone else has. But there will be room for a dialogue.
JEWETT: At this meeting, are there going to be notes taken that will be made public to the students?
WALTON: I don’t have any problem with that. Probably not minutes, but we can certainly have a summary.
STUDENT LIFE: I guess a concern is that at the last meeting Cappy walked out because it went overtime. You said in the years we haven’t had one it’s because the last one didn’t go well, but it seems like the administration doesn’t want to talk about these issues.
WALTON: I wasn’t there and you weren’t there. I think the reason Cappy left wasn’t because of the time, but because she was being yelled down by a dozen people at the same time. That’s one version of the truth. She wanted these to resume. I believe they need to happen, more often than less often. I’ve always done these meetings the day after a board meeting. I would go to a board meeting and then the next day I would have the same presentation with the staff and a Q/A. I never been in a public meeting with Cappy where people may be perhaps angry, so I don’t know how she’ll respond. I’m not gonna walk out, I can assure you of that. This is also not a meeting between Cappy and the Staff, it’s between a bunch of people. Cappy is our leader, but she delegates and expects a lot from many people.
We also need to turn the tensions down a little bit. I suggested to CWA we have a meeting, and they said once a semester, I said once a month.
I’m not a difficult person to understand and I’m pretty informal.
OPERATIONS: I’m speaking as a student. I’m interested in how students as a group can be supportive of the employees of the College. We should be thinking about that a lot more. If we want to support these unions, one way we can do it is by not making their jobs harder.
SOCOs: You said you did budgeting, I was wondering how you prioritize the way money is spent. What’s a top priority?
WALTON: II would suggest at some point we have another discussion and really talk more, where I can prepare this is the way that it’s done. If you want to think about a college budget: there’s three things you spend money on: financial aid, people—faculty and staff, benefits, etc., the campus itself. Those three things are about 90 percent of the budget. I picked Vassar because Vassar has actually figured this out. The most important thing is financial aid for students. The second priority is faculty salaries. We aren’t all equal here. The faculty are more important than me and other employees, because we are a college. Then we have the benefits. Then, unfortunately, we have to fund the facilities. One of the things I presented to the Board of Trustees, but one of the things I pointed out is we should spend 12 million dollars a year to maintain Vassar, and we spent three and a half. I’m not shifting that priority because financial aid is the top priority.
In the next five or six years I will figure out how we’re going to fund the facilities, discretionary spending, things that are frustrating to the academic programs as well.
ACADEMICS: Because you just expressed your appreciation for the financial aid, what exactly, if you could outline the efforts Vassar makes to make it more affordable for students here after the initial financial package is made?
WALTON: The College I worked at when I first went into higher ed. was second-tier. In comparison to that school and the five undergraduate schools in Southern California, I think Vassar does a really good job. I think that the recognition of including transportation in the calculation of your family’s contribution in the FASFA process—that’s something that’s not always done. The way it works here is pretty aggressive; is it everything we can do, probably not. There are only 12 schools I’m aware of that has the same support for its students that Vassar does
TOWNHOUSES: Something I love about VC’s financial aid and need-blind admissions, I was wondering if you could speak about that.
WALTON: I’m not going to let that go away. Three of the schools I worked for were need-aware, and that’s because they didn’t have the resources. The problem with Vassar is that we do not have an endowment as large as some other schools. One of the things they said, was that people are afraid that their job might go away. That’s good because it might. The reality is we have a three-year plan that was approved before I got here, talking about the fact that we’re going to have to eliminate thirty jobs over the next three years. I understand why people are concerned, but those are the times we live in. We still have to prioritize financial aid.
2017: How does the budget work? Is it established at the beginning of each academic year or are there other factors as the year goes on?
WALTON: Right now, assuming I can find a way to get into NYC, I have a meeting with the Investment committee. We’re trying to model what the budget will look like for the 2014-2015 school year. We’re trying to predict the tuition, but we don’t know how many students in the incoming class will be on contributing to that. We also deal with the endowment and donations. Can I guarantee that we’re going to get 10 million, no. There’s a lot of contingency planning. Budgetting for colleges and universities is as much of an art as it is a science; it’s made me religious man.
2015: Is it getting cheaper for the incoming class, more expensive, is it all over the place?
WALTON: If you have a 1-2 percent shift between each incoming class, that’s about a million dollars. When the market crashed six years ago, a lot of colleges stopped need-blind. Vassar didn’t do that. There was a cost. There were decisions made basically to hold a course for students on financial aid. If you saw these two publications from the Student dialogue, there are a lot of anecdotes. Some of it’s true. My hope is even if the class comes in weak in terms of paying, I think we have some strategies. Ultimately we need the endowment to grow.
JEWETT: What are you and your office, are you guys working on some kind of financial plan where our staff and employees don’t have to be not top priority—a way everyone can benefit?
WALTON: At any point we can cap financial aid, for example, and take it buy lowering the reward. You could be need-blind and only fund 95 percent of 90 percent. The reality is, our biggest commitment is to the students. Right now we haven’t taken it out on the staff as much as we have taken it out on the facilities. We’ve had a huge investment in facilities for a long time, but that time is over. If you ask me today, I’m gonna put financial aid above all. If we had the same amount of endowment per student as other institutions. I think it’s always going to be a little bit of a struggle. We actually pay our staff very well and we have high benefits, my concern is that under the new Obama care law we’ll be subjected to pay the Cadillac tax.
NOYES: The current structure is beneficial in the short term, but thinking in the long term, if facilities are less of a priority, can this result in a decrease in alumnae/i funding?
WALTON: I like the fact that you focus on it strategically. A lot that has been happening has been tactical. We need to get back into the strategic financial planning. If you look 10 years our or 15 years out it gets better. We have these campaigns—Vassar just ran a successful campaign. Those pay for the buildings. I think we need a plan that’s not tactical and not reacting, but I think we can get there. I’m an optimist, I think this can actually all be fixed. So, hang in there.
OPERATIONS: I just ask you how in your position you include student involvement?
WALTON: I’m here, I can come as many times as you want me. So rather than talk about what we could do, I’ll talk about what i have done. You need the opportunity to have a seat at the table. The other thing is as we get into student projects, we need to have student dialogue with students more informally. Communication is tough. My experience has been that if you have 2,000 students at a college and invite them to a meeting, you might get fifty, you might get five. This is probably the safest place to get a student point of view. But my door is open any time.
PRESIDENT: I want to champion something that you said during one of our Exec meetings. You said the first step is to recognize everything that we do well. Even in this meeting you did a good job of doing that. The fact that we have need-blind admissions and full-aid is incredible.
COUNCIL TAKES A FIVE-MINUTE BREAK.
8:31 // Exec Board Reports
PRESIDENT: I went to a lot of meetings while Student Life wasn’t here, but we’re excited to have our new VP here. I’m going to be working mainly with Student Life with a lot of things that were on the table when things went down. We’re really going to be pushing for Administration and students to take action on a lot of the things we’re pushing for. We’re really pushing this gender-neutral bathroom thing, put a time line on that. And we want to make sure security and campus patrol have training in racial sensitivity…
For next semester I want to plan an event that will be at the end of the year that will be a celebration for everything we’ve accomplished. Not just us, but all of our orgs. That would allow us to come together in a different way. One of the things that does unite us is that we’re all passionate about the things that we do. It seems like a fun project.
MAIN: Good job, Deb, you’re doing great.
8:36 // OPERATIONS Report
OPERATIONS: I’m just going to abuse this moment to be the first to welcome to Council new Student Life Danny. The election process went fairly well. A number of people brought concerns, I’ve heard others from other people. Those will be addressed by OPERATIONS committee and the Board of Elections. We’re looking to create a new committee that would tie together the current BOE with the appointment process we have now. You should be looking forward to some amendments in the next couple of weeks and new semester.
MAIN: Do you have to overlook the new committee?
OPERATIONS: I’m going to try to include as much information as possible so we understand what’s actually getting changed. Nothing is set in stone.
2014: Special Election could not have happened without your tireless effort. Having someone who knew the bylaws by heart with me was good.
8:40 // Event Requirement Alteration Amendment
ACTIVITIES: The previous bylaw had said that the general body meetings count as the event, but the Activities committee didn’t agree with that, so we adjusted the wording on the event.
OPERATIONS: There is a comma missing. Don’t worry about it, it’ll be added later.
SOCOS: We talked about in Activities—there’s some flexibility that should be exercised.
JOSS: Does that mean that a prelim org has to hold an event that follows this?
ACTIVITIES: It follows the same thing to prepare them for being a real org.
ALL IN FAVOR. Motion Passes.
8:43 // Open Discussion…
2014: This has been the only math I’ve done since my QA requirement. Average Thanksgiving dinner is 4,500 calories. I could burn off 495.5 Thanksgiving dinners between now and graduation.
STUDENT LIFE: We will be meeting in the LGBTQ center. My office hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 3-5, with extended office hours this week including Mon, 6-7. I can absolutely be available by appointment. I’m passionate about this position.
ACADEMICS: You can still send me the name of publications you want to see. I just want to take a minute to knock for Main because he’s always supportive and appreciative.
STRONG: As the official spreader of good cheer on this committee, I just want to give knocks to everyone. I know it’s stressful at this time of year, but I’m glad everyone shows up and shares their opinons.
RAYMOND: My house is having an all-house meeting about bias incidents and campus climates. Wish us luck. It’s mandatory for the house.
JEWETT: To go back to fun stuff, when do we find out about Founder’s Day Theme?
ACTIVITIES: I’m the unofficial co-chair. So Founder’s Day are due on Tuesday as are committee chair applications. We will notify everyone Tuesday evening or Wednesday afternoon.
NOYES: This Wednesday, Noyes is hosting our second all-campus event. It’s the first reality tv contestant to come to Vassar as a speaker.
PRESIDENT: Next week is our last Council meeting.
MAIN: We’re selling sweatpants for 25 dollars.
FINANCE: Finance Committee’s meeting is Wednesday.
OPERATIONS: Motion to adjourn?
MOTION PASSES. MEETING ADJOURNS.