Meeting of the Winthrop University Board of Trustees

Minutes for the Board

Thursday, April 25, 2024 | 9:00 a.m. Gold Room | DiGiorgio Campus Center

Winthrop University | Rock Hill, South Carolina

Board Members Present: Mr. Glenn McCall (Chair), Ms. Kathy Bigham (Vice Chair), Mr. John Brazell, Mr. Ed Driggers, Dr. David McDonald, Mr. Joel Hamilton, Dr. Randy Imler, Mr. Robbie Sisco, Ms. Janet Smalley, Ms. Sandra Stroman, Dr. Ashlye Wilkerson, Mr. Isaiah Venning, Dr. Ashlye Wilkerson, Mr. Gary Williams

Board Members Absent: Mr. Tim Sease

Others Present: Dr. Edward A. Serna (President), C. Todd Hagins (Secretary to the Board and General Counsel), Dr. Sebastian van Delden (Provost), Shelia Higgs Burkhalter (Vice President for Student Affairs), Joseph Miller (Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing), Kevin Hughes (Vice President for University Advancement), Chuck Rey (Director of Athletics), Ellen Wilder Byrd (Associate Vice President for University Communications and Marketing), James Grigg (Associate Vice President for Facilities), Kevin Butler (Interim Vice President for Finance and Business Affairs and Chief Financial Officer), Lisa Cowart (Vice President for Human Resources, Employee Diversity, and Wellness), Linda Warner (Representative from the Winthrop Foundation), Dr. Adam Glover (Chair of Faculty Conference), Leah Simmonds (Chair of Staff Conference), Esther Ekundayo (President of Council of Student Leaders), Dr. Noreen Gaubatz (Office of Institutional Research), Dr. Zach Abernathy (Winthrop Associate Professor), Lauren Serna (First Lady of Winthrop University)

FOIA Compliance Notice

Under state law, Winthrop University published a notice to the public on its website providing the meeting notice on July 1, 2023, and posted the agenda outside the Office of the President and Board of Trustees in Tillman Hall on April 22, 2024. On the day of the meeting, the Secretary to the Board caused to be affixed to the door of the meeting location the agenda for the Board and all associated committees.

Call to Order

A quorum being present, Mr. McCall called the meeting to order at 9:31 a.m.

Consent Agenda

Mr. McCall gave an invocation to begin the Board meeting. Immediately after, he requested any Motions. Dr. Wilkerson moved to adopt the consent agenda related to resolutions passed by the Committees the previous day and previous Board minutes as amended by the updated Consent Agenda. The Motion was seconded and approved by a unanimous voice vote.

Joint Consideration of Resolutions FY2324-0022 and FY2324-0029

Mr. McCall recognized Mr. Sisco as Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance. Mr. Sisco provided an overview of the Agency Head Annual Review process mandated by state law. Before its retreat, Mr. Sisco noted the Board solicited feedback for President Serna's annual evaluation. The Board provided input in the form of both surveys and individual solicited oral feedback. Mr. Sisco recommended that the Board pass Resolution FY2324-0029 and give President Serna an "Exceeds Expectations" rating, the highest rating the Board could provide.

Mr. McCall then discussed Resolution FY2324-0022, a resolution to "extend the contract of President Edward A. Serna for a Period of Five Years from July 1, 2o24 to June 30, 2029." Mr. McCall noted that feedback from students, faculty, staff, and the community was positive for President Serna. The Chair discussed the reason for the extension and pointed out that the contract would also have a mutual buyout for up to three years. Further, Mr. McCall informed the Board the contract extension did not include additional salary.

Mr. McCall made a Motion from the Chair to adopt both Resolutions. As the Motion came from the Chair, a second was unnecessary—the Motion and Resolutions passed by unanimous voice vote.

Report of the Chair

Mr. McCall reiterated the Board's support for President Serna and thanked Lauren Serna, who was present, for what she does for Winthrop. He thanked the vice presidents and others who had presented before the committees, noting that Winthrop has a strong management team.

Report of the President

President Serna began by thanking the Board for its confidence in his leadership. He noted that Winthrop's recent success is in a team project that involves students, faculty, staff, cabinet members, and the Board.

President Serna thanked the Board for their work on the strategic plan and for recognizing that while we become more efficient, the Board understands the need to invest in growth areas. President Serna noted Winthrop is a university on the move and that he looks forward to picking up the pace and transforming the University into a dynamic regional comprehensive.

Committee Reports

Committee on External Affairs and Athletics

Mr. Williams reported notable achievements from the Committee on External Affairs and Athletics, including the annual Day of Giving and the Big South golf championship, emphasizing student athletes' robust community service participation.

Committee on Strategic Planning and Facilities

Mr. Driggers reported for the Committee on Strategic Planning and Facilities and discussed the inclusive and thorough strategic planning process. Mr. Driggers highlighted significant facility improvements like roof replacements and the ongoing work across campus.

Committee on Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Enrollment Management Speaking for the Committee on Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Enrollment Management, Dr. McDonald relayed progress in the academic sector, noting increases in applications and acceptances, alongside addressing challenges with the FAFSA process. He stated the new programs put forth by the Provost and previewed academic changes coming to the Board in June. He ended by speaking on Fraternity and Sorority Life updates and possible changes with the Counsel of Student Leaders.

Committee on Finance

Mr. Brazell, for the Committee on Finance, confirmed the University is on budget target and is looking forward to the finalized budget presentation in June.

Report of Affiliated Groups

 Faculty Conference

Dr. Adam Glover enhanced the Faculty Conference report by detailing the faculty's extensive involvement in the Provost Search, which concluded with the appointment of Dr. Sebastian van Delden. He underscored the collaborative spirit in addressing faculty compensation and student accessibility concerns, as well as the faculty's enthusiasm about the newly established Honors College and the upcoming General Education review.

Staff Conference

Leah Simmonds elaborated on the Staff Conference activities, highlighting the alignment of Staff and Faculty Conferences, which has improved information dissemination despite scheduling challenges. She recounted the success of the annual Fall Fest at the President's house and the enhanced Winthrop presence at the Rock Hill Christmas Parade. Participating in Leadership York County was noted as a significant step toward staff professional development. Moreover, plans for an appreciation breakfast for the facilities team showcased ongoing efforts to boost morale and recognize hardworking staff members.

Council of Student Leaders

Esther Ekundayo from the Council of Student Leaders reported on impactful initiatives. The CSL was involved in legislative discussions during the WU Day at the Statehouse, engaging with state senators on critical educational and political issues. Community engagement continued with Sullivan Middle School students, fostering leadership and compassion through interactive sessions and community service. The CSL elections marked a historic turnout, electing Sean Pennington and Victoria Williams as leaders for the upcoming academic year.

Old Business 

Update on S/U Grading Option Study

Dr. Noreen Gaubatz and Dr. Zack Abernathy presented their comprehensive study on utilizing the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) grading option by first-time freshmen. Initiated in spring 2023 by the Assistant Dean for Academic Success, the study explored the impact of this grading option on student retention and academic success, focusing on maintaining the LIFE Scholarship and avoiding academic probation.

The researchers revealed a significant underutilization of the S/U option among first-time freshmen. An analysis covering the period from Fall 2021 to Fall 2023 showed that out of 963 freshmen with a first-term GPA between 2.000 and 2.999, approximately 46.7% could have raised their GPA to 3.000 or higher by optimally utilizing one or two additional S/U options. This change would have enabled them to maintain their LIFE scholarships. Additionally, among 756 freshmen with a GPA below 2.000, about 30.3% could have elevated their GPA to 2.000 or higher, effectively avoiding academic probation.

To assist students in making more informed decisions regarding which courses to select for S/U grading, the study introduced two innovative data points in the interim grade reports: the difference between average interim and final grades and a ratio indicating the courses most beneficial to opt for as S/U. This data is a practical guide, highlighting courses like INDS172, demonstrating a significant drop from interim to final grades, making them ideal candidates for S/U grading to protect students' GPAs.

Building on these findings, the study's expansion in the spring 2024 aimed to enhance advisory support. All advisors of first-year students received customized grade reports designed to better guide students in making effective S/U decisions. This initiative was supported by announcements from the Provost and specialized training sessions for advisors, focusing on maximizing the benefits of the S/U option for student's academic success.

Dr. Gaubatz and Dr. Abernathy emphasized the need for ongoing enhancements in advisory services to ensure that students understand and utilize the S/U option effectively. They concluded their presentation by stressing that the continued dissemination of insightful data to ACAD instructors and advisors, along with the proposed expansion to include advisors of various student subpopulations such as athletes and international students, is expected to broaden the positive impacts of this initiative across the student body at Winthrop University. The study underscores the importance of informed decision-making in academic grading options, aiming to extend its benefits across more diverse groups within the University.

The Board engaged the researchers with questions centered on presenting the S/U option. The Board questioned the researchers and attending faculty on negative perceptions and misconceptions students may have about taking a S/U option.


With no further business before the Board, Mr. McCall asked for any motions from the floor. Mr. Sisco moved to adjourn, seconded, and approved unanimously by voice vote.

The Board adjourned at 10:34 a.m.