February 2022 Board Update

The Board of Trustees held a regular Board meeting online February 17–19, 2022. Along with campus heads and other key administrators, incoming Head of School Dr. Merry Sorrells also participated.

As usual, each day opened with readings from the Bible, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and the Christian Science Hymnal, followed by silent prayer and sharing. Themes for the readings included humility, wisdom, listening, courage, and trust. This citation from Isaiah guided our thoughts: “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (30:21).

Our last meeting in October 2021 was largely a decision meeting with multiple motions and approvals to work through. With fewer decisions to be made about motions, this February meeting was primarily a development meeting to be updated on important and urgent issues, discuss, move thinking forward, and begin to shape possible future actions, all with the participation of our administrative colleagues. These issues included the visiting professional program for School faculty, the pilot admissions program for students on both campuses, and the interrelationship of health care and treatment choice. We also approved a motion regarding improving infrastructure at the College.

Visiting Professional Program for School Faculty
This academic year, we have 12 Visiting Professionals teaching at the School. These colleagues, who do not identify as Christian Scientists, are playing a critical role in maintaining and continually improving the quality of the education provided to our students. Visiting Professionals have established a strong track record of supporting and respecting the Christian Science foundation in everything we do. In conjunction with the Board Education Committee, the School administrative team is continually working on ways to improve the program, and we identified operational areas where the Chief Executive—together with the School administrative team—can make near-term changes in the program while the Board addresses longer-term issues regarding our 23 Policies through the Board Ad Hoc Policy Review Committee. This topic will be on the agenda for the June Board meeting.

Pilot Admissions Program for Students on Both Campuses
We currently have 88 Pilot Program students across both campuses, none of whom self-identify as Christian Scientists. We were updated quantitatively and qualitatively on the implementation of this program on the two campuses, and we appreciate that both campus administrations are working to continuously improve their programs for the benefit of all students, the institution, and our mission.

In addition, the Board appreciates that success of this program will likely be an integral part of meeting our enrollment goals to strengthen our educational programs and activities. We revisited long-term themes in our discussions, including how this program supports our larger mission and the Cause of Christian Science as well as the acknowledged need to review Principia’s Policies. The Board Education Committee will continue to work with the administration on specific policy proposals for the Board to consider at its June Board meeting while we look forward to further reporting on, as well as analysis of, Pilot Program data.

Health Care and Treatment Choice
These closely interwoven topics were also important parts of our agenda. Both campuses are working to establish the right boundaries of what falls and doesn’t fall within campus responsibility regarding health care, considering Principia’s recognition of the right of staff and students to make treatment choices. Our discussion included a wider array of appropriate Principia personnel from both campuses who updated us and shared their insights on both topics. Administrators on each campus are having to identify what we can support and make these decisions clear to prospective students and their families. Principia’s General Counsel is regularly reviewing what our legal responsibilities are, and we were updated on his latest conclusions.

Within the context of these topics, we also reviewed and discussed the Prin Care Plus benefit we offer employees. Health care and treatment choice will be ongoing topics at the Board level as we refine how we are fulfilling our mission in new and expanded ways. Like the other issues, health care and treatment choice will continue to be addressed by the Board Education Committee who will work together with administrators to draft specific policy proposals for Board approval. The 23 Policies will be reviewed concerning these issues, and this topic will be on the June Board meeting agenda.

Infrastructure Improvements at the College
The Board approved a motion to develop plans for making infrastructure improvements to one of the Maybeck residential buildings at the College that is currently offline and vacant. As the College moves forward with enrollment growth, we recognized the need to move ahead quickly with upgrades to some Maybeck houses. Enrollment goals in the strategic plan—if fully met—would require all College residential student houses to be occupied within five years.  

College Convocation
On Friday, the Board had the joy to watch—online—the College Convocation. It was a singular pleasure. We were inspired to hear unique and heartfelt faculty and staff stories and experiences about being a Principian. They were wonderful and needed reminders of the powerful gifts Principia has for everyone, and how we can lovingly support each other. 

Diversity, Equity, Belonging, and Mattering
The Board continues to strongly support efforts across the institution to understand and strengthen diversity, equity, belonging, and mattering at Principia. During the Board’s executive session on Saturday, consultant Dr. Jennifer Stollman provided updates on the efforts to further a culture of belonging across Principia. Dr. Stollman’s ongoing work includes meeting with individual educators at the School and College to provide coaching and resources, assisting faculty and administrators at the College as the faculty/staff Ombud, and conducting professional development sessions to equip educators and support staff with techniques for creating inclusive classrooms and ensuring that every student thrives. In addition, the work is focused on strengthening workplace inclusivity. 

The basis of our strong support is the congruence we see with Christian Science—the ultimate foundation for this work. What better underpinning for DEB&M is there than in the example of Christ Jesus and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy? We also recognize the importance of education, depoliticizing, and building on our strengths and compassion for all people. We appreciated the opportunity to work with Dr. Stollman again and to further our own understanding of this vital area.

Trustee Farewell
The Trustees expressed our appreciation to departing Board member Tom Nickell who has been appointed Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer at Principia, starting March 21, 2022. We expect the knowledge he gained about Principia finances as a Board member will be very useful. 

Upcoming Town Hall
Dr. Scott Schneberger, Board Chair, will be joined by Trustees Chestnut Booth and Bob Macdonald for a Town Hall question-and-answer session on Tuesday, March 1, from 4:00-5:00 p.m. (CT). We look forward to a dialogue about the topics in this report and other topics of interest to employees.

Finally, we were filled with gratitude and appreciation for the untold sacrifices and hours of love Principia faculty and staff are giving on behalf of our students and our mission. Thank you.