Today, our alumni possess a deep understanding of the unique and special character of Colgate.
Tomorrow, the world will.
Illustrations by Anje Jager
→As Colgate University settles into the first year of its third century, President Brian W. Casey — an expert in the history of American higher education — is taking his job seriously.
Colgate’s 17th chief executive is spending a great deal of time talking about Colgate’s Third-Century Plan, which he announced publicly during the Bicentennial Address at the All-Class Reunion in May. He brought it to the full staff during its August meeting, to the Student Government Association when it convened after Arrival Day, to parents and family members during Family Weekend, and to residents of Hamilton, N.Y., on Colgate Day, Sept. 13. This academic year, he is on tour, discussing the plan with Colgate community members across America and in countries around the world.
The Third-Century Plan is a long-term road map for Colgate. It sets forth a series of initiatives that focuses the institution on its fundamentals, strengthening them relentlessly, seeking to make Colgate the strongest possible version of itself. It is a plan that calls on Colgate to reinforce the foundations that make any college or university great: 1) attracting and supporting outstanding students, faculty, and staff; 2) strengthening the University’s academic enterprise; 3) enriching the student experience; and 4) improving the campus. It is a plan to make Colgate one of the nation’s small handful of truly outstanding colleges and universities.
“Great institutions know what they are, and then seek to enhance their fundamental characteristics. The Third-Century Plan seeks, first, to articulate the distinctive features of Colgate, and then sets forth ways to make all these features stronger,” Casey says. “The plan does not seek to make Colgate more like Williams or Bowdoin, Dartmouth or Duke (though we will compare ourselves to these great colleges and universities, and others), but to make it both distinctive and strong. We will pursue this plan over a long period of time, while moving as quickly as possible on the first initiatives. Following this road map — which will require resources, resolve, and rigor — will result in a Colgate that is academically, reputationally, and financially stronger,” Casey concludes.
The full Third-Century Plan can be read here.
The 39-page document represents two years’ work logged by the president, the cabinet, dozens of campus committees, and the Board of Trustees. Recently, members of these groups took a moment to reflect on the effort to create a plan that all could support — to go through the pages of the plan and elaborate on the underlying hope, excitement, and ambition that will secure Colgate’s position as a leading American institution.
Any audience listening to the president speak might be tempted to think that The Third-Century Plan sprung, fully written, from the third floor of James B. Colgate Hall. But even as he walks his listeners logically from element to element, Casey is intent on keeping them from making this mistake. The reality is more complex, going back more than three years to the moment when the Board of Trustees hired him for the position of chief executive. Even then, the fiduciary body was laying the groundwork for action.
“When we hired President Casey, we knew that we wanted to evaluate the board structure. We spent about a year looking at best practices of boards, how they should operate, and what the proper role of the board should be,” says Board of Trustees Chair Michael J. Herling ’79, P’08,’09,’12. “As the main pillars of The Third-Century Plan became apparent, we were ready to restructure the board to make it a better facilitator of decision making — to align the programmatic committees of the board with the foundational elements of the vision.”
Colgate now seeks to pursue its mission at an even higher level, to establish the University, more firmly than today, as one of the small handful of truly outstanding colleges and universities in the nation and the world. This Third-Century Plan is a long-term plan for that quest.
Meanwhile, the president was going to many meetings. He and his cabinet members spent 18 months shuttling between 23 faculty governance committees, six committees of the board, and the Alumni Council. Casey also revived and expanded a standing committee of the faculty, the Advisory and Planning Committee (APC), to serve as his campus-based working group to help draft the plan. Together, this committee and administrators reviewed past research and reports and discussed priorities and best practices. They spoke of Colgate’s essentials and debated how they should be stewarded, how best to express them for maximum effect in the competitive higher education environment. A draft plan emerged with the board and the APC, covering an extensive amount of territory — every inch of the University’s 575 acres and all of the programs that take place here.
Then, for the first time since 1969, Colgate’s president called a special meeting of the faculty to present the plan and to outline both board and APC discussions. The full board formally adopted the plan during its meetings on May 3–4, 2019; the Alumni Council endorsed the plan two weeks later. And then came the moment to present the plan to all gathered alumni during the historic All-Class Reunion.
“I can’t speak to other plans that Colgate has had in the past,” Herling says. “But this was the result of incredibly thoughtful work by President Casey and his team. It captures the essence of the institution.”
The board’s recent realignment around the plan’s emerging structure made it possible for the body to transition into the prioritization of resources and approve funding for a series of first initiatives. Preparations and consultations had a further advantage: They allowed the institution and those who lead its seven divisions — admission, advancement, athletics, dean of the college, dean of the faculty, finance and administration, and communications — to take immediate action on those initiatives.
I. Attracting Outstanding People
→The nation’s attention is attuned to conversations around student debt. Colgate, for its part, has a proud, long-standing tradition of meeting the full financial need of every admitted student.
In spite of this history, Colgate still included some federal loans in certain financial aid packages. Often, these loans were in the packages of middle-income students — undergraduates from families with salaries too high be eligible for Pell Grants yet not wealthy enough to shoulder the full cost of a Colgate education. Other institutions were sweeping in and recruiting these well-qualified candidates by offering them financial aid packages that promised a debt-free commencement. These were students Colgate admitted, students who belonged on our campus.
With the introduction of The Third-Century Plan, therefore, Colgate launched the No-Loan Initiative, the first major initiative of the plan. This step removes all federal loans from financial aid packages for students with family incomes below $125,000. “If the obligation of loans is one of the things keeping our students from coming here, then let’s remove it,” Casey says. “The University is incredibly fortunate — we are one of only two dozen institutions that have now moved into this position.”
Truly talented students, a leading faculty, and professional staff are all required for Colgate to be among the finest colleges and universities in the nation.
“Colgate faculty shoulder a herculean responsibility of simultaneously teaching and researching at the institution’s expected level of excellence,” says Tracey E. Hucks ’87, MA’90, provost and dean of the faculty, and James A. Storing Professor of religion and Africana and Latin American studies. “Maintaining a balanced commitment to both pursuits is challenging.”
Recruiting the most talented students, regardless of financial background, is one of the first steps in The Third-Century Plan’s Section I mandate. The recruitment of faculty is coequal. So the plan goes further, outlining the University’s intention to make itself the ideal home for the world’s most talented teacher-scholars.
The Third-Century Plan addresses those challenges, providing scholars with more time to complete their scholarship and engage in new ways of teaching. Colgate, through this plan, seeks to have faculty maintain a teaching load equal to the finest colleges in the nation — eventually reducing their annual five-courses-a-year burden to an elite-college level of four. This might seem counterintuitive, given that faculty members are hired to teach. However, Hucks says, “Colgate’s best teachers and the best scholars value time as an essential pathway for excellence in their classrooms and in their disciplines.” Reduced course loads will free up hours and days to devote to course preparation, research, and student interactions — the kind that foster inspirational relationships between undergraduates and their mentors. It will also ensure that, at the moment Colgate is seeking to hire new teacher-scholars, it can say that its faculty will operate in conditions equal to the nation’s best universities. No longer will we lose faculty to Williams, Bowdoin, or Princeton because our support is not up to expected levels.
The Third-Century Plan acknowledges that the most inspirational professors might themselves need to be inspired to come to Hamilton. It calls on the institution not only to create more time for faculty to do their important work, but also more endowed professorships to recognize their success. In this arena, Colgate is lagging behind its peers. “Fourteen percent of our faculty members hold endowed professorships; an average among our peers would be closer to 30%,” says Gretchen H. Burke ’81, P’11,’20, who chairs the board’s campaign committee. “Every time you name an endowed professorship, it provides financial support for the institution, and it is prestigious for the professor. It lets candidates know that we support our faculty at the highest level.”
Recruitment is more important now than ever, with vacancies opening in the ranks each year as a generation of faculty members reach emeriti status. “We are at a point where many of those who were hired when women came to campus 50 years ago are retiring,” Burke says. “There are new professors coming to campus, the next teachers whom alumni will remember fondly, and that is why it is so important that we continue to attract the most brilliant candidates.”
II. Strengthening the Academic Enterprise
→The Third-Century Plan was designed to make Colgate academically stronger than ever before, and the Robert Hung Ngai Ho Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative illustrates the intention.
Olin Hall, the home of the University’s biology department and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, was completed in 1971 and renovated in 1990. Significant research is conducted in the facility, but the HVAC systems now require expansion and the roof needs to be replaced.
Crunching the numbers, administrators put the price tag at a $12 million minimum simply to bring the building up to needed operational levels. But the facility’s challenges brought opportunities. “As we were looking at the plans to renovate Olin Hall, biology and psychology faculty in that building pointed out that they have been talking to each other, studying the brain and the mind, charisma, leadership, and the biological foundations of ethics,” Casey says. “Meanwhile, our language-acquisition researchers and our philosophers who study the mind suggested they would like to work with those folks, too.”
A fundamental foundation upon which Colgate’s stronger future rests will be the extent to which the University seeks to continuously strengthen the academic life of the University and nurture a culture in which intellectual rigor marks all of its endeavors.
Within this aging building, new partnerships were yielding innovative projects and providing countless teaching moments between faculty and students. “So, we said to ourselves, what if we transformed Olin Hall to provide a space for what could be the finest mind, brain, and behavior initiative in America?” Casey says.
Robert H.N. Ho ’56, H’11 responded to the idea with a gift of $15 million. The University will solicit funds and dedicate current budget resources to round out the necessary commitment, resulting not only in more satisfactory ventilation, but a completely renovated facility that will encourage the kinds of interdisciplinary opportunities that are the hallmarks of leading American colleges and universities. “Our students couldn’t care less about 19th-century boundaries of intellectual life, and our faculty have long moved past these lines,” Casey says. “Students and faculty want to solve problems; they want to think about complex things.”
Complex thinking will take place down the Hill as well, once the University fulfills its intention to design a Middle Campus Plan for Arts, Creativity, and Innovation — a concept that emerged alongside Mind, Brain, and Behavior, thanks to the outstanding curricular and scholarly endeavors of Colgate’s faculty. “Both initiatives reflect a nexus for rich interdisciplinary collaborations and programs across campus and will provide students with access to cutting-edge facilities and robust avenues for research and intellectual creativity,” Hucks adds.
As envisioned, the middle campus project will take a series of buildings that were designed independently — James C. Colgate Hall, Little Hall, Dana Arts Center, Persson Hall, and Case Library — and transform them into an intentional, cohesive new section of the campus. Within these buildings, some of which will be heavily renovated, the campus community will be able to study dance and computer science, entrepreneurship and painting, music, filmmaking, and art history. This will be done in complementary ways that amplify the means by which Colgate is already pursuing residential liberal arts education.
“Colgate has a deep tradition within disciplines like neuroscience, biology, computer science, and all aspects of the arts,” says Alumni Council President Christian B. Johnson ’02. “Being able to merge these disciplines geographically and intellectually is critical to the education of students as they prepare to become future leaders. Colgate has identified how these courses of studies, in combination, can make the institution stand out among its peers.”
Middle campus will also address the straightforward, long-standing need for spaces that enable students to express themselves. “Instead of doing what most institutions have done — just build a big performing arts facility — we are going to develop something more innovative and useful: a middle campus that could be animated 24 hours a day with people doing creative things,” Burke says.
III. Enriching the Student Experience
→“You can learn in a classroom from the four classes you take every semester, but if Colgate does its work well, you should be learning where you live,” says Vice President and Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II.
It’s an ambitious goal. Students spend approximately 20,000 hours outside the classroom during their undergraduate years. McLoughlin and his staff are working with partners across campus to fill those moments with meaning and purpose.
With the launch of the 2019 academic year, all first-year students and sophomores now live within one of four Residential Commons, living-learning communities of the kind one sees at many leading colleges. This is thanks in large part to the opening of the University’s two newest residences, Burke Hall and Jane Pinchin Hall. Social activities and traditions are starting to form within each Residential Commons, giving them distinctive identities. Faculty are frequent visitors for topical lectures and philosophical conversations with students. During arrival weekend, each Residential Commons hosted first-year orientation sessions around academic success, living at a college, diversity and inclusion, and wellness issues. First-year seminar courses are linked to every Residential Commons and taught in classrooms located within each of the Residential Commons.
Colgate must overtly and explicitly seek to create a deep, clear, and compelling campus culture — nurtured and expressed through its residential programs, its athletics program and other student activities, its ceremonies and traditions, and through the overall experience of the campus.
“Through faculty and staff leadership, the walls of the classroom have become porous, and opportunities for continued learning extend into the residential experience,” Hucks says. “Living and learning are important directives that have resulted in innovative FSEM links, committed faculty affiliates, expanded forms of mentorship, and an ongoing collaborative menu of intellectual and social programs for our first- and second-year students.”
The ultimate goal is to create a form of residential living on campus that prepares students for life beyond campus. “It prepares students for the world, for living with people who are different from themselves, connecting across differences, and learning about one another,” McLoughlin says. “Within the Residential Commons system, they will have conversations that are a little more intellectual than they might have in other environments and listen in ways that actually help them become more informed about one another.”
For those whose time outside the classroom includes Division I athletics, The Third-Century Plan also addresses efforts to increase support for coaching staff, who serve as mentors and teachers in their own right. There is also a renewed focus on the University’s athletics facilities and new athletics scholarships. “Right now, we have varsity coaches and administrators in three different buildings,” Nicki Moore, vice president and director of athletics, says. Plans developing as part of the package of first initiatives include a renovation of Reid Athletic Center that would open up more space for staff. “Current plans would put us in Class of 1965 Arena and Reid Athletic Center, alleviating space issues while continuing to keep the coaches proximate to each other.” As in the University’s academic buildings, where biologists share hallways with geographers, coaches from different sports find common cause when they commingle. “We have seen it already in the Class of 1965 Arena, where soccer, lacrosse, and hockey coaches work together,” Moore says. “Hockey adapted drills that are actually for soccer, because they were trying to figure out how to do something that they saw soccer doing really well. The new facility has enhanced collaboration.”
Having received the benefit of a residential education — and, in some cases, having collected the learning experiences that come with playing sports at the highest level — undergraduates will be looking toward life after Colgate. Career Services, the Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships, and the University’s entrepreneurship efforts are amassed in Benton Hall and begin helping in the quest from the moment of enrollment. These offices will receive additional support, through the plan, to bolster programs that already set the pace among Colgate’s peers.
“Career discernment is not separate from intellectual growth; that is a false dichotomy,” Casey says. “Career services is not the thing you do at the end of your Colgate career, but a learning process throughout your time on campus — as much a learning process as your first-year seminar or classes within your major. Let us view this not as a service, but as an educational experience that our students are going through, and we want them to do it well.”
IV. Improving the Campus Environs
→This fall, Colgate opened two new residences on the upper quadrangle, Burke Hall and Jane Pinchin Hall, which have added to a distinguished and distinctive collegiate skyline. Alongside Benton Hall, they are two of the latest and most obvious examples of Colgate’s intentional commitment to the beauty of its historic campus.
“Beauty is not an addition, nor is it something that you hope comes to pass,” Casey says. “It affects the experience, and it is something that is shared by everybody — every staff member, every faculty member, every student — so you have to take care of it.”
It turns out that beauty is more than grass-deep. Beneath buildings both new and old runs the infrastructure that provides warmth in those harrowing Hamilton winters and electricity to operate classroom technology — not to mention the plumbing, fiber optics, and numerous additional utilities that allow a community to study the Dark Ages without experiencing them. All of this is under careful scrutiny and will be addressed as the University implements The Third-Century Plan.
Colgate must carefully steward one of its most precious assets: its campus… Enhancing the beauty of the campus, improving its infrastructure, and preserving its natural and built environment for future generations must remain high University priorities.
“We understand, for example, that our steam lines need to be improved,” says J.S. Hope ’97, senior vice president for finance and administration and chief investment officer. “We set money aside each year so that we can actually do them, because these are complex projects. It is not just $50,000. It is $600,000 and $700,000. We think about that, and as we work on a specific part of campus — building Pinchin, Burke, and Benton halls — we see what infrastructure we can review while we are in the ground. Because you’re never going to dig up the Quad just to take a look.”
Financing the Fundamentals
Hope can’t sneak a look under the sod, but he does keep an eye on the bottom line, which, according to the plan, is one of the major deciders of how and when initiatives will be adopted. Any proposal must advance one of the four fundamentals and find a place within the budget, either through current sources of revenue or specific fundraising efforts.
“I do not think that being fiscally responsible means we cannot be ambitious,” Casey says. “Well-run, ambitious institutions garner the resources they need and steward them properly.”
It falls to Hope to do that particular aspect of stewardship, and his background managing the University’s endowment is vital to the effort. “Our reliance on financial markets is the highest that it has ever been,” he says. “The endowment is 25% of the operating budget, and to manage it, we try to smooth volatility. In 2018, my guess is that many people lost money in their retirement accounts, but we made money. If the endowment is making steady progress, that math works better for the institution than if we expand into a big decline. Colgate has managed its endowment in the same way for 25 years, and we believe that our asset allocation sees us through difficult market cycles.”
Any proposed new activity or endeavor will have to be considered against available resources and potential fundraising support. It is imperative that the implementation of these initiatives, in total, result in a financially stronger institution.
The nuances of preserving a university endowment are Greek to some people. But no one can misunderstand Casey’s assurances, made plain during his numerous presentations, that The Third-Century Plan is intended to leave Colgate in a stronger financial position. It’s a point reiterated
by members of the board, who are responsible for ensuring that the intention comes to pass.
“Part of the plan is to develop financial resources to support the long-term mission of the University,” Herling says. “We’re investing to make this institution the best Colgate it can be.”
The best-possible Colgate will draw in the most talented professors and brightest students. It will be a community known for its academic rigor, where students find no intellectual barriers between classrooms and living spaces. It will be beautiful and well managed. It will engage and inspire those who know it best — its alumni and friends. “With The Third-Century Plan, we are acknowledging that we are going to have reasons to raise money for the long term,” Burke says. “We will be harnessing the energy of all the people who want to move the University forward. People want to be included, and we have a lot of alumni who have never really been asked to support the University. They probably think, ‘Well, they don’t need me; there are some big donors there, so I’m not important.’ That’s not true — everyone is important.”
The First Initiatives
The Third-Century Plan identifies first initiatives designed to move the University toward the obtainment of longer-term goals. Current resources will allow Colgate to take these first steps.
I. Attracting and Supporting Outstanding Students and Faculty
- Initiate a phased approach to No-Loan Policy
- Extended pre-tenure leave initiative
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion planning
II. Strengthening the University’s Academic Enterprise
- First projects for the middle campus: arts, creativity, and innovation
- The Robert Hung Ngai Ho Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative — renovation of Olin Hall
III. Enriching the Student Experience
- Complete implementation of Residential Commons system
- Broad Street neighborhood renewal
- Renovation of University-owned apartments and townhouses
- Increased athletics scholarships and financial aid
- Athletics facilities — Reid renovation
- Student preparation through enhanced Career Services
IV. Improving the Campus and the Environment
- Comprehensive plan for improving campus
- Complete the Bicentennial tree planting
- Hamilton Initiative Part 2
- Hamilton Village housing
The President’s State of the University
Watch President Brian W. Casey give the presentation of The Third-Century Plan to alumni at the Bicentennial All-Class Reunion on June 1, 2019.