Report on the September Trustees Meeting

Oct. 10, 2018

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

The Board of Trustees meeting held on September 26-27 was spirited, informative, and significant.

The board welcomed an impressive group of eight new trustees; spent time reviewing a draft framework for Brandeis’ future that I have been working on for several months; was thoroughly briefed on important issues related to finances, facilities, and enrollment; met with the leadership of the Brandeis University Staff Advisory Council (BUSAC); unanimously adopted the university’s Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression; promoted one faculty member to full professor and appointed another to the same rank; discussed at length proposed new guidelines for socially responsible investment; and participated in the formal dedication of the new Skyline Residence Hall.

It was a full and packed agenda. I believe that, to a person, the board was deeply engaged. I know that members of the senior management team and I benefited greatly from the board’s active commitment, questions, and suggestions. This board is working hard on many fronts — from fundraising and academics, to governance reform and finance — to fulfill its collective role as a good steward of Brandeis and, individually, as ambassadors for the university’s advancement.

The meeting’s tone was both optimistic yet realistic. For instance, there was enormous pride in the quality of our large and talented new entering class, yet there was concern about the deferred maintenance of our physical plant, and questions about how we can best finance an upgrade of our facilities. The board was supportive of and inspired by the draft framework for Brandeis’ future that I presented, yet, appropriately, interested in anticipating the framework’s ultimate content and concerned about the university’s capacity to advance its implementation.

The board was pleased with the progress we’ve made in reducing our carbon footprint, including through Skyline’s state-of-the-art environmental engineering and design. The board devoted a significant amount of time to discussing whether and how the university can address the legitimate concerns about climate change through fossil fuels divestment, as well as how our 1973 Statement on Socially Responsible Investing might be updated to address conditions the university could not have anticipated 45 years ago. Although the board reached no decision on either issue, it is committed to remaining focused on these matters and resolving outstanding questions at upcoming meetings.

In specific resolutions and votes, the board promoted Nidhiya Menon, of the Department of Economics, to the rank of full professor with tenure and appointed Dorothy Hodgson, our new dean of arts and sciences, to full professor with tenure in the Department of Anthropology. I extend my warm congratulations to Professor Menon and Dean Hodgson.

On balance, I believe the board departed feeling positive about our progress and momentum, and inspired by the strength of our faculty, students, and staff. Yet we are all well aware of the amount of work in front of us if we wish to address the many challenges we face and fulfill the potential of our university.

Here is a summary of the work before and the actions taken by specific board committees:

In the Resources Committee meeting, members reviewed key FY19 goals for finance and administration; heard a report on FY18 financial results and an update on the (current) FY19 budget, including operating results, capital budget, and cash position; and received an update on the development of the new internal (“hybrid”) financial budget model, which EVP Stew Uretsky will present at the October 12 faculty meeting and then on October 30 to the entire community. The committee also had an initial discussion on the framework for financing necessary physical, programmatic, and personnel investments that are required over the next three years. This past fiscal year (FY18) ended with a financial statement operating surplus of $2.9M on a total revenue budget of $346M (representing 0.5 percent year-over-year growth). This was the fourth year of positive operating results.

The committee received updates on human resources, the state of our physical infrastructure, ongoing library union negotiations, and BUSAC’s agenda during its inaugural year. There was an additional report on the status of campus safety and the results of a security audit conducted late last year, along with efforts underway to improve campus safety. The committee also heard about actions being taken by Finance and Administration (F&A) to improve the effectiveness of its internal communications, including the planned October launch of a newsletter titled InBrief; the fall F&A community-wide town hall, scheduled for October 30; and the continuing development of F&A websites.

The Academy Committee heard reports from Provost Lisa Lynch regarding a number of organizational matters, including the introduction of Jeff Ward as interim athletic director and Karen Muncaster as interim vice president for student affairs; upcoming searches in Athletics and Student Affairs; and progress in the search for an executive director for the Center for Teaching and Learning. The committee also heard about the ratification of the graduate-student union contract and the ongoing working groups that are helping to implement the new Arts and Sciences general education requirements.

Two new deans — Katy Graddy of Brandeis International Business School and David Weil of the Heller School — each gave a brief overview of their vision for their school. Eric Chasalow, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, presented data on his school’s matriculating class.

The committee also heard about two surveys Brandeis will conduct in the spring: a student climate survey on sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault, and a faculty work-life survey that will replicate a survey done in 2015. And finally, the committee reviewed the status of Brandeis’ upcoming 10-year reaccreditation, about which more information can be found here. The reaccreditation evaluation team, chaired by Yale President Peter Salovey, will be visiting campus from November 4-7.

The Investment Committee reviewed investment returns, risk exposures, liquidity, expected cash flows, and investment manager news. The final return for FY18 is +10.0 percent (compared to an early peer median of +8.3 percent). The committee hired a new investment manager focused on Asian equities and a new private value-added real estate manager focused on the Greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area. The committee discussed and modestly increased the emerging-market investment manager target allocations. The emerging-market investment managers individually and collectively have significantly outperformed their indices with much lower risk. The committee also discussed fossil fuel divestment in order to provide feedback to the full board as part of its continuing discussions on this topic.

The Risk Management and Audit Committee heard reports on the progress of the ERP/Workday implementation and on cyber-risk issues. Extensive efforts have been undertaken to address systems disaster recovery and resiliency. There was an internal audit report on the operations of the Rose Art Museum; Director Luis Croquer joined the meeting to discuss the findings. A discussion also took place on the future three-year audit plan, including the regular updates to the committee on progress in addressing past audit findings.

External auditor David Gagnon from KPMG updated the committee on risks in higher education in the U.S. This report focused primarily on enrollment and discounting (i.e., financial aid) concerns, ranking issues, and the addressing of federal reporting requirements. The committee received information on changes to the accounting standards under which private universities will soon fall, including a change in the external auditor’s role in certifying data for federal reporting.

The Nominating and Governance Committee continued its discussions regarding best practices in board governance and enhancing its own trustee evaluation process. Regarding trustee recruitment, the committee noted the board made strides over the past year in improving demographic diversity but will continue its focus on increasing diversity more broadly. The committee continued its discussion of potential bylaw changes and the board’s relationship to the various university advisory boards.

The Institutional Advancement Committee heard a presentation from SVP Zamira Korff on fundraising results for FY18. Although there was a decline from the record total we reported last fiscal year, this was entirely due to the record $50M bequest we received last fiscal year. Controlling for bequests received, giving increased slightly during FY18, thanks to increases in giving by alumni and parents. Looking to the future, SVP Korff noted key opportunities for growth in parent and international giving. With the support of the AVP for engagement and leadership development, IA staff are taking steps to deepen our engagement in both of these areas by more effectively conveying the Brandeis story and creating leadership opportunities to spur deeper engagement with the university.

Following a discussion of the fundraising challenges Brandeis has faced over the past decade, the committee turned its attention to proposals for a “best in class” IA organizational structure and staffing plan, one that will lay the foundation for increased fundraising and expanded engagement with the broader Brandeis community. This discussion included a review of the financial investments required for IA to reach the infrastructure and staffing levels needed for future success. And finally, the committee took care of an important item by approving the Gift Acceptance Principles proposed by IA staff.

As always, if you have any questions, please let me know.

Best regards,

Ron Liebowitz