TO OUR FELLOW LAWRENTIANS
Concerned about the directions the current leadership has taken our School, a group of alumni/ae, spanning all living decades of Lawrentians, including a number who served as class and alumni officers, trustees, class agents, parents and others who have given a lifetime of devoted service to Lawrenceville, began months ago to examine more closely several developing trends at the School in recent years. Our investigation revealed a number of developments that are disturbing. Concerns include financial management, admissions policy, administrative structure, campus life, abandonment of cherished traditions, and alumni affairs. Whether by design or indifference, we realized rather quickly that the communications all alumni/ae receive from the School do not provide an accurate picture of the School today. The purpose of this communication is to provide you, an alumnus/a stakeholder, an insight into the revelations we have discovered.
During the eleven-year tenure of Head Master Liz Duffy, Lawrenceville has increasingly forsaken the traditional core values that have sustained it for over two centuries, substituting values influenced by ideology and money. Of particular note, we found an engineered change in the demographics of the student body, a bloated and expensive administrative structure, and the demise of House sports which raises grave concerns about the viability of the House system as we have historically known it. We believe these changes have transformed and diminished the School from its standing as one of the preeminent American boarding schools, and the School’s basic philosophy has been remade without any meaningful notice to or input from its alumni. Some might describe Lawrenceville today as “PC Gone Wild.”
As you will note in the readings below, these changes to the historical character and personality of the School are dramatic and striking, appears to be the doings of one person, the Head Master, and have been rubber-stamped by a swollen, disengaged and sometimes oblivious Board of Trustees. Over time, the Lawrenceville Board (two members are ex officio) has grown to 34 members, 25% of whom are not alumni of the School. In contrast for example, the boards of Exeter and Andover average but twenty members each, and all are alumni of their respective schools. For the record, the Bylaws of our Board of Trustees once required members to be an alumnus and members were not permitted to serve more than two consecutive terms. Both of these provisions were abolished some years ago.
The Trustees are charged to act as the stewards and guardians of this great institution, and must safeguard those still-worthy traditional values that benefitted all of us. Yet the Board has failed to assert itself in its proper fiduciary role in the oversight of the School’s management plans, and has thus deferred to the Duffy administration to set the agenda and dictate policy.
Our School community is composed of students, faculty, parents, administration, staff, and, of course, alumni. Each has a critical role to play in monitoring the well-being of the School, and informing the other constituencies as they develop a vision and consensus for the School’s long term future. None should be taken for granted.
What follows is a brief presentation of our findings. Those of you who love Lawrenceville, as we do, will find them disturbing. If you do care about our School, you need to voice your concerns now, and we will seek your immediate support to revise the rules which govern the structure of our Board of Trustees.
This current school year Lawrenceville, for the second consecutive year, claimed the top spot on Business Insider’s list as the most expensive private school in America based upon day student tuition, topping rivals Hotchkiss and Phillips Exeter.
From the fiscal school year 2003-04 to the present, the boarding tuition has exploded 71% from $31,132 to $53,320 while the day student tuition has risen an alarming 76% (from $25,108 to $44,100). This is an unsustainable trend, which has placed the Lawrenceville education out of the affordable reach of far too many families, including many sons and daughters of alumni.
During this same last eleven years, while total faculty has remained constant, total employees have remained constant (329 vs 332) and the student total has grown by 10 from 805 to 815, the actual operating expense budget in the fiscal year ending June 2004 ($43.68 million) has expanded over 49% to a budget of $65.19 million for the current fiscal year ending June 2014.
For the school year ending in June, total inflation for the ten years 2004 - 2013 was 24.6%, significantly below both the growth rates of tuition costs and the operating expense budget of the school.
The School’s endowment, as of the 6/30/13 report, stood at $338 million, a relatively small amount and a ranking of sixth among Lawrenceville’s eight peer school group when compared in gross endowment per student, significantly below those schools ranked #4 and #5 above us. Due to our smaller endowment and the obvious quality of our physical plant, a higher percentage of our revenue must come from tuition to balance our budget. For the current fiscal school year, 63% of our budget is funded by tuition, whereas, for example, at Andover and Exeter tuition represents materially less than 40% of the respected budget (mid-low 30%). Lawrenceville’s competitiveness with its peer schools has been damaged.
At the commencement of this current school year, the School had in excess of $55 million of debt outstanding. Moody’s Investors Service estimates that approximately 62% of our School’s financial resources are permanently restricted, providing further constraint to our financial flexibility. The Dec. 12, 2012 Moody’s report, while affirming the then current ratings on the debt (Aa3), restated its negative outlook:
"The negative outlook reflects the School’s diminished and thin liquidity and debt service coverage coupled with a complex debt structure, as well as our expectation of narrow net tuition revenue growth, high reliance on unrestricted gifts, and slightly elevated endowment draw."
No doubt, a thorough review of the School’s operating budget must be made and a more robust endowment is critical to the long term financial health of the School. In the last five years ending June 2013, on average only 34% of our alumni have participated in supporting Annual Giving and if not for the incredible generosity of Henry Woods and family, the capital campaign ending in December 2010 would have fallen woefully short of its goals. As Wes Brooks, the School’s Chief Financial Officer, has stated “… if donor revenue is not performing, tuition has to be the shock absorber.” Lawrenceville is blessed with a terrific and historically supportive alumni body and the School’s current Board leadership must turn to the Alumni now for advice and support.
In 2009, a letter from a concerned parent was circulated to a number of alumni and touched on several of the issues we still find troubling today:
" … decisions are driven by a pedagogical agenda that threatens the core values of The Lawrenceville School … the administrative structure has become top-heavy and expensive … two years ago, over twenty highly regarded and experienced teachers left the School … many left because of concerns over deteriorating faculty-administrative relations, poor morale and deleterious changes in curricula and scheduling … "
This administrative structure includes Coordinator for Self-Study for Professional Growth, Dean of Residential Life and Coordinator of Teaching and Learning. The School now has both a CFO and a Comptroller/Director of Finance. The Alumni development office has a Director of Advancement, a Director of Capital Programs, Director of Planned Giving, and of course, a Director of Alumni Relations. Today, Lawrenceville lists some 17 senior staff members, significantly higher than those of its peer schools.
In the last eleven years (‘03-04-‘13-‘14), there have been some substantial increases in non-teaching areas:
Lawrenceville - a national, residential secondary school from its founding - has been reversing course in the last number of years, and dramatically so in the last decade. Multiculturalism, globalization, and diversity are the hallmark standards of the Admissions Office today. In the year 2003-04, Lawrenceville’s student body was primarily Caucasian American (70%) with 13% Asian and 8% International; in the current year those numbers are 55% Caucasian American, 21% Asian and 14% International. Diversity - racial, cultural and geographical - is certainly a valuable feature of Lawrenceville and every other great school. However, we feel that the School’s interpretations of multiculturalism, and the implementation of policies stemming from this view, have become increasingly distracting.
With more attention of the Admissions Office directed to international markets, there is certainly less effort focused on attracting students nationwide from the American market. In the last year, approximately 70% of the total applicant pool was from the U.S., and of that total, approximately 67% were from the tri-state area of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. It should be noted that over some time, pre-dating this current administration, the student body has contained 31-33% day students on average and this large number certainly has an impact on the character of Lawrenceville as a residential school.
Also of special note is that of ‘legacy’ applicants and the special attention that may or may not be given currently to such applicants and their respective families by Admissions. The history and the importance of legacy to Lawrenceville is so well documented - - - through generations the legacy factor no doubt has provided a stable and positive influence. Just prior to this most recent round of admission acceptances, the Admission Office sent a letter to the respective families involved with legacy applicants:
"… given the competiveness of the process, legacy affiliation … cannot serve to counterbalance any weakness … in an application … as part of this process, the Admission Office does consider legacy status which represents a positive point of interest … in recent years, legacy applicants have earned admission at a higher rate than other applicants … " (which last year was 18%).
In the 2013-14 cycle, the School admitted 248 new Lawrentians - - - of that total, only 10.4% (or 26) are students whose father or grandfather attended Lawrenceville.
Outgoing headmistress Liz Duffy serves on the Board of Princeton based “International Schools Services” and the Duffy administration has consistently favored a greater international representation in the student body and faculty. At meetings this past January 16-17, Lawrenceville’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved “Strategic Directions II”, a plan to be executed over the next seven years to build on the School’s traditional strengths while responding to emerging trends. As promoted by Duffy, this plan projects the School to be fully globally oriented within 2020, whereby, among various rubrics, the student body would be at least 15-20% international but where the School would have ‘geography - blind’ admissions and international financial aid. The plan also calls for the Board governance to include at least 15% overseas board members with regular international meetings.
The trends in Admissions policy and the specifics of Strategic Directions II beg the question - - - is Lawrenceville moving to transform itself into an international school or is Lawrenceville going to adjust and reassume its two hundred year history as an American national residential secondary school leader, with a moderate percent of international representation and a re-establishment of the sensitivity to the legacy application? Again, we would suggest the current Board leadership turn to its Alumni for advice and support.
Enrollment Summary for the Academic Years ending in:
Boarding Students (%)
Day Students (%)
Caucasian American (%)
Black and Hispanic (%)
In the last eleven years under outgoing Head Master Liz Duffy, the School has turned away from many of the traditions that have fostered community among Lawrentians for generations and that have insured stability over so many years.
Duffy, who does not teach a traditional academic subject and who students report is not engaged in day-to-day campus life, has not lived in Foundation House for several years. The official residence of Lawrenceville’s Head Master since it was built, Foundation House is now partly occupied by the Alumni & Development Office and its future use is now “under consideration” by the Board of Trustees.
The Circle House sporting traditions, heralded in the writings of Owen Johnson and dating back to the 19th Century when our unique House System was implemented, and which, of course, are held in fond and respectful memory by all Alumni, now appear to be fighting extinction. We all learned of the termination of the House tackle football this past fall, when celebrating its 124th anniversary as the oldest tackle football league in America; there has been no House soccer, House baseball or spring House track meet for several years. It was reported that most, if not all, of the Board of Trustees were unaware of the demise of the wonderful tradition of House sports until the major outcry of Alumni regarding the termination of the House tackle football league. The tragic difficulties experienced by the Circle House sporting traditions has to be credited to the objectives of the administration and the applicant demographics which the School is seeking for admission.
The School has begun using common grade level nomenclature instead of “Forms” and increasing references to “dorms” instead of “Houses”. The School Hymn is rarely sung and virtually abandoned, saved for Alumni memorial services. The Chapel Hymnal, developed by and for use at Lawrenceville, has been replaced with a homogenized generic volume.
This administration has openly promoted and advocated the benefits of alternative life styles throughout the entire student body community, including II Formers ages 14 and 15 years old. A Diversity Council was established and an example of policy implemented by the School was represented by an interview with a student member of the Diversity Council in The Lawrence on 10/11/13, who stated:
"The introduction of gender-neutral bathrooms will signify that gender is not a rigid binary system and people do not have to necessarily define themselves as a single gender. This idea will eliminate the discomfort a Lawrentian may feel when they are required to pick a bathroom and … will benefit those who are transgender, intersexual, or do not specifically identify to … male or female."
From the article “House Life, Chris, a transgender student from Lawrenceville” Huffington Post, 6/21/13:
"On campus, I think a lot of people here don’t necessarily understand what it means that I’m transgender … I would rather be in a guy dorm but I don’t think the school is allowed to put someone who is female-bodied in a male dorm. Living in a house full of girls … I don’t want them to feel like I’m alienating them."
The Duffy administration touts the lack of disciplinary issues in recent years but a more accurate conclusion may be that the rules are not enforced. A classic example occurred over this past year - - - prior to the student council elections in the spring 2013, a cheating incident and drug use by a candidate were kept under wraps by the Dean of Students. The offending student won by eight votes. In the last several weeks that student made racist comments online offending white, prep school boys and was then forced to resign as President of the School.
In the last several months, members of Concerned Lawrenceville Alumni have interviewed three current, very reputable, long-standing Head Masters of three highly regarded boarding schools in America and all three school leaders were very knowledgeable that Lawrenceville had serious problems of leadership. In fact, one of these Head Masters stated that Lawrenceville is “being lead not by an educator but by an ideologue who knows nothing about education.”
In recent months many Lawrentians have voiced grave concerns for the School along the following:
"… the true lack of leadership is now manifesting itself in disillusionment on a number of fronts. I also fault the Board of Trustees for dropping the ball, shirking their true responsibilities of oversight …"
"… the supposed core traditions and values are not just being sacrificed, they may be being abandoned wholesale … it must be a conscious undertaking …"
Lawrenceville was once a school that honored and treasured its so respected traditions and was a school which fostered a strong sense of community. It was a school that felt an obligation to pay attention to the whole student, giving equal attention to the person’s academic, physical, moral and spiritual development. What has happened to the core value of living a life of honor? What has our school become? Lawrenceville has so often relied on the loyalty of its alumni and this current Board must now turn to our Alumni for advice and support.
Please click on the “Click to Vote” button below to be transferred to our ballot initiative. You will be asked to vote for two resolutions to make changes on the Board of Trustees that we feel we are essential to correcting the current issues.
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