Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Jones sits down with The Tripod to reflect on his time at Trinity



Ten years ago on July 1, 2004, James F. Jones, Jr. became the 21st president of Trinity College. For the next ten years the College would go through drastic changes and confront its greatest challenges.

Starting in February of this year, President Jones and I met four times to reflect on the last ten years of his time at Trinity and what he hopes to leave behind as he prepares to retire on July 1, 2014, allowing his successor the current Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University Dr. Joanne Berger-Sweeney to take the reins. Each of our discussions focused on one topic relevant to the Trinity community and the content in this story is entirely based on President Jones’ opinions, thoughts and reflections during his ten years at the College.


Before Jones arrived on campus in 2004, Trinity lacked a proper Advancement operation for the last four decades. While the most recent campaign prior to Jones’ arrival ended in 2001 and raised $175 million dollars, Trinity still had more money to raise. There is no specific reason as to why Trinity did not have a proper Advancement operation in place before 2004. In 2005, Jones and the Vice-President of College Advancement Ron Joyce began to outline a fundraising plan with the intention of not only fundraising, but also creating relations with donors, or “friendraising,” as Jones calls it. The College’s three goals for fundraising were and still are to maintain excellent faculty, improve campus infrastructure and attract more talented and promising students. Given that Trinity’s Endowment (currently at $422.5 million) is smaller than those of our peer schools, the College needs to raise additional funds for financial aid. Jones notes that the Board of Trustees’ main priority is to be able to spend an additional $2 million per year on financial aid dollars for students of need and so that no student has to leave Trinity because of financial constraints. “This is the number one priority for the College right now and it should continue with the next president,” says Jones.

In 2006, the College launched two parallel fundraising campaigns, the Cornerstone Campaign and the Legacy Campaign. The goal of the Cornerstone Campaign was for gifts that would have an immediate impact on campus, while the Legacy Campaign aimed to honor estate planning. Both campaigns were expected to raise $375 million: the Cornerstone Campaign had a goal of $300 million and the Legacy Campaign’s goal was $75 million. Before 2008, the College’s Endowment stood at $447 million, the highest in Trinity’s history. Both Jones and the Advancement Office were shocked at the generosity of the donor base, a feeling that would continue even during the Recession. When the global downturn happened in September of 2008, the Endowment plummeted to its lowest level at $286 million and as donors looked at their portfolios, the final total of the combined campaigns fell slightly short at $369 million. “If the Recession hadn’t happened, the Endowment would be somewhere north of $600 million today,” says Jones. Compared to the past four alumni networks that Jones has worked with in his time at Kalamazoo College, Southern Methodist University, Washington University and Columbia University, Trinity’s alumni base has been the most generous. While there was a year’s stagnation in new gifts, donors kept their pledges to the Annual Fund and continued to give at an unprecedented rate, according to Jones. At the highest point of the Cornerstone Campaign, 47% of alumni had made a pledge. But financial support was not the only way that alumni have contributed to the College during the Recession. In the thick of the Recession, the College did a survey of alumni asking if they would assist the Career Development Office with recruiting and networking. The response was that 52% said they would; the national average is 10%.

But one fact that continues to perplex Jones is that Trinity has one of the wealthiest alumni per capita bases in the country, yet the College’s endowment does not represent that. In September 2012, The Alumni Factor, a college ranking service based on alumni success, produced a report citing Trinity as having the fourth highest percentage of millionaire graduates in the country, with approximately 26% of alumni reporting their worth at over $1 million. For the last ten years, Jones has made the case to alumni that the College needs everyone’s support and believes that the Advancement Office and president-elect will continue this trend.

For those concerned about how the changes to the Greek system will impact donations, the worst is over. According to Jones and data from The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) that the College used, schools that close Greek letter organizations do initially see a decline in donations. Overly dedicated males to their fraternities either lower or terminate their financial support to the College. Within three to four years, though, non-Greek males and females make up the amount of donations lost to Greek males. Trinity followed a similar pattern after announcing proposed changes to Greek life with a dip in donations last year, but year to date the College is doing very well, according to Jones.

Over the past ten years, the campus has seen major infrastructural changes including the Gates Quadrangle, the Vernon Social Center and the Crescent Street Townhouses. The one that Jones is the most proud of is the $33 million Long Walk renovations. Famed English architect William Burges, who was terrified of sailing, never stepped foot in America and the only work he ever did in the U.S. is the Long Walk. The entire Long Walk was taken offline for 15 months which involved relocating five academic departments and 278 beds, a “logistical nightmare” as Jones calls it. But it was the passion of the architects and the 140 workers on site each day that Jones is grateful for. At one point during the renovations, Jones stopped by a room in Seabury where he found the chief architect lying on the floor in a mess of architectural tape saying that this is the only time he will be able to touch anything that Burges designed.


“We take teaching very seriously here,” says Jones about the faculty at the College. If there is one thing President Jones is not worried about leaving behind, it is the faculty. His one wish for the faculty as he departs is that they will be as gracious to his successor as they have been to him. Throughout our discussion, Jones constantly praised the faculty, gushed about the work they do, and referred to them as “blessed human beings.” Trinity is home to some of the world’s greatest scholars within their fields. In 2008, professor of History and 1966 alum Samuel Kassow published Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, a book on the Warsaw Ghetto in Warsaw, Poland. The New Republic reviewed the book, as “This may well be the most important book about history that anyone will ever read.” Another faculty member, historian, journalist and professor of South Asian history Vijay Prashad has published 15 books and is quite present in the media, especially in his sparring of words with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Jones says that faculty members love Trinity because the pedagogical model is every scholar’s dream. “The idea of lecturing to 400 people with a microphone is sterile” says Jones. With the student to faculty ratio at 10:1, faculty can develop an intimate scholarly relationship with their students. Jones, who somehow manages to teach a class called “The Emergence of the Modern Mind” in his crowded schedule, caps the class at 12 and says that he can tell after the first paper which students have comma problems.

Jones refers to the faculty as not only first-rate professors, but also highly accomplished scholars. In 2004, the College had serious financial issues to grapple with, but Jones did not want faculty research to suffer. When Jones agreed to join Trinity as its 21st president, the longest serving Chair of the Board of Trustees and a 1968 alum, Paul Raether, said that he would give Jones $200,000 each year that he served as President. The first thing Jones did was divert $175,000 each year to faculty development and now faculty research has soared on campus. Respectfully, Jones emphasized that he cannot take praise for what Raether has done.

While the faculty may excel in the classroom, they also care profoundly about their students outside of the classroom according to Jones. During the economic downturn, Jones had to freeze salary increases and cut benefits, but not a soul on the faculty complained. Instead, the faculty vowed that no student would have to leave Trinity because of financial troubles. “Morally we had to protect these students” says Jones. A faculty-run financial aid program raised thousands of dollars towards this goal and to the best of Jones’ knowledge, not a single student left Trinity because he or she could not afford it.

While Jones has been supportive of Trinity’s professors, they have not always been as kind to him. In April 2009, the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of American Business and Economic Enterprise, Gerald Gunderson, reported Jones to the Connecticut Attorney General’s office for reportedly misusing funds from the Shelby Cullom Davis endowment. Gunderson believed that Jones was using the fund to finance international scholarships, while Gunderson felt that this went against the original purpose of the endowment. The battle quickly became public and made the pages of the Wall Street Journal. In notes submitted to the AG, Gunderson claimed that Jones called him a scoundrel and threatened to not reappoint him. Ultimately, the College reimbursed the endowment of approximately $200,000 that it had spent on the scholarship program. More recently, in late December 2013, Jones and Dean of Faculty Thomas Mitzel published a letter denouncing the American Studies Association’s (ASA) academic boycott of Israel. This letter angered 21 faculty members who proceeded to publish a response criticizing Jones’s and Mitzel’s letter. Over winter vacation, many students read the faculty letter via Facebook. Jones told me that while this group of faculty opposed his letter, many faculty wrote on the faculty online discussion group supporting Jones’ letter. Regarding these attacks, Jones says that they were perfectly collegial and based on a serious difference of opinion. When neophyte college presidents call Jones for advice on whether or not they should accept a presidential position, he always tells them one thing: “If you don’t have the skin of a rhinoceros, you better not take the job because every now and then, someone at your school may launch attacks against you. The presidency is not a popularity contest.” Jones has never wished to silence any criticism from the faculty, even when it becomes a public battle. “If others believe that you are not preserving the integrity of the institution, they should be allowed to say so,” Jones says.


“After 10 years here, our best students are as impressive as any that I have known,” says Jones about the students at Trinity College. Students at Trinity have the opportunity to have a first rate intellectual experience. At the College, this has included doing graduate level work with faculty, writing senior theses and presenting at national conferences. Most recently in the 2013-14 academic year, neuroscience students attended and some even presented their own research at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans and the North East Undergraduate/Graduate Research Organization for Neuroscience (NEURON). Since 2007, 26 students have won the prestigious Fulbright scholarship and the College has been named a top-producing U.S. Student Fulbright institution three times during Jones’ presidency in 2009, 2012, and 2013. According to the Director of Urban Programs and Fellowships at the Center for Urban and Global Studies Anne Lundberg, President Jones has been very supportive of devoting resources to the Fulbright program. Jones describes Fulbright winners as “wonderful examples of students who are vitally involved in the life of the mind.”

But one aspect on campus that interferes in academics is the growing party culture. Many students who love their academics but dislike the Trinity social scene have cited that as the reason that they transfer and the Charter Committee’s goal is to target this bifurcation. In particular, transfers are extremely dissatisfied with the lack of intellectual life outside of the classroom. Regarding the balance of studying and partying, in a 2011 survey on academic excellence conducted by the Office of Institutional Research, Trinity students reported spending 1-5 fewer hours a week studying compared to the peer schools in the survey. Trinity students clocked in 6 hours a week of partying compared to 4 hours a week at peer schools. While there have been increases in studying over the last few years prior to the survey, the hours are still low compared to peer schools. This same 2011 survey on academic excellence concluded that Trinity students are more likely to work towards the goal of making money and are less likely to pursue intellectual, artistic or social activism work. This is supported by more data in the survey highlighting that Trinity students are more likely to pursue MBAs rather than PhDs.

Jones’ approach to changing this mentality is by focusing on a campaign of raising more financial aid dollars. Currently, 44.2% of Trinity students receive some form of financial aid whether it is need based or a grant. Recently, the College held a reception for a specific group of high achieving students on financial aid, the Summit Scholars, or climate changers as Jones calls them. “The faculty are so verbal about these Summit Scholars, they love them” says Jones. Currently, there are only 56 scholars, but Jones proposed that the ethos on campus would change to a more cerebral and intellectually passionate one if there were 200 scholars. According to Jones, the main difference between students on financial aid and full paying students is the sense of entitlement and that students on financial aid tend to not take their education for granted. To stress, Jones is not saying that full paying students are lazy and not every student on financial aid takes advantage of their time here. But because of the College’s over reliance on tuition income, we admit fewer climate-changing students and have to admit more full paying students. He says that the foundation stones have been laid to change the general ethos on campus, and that between now and the College’s 200th birthday, the Trustees and Administration will join hands to do a campaign focused on financial aid.

Putting aside academic challenges, the College has had its share of racial, homophobic and gender related discriminatory issues. “The one thing we owe each other 24/7 is to treat each other with common courtesy and decency” says Jones. In the spring of 2011, a male Caucasian student threw a beer at Juan Hernandez’s ’13 car, a sophomore at the time, and called him a racial slur. The incident prompted an on-campus race rally with a turnout of approximately 200 people. In this case, the male student was expelled and Jones says that he has zero tolerance for random, discriminatory events. This is a case where Jones stresses that students should trust that the judicial system will do the right thing. In the fall of 2011, a bag of feces was left on the steps of the Queer Resource Center and the incident was treated as a hate crime given the context. More recently, The Princeton Review ranked the College as the 13th unfriendliest institution to LGBTQ students. The College was also ranked as 6th for minimal class and racial interaction. In March 2010, James Hughes of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning conducted a survey on women based on 206 responses. The top three issues for women on campus were issues of sexual assault/harassment/date rape, equality to men inside and outside the classroom and discrimination in education and employment. In the free response section of the survey, the overwhelming majority of comments were related to being sexually harassed and discriminated against, particularly at fraternities. Jones backed up this notion by stating that there is a fair amount of discrimination that occurs at fraternity parties and that he worries about the interrelationships on campus: “I’ve got to think about all of you (as he points at me), not just the bros.” One of the ways to combat discrimination is for the faculty and administration to teach tolerance and acceptance of difference whenever they get the chance. According to Jones, colleges help students develop toolboxes with the skills that they will need after graduating. A tool that Trinity aims to give its students is to be prejudice free. “Schools need to be as close to perfection as they can get, because the world you inhabit is not,” says Jones.


During Jones’ ten years, he has arguably had two major scandals: the 2012 social policy and the handling and investigation into the March 4, 2012 assault on Trinity student Chris Kenny ’14.

Ahead of the faculty retreat in October 2011, the faculty planning committee requested that Jones write a paper on the current state of academics and social life at the College. The paper, entitled “To Reweave the Helices: Trinity’s DNA by Our Two-Hundredth Birthday,” (also known as the White Paper) eventually turned into a proposal for what the College’s academic and social settings would look like in 2023. “I would never have been arrogant enough to have written it on my own,” says Jones, as he cites that this is not the kind of thing that presidents do. He credits the White Paper as one of the toughest assignments of his career and one that he is very proud of. The reaction to the White Paper was varied, and the one issue that every reader centered on was the proposed abolition of the Greek system. Jones says that he does not regret including this aspect in the White Paper and that he would keep it in there despite the fiery reaction from both students and alumni involved in Greek life. “What makes one’s loyalty to a fraternity greater than their loyalty to the College? The diploma has nothing to do with the fraternity,” Jones says.

For the academic helix, Jones made numerous suggestions that he says could become a reality if the student body continues to improve. He writes, “The reputation of a first-rate institution of higher learning rests solely at the end of the day upon one thing and one thing only: academic excellence.” When more students begin to go above and beyond, these changes will naturally occur. One of the proposals was that the College reschedule more classes to meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and that each Friday should be a test day in order to prevent the weekend from starting on Thursday night. The goal of this change would be to show students that academics come before partying. He also recommended that each senior student should be required to do a senior project, capstone or thesis with the final presentations on the first day of Senior Week. Senior Week traditionally has been purely social, but having the first day of the week be marked by the culmination of a rigorous academic project would reinforce the tone that academics come before partying.

For the social helix, Jones suggested that by 2023, the College would be better off freeing itself from anti-meritocratic systems like fraternities and sororities and that we should promote a more inclusive rather than exclusive culture. He did note that the fraternities do carry a burden when it comes to hosting social events for students, which is why the school has invested in more social options. Chair elect of the Board of Trustees Cornelia Parsons-Thornburgh ’80 donated money for four theme houses post-Recession, which Jones calls one of the most generous things he has ever seen, the Vernon Social Center was remodeled this year and phase three of the Crescent Street renovation will include more common areas. The Mill is an example of a highly successful social outlet run completely by students. Throughout our conversations, Jones stressed that his goal was not to turn Trinity into a convent or monastery, but rather that the social excesses need to be curbed. Most notably, in 2008 Alexander Okano ’11 dove into a pool at Psi Upsilon’s annual Tropical themed party which resulted in him being paralyzed from the chest down, and just 18 months later in April 2010, Andrew Cappello ’14 suffered brain and spinal injuries during an initiation period called “Hell Week” at the Sigma Nu fraternity. Trinity banned Sigma Nu from campus and the national fraternity suspended it.

But personal injury incidents are not the only things that have resulted from Greek life. A 2008 survey on healthy behaviors from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning found that Greek males and females can drink twice as much as their non-Greek peers while maintaining the same GPA level. Generally, drinking and partying more leads to a lower GPA, but at Trinity, the reverse is true. For example, the survey cited that Greek males with above a 3.5 GPA have an average of 20 drinks a week, while non-Greek males with this GPA have 11 drinks per week. One question that arises from these numbers is do students choose less rigorous and more qualitative classes as opposed to quantitative classes in order to maintain a level of partying? Jones answered this question by acknowledging that if one’s interest is to get drunk, they most likely will not go towards chemistry, but he did mention that his comments are not statistically proven. Anecdotally, though, Jones’ comments may or may not be supported. According to the presidents of Kappa Sigma, Zeta Omega Eta, Cleo and Pi Kappa Alpha, the majority of their members choose qualitative majors. On the other hand, the fraternity St. Anthony Hall says that its members are approximately 60% qualitative and 40% quantitative, fraternity Alpha Chi Ro says that 60-70% of its members choose quantitative majors, while the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma says that its members represent a wide range of majors. Fraternities Psi Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi and sorority The Ivy Society could not be reached for comment on this story.

There are positive aspects of the Greek community though, most notably in donations. According to a 2005 report from the College, fraternity alumni are “somewhat more likely” than other graduates to donate. Additionally, a 2007 report by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in Washington, D.C. stated that fraternity and sorority alumni are more likely to donate to their alma maters.

While many may view these changes as Trinity specific, there are numerous colleges across the country grappling with the same problems. In February 2014, The Atlantic published a lengthy story on the dark power of fraternities after a yearlong investigation into how fraternities now serve as a liability to colleges. The article cited numerous lawsuits against colleges and fraternities for issues regarding sexual assault, personal injury, battery, fall from heights and hazing. Recently on March 9, 2014, one of the country’s largest and oldest fraternities Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) announced that all of its chapters would end pledging and take up a more cerebral selection process.

Ultimately, the final decision on Greek Letter Organizations came from the Board of Trustees, not President Jones. In 1992, the Trustees voted for reforms to the Greek system, including a co-educational mandate. The Board did not implement these changes, but Jones says now that he sees no signs of the Board weakening its resolve on the proposed changes, including a GPA requirement, eliminating a pledging period and having a co-ed mandate. Jones noted that the suggestion to end pledging came from a Trustee who is one of the most vocal fraternity supporters. The goal of the co-ed mandate is that if females are in fraternities, this would curb the current less than positive aspects. Recently, the Student Government Association (SGA) conducted a campus wide vote on repealing the co-ed mandate. Out of 1,283 votes, 82% voted to repeal the co-ed mandate. When asked about these results, Jones said that there are no signs of wavering and that the Board most likely will not go back on their decision regardless of the situation. The current status of Greek Letter Organizations is that they will be allowed to exist provided that they follow the rules laid out in the social policy.

On March 4, 2012, Chris Kenny ’14 was attacked on the edge of campus in the wee hours of the morning from individuals who came by car. Kenny was badly injured and many, including the College, blamed the surrounding neighborhood. Dean of Students Fred Alford wrote in a campus wide email that the assailants were not Trinity students, and in the initial police report, Kenny claimed that the attackers were “Spanish.” But in the days after the assault, rumors began to circulate that Trinity students were the assailants. Both Jones and the College apologized in the aftermath for making an assumption and began an investigation with Kenny’s parents and the Hartford Police Department (HPD). Two months after the incident, the Hartford Courant obtained internal College reports stating that a witness identified the attackers as “’preppy-looking white males’ accompanied by three females ‘believed to be of college age.” The Courant’s article also had a quote from a Trinity security source, which was passed on to HPD, saying that students approached Campus Safety following the event with information that other students attacked Kenny because of an incident he had earlier that day with a student.

Two years after the incident, the questions remain unanswered. No arrests have been made in the case and Jones could not comment on this given that the investigation is still ongoing. While the victim’s mother Cecily Kenny would not comment publicly on this story, she did write two posts ten months ago in the comments section of a May 2013 Bloomberg article on the College. In her comments, she stated that HPD has ruled out Trinity students as suspects in the assault and that the lead detective in the case has openly stated this. HPD could not be reached for comment on this story. She requested that the College release a statement on the new findings. While Dean Alford acknowledged in an email that he received her request, he wrote: “We could not accommodate her request because we could not, and still cannot, rule out anyone.” With conflicting reports and details, the case continues to remain an unsolved mystery.

For his parting words, Jones has two tips for college presidents: take care of yourself and your family physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and appoint vice-presidents and deans of the highest caliber. “You can’t do it all on your own, you’ll make a mockery of the whole thing,” says Jones. In the past, Jones has always moved onto another deanship or presidency, but Trinity is his final stop. As he packs up and moves South for retirement with his wife Jan and leaves behind some incredible friends, as he says, Jones hopes that people will say that Trinity is appreciatively better off now than ten years ago.

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