VSA Council 3.2.15
Welcome to tonight’s VSA meeting! It’s sure to be a fun ride!
7:03//Call to Order, Attendance
Absent: 2018 (proxy), Noyes, Town Students, Finance
- BAM (Discretionary) $85.15/$85.15
- Habitat For Humanity (Discretionary) $2020/$3330
- WVKR (Capital) $1429/$1429
- WVKR (Conference) $500/$2000
- Founder’s Day (Discretionary) $6000/$8000
- Business Club (Speakers) $100/$100
- ProHealth (Speakers) $1000/$1000
- SJP (Speakers) $720/$820
- VC Soundsystem (Capital) $250/$250
- ViCE NoViCE (Discretionary) $850/$1500
- PUNX (Collaboration) $0/$1200
- Run Vassar (Discretionary) $787.50/$787.50
- Minutes From 2/15/15
- New PreOrgs:
- VC Skate Ratz
- VC CoOPERAtive
- Indecent Magazine
- Students Language Exchange Program
- Vassar College Triathlon
- Middle Eastern Students Collective
- Vassar Card Sharks
- Primary Care Progress, Vassar College Chapter
- Ace Space
SoCos: BAM is getting a subscription for a music-writing software. Habitat for Humanity wants money to build houses, we gave them transport. WVKR asked for a new computer. They applied to go to South by Southwest again. They came back with very good arguments so we decided to give them very standard money. Founder’s Day asked for more money from last year. Business Club is asking a professor to speak. Pro-Health is also bringing in a speaker. SJP is bringing in a speaker. VC Soundsystem came in asking for a new amp. The old one was a donation. ViCE NoViCE came in to ask for more money for shows. PUNX didn’t get any money. RunVassar and NSO are doing laser tag.
Activities: We finished pre-org stuff four weeks earlier than last semester. Out of 25, we approved nine orgs.
//Forum With Bob Walton, College VP for Finance
Bob: My name is Bob Walton. I’m the Vice President for Finance and Administration. I manage a number of areas around the College, including the Treasurer’s office and the Endowment. I manage Human Resources over in Baldwin, which includes payroll, student accounts and what we now call Student Financial Services. We do Buildings and Grounds. We also manage all of the legal affairs of the college, the budget office and risk management. We also work with several board committees. Three of the Board of Trustees committees are with me. Also, other projects, as assigned. In one case, I’m partnering with Marianne Begemann on the Campus Master Plan. I’m working with Chris Roellke on the review of our board and food plan.
2017: How informed are you and your office regarding reslife and staff cuts? How much is your office able to communicate to students? And how high of a priority in your office is quality of student life?
Bob: The first part. First of all, any time a student group or individual student wants to meet with me, I can do that. I have an open door policy. I’ve met with SLD and the Divestment students. There’s a whole team of students who are more qualified about ResLife than me. I communicate frequently with Dean Roellke about these issues. How do we judge priorities when it comes to student needs? I think that is something that all of the senior officers share. When you have my role about choosing winners and losers for who gets funding. I try to provide a form of fairness for all groups to get funding without me imposing my personal impressions. I think the senior officers as a group have a lot of debate about resource management. We do have a net-sum game here. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money. I welcome people to contact my office at any time. Let’s talk about the reengineering, which was another name for the early retirement program. When the financial crisis hit seven or eight years ago, at that time I was at the Claremont Colleges on the west coast. It’s interesting that those colleges reacted differently than Vassar had. Vassar had moved into the commitment to meet full-need for college. Two of the colleges in Claremont too different approaches. We had a termination over there. Vassar chose not to do that. Vassar chose to do a supplemental draw out of the endowment to get through the bad period. It was courageous of them to do that. The problem with that is that it isn’t sustainable. The Board, a few years ago, made a policy to wean us off of that supplemental endowment. When I got here, there was an announcement about laying off 35 people on campus. Then we would recoup that money and bring down that spending. I’m not in favor of that. President Hill was not in favor of that. So one of my first jobs here was to figure out a better way to do that. I looked at how we spend our money and how other schools spend their money. What we found is that we have a lot more employees in service areas than our peer institutions. We came up with this voluntary early retirement program. We put together a package for people who have been here a long time and give them an incentive to leave. It would give us the ability to eliminate positions that were vacant. We could reorganize certain areas. We could also promote people who were already here. We had hope that about 60 of our employees would take the package, and 72 did take it. That melted back to 68 in the end when people changed their mind. We were able to combine some units. We had to look at doing fewer things. After we had these individuals go, we will restack, but we will still be a little higher than our peers. One area where we don’t have enough staff is in dining. A couple areas where we are too high is in Buildings and Grounds. It doesn’t really affect the academics. We will go through a tough year now to try to make everything work.
Student Life: The question is about the board and food initiative. What do you personally see the chance of our going independent here?
Bob: I’m going to sort of answer you. I don’t think we have very good food here. It’s not because of staffing. It’s a worn out, tired system. One of the perks of working at the Claremont Colleges is that you can see five different systems. What we are trying to do here is figure out how we can actually fix the problem. One problem might be that we have the wrong supplier, Aramark. They have met with me and told me all of the great things they could do. I asked them why they aren’t doing it. I think it’s about change right now. In order to change, we need to see who are the suppliers we can go to. I have run two independent food programs. You can have your program audited. What we are going to do this year is entertain some proposals. One of the things you have to recognize is that you have to reconstruct the kitchens and redo the dining halls. It’s very easy to have a kosher option, you need to redesign the entire system. Same with vegan and vegetarian options. It’s a comprehensive type of deal. Another problem is the meal plan itself. I’ve never seen a college that had a guest program like we have. It’s not a guest program, it’s seniors eat for free program. We have to really attack that. I think we need to reconsider the concept of swiping. I’m not saying that any of this will be easy to solve, but we have to look at all of it. We have to be realistic and have everybody participate. The timeline is that we will study this over the spring and we are meeting with vendors. It’s very likely that we will have to reconstruct the ACDC. I can guarantee you that I’m gonna fix this somehow. It’s not that hard, there has just been a hesitancy about getting it done. We have to fix it, even if it ticks off some people.
Student Life: The comment really quickly. The specific buildings and grounds needs for buildings, like the Noyes door. The condition of Raymond House in general. Just so you know, these are issues that come up every week.
Bob: One of the things I would like to send around is a one-page summary that Carolina saw at the board meeting. This is opportunity for students. If you would be interested, I would be more than happy to share the data collected by this company later on. We are moving into the Spring of 2015. We are going to be organizing a bunch of meetings in March and April for faculty, staff, admin and students to see some of this information. We also want you to voice the things that you would like to see. What do you want to see in 2025? What is the future of Main? If you rebuild Main to be something totally different, what is there? During the summer while you’re away, we are going to create some scenarios to present to you next year. We have to recognize that we don’t have unlimited funds, but we do have some funds. The question is how do we use it strategically. My plan still has to go through the Master Planning committee. My goal is to have at least 15 meetings and just talk about this process and talk about it all.
Josh: Can you tell me about the status of long-term debt at this college? This leads into a lot of concerns that students have is how long things take to get done here. I want to know about that in the context of short-term goals.
Bob: First let’s just have some facts. We have about $200 million in debt. That has occurred through a couple of decades. A lot of that debt is from the past. The good news is that because interests rates have been so low, we have actually refinanced our debt. We have really low interest rates. We really have reached a level of debt capacity that we should stop. I was at a speaking engagement at the Pyramid Society, who are ex-board members of the college. They were on the opposite side of you. There is a lot of philosophical discussion around this. We should borrow more or less. My view is that $200 million is pretty normal. We have a very good credit rating. We are actually going to see our credit rating improve. Your real question is what about now. I think we are trying to find the balance of how to keep the college moving forward. The cost of the science project, if we include Sanders and New England, was right at about $100 million. Much of that project was also funded with gifts. On Thursday we had the Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting. I took them a proposal about projects to be done next year. In the past we have done this stuff, built roofs and steam pipes. There has to be a balance, though. I think the balance has to be with strategic infrastructure and perceived change on campus. Let’s focus on the smaller things. The board has tentatively approved for me to do a two-phase redesign of the college center. We will move out the science labs in the College Center. We are going to do a study to try to find out how to create more of a student space down there. Phase two will be in the summer and completely rebuild the Retreat. We need to open up that first floor and make it more programmable. That would be paid for out of the operating budget. We know the College Center has to improve.
Josh: I feel like projects have been delayed because of our current debt.
Bob: That’s the problem with debt. You have to pay it back. Some people think we can handle more, but I don’t agree.
SoCos: You said we are spending 7% of our endowment.
Bob: We were. We are lower now. We are about to hit the 5% draw. The endowment is growing. As the economy gets better, the endowment gets larger. Now we actually have new money that goes in. It’s really important to understand that the financial crisis is basically over. We are about to hit our goal. Soon we will have money to spend.
2017: This goes back to the dining hall. When you were talking about the guest policy. The problem I have is that those meals have been paid for. For the deece to be viable, does that mean we can’t use all of our meal swipes?
Bob: The college is paying for most of these meals. Look at our financial aid policy. I understand the logic to your question. What I’m saying is that I’m not aware of a single college out there that does what we are doing. It’s disingenuous. It’s not a guest, you’re feeding your buddy. It’s feeding somebody else who is here. It has two consequences. It creates conflicts for people who have to come into the deece and can’t go in there because they don’t have a meal plan. Secondly, it means we have no ability to plan for a certain number of participants. The swipes are intended to be used one at a time. It’s just not a very sensible plan. I think we can have a scaling system. The alternative is to go to a more flat-rate system. We do have a lot of students on campus who are on financial aid. It cuts off those students from leaving campus to eat. I think we have to go for a more blended result.
Student Life: I was wondering if you could speak to anything that was discussed on Friday with the Board regarding the employment status. SLD organized a protest for a dinner that happened where they distributed information about a security officer who was fired.
Bob: One of the things, when you have an executive session, you can’t say what happens in it. What I can tell you is what the Board formally talked about before the session. First, I think the overwhelming reaction of the whole board was that they were very impressed with the protest. It was respective and well-intentioned. Many members were moved by the speeches that were made. It was the best of what Vassar does. It is my observation that there was some concern about the idea of demands. It’s an interesting idea to go and demand something and not raise questions. I think that the Board has taken this very seriously. They are going to respond. I have not seen the response, but we did discuss it. I will say that I went because I have responsibility to manage the HR offices here. I went and pulled all of the records. I didn’t find out about it until Thursday night. I didn’t know anything about it before. I went and read all of the personnel records. I read the records and I felt that the board should consider the records as the basis. They should also look at this and investigate every thing. The investigation found there was no racial discrimination. We all know this is a very political charged time. I think, in the end, the Board saw it as a good example of Vassar values. I don’t think the Board is going to agree with students, but we will see what the Board says. It was what we are here to do.
Pres: I’m not allowed to go into specifics, but a number of exec board members would like to talk about their experiences. A lot of the meetings focused on campus climate issues as well as master planning, the budget and divestment. I also updated them on our stuff. They are excited about the programming on campus. They were in favor of gender neutral bathrooms.
Student Life: By small-group meetings, Carolina is talking about small sessions all of Thursday. We walk in for the LGBTQ session. I think at every session, somebody in the group handed the Trustees a statement from the security officer who was fired. We talked about gender neutral bathrooms. We also asked that queer students of color be able to have some money. We had issues with the way these sessions were structured. Part of the reason this was handled by this may have had something to do with spectacle. Large groups tend to just turn into yelling. The small groups were with four members of the Board. The issue they heard most often was understaffing at Metcalf. Hopefully that means serious investigation will occur. They approve funding on a macro level.
Pres: Somebody asked me a few days ago was how much money they approved for Metcalf. They approved billions of dollars, but it’s a wide-scale, multiple year plan.
Tyler: I think you got a lot of it down. A lot of our conversation, I was with SAVP and CARES, did surround Metcalf. They offered some outlandish ideas. My perception was that it just happened.
Pres: It was a lot of discussion around Metcalf. There was a lot of discussion about throwing money at the problem and not actually changing anything. I think it’s good they recognized it.
2017: One impression I did get from the meeting was the same impression that I have gotten from the administration. They want a detailed plan to fix it. I do recognize that they have jobs to do and cannot immediately drop everything, but there’s a reason they are college administrators. There is some level to which they need to say there is a problem and we need to solve it.
Josh: Through the forum that just took place, they want to look externally. There’s not balance. What used to exist and doesn’t anymore.
Pres: There was a lot of discussion about not just getting info and not doing anything.
Ops: The Alumni Association of Vassar College. Zoe and I had a fun-filled Saturday. They don’t actually have a decision making power here. It’s like their equivalent of the VSA, but alums. They asked about campus climate. I tried to convey the lack of trust students have with the administration. What we see as empty trust, they see as an action plan. They feel like these promises are actually good thing. We tried to convey that we don’t feel that way. Some of them get it and some of them don’t. History just repeats itself.
2015: We talked about campus climate and issues surrounding it. They were interested in finding out what was actually happening. The alums as a whole are very concerned and have a different perception of what is happening. They don’t fully know what is happening. The things they are concerned with are far more long-term. I think they are coming from a different place in that way. They are working toward long-term solutions.
Ops: The AAVC board is very enthusiastic about working with students. A lot of them are more connected to Vassar than the Trustees.
2016: Mine again involved ResLife. It also involved the Noyes door thing. The door has been broken since freshman year. Luis said he didn’t know about it. I think ResLife needs to be reexamined. The Noyes door is a safety concern. Also with those two people, they were also found in Strong and Joss as well. I just don’t think that’s okay, especially if they are going into people’s rooms without permission.
Student Life: To directly respond to that, yeah, I don’t think ResLife has handled these things well. I think the issues with security, especially non-Vassar students on campus, we toe a thin line there. Realistically, we are more likely to hurt ourselves than an outsider hurting us. This also has profound racial implications. I think we need to be very careful, especially the two young boys found in Noyes, we need to be careful not to reinstate those racial implications.
Strong: I agree with everything just said, but my problem with the situation is that they have physically assaulted some of my residents.
2016: I agree that we do need to be aware of the racial implications. I made sure to get more details before I made any idea to bring it up in council.
8:22//Executive Board Reports
Operations: This will be quick. Ops committee is working on a few projects, the first is Food-Truck Friday. We have a social media project. We will be raffeling off a pillow pet. The third project is making a detailed job description for each VSA position. The project that I’m working on is the student leadership award. We are meeting with Alumae/i House tomorrow for the venue. The VSA is going to be having update columns in The Misc starting this week. The external review will be a thing soon.
2017: With the report, is it going to be a physical copy or electronic?
Ops: It’ll be electronic, I think. And we will talk about how to get it out there.
Strong: It’s really short. We are having Roaring Twenties with Raymond, from 8-12 on April 3. More to come as it gets closer.
2015: 100 Nights was last night. Now we are planning 50 Nights and Senior Weeks. I’m graduating soon.
Student Life: 50 Nights rumors?
2015: After a bunch of meetings and extensively searching the town of Poughkeepsie, we emailed the Chance. It turns out if you offer them money, they will have you back. It will be a different event this year. The senior class pays for it. It’s probably going to be limited to seniors and guests.
Ops: It might be too early, do you have any idea about Senior Week logistics?
2015: We just started planning. Senior Week is nine days long this year. Currently we are trying to figure out how to use a four day budget for eight days. Luis Inoa is concerned about having people be signed in this year because it is nine days.
THs: TH life is good life. All of our public space is currently covered in snow. We are beginning to plan events. I’ll have more to report at the end of March.
2016: I have a whole new council because of JYA. I’m going to have everyone on Council sit on at least one committee. We want to work on smaller and easier programming. I want to bring back the puppy study break. As for a big event, we didn’t throw anything last semester. This semester we have some ideas in motion, but we still need to consult. We want to do a DJ competition.
Ops: I met with Student Financial services. I’m bringing it to Ops. We will probably be voting next week.
Joss: Props to Jewett for Seven Deadly.
Ops: Apartment Draw tomorrow! Motion to Adjourn.