Report on the January Trustees Meeting
Feb. 5, 2019
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
I am writing to report on the recent Board of Trustees meeting, held January 27-29. The committee meetings and plenary sessions fully engaged our trustees as we continue to refine our new directions for the university.
The board had the opportunity to provide input into the work of our Framework for Our Future task forces; discussed the details of the new Springboard Funding Plan; received reports on the new Brandeis Core general-education initiative and the reaccreditation process; reviewed updates on finances, facilities, and fundraising matters; discussed the university’s accessibility issues and the response to recently proposed Title IX regulations; and promoted three of our distinguished faculty members to the rank of full professor.
The trustees participated in interactive sessions with the members of the Framework task forces, which are developing new approaches to the Student Learning/Living Experience; to Supporting Research, Creativity, and Collaborative Innovation; and to Honoring Our Founding Values. With the work of the task forces still in its early stages, the board meeting provided an excellent opportunity for the trustees to provide input as we seek to build the strength of Brandeis as a place to study, live, and work. The trustees expressed valuable ideas about how best to enhance the student experience; broaden our research and scholarly capacity; and articulate more effectively our values and Jewish roots, and what that history means to Brandeis today.
The board discussion of the Springboard Funding Plan centered on the role the new funding will play in filling gaps in our operations and physical plant, and in investing in some early initiatives related to the Framework. It also focused on the importance of the plan to pursuing the Brandeis value proposition through faculty recruiting and retention, and new faculty positions, and to our emerging fundraising and communications efforts.
I briefed the board on several searches for key senior positions, including the senior vice president for communications, marketing, and external relations; the vice provost for student affairs; the director of athletics; and the vice president for human resources.
During my president’s report, we spent some time discussing the recent Accessibility Forum, which raised many issues about the severity of the challenges faced by members of our community who have disabilities. The trustees agreed that we must pursue, as a high priority, specific recommendations on services for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities, both physical and nonphysical.
We reviewed with the board the feedback we received after the release of the second part of the report by the independent investigators, who were appointed by the trustees to examine our campus climate as it relates to standards of equity and fairness. We continued our conversation about ways trustees and university administrators can work together to advance our progress on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I also briefed the board on the recently proposed Title IX regulations, expanding on the concerns expressed by our peer organizations, the Association of American Universities, and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts. I expressed our concerns that the proposals present an overly prescriptive approach that would inhibit our ability to craft procedures, unique to our particular circumstances, that ensure equity, fairness, and respect for all community members.
The board approved a resolution promoting two faculty members to full professor: Pengyu Hong, of the Department of Computer Science, and Susan Lichtman, of the Department of Fine Arts, and awarded tenure and full professor status to Amy Singer, of the Department of History. I am pleased to add my own warm congratulations to Professors Hong, Lichtman, and Singer, and to express my thanks for all their past and future contributions to the Brandeis community.
The trustees approved memorial resolutions in honor of Lawrence Bober, Albert Levine, Gerald Schuster, and Harry Sugarman, all Fellows of the university; and Sy Raboy ’57, a Fellow and an alumnus.
At the board dinner on Sunday evening, the student founders of the Right to Immigration Institute delivered a presentation on their work, and the Monday evening dinner brought the trustees together with recently promoted faculty members and students from the Brandeis Chamber Singers. As is always the case, the trustees were impressed by the intellectual strength, talent, and energy of the students and faculty with whom they shared their meals.
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 updates on the FY19 budget — operating results, capital budget, and cash position — and on the first and second phases of the debt refinancing; and received an interim update on the planning and budget process for FY20, the first year in which we are using the new internal (“hybrid”) financial framework that the trustees were briefed on previously. The trustees reviewed our financial results, showing that the original FY19 board-approved budget had a slight operating surplus. Our second-quarter forecast suggests a similar result: a positive, break-even operating surplus. If the forecast holds, it would represent the fifth consecutive year of narrow yet positive operating results.
The committee discussed the developing Human Resources strategic plan and the building condition assessment, a three-month review of the condition of our physical plant, during which all 97 of our buildings and major building components will be examined. Resuming its look at campus buildings in order to better understand the physical conditions of our teaching, studying, and living spaces, the committee took a tour of the Brown Social Science Center building to see an example of the 50- to 60-year-old unrenovated buildings that compose more than half of the campus.
Committee members also received a report on Workday, the enterprise-wide system that will replace PeopleSoft. This is the single largest IT project the university has implemented in almost two decades. The project will hit its first major milestone on April 1, when the Workday Finance and Human Resources modules go live. The Workday Student modules will be implemented in phases, beginning in 2020 and extending into 2021.
The Academy Committee, in addition to its actions on the promotions for Professors Hong, Lichtman, and Singer, received a presentation by Dorothy Hodgson, dean of arts and sciences, on the new general-education requirements, now called the Brandeis Core. The first major revision of the requirements in almost 25 years, the Brandeis Core is a common-core set of academic requirements for all students, beginning with the class entering in fall 2019. Dean Hodgson also shared her initial observations and goals, including increasing grant fundraising by faculty, clarifying policies and practices, increasing the size of the faculty, and bringing faculty pay to the Association of American Universities median.
Andrea Dine and Jon Schlesinger of the Hiatt Career Center shared insights into the student employment-seeking experience and how it has changed over the past 10 years; internal and external partners; services available to students and alumni; and placement outcomes.
Provost Lisa Lynch discussed next steps in the reaccreditation process, new hires in Athletics and the Center for Teaching and Learning, and next steps in the searches for the vice provost for student affairs and the director of athletics. She also summarized the recent Accessibility Forum on campus and data showing a dramatic increase in the use of mental health services by students.
The Institutional Advancement Committee discussed fundraising results to date for FY19. Through December 31, 2018, fundraising results have achieved 58 percent of the FY19 goal, with year-end forecasts projected to meet expectations. Alumni giving as a proportion of all giving reached 55 percent, a notable increase from previous years, due in part to the recent $10 million gift from Toshizo “Tom” Watanabe ’73 for international scholarships. Controlling for the Watanabe gift, alumni contributions represent 35 percent of all giving, up from 29 percent in FY18 and 15 percent in FY17.
The committee received a report on IA’s talent management, retention, and recruitment efforts, designed to further the division’s goals of creating a “best-in-class” organization to expand and enhance its fundraising and constituent-engagement capabilities in order to support the university. The division is in the midst of a small reorganization designed to better align gift-officer portfolios with donor and prospect pools, as well as with university priorities.
The committee also discussed ways to further engage alumni, friends, and parents in dialogue about the Framework for Our Future, to build momentum around future funding opportunities once the task forces have completed their work.
The Risk Management and Audit Committee received a report from David Gagnon of KPMG (our auditors) on the Uniform Guidance Audit, focused on our federally funded research programs. The audit result was an unmodified opinion, showing compliance with requirements that could have a direct and material effect on our major federal programs. He also provided KPMG’s update on higher education and led a discussion on key elements of the new accounting rules that go into effect for the FY19 financial statements. Special focus was given to the revenue recognition rules. Specific internal-audit reports covered new hire/termination procedures, senior manager travel, and conflict of interest.
Baker Tilly, a national leader in Enterprise Risk Management, presented to the committee on risk and the work it has begun with the university.
The Nominating and Governance Committee engaged in extensive discussions related to board governance, including on the current committee structure, and the process for evaluating and appointing trustees and officers. The committee also continued its discussions on recruitment efforts to increase diversity on the board and voted to recommend to the full board updates to two trustee conflict-of-interest policies.
The Investment Committee reviewed investment returns, risk exposures, liquidity, expected cash flows, and investment manager news. The return for calendar year 2018 is +1.2 percent, versus the policy benchmark return of -4.7 percent. The committee hired a new global long-short equity investment manager and decided to redeem from a global long-only equity investment manager. The committee discussed the asset allocation, risk management, and diversification of the investment portfolio, and affirmed the current asset allocation, which is conservatively positioned relative to peer institutions.
This Board of Trustees meeting demonstrated once again the deep commitment of our governing board to devoting significant work to advancing the interests of the Brandeis community — our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends. I am grateful for the partnership and support of our trustees, for their work with our senior leadership team, and for their caring stewardship of our university.
As always, if you have any questions, please let me know.