In this final issue of Bair Mail, outgoing President Sheila Bair reflects on the accomplishments of her tenure at Washington College.
This is my last issue of Bair Mail and, by far, the hardest one I will write. I am filled with strong, conflicting emotions. I am elated at the prospect of reuniting with my family and spending more time with my daughter, who will be leaving home for college in just one short year. I am bursting with pride over the many things we have accomplished these past two years, and pleased and grateful that the President-elect and Board have publicly committed to continue our nationally recognized efforts on affordability.
Yet I feel strong sorrow that I will be leaving you soon. We have achieved so much, but there is so much more to do! Our national stature and rankings are on the rise and, within a few years, we should be a top 50 school in all the ways the matter. Just look what we have accomplished in improving retention rates, graduation rates, and alumni participation — things that matter to raters and should matter to any school that, like ours, puts the successful education of their students above all else. I had originally hoped to shake the hands of our first cohort of George’s Brigade when they cross the stage at Commencement in the Spring of 2020. Indeed, I had looked forward to shaking the hands of the entire class of 2020 (and maybe giving out a few hugs too — you know me). This was the first class that I recruited as your President, and it was the second largest, most diverse, and academically strongest in the College’s history.
But the special feelings I hold for the class of 2020 do not in any way detract from the strong affection I hold for all of our students. For me, this job has always been about the students. College administration has its challenges. I once asked Freeman Hrabowski, the legendary head of UMBC, the secret of his success. He told me (somewhat reassuringly, I think) that I would succeed if I kept everyone minimally unhappy. He counseled that all college presidents have diverse constituencies—board, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community—and all have a different view of how a college president should do his or her job.
I juggled the best I could. When it would become overwhelming, Joe Holt would tell me to head over to Hodson Hall or the Miller Library Terrace and find some students with whom to chat. They would fill me in on the classes they were taking, or their summer plans. They might ask my advice on job prospects and internship opportunities. Occasionally, they would shyly tell me about problems with broken washing machines and windows that would not close in our older residence halls, feedback that I welcomed. Those conversations always reconnected me with the reasons I took this job. They gave me energy. I wish I had been able to do more of them.
I have many fond memories of my time here—so many that with the help of the CRM team, we put together a photo album of memorable moments. You can find them here. Whether it was dancing up a storm at the Horizons fundraiser, eating Thanksgiving oysters with Gus, toasting at the Birthday Ball with a green smoothie, traveling in the wee hours to Omaha to see Warren Buffett, or decorating HRH with SGA, we had some very good times. And amidst all the fun, we did some serious work as well. Below, I have listed all of our accomplishments over the past two years. Some of these represent completion of projects already underway; some were initiated during my tenure. All represent the hard work and professionalism of the Washington College community. These are not my accomplishments; they are our accomplishments. They never would have happened without you. They should make all of us very proud.
Fall 2016 entering class had the highest first-year retention rate in a decade, jumping from 82.5% to 86.5%
Even higher first-year retention rate for our inaugural group of George’s Brigade Scholars, at 88
Graduation rate we recorded this spring highest since 2009
A new major in Communication and Media Studies
Completion of a top 50 curriculum comparison analysis that will lead to new majors in biochemistry and neuroscience.
Two record-breaking years of fundraising, hitting $23 million in FY16 and $25 million in FY17
Four percentage point increase in alumni participation rate
Completion of fundraising for the Hodson Boathouse, with groundbreaking scheduled for September
2016 CASE award for one of the most improved funding operations among private colleges
Highly successful launch of $150 million capital campaign
Center for Career Development
Thanks to the strong leadership of interim director Lisa Moody, we achieved a nearly 6% increase in our placement on graduation rate, from 50% for the class of 2015 to 55.8% for the class of 2017
Successful launch and marketing of four nationally recognized affordability initiatives: George’s Brigade, Dam the Debt, Savers Scholarship, and FixedFor4
Recruitment of second largest, academically strongest, and most diverse class in Washington College history (Fall 2016)
Fall 2017 class projected to beat last year in diversity and academic strength
$11.2 million raised in scholarship funds, increasing funded discount to 19%. A 10% increase in Pell and MD GAPP funding.
Successful execution of systems changes for our new affordability initiatives, particularly Fixedfor4, and major improvements in budget tracking systems
IT – dramatic improvement in Wi-Fi connectivity
Successful execution on numerous capital projects, including:
- Opening of Cromwell Hall
- Opening of Corsica Hall
- Relocation of staff after the fire at 515 Washington Ave
- Conversion of all campus lighting to LED
- Dredging of our waterfront (after 18 months of permit process)
- (Long needed) new roof, floor, windows, and doors for Russell Gym
- New chiller for Toll Science Center
- New offices downtown for CES
- New HVAC/mold remediation in the Customs House
- New B&G storage building with conditioned space for Library Annex
- Redo of Kohl Gallery with HVAC, emergency generator, and dry fire suppression
- New Career Services space, Health Services office, including mold remediation
- New paint and carpet for Bunting
Broke through the top 100 US News and World Report ranking, with trajectory to go much higher given strengthening retention and graduation rates, alumni participation, and high academic quality of student body.
For the first time ever, made it on to Kiplinger’s coveted “Best College Value” list.
Whew! I’m exhausted just writing this list.
We accomplished in two years what it would take five at so many other institutions.
You are all amazing.
It has been my privilege to sail on this ship with you. However, we have reached my port, and it’s time now for me to disembark.
I will always remember you fondly, and will always be an advocate for Washington College.
I wish the President-elect every success.
With the Washington College team behind him, I know he will not fail.
Here are just a few of the memories I’ll carry with me. You can find some of my favorite photos and videos here.