Tripod Exclusive: An Interview With Board Chair Cornie Thornburgh ’80 and Chair-Elect Lisa Bisaccia ’78

Brendan W. Clark ’21

Editor-in-Chief

In the wake of President of the College Joanne Berger-Sweeney’s announcement about leadership changes on the College’s Board of Trustees, the Tripod spoke with current Chair of the Board Cornelia “Cornie” Thornburgh ’80 and Chair-Elect Lisa Bisaccia ’78 about the Board today and the Board’s future under new leadership. 

Thornburgh, a political science major who has been Chair of the Board since 2014 and has served on the board since 2004, spoke to the current COVID-19 crisis and the endowment’s losses in April. Endowment size depends on “market performance, which is hard to predict…fundraising, which has clearly slowed with the current economic uncertainty…and endowment drawdowns to support our operations,” which are capped at 5% per year, she added. Thornburgh stressed that fundraising “is the one we [the Board] can most affect.” Thornburgh added that as stewards of Trinity the Board “will continue to shepherd the resources we have through careful management of the endowment while also moving forward opportunistically to secure legacy giving.” 

Bisaccia, who majored in modern languages at Trinity, is the current Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at CVS Health. Bisaccia stressed that she is “particularly focused on shared governance, as we value the voices of our many constituents, with a common understanding of the different roles that constituent groups play in our decision-making process.” Bisaccia also indicated that the top priority of the Board as she assumes the helm will be “sustaining and advancing the vision and mission of Trinity as we enter our third century.” Bisaccia noted that key to this mission is the retention of a “qualified and diverse student body,” a strong financial foundation, and “maintaining and enhancing our already robust academic offerings.” 

When asked about the drop in alumni engagement at the College and how she would seek to increase alumni engagement and giving at Trinity—which has fallen to 30.3% in 2019 from a high of 50.4% in 2011 according to the Trinity Reporter—Bisaccia added that “for some of us, the connection to Trinity has been sustained and ongoing. For others, it has been more episodic.” Bisaccia stressed that all Trinity alumni have some common “points of engagement and connection that we can leverage and build on.” She continued, noting that she hopes the Board can “strengthen and reinforce the vibrant relationships that will support the College in the future.” The “very able Advancement staff” has their “finger on the pulse of” trends in giving, Bisaccia continued, “I will listen to their advice.” 

Thornburgh told the Tripod that the Board of Trustees selected Bisaccia after nomination from the Governance Committee and praised her talent in “managing people as evidence by her current professional role” at a company with $257 billion in revenue and 295,000 employees. Thornburgh stressed that what is “clear to all” is Bisaccia’s love for her College and that she will “lead Trinity forward admirably just as she has done in her respective leadership roles to date.” 

Current Board Vice Chairs Michael J. Kluger ’78 and Kevin J. Maloney ’79 will continue on in their roles under Bisaccia’s chairship.

Bisaccia added that her work at CVS informs her approach to her role and has afforded her the “broad experience and balancing and integrating the perspectives of diverse stakeholders for the benefit of the organization.” Bisaccia emphasized that her work on strategy also helps to execute its three components: “financial, operational, and human capital.”

When asked about what needed to be improved in advance of the College’s Bicentennial in 2023, Bisaccia highlighted Trinity’s “world class liberal arts education” and stressed that “over the coming years, we will renew this commitment to our students” while recognizing the changing and fast-paced environment of the modern world. Bisaccia also noted that the board is “attuned acutely” to the external environment in which the College exists. 

Thornburgh described her proudest achievements as Chair of the Presidential Search Committee, which brought Berger-Sweeney to the College, together with her work on the strategic “Summit” plan and helping to launch the Venture program with the Women’s Leadership Council. Thornburgh added that she believes she has improved “shared governance” and has also served as a “partner to President Berger-Sweeney as she seeks to have Trinity ‘spiral up’ to be the preeminent liberal arts college in an urban setting.” 

When asked about retirement, Thornburgh added that “as a Bantam, one never really ‘retires’ from Trinity life” and that she hopes to continue her work with the Women’s Leadership Counsel and Venture together with continued donations to “athletics, academics, and financial aid.” In addition to future giving, Thornburgh noted that the Board is currently giving and that their greatest focuses are in “financial aid to support access to all qualified students.” 

Both Thornburgh and Bisaccia added that Trinity will “continue to be a mission-based institution” and that there will be a “post-pandemic world where our mission to teach in a residential setting will not be restricted…and where our focus can return to the priorities established in our strategic plan.” They also expressed their excitement that Berger-Sweeney “launched a multi-constituent Commission to reimagine the future of our College and look forward to learning about its findings.” 

When asked about shared governance and participation by various constituent groups, the two added that they remain “committed to continuing to improve communication and collaboration with our key constituent groups.” Still, they noted, while this “principle allows for input to be shared,” the final responsibility for decisions still rests in “the hands of those who are assigned by our College structures to enforce them. 

“In their wisdom,” Bisaccia and Thornburgh concluded, “the founders named the trustees as the ultimate fiduciaries of the institution.” 

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