Report on April Trustees Meeting

May 14, 2019

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing to report on the recent Board of Trustees meeting, held on April 28-30, at which the trustees engaged thoughtfully and proactively with many of our community’s most important topics and goals.

Discussions centered on planning matters related to A Framework for Our Future; new academic directions; budget and finance; campus climate; advancement and communications; and faculty and board governance. The trustees also spent time with students who have a wide range of interests and talents, and participated in a conversation with the leadership of the Rose Art Museum.

After receiving preliminary draft recommendations toward the implementation of A Framework for Our Future, the board had a rich discussion with the co-chairs of the Framework’s three task forces. In my remarks before the discussion began, I commended the remarkable effort that has gone into this process and extended my gratitude to the task force co-chairs — Sara Shostak, Kim Godsoe, Connie Horgan, Sacha Nelson, Jon Levisohn, and Chad Williams — for their dedication and hard work over the past several months.

As a next step, the administration, in consultation with the Framework Steering Committee and the university’s Committee on Strategy and Planning, will develop, refine, and synthesize the recommendations of the three task forces, including completing a close analysis of the work of the 11 working groups that advised the task forces. The administration and the Steering Committee will also draw connections among the various recommendations, and create a financial plan and tentative implementation timeline. The plan is to prepare an overarching report for discussion with the board in the fall, which will include making the individual working-group reports and our recommendations available to the community.

In my report to the board, I shared the news that we have received our 10-year reaccreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education. The report (PDF) from the commission noted several areas that require specific attention (enumerated in the linked letter). Work has already begun to address the issues of concern the commission raised.

I also presented a brief summary of my recent trip to China, where we made significant progress in building relationships with our growing community of Brandeisians, which includes students, alumni, parents, and friends, and reported on the highlights of the annual spring meetings of the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C.

I briefed the trustees on questions from students regarding current and future university policy on divestment from the fossil fuel industry, and reminded them of the existing set of board policies that were described in detail in a letter to the community last November.

Mark Brimhall-Vargas, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, presented an update on campus climate metrics and additional measures the board might consider for further assessment of our progress toward diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

The plenary session also included a discussion of the university’s new brand platform, led by Bill Walker, interim senior vice president for communications and external relations, and Mark Neustadt, a consultant who has both led the brand platform project and hosted numerous discussions about it.

Jennifer Walker, dean of admissions and financial aid, briefed the trustees on trends in enrollment and presented an update on Brandeis’ progress toward the next academic year’s admissions goals.

At the opening reception on Sunday evening, Luis Croquer, director of the Rose Art Museum, and his staff conducted museum tours for the trustees. Later that evening, at the board dinner, Luis and a panel of students and faculty shared their perspectives on their work with the Rose.

At lunch on Monday, the board welcomed students and coaches from the men’s basketball team and the women’s track and field team to celebrate the students’ successful seasons. The next day, the trustees joined the Scholarship Luncheon, an annual event that brings student scholarship recipients together with the donors who support their education.

All these events were opportunities for the trustees to see firsthand the impressive academic focus and achievement of our students and faculty, and the talent and energy they demonstrate in their pursuits inside and outside the classroom, laboratory, and studio.

The board enacted several important resolutions:

The trustees also took the following actions related to board membership and the appointment of officers:

Following is a summary of the activity from each committee meeting:

In the Academy Committee meeting, Professors Wendy Cadge and Susan Curnan, co-chairs of the Faculty Governance Task Force, provided background and process information on the changes to the Faculty Handbook, resulting from the work of the task force over the past two years.

Dean of arts and sciences Dorothy Hodgson shared an update on the Brandeis Core — the new general education requirements — which is on track to launch this fall for all incoming students.  

Provost Lisa Lynch provided updates on the searches for a vice provost for student affairs and a director of athletics; a campus climate survey of students and a faculty work-life survey, both of which will inform the work of the Framework task forces; a consensual relationships policy under review for submission to the Policy Review Committee; and a policy to raise benefits for postdoctoral associates.

She also shared changes to the Faculty Handbook that bring it into alignment with the Board of Trustees bylaws. The changes included adding a Committee on Strategy and Planning (chaired by the president); a Committee on Academic Standards and Policy (chaired by the provost); and a Committee on Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. All standing committees will now include six faculty, with one from each of the four Arts and Sciences Divisions, one from the Heller School, and one from IBS. One proposal by the Faculty Governance Task Force on restructuring the size and composition of the Faculty Senate will be examined further in the fall by a working group that the president will appoint. This group is expected to present recommendations on Faculty Senate structure and bylaws, and recommendations for the organization of the faculty meeting in January 2020.

The Resources Committee reviewed key FY19 goals for the Office of Finance and Administration, and heard an update on the FY19 budget, including operating results, the capital budget, and cash position. Members received reports on the final phase of the recent debt refinancing and the FY20 planning and budget process. They also reviewed the latest financial results, which show a modest operating surplus and forecast a fifth consecutive year of narrow yet positive operating results.

The committee reviewed the results of the recent bond offering intended to cover the cost of refinancing the $131M Series O-1 and O-2 bonds. The sale attracted a wide spectrum of buyers, and the total interest cost was 3.2 percent. Proceeds from the new debt were $44M, well beyond the anticipated $26M.

The committee received an update on progress toward implementation of the university’s new financial model, characterized by greater integration of institutional planning and priority setting, and faculty participation through the establishment of the new Committee on Strategy and Planning. The FY20 budget was developed using multiyear planning and a new, consistent approach to indirect cost allocation and transfer pricing across the university.

The trustees also received reports from Larry Lewellen, interim vice president for human resources, on the development of a new strategic plan for Human Resources, and from Jim La Creta, chief information officer, on a number of Information Technology Services initiatives, including progress toward the implementation of Workday, the new ERP system, now scheduled to go live on July 1.

The Institutional Advancement Committee discussed FY19 fundraising results to date, which were presented by Zamira Korff, senior vice president. Through April 17, fundraising results have achieved 72 percent toward the FY19 goal, with overall year-end forecasts projected to meet expectations. The committee heard a report on Institutional Advancement efforts to strengthen its constituent engagement capabilities by realigning and investing in staffing resources, technology improvements, and new programs. Plans include an international advancement program, establishment of a formal parent and family philanthropy program, enhancement of principal and planned giving programs, and an increased focus on regional and affinity group programs.

The committee received a report on my first trip to China as president of Brandeis, which included travel to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, where I attended a variety of meetings and events. I also presented Brandeis International Business School’s Asper Award for Global Entrepreneurship to Roberta Lipson ’76, chair and CEO of United Family Healthcare in China.

Trustees heard highlights from the recent Alumni Association meeting as well as information about the first effort in 10 years to conduct a comprehensive alumni data survey. The committee supported IA’s efforts to further explore establishing a women’s giving circle at Brandeis and to engage in the next steps for planning a major multiyear campaign.

The Nominating and Governance Committee discussed a plan for aligning the various university advisory boards with the Board of Trustees to better facilitate communication, increase the board’s knowledge of university programs, and improve decision making. Committee members also discussed ongoing trustee recruitment efforts, with a particular emphasis on the recruitment of candidates from underrepresented groups.

The Risk Management and Audit Committee meeting included a report from our auditor, Dave Gagnon of KPMG, on the audit plan for FY19. Other items focused on new accounting standards and the Uniform Guidance Audit, which will focus on student financial assistance and Gramm-Leach-Bliley compliance.

The committee received a presentation on enterprise risk management from Baker Tilly, a national expert in the field. The trustees discussed the process through which university policies are reviewed and approved, and the external auditors provided a review of the FY18 (CY17 compensation) 990 tax return.

The Investment Committee reviewed investment returns, risk exposures, liquidity, expected cash flows, and investment manager news. Members discussed performance attribution over the past eight years, noting that the portfolio generated a return of 7 percent annually, outperforming the policy benchmark return of 6.4 percent.

It was a very busy and productive set of meetings, with much accomplished. Our trustees continue to demonstrate their deep commitment of time, energy, and resources in support of the university. I left the meetings with a profound sense of gratitude for their support of the Brandeis community.

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

Best regards,