Welcome. Good morning!
I’m so pleased to be here today in Washburn Lounge to welcome everyone to the start of 2021-22 year. We wish we could have brought together small in-person groups, followed by outdoor receptions, as originally planned, but between the weather forecast and our health and safety protocols, it just didn’t seem wise.
Still, it’s exciting to start the year with the prospect of opportunities to be together on campus again, and I know many of you are excited to begin reconnecting with students and colleagues in person.
And it’s wonderful to see our residence and dining halls coming back to life and students out on the Quads. There’ll be even more happy energy on Doble and South Campus over the long weekend, as more students move into their rooms and get settled.
I greatly appreciate those of you who have worked on campus and behind the scenes to prepare for their arrival and to welcome all our students back. A tremendous shout out is due to the staff in Res Life, Dining, Facilities, EDIJ, Athletics, IT and others for all their hard work these past weeks.
Safety. This is my third Fall Kickoff speech as Lesley’s President. The first one was in person, the second on Zoom, and today’s is a hybrid, mirroring how things have changed over time. At the beginning of my first year, in the Fall of 2019, we had no inkling of the “viral storm” on the horizon.
I want to turn first to safety, as I can imagine it is on your minds and it is certainly constantly on ours. As has been the case, we are following the advice of infectious disease physicians, the CDC and state and local authorities. There is new information daily, and we regularly review and adjust our plans.
Last spring, many of us expected the availability of vaccines would make this fall more “normal” but the Delta variant has again raised the caution flag. And we are continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our community in planning our transition back.
Still, even with the complexities we are facing, we are in a better place than we were a year ago, and that is due in large part to the efficacy of the vaccines and the very high rate of vaccination our community has achieved. Thank you one and all!
Let me say at the outset that this is bound to be a complicated year and working together will undoubtedly be important in making it the best we can. We have only to look at yesterday’s Boston Globe to understand how complicated it is, with the BC faculty concerned about not having a mask requirement in the classroom and the Amherst students concerned that their standards are too restrictive.
So let me touch on a number of central principles and then talk about a process for your questions to be answered – today, and as we go along in the year, as there are bound to be questions arising day to day.
Experts are clear that the combination of a high vaccination rate and appropriate masking are the most important parts of a mitigation strategy. We are fortunate that our core faculty and staff have affirmed a very high rate of vaccination – over 99% with the only exceptions being for medical and religious reasons. And we are requiring vaccination by students and our adjunct faculty.
I also greatly appreciate everyone’s cooperation with our indoor mask requirement. Starting this Friday (Sept. 3), masks will be required in all public places throughout Cambridge, as they are already in Boston, Somerville, Brookline and surrounding towns. Should someone forget a mask (although we hope everyone will take to heart having one with them at all times, we will have masks available at Campus Safety desks and in student-facing locations throughout campus. We will have signs reminding everyone to mask indoors and will encourage masking outdoors for groups who cannot distance.
Beyond vaccination and masking, we have other measures to create as much of a controlled environment as possible for our community.
- We will continue weekly surveillance testing of students and staff in residence halls this year, and we will be adding other on-campus groups to the testing protocol over the course of the fall.
- We are strictly limiting building access and only approving visitors if it’s essential they be on campus, and then affirming they’re fully vaccinated before they come.
- We are limiting the size of gatherings and not inviting members of the public to attend events.
- We may further extend our phased return for employees who can continue to work remotely.
- If you are in one of the roles that includes in-person work or teaching, we ask that you stay home if you aren’t feeling well. The HyFlex classrooms give us additional flexibility in this respect.
- University Hall, Lunder, Sherrill, and Washburn all have MERV ventilation filters, along with several buildings on Doble. If you aren’t comfortable with the ventilation in your workspace, please let us know. We will have some spaces you can reserve to use when you’re on campus.
We will be providing an FAQ to answer those questions that have been submitted to us and questions that are about changes in the way things will work because of the changes in the environment (such as parking). We would ask you today, and hereafter, to raise those with your Cabinet member or Dean, who will relay them to the Covid team, so that we have them all in one place and can respond as quickly as possible.
It will be important for us all to realize that these conditions may affect each of us differently. We will need to support each other in navigating the continued challenges and uncertainties.
Let’s acknowledge that we are all doing the best we can to adapt to a changing landscape, hopefully with a heightened sense of compassion for each other’s individual experiences and emotions.
The Journey Ahead. As a backdrop to my remarks today, you’ll see imagery that’s meant to evoke the journey we’re embarking on this year. I’ll describe the place we are starting off from, and the destination we are heading for – and how I hope we will treat each other as fellow travelers and teammates. And, no, I will not be announcing that Lesley will bring back a crew team, though maybe one day we will.
I want to say at the outset that this year we will tackle head-on the strategic and cultural issues that have been impeding our ability to connect productively and, in some instances, collegially. A lack of connection has, at times, caused us stress and has distracted us from our shared sense of purpose.
We last came together as a community at the end of May for a virtual Town Hall presentation on our new campus plan. Our planning vision is to reinforce our strengths in the human arts by better connecting our three campuses to our academic mission. We want each campus to project a clear and consistently welcoming Lesley identity and to provide top-notch facilities. Later in this talk – and regularly this year – I will update you on the next steps in our campus plan.
But first I’d like to talk about improving the ways we connect with each other in all respects and across all modes. “Connection” is a word you will hear often today and going forward to describe our goals and the way we will work together.
This year, we will develop new ways of working together – new modes of engagement – to ensure Lesley is all we want it to be. Our overarching goal is for us to become more connected as a university, a community that shares a common set of core values and invests its energy in working toward common institutional goals.
So this is the year we will learn how to consistently pull in the same direction to create at Lesley, that harmony of motion we marvel at when we see rowers in sculls on the Charles, when we see the beauty of everyone’s individual effort and strength contributing to the team surging ahead.
Setting a New Narrative. Those of you who were here last spring will recall our work with the Crossland Group, and the survey and one-on-one interviews they conducted, which many of you participated in.
Last May, we shared a summary of the four “themes” that surfaced from those many conversations, and we committed to addressing them this year. Today, I’d like to share some initial ideas, and invite you all to engage with the next steps we will undertake together, starting this fall.
Elevating and Celebrating Lesley’s Strengths. The first theme centered on bringing the importance of what Lesley does to the fore. With the effects of the pandemic, our unique expertise in the human arts has never been more relevant. Teachers, counselors, therapists, social workers, artists, policy makers, writers and business leaders all are essential to society’s recovery and our collective future. We need to get that message out to the world.
And we will – by developing and launching a visibility campaign to celebrate and share our community’s work and achievements across multiple channels. We also will develop regular communications that reinforce how our work strengthens human connections.
Wellbeing. The second theme focused on prioritizing our community’s mental health and wellbeing. The experience of the pandemic has been stressful, even traumatic, and we will need time and space to process and to heal.
Dean Nathaniel Mays and Counseling Center Director Wayne Assing have worked with faculty and staff to plan a calendar of wellness events for students and employees this Fall, which you’ll receive in the next few days. These in-person events and virtual programs, which will be open to all members of the community, will promote wellness in all its dimensions – psychological, physical and spiritual (broadly, not in the religious sense). The programming includes mindfulness, dance and movement, nature walks, and the intriguingly titled “Partying with Pugs.”
At the same time, we are continuing to strengthen our counseling resources. We’ve just hired an additional counselor named Nasya Smith. She’s so new, in fact, that her photo isn’t included among those of the new employees later in this presentation. We are delighted to have Nasya.
We are designating some rooms on each campus as places open only to faculty and staff, which was something many of you have requested. We are also looking at creating quiet indoor and outdoor spaces for meditation and reflection.
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Justice (EDIJ). The third theme is related to developing an integrated strategy to drive us toward our goal of infusing EDIJ in everything we do. Our VP of EDIJ Sandra St Fleur has laid out a strategic “roadmap” to accelerate implementation of our EDIJ agenda, university wide.
The four priorities are to:
- Increase the diversity of our community
- Integrate EDIJ into all policies, practices, structures and norms
- Infuse EDIJ into the academic setting
- Increase the sense of belonging and community
This last one – increasing the sense of belonging and community – will support our goal of becoming more connected as one university.
The EDIJ team has planned a calendar of trainings, speakers and affinity spaces, along with some new modes of engagement that will guide all our interactions. We will be sharing more on that work very soon.
Clarity around Decision-Making. Finally, the fourth theme that the surveys identified is a need for greater clarity around decision-making, for engaging with more civility and accountability, and for moving away from “us versus them/either-or” toward to embracing “we” and “both-and.”
This theme asks us to take a close look at both our systems of governance and our culture of engagement. It’s an intersectional area to which we’ve given a great deal of time and thought this summer in order to understand better why decision-making has been a source of confusion and sometimes conflict. We’ve listened to you and have reflected on what we’ve heard.
Just as in our campus planning where we looked closely at how we use all our facilities, we began this process with a survey of “existing conditions.” We have reviewed, and will share in small group meetings, all the university’s current decision-making processes, documented policies and procedures, and communication and accountability structures. It is a lot of information to pull together, and gathering it was very instructive.
Through this process, we learned that there are inconsistencies, gaps, and in some cases no policies at all. So, really, it is no wonder that clarity around decision-making and accountability have been issues that have caused confusion and unfortunately, in some instances, distrust. Now, we will begin to work together on a set of policies we all understand.
We are eager to begin addressing these complex governance and culture issues and will be doing this initially through small group meetings with schools and departments.
The conversations will help us all develop a common understanding of the decision-making policies that exist today – which are working well, and which could be clarified and improved upon.
Policies to be explored this Fall will address admissions, hiring practices, and internal and external communications.
Today, as we embark on this year’s journey, let’s say good-bye to “us vs. them.” Let’s agree to leave behind those divisions and carry forward only the forward-looking, positive mindset we will need to reach our destination. Let’s resolve, as a community, to engage only in ways that strengthen our shared sense of mission and reinforce the value of human connections, to become a connected university.
The New Landscape. As I noted earlier, our landscape has changed significantly over the past year and a half – and we will have to continue to navigate many complexities this year in how and when we return to campus. Our plans recognize the many ways the experience of the pandemic has changed us as individuals and as a community.
So, let me highlight a few of the changes in Lesley’s landscape:
Remote work. This year, we are piloting ways to support a significant number of faculty and staff continuing to work remotely and on flexible schedules. In fact, most of our core faculty and staff will have the opportunity to work remotely through this semester. In many cases, departments will staff on-campus offices by rotation, so that in-person services are always available. We are in the process of rolling out the Softphone app to connect employees and teams working remotely and will continue to switch over employees as they return to campus. Some of employees will be “hoteling” workspaces and desks on the days they’re on campus.
And further, to be safe, we are strictly limiting the public’s access to buildings and events, for now at least. If you are working on campus and want to meet with a colleague who works in another building, you will need to meet virtually or make an appointment – or meet outside, weather permitting. Walking meetings can be a healthy way to connect. I realize that not being able to drop in spontaneously will be an adjustment for us all, but it’s a policy intended to support the health and safety of our community. You’ll be able to use the Interactive Directory to find colleagues and services. We are working on new signs for the building doors with QR codes and instructions on how to request access and schedule appointments.
Academic Innovation. This Fall we are debuting our new outcomes-based General Education requirements for all new students in CLAS and LA+D. This is the result of a wonderful collaboration led by Ingrid Johnston in CLAS and Stuart Steck in LA+D along with Kristina Lamour Sansone, Summer Clark, Christine Collins, Geoff Fried, Julie Shoemaker, and Deans Steve Shapiro and Amy Deines.
Our Gen Ed curriculum is novel and ahead of the game – we’re one of only a few schools taking an outcomes-oriented approach to teaching foundational skills. Unlike a set of distribution requirements, our Gen Ed program is designed to help students understand how these skills can complement whatever a student ultimately chooses to do. This approach will really set our students apart from others in being able to apply what they learn across disciplines and to develop as individuals.
Also new this Fall: LA+D is launching its Game Design and Immersive Technologies program, and we’ve added facilities in University Hall to support our interactive media students. We’re continuing to search for an eSports coach – another area in very high demand.
Technology. Thanks to Joanne Kossuth’s foresight in ordering equipment early in the face of the global microchip shortage and the work of many in IT and Campus Planning and Facilities, we now are ahead of the curve in offering HyFlex classrooms, where students can participate flexibly both in-person and virtually. To support this, we have upgraded the VPN (virtual private network) and Wi-Fi service on Porter and Sherrill.
Thank you to people who worked over the weekend (actually several weekends) on HyFlex installation:
Joanne Kossuth (and her husband)
Charles Cooper (and his spouse)
Oh, speaking of Charles…here he is with Edith… one of the three our new robots that will be used as virtual assistants in HyFlex rooms.
Charles, welcome. It’s good to see you. Can you say a few words about Edith?
[Charles, speaking from the robot:] This is Edith, one of the teleconferencing robots that we’ll be using to provide support on campus in a hybrid environment. I’m very excited to usher Lesley into the future with this technology.
In an effort to continually increase our responsiveness to student needs and to streamline student services, we are also working on improvements to Student Administrative Services and advising. This includes launching the Student Planner and “Advise” platforms for degree planning. These are companions to the online course selection and scheduling system (“Self-Service”) we launched last spring.
We are also in the process of evolving a one-stop Solution/Call Center for the community to alleviate the need to initiate multiple contacts. This will eventually encompass all the service areas of the University so that just-in-time responses can be the norm.
And in this year’s budget process, we introduced the Adaptive framework to help us balance our total budget, while giving units and departments independence over how they allocate the funds in their base budget. Using Adaptive will streamline budget entry for recurring expenses and ongoing initiatives next year and will reduce the number of OTPS (other than personnel spending) entries. To help the university operate more efficiently in stewarding our shared resources, some expenses, like phone, postage and printing, the cost will be borne by the university.
Enrollment. We will start the year with just about as many students as we predicted. We were successful in the last push with the help of targeted digital marketing and look forward to even stronger results anticipated for Spring.
We have held tuition level with last year, and we will continue the need-based aid we started last year, but not at the same level that CARES Act funding enabled. Also, the cost of a meal plan is the same as it was in 2019-20.
Health and Wellness. Keeping our community healthy remains a very high priority, and the Covid protocols that I described earlier reflect that commitment.
Dining. Promoting health and wellness also extends to healthy eating and nutrition. The new menus in our dining halls will feature more locally sourced produce and healthier meal and snack options, all planned by chef extraordinaire Tim Grills, our new director of “Lesley Hospitality.” We will be partnering with Aramark on staffing, but you will see many familiar faces as we are welcoming back many former dining employees. Tim will work closely with Jill Ziemba in Events to plan the food served at community events.
Our vending machines will offer heathier snacks and beverages as well as added capabilities to pay with LynxCash, dining dollars, credit cards and electronic payments like Google wallet or Apple Pay.
Threshold. Last year, one of our strategic goals was to look at evolving and expanding our Threshold Program as it approached its 40th anniversary, which we will celebrate as soon it’s safe to do so.
Our goal is to ensure Threshold remains at the forefront in providing a high-quality experience in higher education to those with learning differences -- and in offering work and life skills support to alumni and others. Last year, we convened an advisory group of experts in the Boston area to help us develop a set of recommendations to reach these goals.
Implementing this work will be Jennifer Thorell, our new Executive Director of Threshold Programs (and note I said “Programs,” plural, because we will serve students beyond those on campus). Jen was a member of the advisory group, and for the past 18 years has been the high school principal at Learning Prep, a school that delivers a language-based program for students with complex profiles in grades 5-12.
Some immediate differences you will see:
- greater inclusion of Threshold students in Lesley student life by making their community part of the larger student body (e.g., same academic calendar, same activities, same traditions such as participating in Convocation and Commencement);
- a different approach to internships, with the goal being career attainment, not just career experience.
Together, these and future changes will give Threshold students and alumni the best launch and ongoing support for independent living.
Sustainability & Mobility: Following a summer of unprecedented weather events and last month’s very sobering UN Report on climate change, the imperative to reduce our carbon footprint is more urgent than ever. Even before the pandemic, we had made impressive strides in reducing our building emissions by almost 90% since 2006 through switching to renewable sources for electricity and improving building efficiency.
The next frontier will be in reducing our transportation footprint, and we are developing a mobility plan to incentivize more sustainable commuting. We will be offering parking passes for employees who need to work on campus, priced at or below prior rates. We will pilot commuter student parking on a first-come first-served basis instead of limiting student parking to a small number of permit holders.
You’ll notice we have new 24-seat shuttle buses that soon will be “wrapped” in Lesley branding. The vans will have Wi-Fi, and soon we will launch an app to track their locations. We plan to convert our shuttle buses to electric vehicles as soon as they’re available – these vehicles are in high demand and backordered.
People. The faces of our “human landscape” are also changing, and I’d like to introduce the new colleagues you will be working with and announce some promotions.
Cabinet Updates. But first, I’d like to highlight a few changes in leadership positions. Our Cabinet includes a new member who started just a couple of weeks ago, Verónica Jorge-Curtis, whom I’m delighted to welcome aboard as our new VP of Advancement. Veronica comes to us with 25 years of experience in institutional advancement and is well known in Boston educational circles. This is a critical position that oversees both fundraising and alumni relations. Verónica will be meeting with departments and units this fall to get a sense of opportunities to strengthen engagement and build a pipeline of support.
Two Cabinet promotions: Mary-Jane McLaughlin has been promoted from interim to permanent status as Chief Human Resources Officer.
And Joanne Kossuth has been named Chief Operations Officer, continuing to oversee IT, Library, Campus Safety, Transportation, Dining, and Events, and taking on Facilities as well.
A faculty and professional staff committee that was formed this summer is the final stages of our search for a new VP of Finance/CFO.
Dean Searches. This Fall, we will launch Dean searches in GSOE and GSASS as Interim Deans Amy Rutstein-Riley and Sandra Walker will be taking on different roles at Lesley that better meet their career goals. The Provost and I are very grateful to Amy and Sandra for their leadership and for continuing to serve as interims until we fill these positions. We will begin these searches, form committees and post the positions very soon.
Ongoing Recruiting. We are currently recruiting candidates for six of the seventeen open faculty lines.
We also are recruiting for a number of staff positions including: a second Community Standards Administrator-Title IX/Equal Opportunity Coordinator, a Field Training Director for Counseling and Psychology, a Director of Assessment, an Assistant Director of Residence Life, a Director of Business Intelligence, an Assistant Director of Admissions, and a second Talent Acquisition Specialist.
Welcome New Faculty & Staff. Now, I’m delighted to introduce the 30 new employees who have joined us since June. This total includes 16 new faculty. As you can see, Jonathan and Mary-Jane’s teams have been very busy over the past several months.
Elizabeth Barragato Counseling & Psychology Instructor
Stefanie Belnavis Expressive Therapies Instructor
Jacelyn Biondo Expressive Therapies Instructor
Meg Chang Expressive Therapies Instructor
Jina Chang Social Sciences Assistant Professor
Jean Clarke-Mitchell Social Sciences Assistant Professor
Angelle Cook Expressive Therapies Instructor
Sarah Hamil Expressive Therapies Instructor
Keo Heng CAD-Design Associate Professor
Derek Hoffend Sound Design Professor
Curvin Huber CAD-Design Professor
Elizabeth “Kellogg” Kellogg Expressive Therapies Instructor
Romana Mohuiddin Education Instructor
Alexandra Norby Business Management Instructor
Renee Pitre Expressive Therapies Instructor
Seth Tennenbaum Humanities Visiting Assistant Professor
Ashley Battle Director of Recruitment & Student Experience
Thomas Englehardt Associate VP for Enrollment Initiatives
Madison Flowers Head Coach Women’s Basketball
Elaine Gatewood MSW Field Director & Social Work Instructor
Timothy (Tim) Grills Director of Dining Services
Collette Jackson Talent Acquisition Partner
Shawn Kithcart Assistant Director of Admissions
Devon Mayo Head Coach Men’s Basketball
Shariel Rodriguez-Echevarria Residence Life Area Coordinator
Sarah Roger Head Athletic Trainer
Yamileyka Rojas USI Student Success Coach
Megan Rossetti Residence Life Area Coordinator
Jennifer Thorell Threshold Programs Executive Director
Kathryn Vallis Student Academic Advisor
Recent Promotions. Quite a few faculty and staff members have been promoted recently – my hearty congratulations to:
Josh Baldwin Chair, Social Sciences
Meg Burns Associate Professor, TESOL and Bilingual Education
Jason Butler Interim Chair, Expressive Therapies
Charles Cooper Associate VP Information Technology & Resources
Alexis Dhembe Systems Librarian
Karen Frostig Professor GSASS
Susan Gere Interim Chair, Counseling & Psychology
Ulas Kaplan Professor, Education
Kimberly Keegan Co-Chair, Business Management
Raquel Lopez Assistant Professor, Business Management
Abigail Mancini Head of Library Research & Instructional Services
James Mason Co-Chair Business Management
Linda Murphy Assistant Director, Intermediate Middle Programs
Sonia Pérez-Villaneuva Interim Chair, Humanities
Janet Pocorobba Interim Chair, MFA Creative Writing
Jason Roberts Help Desk Supervisor
Heather Shaw Associate Dean, LA+D
Ben Sloat Associate Professor, LA+D
Stephanie Spadorcia Interim Associate Dean, GSOE
Brian Unwin Manager of Operations
Wendy Vaulton Assistant Director Reading Recovery & Early Literacy
Nicole Weber Professor, CLAS
Michele Wilshusen Operations Project Manager
My warmest welcome to all our new employees and congratulations to those promoted!
What We’ve Accomplished and Where We Can Be Next Year. At last year’s Kickoff, I laid out four strategic goals, plus a commitment to look anew at the Threshold Program on the cusp of its 40th year. To recap, these goals included: identifying ways to grow and be a leader in the human arts, budgeting for financial sustainability, centering EDIJ and organizational accountability, and developing a campus planning vision.
And as I have described today, we have made significant progress toward achieving all these goals, accomplishing a great deal during a year like none other, one where many schools had vastly different results. Of course, these are multi-year goals where success each year positions us for more progress in the next year. This is how we will chart our course, semester by semester, year by year.
This Year’s Goals. Thus, we will start this year with four new strategic goals that will build on what we accomplished last year. Briefly, they are:
- Strategic: build models to strengthen current programs (including Threshold and the Expressive Arts Therapies), lifelong learning, and partnerships into an overall growth plan for Lesley and to build the visibility of Lesley.
- EDIJ and Organizational: strengthen the university’s structures, systems and processes to create greater clarity around decision-making, stronger EDIJ practices, and overall wellbeing. This work will include moving to holistic, proactive advising and stronger student support systems, creating a suite of key, consistent reporting mechanisms, and supporting flexible work arrangements.
- Financial: implement a multi-year plan for financial growth and sustainability, with strong emphasis on optimizing enrollment, creating strong tuition and financial aid models, and developing advancement.
- Campus Plan: implement the conceptual campus plan for substantial completion in three to five years.
This year we will take a coordinated approach that prioritizes meeting shared institutional goals and reinforces the benefit of working together as a connected university.
So Where Can We Be Next Year? At the end of this year’s journey, our vision is for us to become a:
- a community that pulls together to support our vibrant student body and serve our academic mission.
- a community that has reconnected in person while also embracing flexible remote work and multimodal learning.
- a community that prioritizes and supports everyone’s health and wellness.
- a community where everyone feels a sense of belonging.
- a community where there is greater clarity around decision making.
- a community that enrolls and employs individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives who are united by a shared sense of purpose.
- a community that has the financial resources to invest in programs and initiatives that support our students and our shared mission.
- a community that uses technology to enhance the experience of working and learning at Lesley but never loses sight of our human connections and values.
- a community that continues to support our graduates as they navigate the next stages in their lives and careers.
- a community that is excited about undertaking capital projects to improve our campus facilities.
- a community that connects and celebrates over great food – and I look forward to future opportunities to do that on campus.
I believe all of this is very achievable if we embrace connection over division, and I hope each of you will think about the role you can play in making this vision a reality.
Thank you. I will close by thanking you for everything you have done – and will do – to make Lesley a better place to work and learn.
Let’s make this year a year that we can look back on with pride – I can’t wait to get started on our journey together!