President’s Welcome Back Message

February 1, 2007

Good morning! This is the traditional President’s Welcome Back message to the Community after Interim has concluded and before we begin the spring semester. So, let me begin by saying . . . Welcome Back!

At St. Olaf College, where we rank first in the nation among baccalaureate colleges for the percent of our students who study off-campus, a Welcome Back really means something. 539 students studied off-campus during Interim in the following places: Japan, China, Peru, the Bahamas, Ecuador, Greece, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Martinique, Paris, the Baltic States, London, Budapest, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Russia, Mexico, Ireland, Costa Rica, and Geneva. Domestically, we had groups in New York City, the Twin Cities, and in Holden Village in Washington State. We are glad to have all of them safely home.

We also extend a hearty Welcome Home to Term in the Middle East field supervisor Sheri Breen (Political Science) and assistant Peder Jothen (Religion); to Term in Asia field supervisor Ted Johnson (Biology) and assistant Michelle Johnson (Director of Health Services); to Global Semester field supervisor Donna McMillan (Psychology) and assistant Steve Bayne.

For these members of the community, and for the rest of us whose peregrinations were more circumscribed, the new semester brings some visible and dramatic changes to our environment. Flaten Hall, the Art Barn, the Old Main Annex, and Manitou Cottage are all gone. In their place is the beginning of the new science complex. Many years of hard work by the faculty of natural science and mathematics, Pete Sandberg and the Facilities team, the Advancement team, Regents, and others, have come together, and we are building our new science building. The excavation is now underway, and our plan is to begin pouring concrete for the foundation walls and footings on February 12. Columns and the first elevated floor will rise in March, and most of the building will be completely enclosed by the winter of ’08. We plan to open the new facility in the fall of 2008.

You are probably aware that St. Olaf is constructing the new science complex according to the highest standards of green design, towards a goal of achieving the designation LEED Gold when it is completed. You may not know that green construction principles actually begin with the deconstruction of other buildings on the site. Thus, those of us who were here in December saw Flaten Hall taken apart piece by piece, with the components separated into neat piles for recycling, just as you would at home. Trees from site were sawed into lumber over the past couple of weeks, resulting in material that we hope to use in the course of the project.

Science complexes are very expensive undertakings, and this one will cost, in round dollars, $60 million. The plan approved by the Board of Regents contemplates raising $22 million by January of 2007, financing $30 million through the sale of bonds, and using those funds to construct the shell of the entire building and to finish out the western two-thirds of the building, opening it in the fall of 2008. Subsequently, the plan calls for raising the additional funds needed to finish out the eastern third and to complete that portion of the building in about 2010. I am happy to tell you that we succeeded in raising the $22 million in gifts and pledges in December 2006, a month before our deadline, and the momentum associated with that effort led us to consider whether it might not be possible to raise the funds needed to construct the entire building at once. We spoke with the builders, and they say that if we can tell them by July, 2007 that we are going to build it all at once we can complete the entire project by fall, 2008. This would require us to raise an addition $11 million between now and July 1, 2007. Obviously, this is a very aggressive goal.

When the Board of Regents comes to campus next week, we are going to discuss whether to pursue it. Meanwhile, I am happy to say that at this moment the total amount raised for science in gifts and pledges is $22,700,000. This includes 100% participation by members of the Board of Regents, who contributed $14 million of that total. Here’s an inspiring fact: the faculty of the natural sciences and math were solicited to support the science complex. 68% of them made a gift or pledge, and their commitments totaled $307,000. The extraordinary support shown by the Regents and the faculty for this project puts us in an excellent position when we are talking with prospective donors. This project clearly has the support of the stakeholders in the St. Olaf family.

While I am on the subject of gathering in resources for the College, let me report on the progress of Partners in Annual Giving, our annual fund. As you know, each year the College comes to current seniors, alums, parents, friends of the college, and faculty and staff soliciting support for Partners. Funds donated to Partners are a critical piece of the annual operating budget. If we do not make our Partners goal, we will not be able to do all the things we plan for in the budget. This year, the Partners goal is $3.9 million. At this moment, we have received $2.1 million in gifts and pledges or approximately 54% of our goal. We need to slightly accelerate our progress to reach $3.9 million. Now, I’m not going to lie to you: every member of the faculty and staff will be invited to make a pledge to Partners this spring, and I hope that when that letter arrives you will, as Priscilla and I did, give prayerful consideration to what you might be able to do to support the ongoing work of our College.

We are in the midst of another excellent year in recruiting students. We are just a handful shy of 4,000 first-year applicants. We’re at 3,990 today, and we should crest 4,000 within a few days. This will be a first for St. Olaf. 4,000 applicants would equate to 14% growth over last year’s total. We’ve received applications from every state but Rhode Island and West Virginia. Among the states offering at least 10 applicants, we grew by the largest percentage in Massachusetts (from 17 to 50), Virginia, Indiana, California, Georgia, and Illinois. Out-of-state application growth has outpaced in-state growth .When the year is complete, we anticipate an overall acceptance rate in the low- to mid-50s (versus 66% last year).

Even as I speak, we are sending out acceptance letters to our Early Action applicants. These are the students who chose not to apply Early Decision (those results are already in), but who submitted their materials early enough to be assured of a response on February 1. The proportion and actual number in the admitted pool who are multicultural has risen, and the Lutheran proportion has held steady. We saw a notable increase in the percentage who have a legacy connection (from 20% to 24%). In the admitted Early Action pool academic measures are stronger than last year across the board. Obviously, we won’t know until the entire admission cycle is complete which students will comprise the class of 2011, but we’re feeling good about the Early Action admitted group and about the overall applicant pool as a whole.

When the Board of Regents meets here next week we will be discussing with them the optimal size for the St. Olaf student body, and my recommendation will be that we move to reduce the size of the student body from the current 3,000 to 2,800 over the course of the coming decade. Such a reduction, while it has obvious revenue consequences, will enable us to reduce the student-faculty ratio, reduce class size, reduce population density in the residence halls and/or reduce the number of students living off-campus, and enable us to be even more selective in admissions. We still face the challenge, for next fall, of accurately predicting yield so that the entering first-year class is at the size we are seeking. As our applicant pool grows because St. Olaf is more attractive to more and more students, predicting yield becomes more and more challenging. We plan to be conservative in our first-round of admissions this spring, to ensure that we can keep the entering class appropriately sized.

The recruitment season for new students coincides with the recruitment season for new faculty colleagues. Five academic departments undertook searches this year: Asian Studies, Music, Education, Philosophy, and Religion. Two of those searches have concluded with superb hires. Joining us in Asian Studies will be Luying Chen, who earned a B.A. in English Language and Literature at Peking University, an M.A. in British and American Literature at Nanjing University, and the M.A. and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Brown. She comes to us from Valparaiso University, where she has been an instructor in Chinese. Joining as in Music as a professor of clarinet will be Jun Quian, who earned a B. M. at Shanghai Conservatory of Music, a B.M. from Baylor University, and the M.M. and D.M.A from Eastman School of Music. The other searches are entering their closing phases, and I hope the results will be as inspiring as they have in these two cases.

Where are we in the budget? As of January 31 we are two-thirds of the way through our fiscal year. We have booked 93% ($93.4 million) of the total budgeted revenue for the year ($100.2 million), which puts us 1% ahead of last year at this time and is more or less exactly where we want to be. We have incurred 58% ($56.4 million) of the total expenses expected for the year ($97.1 million), which is the same as at this time last year-again, a comfortable number. Overall we are on track to meet our net revenue and our spending targets for the year and, thus, to end the year in sound financial position.

February is Black History Month, and everyone has received a schedule of the events St. Olaf has planned to commemorate Black History in America. There is something for everyone, from lectures, to films, to gospel music, to poetry slams, and I encourage everyone in the Community to make a point to attend these events. Throughout the month of February, St. Olaf College will also be hosting “Building a Culture of Peace for the Children of the World.” This multi-media exhibit will be open to the public in the Tostrud Recreation Center and Skoglund Athletic Center lobbies beginning Feb. 5, and there will be other campus events associated with Building a Culture of Peace, including the “Globalization and Social Responsibility” conference February 22-24. Again, I encourage you to be part of these events.

We are looking at the uphill part of the spring semester right now, but before long it will be spring break, then we will be hurtling down the hill to commencement, and we will all be wondering where the time went. This lull before the storm provides each of us with an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves that the core work of our college happens every day in the nature and quality of our interactions with the 3,000 undergraduates who are in our care and with one another. The inputs have been attended to-facilities, budgets, students and colleagues with whom to work-and it is now up to us to effect the transformative experiences in the classroom, the laboratories, the library, the performance spaces, the athletic fields, the residence halls, the administrative offices-everywhere we encounter our students-that will prepare them for lives of worth and service grounded in a rigorous liberal arts education that occurs within a community of faith. We have been given an inspiring mission which we hold in solemn trust. Let us seize this moment to rededicate ourselves to those purposes and to anticipate with joy the semester that lies ahead.

David R. Anderson ’74