A Message From President Kaplan
January 27, 2009
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Let’s clear up some misconceptions about the Board of Governors.
There were two editorials in the last edition of The Charger Bulletin that demonstrated to me quite clearly how little some students know about the University’s Board of Governors. One of the writers referred to the members of our governing board as a group of “for the most part… old men.” This choice of wording was unfortunate. Many would find it offensive and bordering on age discrimination, and it simply is not accurate. A fair number of our Board members are women, and most of the current non-emeriti members of the board are my age or a few years younger or older.
So who are these men and women of varying ages, races and nationalities who come to campus four times a year for a day and a half of meetings, and why should students want the administration to make sure that their experience on campus is a positive one? There are 27 individuals on our Board, and approximately 80 percent of them hold degrees from the University of New Haven. All of them have had distinguished and highly successful careers in business and industry, with several having served at the highest levels in Fortune 500 companies such as Hewlett-Packard, United Technologies and General Dynamics. Fifty percent of them live in Connecticut, and the remainder travel to UNH at their own expense to attend our meetings.
As a group, they gave a combined $1.7 million to the university this past year in support of initiatives such as campus renovations, the student recreation center, the new forensic science building, student scholarships, funding for student research projects, and the renovation of the psychology building so it may be used for student clubs and organizations. This group supports the university through its gifts, but more important, these individuals donate countless hours helping to strengthen the university through their vision and expertise. The Board selects the President, evaluates annually the President’s performance and has fiduciary responsibility for the entire university. Through the Board’s oversight and guidance, UNH has thrived in recent years, and it might surprise the writers of the two recent editorials in the student newspaper that Board members are able to know what the students want and need because they hear from student leaders at almost every one of their meetings.
Soon after I was hired in March of 2004, the USGA president told the Board that classroom technology was the #1 priority for students. Over the following two summers, primarily with gifts from current and former Board members, we upgraded almost every single classroom on campus. The Board then heard from another group of students that UNH badly needed a student recreation center. Again, most of the gifts for this came from the Board of Governors. In addition to the student leaders who I have invited to present at almost every Board meeting since my arrival (the exception being the most recent meeting, which was a retreat), I always invite students to present their research and other accomplishments at Board lunches and dinners.
The growing pool of money to fund undergraduate summer research projects is given by Board members who have been impressed by the dozens of students who presented their research findings at our meetings. A recent $100,000 gift from a Board member to our theatre program resulted from a presentation by students at a Board luncheon. In fact, during a luncheon following the dedication of the Laurel Vlock Center for Convergent Media, a group of theatre students discussed their most recent production, one that-as so often in the past-was seen by Board members who attended at my invitation.
Any student who is concerned about whether or not the Board hears firsthand and unfiltered what is on our students’ minds should take a few minutes to speak to the student leadership of our undergraduate, graduate and evening student government organizations. Beyond the above examples, you would learn that when student leaders told our Board in September that there were not enough computers in the library, the number of laptops almost doubled within a few days. When, at the same meeting, students expressed their concern about the student health center, a commitment was made to renovate and expand that facility this summer. When our Board Chair, Sam Bergami, Jr., was invited to our student television studio and saw that we needed professional lighting, he wrote a $50,000 check. When the Board heard that our campus center is bursting at the seams, they authorized a significant expansion of the kitchen and dining facilities that will commence this summer. When student leaders told me they needed increased space for student clubs and organizations, the Bartels family stepped up to fund the renovation of the old psychology building specifically for that use.
Members of our Board regularly attend student athletic and cultural events on our campus, and many of them have lectured in classes on campus. A few have even joined students in the fundraising call center. Many members of our Board never miss a commencement. Several of our Board members also have children or family members who have attended or currently attend UNH. This is yet another way in which they are exposed to the needs and desires of our students. Finally, one member of our Board serves as a parent representative, providing input from a parent’s point of view.
Our administration does everything in its power to bring students and Board members together. The more our Board knows about our students, the more effectively it can help guide the university to better meet our students’ needs. And if you are wondering, as our two editorial writers did, why we have not allowed students to put up tables in the lobby of Bartels Hall during Board meetings, the answer is that this was a decision made without my knowledge, and as soon as I learned that this was being done, I put an immediate end to it.
Most of our current students have no idea how far UNH has come over the past five years. Our physical infrastructure, while an ongoing challenge, has improved tremendously. Faculty and staff salaries have now caught up with and, in some cases, surpassed many of our competitors. We have hired dozens of new faculty across the campus and increased staff where needed. We have a stronger group of officers and deans than I have seen at any other institution with which I am familiar. Without the vision and leadership of our Board of Governors, none of these accomplishments would have been thinkable. Now they are a reality, thanks to the Board.