State of the University 2017

Editor’s Note: After consultation with the Faculty Senate in 2014, the president’s annual State of the University report transitioned from a spoken address to a written account. Below is 2017’s edition; readers are encouraged to post questions and comments.

To the Case Western Reserve University community:

headshot of CWRU President Barbara R. SnyderI write this message amid a moment of profound shifts within our country, many of which carry significant potential to influence the state of our university.

This week the White House released a National Security Strategy that indicates it is considering restrictions on foreign students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields from select countries to protect this country’s intellectual property. This language, coupled with last fall’s announcement regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the year’s three versions of a travel ban not only have caused tremendous anxiety for people on our campus, but also threaten our university’s diversity—a core value for Case Western Reserve.

Also this week, Congress approved a $1.5 trillion tax bill widely described as the most significant measure of its kind in at least three decades. While I am relieved that the current version of the proposal no longer contains a tax on tuition waivers for our graduate students or a tax on undergraduate-level tuition waivers or reimbursements for our employees and their dependents, I remain deeply concerned about other aspects affecting higher education—including the tax on select university endowments.

Finally, for the past 11 weeks, we have seen one prominent public figure after another face allegations of sexual misconduct (more than 125 by USA Today’s count this week), with many removed from or leaving their professional roles as a result. The phenomenon has involved industries around the globe ranging from news and entertainment to sports and government to, yes, higher education. Described variously as “the Weinstein effect” and “a cultural reckoning,” the developments have dramatically raised awareness of the enormous extent of the problem—as well as of its devastating effects on victims.

None of these examples uniquely impacts Case Western Reserve. I open with them in this year’s message for two reasons: first, they do affect our campus, and second, we should affect them.

I will write more about each topic later in this message, but first want to provide details on topics more specific to Case Western Reserve—including ones that I traditionally include in this update.

Undergraduate Admissions

The class that entered this August again set new records for total applications submitted—more than 25,000—and selectivity—33 percent. It also included our first group of students admitted through our partnership with The Posse Foundation, as well as the first admitted under our new Meet Full Need policy. We adopted Meet Full Need to reduce the large debt burden endured by some of our students and to increase the number of economically disadvantaged and underrepresented students. I am pleased to report that we saw substantial gains in the proportion of Pell Grant recipients in the entering class, and modest improvement among underrepresented students.

Research and Other Academic Endeavors

The 2017 Fiscal Year saw the university receive the highest level of sponsored research funding ($337.1 million) since FY 2013—and 8 percent more than the previous year. This achievement is particularly striking given the increased competitiveness of federal grants; for example, the university’s largest federal funding source, the National Institutes of Health, saw an increase of just 2.6 percent for its 2017 fiscal year.

Even more impressive are several of the achievements made possible through support from government, philanthropy and other sources, among them:

Meanwhile, two of our art history faculty won prestigious and highly competitive grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support research in Europe and India. Given that just 7 percent of fellowship applications receive funds, the odds of a single department receiving two in the same year are exceptionally low. I congratulate both recipients, and look forward to the results of their studies.

Not all of the university’s academic contributions strictly involve research. One of the most significant initiatives in recent years involves the Cleveland Humanities Festival. Launched in 2016 and coordinated by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, this spring series involves more than two dozen institutional partners and a wide range of engaging programs. Last year’s festival focused on immigration—a topic selected well before any of 2017’s developments on that issue. This spring’s festival will broadly explore health by drawing on perspectives from the arts, history, literature and other subjects.

Meanwhile, the law school’s Human Trafficking Program continues to support victims even as it educates and raises awareness among the community at large. The Ohio’s Attorney General was so impressed with the program’s early initiatives that it awarded a second state grantthis one of more than $800,000—to advance its efforts in representing victims and raising overall awareness of the issue.

Provost’s Commission on the Undergraduate Experience (CUE)

This fall the CUE released an 83-page preliminary report (PDF) with recommendations that include: adopting a General Education Requirement; developing an innovative Explore curriculum; reviewing academic requirements to find ways to increase flexibility and reduce stress; launching collaborative advising teams; and fostering a thriving campus community. The document represents tremendous effort on the part of CUE Chair Kimberly Emmons, an associate professor in the Department of English, as well as all of the members of the working groups for their contributions. Continuing a pattern of seeking extensive engagement in the process, Emmons and her colleagues have actively sought comment on this draft; the CUE is expected to issue its final report this spring.

Forward Thinking Capital Campaign

Thanks to extraordinary support from nearly 55,000 donors, our capital campaign topped its $1.5 billion goal in early July, an achievement we celebrated at the university’s annual Blue Block party to kick off Homecoming. Fiscal Year 2017 also saw contributors set yet another record for annual attainment—at $181.2 million—as well as help the university win the 2017 Circle of Excellence Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for overall improvement among private research and doctoral universities with endowments above $1.2 billion. The other school honored in this category was the California Institute of Technology.

Our campaign does not end until December 2018, and we continue to press forward on priorities such as student scholarships and fellowships, endowed professorships, academic and research programs, and building projects including the second phase of the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel, the Health Education Campus and an interdisciplinary science and engineering building.

#YouAreWelcomeHereCWRU

Led by the Center for International Affairs, our campus launched its own version of a national campaign to ensure students from other countries knew that universities such as ours deeply value their presence—despite federal developments that continue to create profound concerns.

I commend everyone who participated in conveying this message through everything from handheld signs at our Jan. 30 informational meeting after the first ban, to a four-minute video that the center coordinated, to countless individual conversations across the campus. This fall’s International Education Week continued the theme with a series of events, including a #YouAreWelcomeHereCWRU kickoff party. Nearly 20 percent of our total enrollment is international, including students from 81 different countries.

DACA represents a related issue of importance to Case Western Reserve. As of now, Republicans and Democrats have proposed at least four different measures to allow Dreamers to stay in this country, but debates about the tax bill appear to have pushed these discussions into 2018. With roughly 1,000 DACA recipients losing their protected status every day, the need for rapid action is critical. Meanwhile, I am grateful to the center, the Office of Human Resources and the Office of General Counsel for the support and guidance they have provided our community throughout the year. We will continue to post news and guidance related to these issues on the Immigration and DACA Updates page of our website.

On both of these issues, our position is clear: Diversity and inclusion are core values of Case Western Reserve. Diversity also is essential to excellence in our mission of education and research. Just as we have throughout the past year, we will continue to advocate publicly on behalf of international members of our community, as well as any Dreamers who may be enrolled here. We also will continue to communicate with elected officials—both through our national higher education organizations and on our own.

2017 Tax Bill

This fall we saw firsthand how concerted, coordinated education efforts can make a difference in policy decisions. The activism of graduate students protesting on more than three dozen campuses—as well as within Capitol Hill itself—helped spare them from a measure that would have made the often-daunting pursuit of a graduate degree even more challenging. Depending on the individual, the tax could have tripled or even quadrupled graduate students’ tax bills.

On our own campus, more than 3,250 graduate and professional students receive some kind of tuition waiver. Rita Tohme, a doctoral student who researches cancer and also serves as president of the Graduate Student Council (GSC), and another GSC officer, Zoe Yang, took the time to explain the impact of the measure in interviews with local ABC affiliate WEWS earlier this month. Meanwhile, our government relations team and I also reached out to staff and members of Ohio’s Congressional delegation, and coordinated with national higher education organizations like the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the American Council on Education (ACE).

We also were fortunate to keep undergraduate-level tuition waivers tax-free for the nearly 400 employees and their dependents receiving the benefit this fall, as well as student loan interest deductions. Nevertheless, we did not prevail in blocking a tax on private college endowments valued at $500,000 or more per student. Case Western Reserve is not among the institutions affected by this measure, but we still are troubled by the precedent it sets. Endowment funds support scholarships, endowed professorships, and other activities central to our mission.

#MeToo

Finally, this fall’s allegations of sexual misconduct by individuals in positions of power has so dominated national conversations that Time named those who have come forward its “Person of the Year.” Within that article, the magazine reported that a poll conducted last month found that 82 percent of those responding said women are more likely to speak out about harassment now. It is too early to know the larger implications of this shift, but one point is inarguable: no setting is entirely free of such conduct, including higher education.

In recent years, Case Western Reserve has made significant progress with regard to addressing sexual misconduct, including the creation of the first university positon completely dedicated to Title IX (as opposed to having the responsibilities as part of other duties); increasing the number of staff dedicated to Title IX work by just over 70 percent; partnering with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center to expand the hours when services are available to students; more education efforts for entering students during the summer and at orientation; and the addition of the nationally recognized Green Dot bystander intervention training program.

As important as each of these steps has been, we recognize we have much more to do. We also acknowledge that we do not know of all of the violations that happen today, much less in the past. What we can say is that every report that we do receive is taken seriously, investigated thoroughly and adjudicated as fairly as possible. To that end, this year we also increased training for those who investigate and hear cases. Ultimately, however, the ability of our campus to address misconduct depends directly on the commitment of our community to listen, observe and act. To learn more about these issues and how faculty, staff and students can help, email greendot@case.edu for resources and training opportunities.

Finally, as we close this semester and prepare for the new year, I want to thank all of you for your contributions to Case Western Reserve. I hope everyone is able to take at least some time for a restful and restorative break, and look forward to welcoming you back to campus in 2018.

Barbara R. Snyder
President