Michael O’Brien ’23 and Julianna Mariani ’24
The 2022-2023 academic year has been off to a flying start, with many new and intriguing facets of campus life in the spotlight. Between the opening of the Prior Performing Arts Center, the record freshman class size, our undefeated football team and more, there’s been no lack of excitement here on The Hill.
While we may only be able to keep up to date with some of the sprawl on campus, one man oversees it all–President Vincent Rougeau. During the Spire’s monthly meeting with the President on Friday, September 30th, we ventured to ask our burning questions about the start of the school year.
Firstly, the student body received an email on September 22nd titled “Important Neighborhood Notice,” which started off by stating that “We are writing to bring to your attention the impact that unacceptable student behavior is having in the College Hill neighborhood.” Included in the email was the fact that seven students had been arrested before the first month of school had even concluded, a figure that caught many people’s eyes. We asked President Rougeau if this had to do with any sort of policies that had changed between the College with Pub Safe and/or Worcester P.D., or if this was just an anomaly.
Rougeau responded “There’s no change in the relationships with Worcester PD or with Public Safety, that’s all stable, all good. I think you’re right, there has been a bit of an uptick in student behavior. I think one reason for that is we’ve gone through a period with COVID where things were relatively quiet, so the overall level of activity has kind of ramped up to more normal levels. So I think people are just adjusting.”
Switching over to the administrative side of the College, as students may remember, in March 2022, students were asked to take part in a survey from the College sponsored by Deloitte that sought “to understand our current organizational structure more deeply and to identify opportunities to optimize our structure and operations.” While the results of the survey and study were made available to the student body during a webinar last semester, we thought it was important to revisit how the College’s relationship with Deloitte will impact student life this year and beyond.
Rougeau responded “We asked Deloitte to do what they call an ‘organizational review.’ They have different groups that specialize in different kinds of organizations and so we were working with the higher education groups. Their expertise is advising higher education institutions on structures to do the best possible work for the organization, college or university. All of this is in preparation for the strategic plan that we’re working on, which will chart the course for the college for the next five to ten years.”
We were curious to learn more about this vision and what exactly President Rougeau hopes for the College in the next five to ten years, to which he answered “I believe that Holy Cross is a great liberal arts institution and I want it to be recognized as such, around the country and around the world. So my goal for our strategic plan is to emphasize the things that have long since made us an excellent place, and to make sure that we continue to push for excellence in those areas.”
“Some of the things that we will be hearing about in a very general sense in the strategic plan are things like our academic program and promoting academic excellence in all that we do. I’m also focusing on the residential experiences for the students. We’re a living, learning community and so making sure that we have the right facilities and provide the right experiences for students on campus is a priority. And so, we have to ask ourselves, is the campus physically structured in a way that will help to advance our goals to be one of the greatest liberal arts colleges in the country and in the world?”
Although President Rougeau mentioned the physical space surrounding campus as one of the major things the College will look to invigorate in its long term plan, housing has certainly been put under a strain to start the year. While the size of the freshman class is a point of pride for the College, this has meant that housing has become somewhat of a problem this year, with reports of a scarce number of singles, “forced” triples, and an inability to grant requests for students who may need to change their rooms. We wanted to know if there is any foreseeable and/or achievable change in the future regarding this issue.
Rougeau responded to this by saying “Well, the first thing is, we have no plan to admit classes this large in the future. That is not our intention, this was one one of those things that does happen to schools. I’m sure if you talked to friends at other schools, every now and then you get a bump in your enrollment. It’s a good problem to have in the sense that the reasons behind the class size being so big were good; our popularity has increased and people want to be here, but we couldn’t have anticipated how successful we were going to be in enrollment this year.”
“So with that said, yes, now we have an unusually large first-year class and that is putting strain on residential life, food services, and dining services. But, the bottom line is, no, we’re not set up for a 900 student first-year class, but we’re doing our best to accommodate them because we’re glad they’re here; and that means more triples and fewer singles, at least in the short term. So, it will get better, but right now I know it’s a little painful.”
As our interview began to wind down, we started to reflect on the start of the semester as Rougeau’s second year as president of the College. The President is known to have built on the sense of community at Holy Cross during his first year. A large priority of his has been to keep up communications with the student body, something we largely appreciate. With this in mind, we decided to ask him what the most important lesson he learned in his first year was and what he is hoping to carry forward during the 2022-2023 school year.
He responded with “One thing I learned is how important it is to spend time talking to and listening to people. I’m really glad [I was able to take] calls to conversation to sit down with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and Worcester community members [to learn what was on] people’s minds and what was important to them, what they really love about Holy Cross, and what they hope might change. I can’t have calls to conversation all the time, but I can try to be open, and so I try to get out and about as much as I can to listen, to hear from people casually about what’s happening… Being really fully informed is a big lesson that I’ve learned, and I’ve appreciated people’s openness and honesty; it’s really been helpful.”
As fall break is about to commence, we lastly wanted to get an idea of what our President will be doing while students are off campus by asking him what some of his favorite fall traditions are. Upon hearing our groundbreaking question, he chuckled, smiling at the thought of his chosen fall pastimes and said, “I love hiking and fall is one of my favorite times to do it, although I haven’t had much time for it; but if I could, I would. I love getting out on the weekends and going for really brisk hikes and taking the dog out.”
He also went on to talk about the times he gets to cherish relaxing with his family; “My wife and I love to go out, get some apples, light our first big fire in the fireplace, pull out a couple great books, turn on some great music and just chill. There’s something fun about watching the leaves change and sitting together and being together indoors, it’s that shift to a different kind of being together.” Rougeau’s ideal fall day sounds exactly like what we hope to be doing during the break and we were thrilled to have had the opportunity to speak with him last week.