Report on September Trustees Meeting

Oct. 3, 2019

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing to report on the recent Board of Trustees meeting, held on September 16-17.

In the meeting’s first session, board chair Meyer Koplow ’72, P’02, P’05, announced the formation of an ad hoc board committee. Chaired by Trustee Debbie Bial ’87, H’12, the Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will provide the administration with advice and expertise as we work to improve DEI issues at Brandeis. In conjunction with Mark Brimhall-Vargas, the university’s chief diversity officer, the committee will also help set collective goals and monitor the university’s progress as we seek to make Brandeis a more welcoming and inclusive place to live, learn, and work. Other committee members include Trustees Fran Bermanzohn ’78; Barbara Dortch-Okara ’71; Dan Jick ’79, P’09, P’12; Josh Kraft; and Curtis Tearte ’73. 

Provost Lisa Lynch and I provided an update on the Framework for Our Future process, including the ongoing synthesis of recommendations and ideas from the task forces and working groups. We also discussed how the work of the task forces fits with other visioning processes that have occurred over the past several years, including a series of reports from external consultants, more than 30 self-reflection documents from faculty and staff, and other reports that have emerged from various administrative and faculty committees. Along with the more than 250 task force recommendations — many of which will be vetted and considered through standard procedures of university governance, such as faculty committees, the Faculty Senate, and administrative decision-making processes — these various reports will help inform Brandeis’ future. The trustees engaged in an extensive discussion of an early draft of the final Framework report, which reflects this synthesis. 

Additionally, the board heard an interim report on the work of the Framework’s Task Force on Focused Physical Planning. Dick Reynolds, the interim vice president for campus operations, who serves as chair of the task force, talked about how strategic investments in the university’s physical plant are essential for achieving Framework goals and initiatives.

Throughout the Framework discussion, we received insightful feedback from the trustees, which my senior team and I will use as we refine the ideas and recommendations that will appear in the final report. As part of this process, we will begin to preview the draft report more broadly in October and November, and solicit input and feedback from the larger Brandeis community, including faculty, students, staff, and alumni. Over the coming weeks, we will tell you more about these engagement efforts.

After the Framework discussion, Zamira Korff, senior vice president of institutional advancement, led a session on the university’s fundraising efforts, beginning with a historical overview of philanthropy at Brandeis. Because the Framework’s ambitious goals cannot be met without sustained, meaningful stewardship and support from our alumni, parents, and friends, Zamira explained how we are working to improve our capacity to engage with and solicit feedback from these communities.

We are optimistic about our ability to engage multiple constituencies and garner greater support for the university. As we begin to share more about the Framework report, we will conduct small-group discussions known as Presidential Roundtables in key locations around the country, as well as a number of campus events that will include faculty, staff, and student presenters.

The board approved the promotion of Aldo Musacchio, of Brandeis International Business School, to professor with tenure, effective immediately. Please join me in congratulating him on his promotion and his contributions to Brandeis. 

I am also pleased to announce that the trustees elected a new board member, Monique L. Nelson. Monique is chair and chief executive officer of UWG, the country’s longest-standing multicultural marketing agency, which works with such clients as Ford Motor Company, Colgate-Palmolive, Home Depot, and Coca-Cola. Monique sits on the Advertising Week Global Board and the Adweek Diversity and Inclusion Council, as well as the New York Advisory Board for the Posse Foundation, of which she is an alumna. She has an MBA in international marketing and finance, and a Bachelor of Science in human and organizational development. I am delighted to welcome Monique to our board and am happy to report that she has agreed to serve on the ad hoc Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Throughout the meeting, the board discussed a broad range of issues, including the U.S. News rankings, our ongoing efforts to improve campus safety, and the research we are undertaking with SimpsonScarborough to help us understand our reputation among key groups, including prospective undergraduate and graduate students; academic and administrative leaders at peer institutions; philanthropic-minded adults who are likely to be interested in Brandeis; and our alumni, families, and friends.

At lunch, board members heard from seven newly tenured or promoted faculty members — Ulka Anjaria, Karen Desmond, Carl Sharif El-Tobgui, Laura Miller, Debarshi Nandy, Amy Singer, and Pu Wang — in small-group meetings. The faculty members spoke about their research and teaching, and their Brandeis experience. The discussions were facilitated by Dorothy Hodgson, School of Arts and Sciences dean; Eric Chasalow, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences dean; and Provost Lynch.

Over dinner, board members had wide-ranging conversations with graduate and undergraduate students about the living and learning experience at Brandeis. The students included Samira Bari, Andrew Baxter, Grace Berry, Robert Cochran, Fernando Estrella, Jason Frank, Jack Huguley, Elidaurys Martinez-Catano, Madhura Shringare, Jordan Walder, and Emma Wolters, plus Zoe Fort and Zoisa Busé, the student representatives to the board.

Highlights from the board committees

 In the Academy Committee meeting, members were updated on plans for Raymond Ou, vice provost of student affairs, to conduct a review of mental health services on campus. In partnership with colleagues, he will also oversee a self-study of the Hiatt Career Center, to be followed by an external committee review of the center. 

University Professor Irv Epstein; Kim Godsoe, senior associate provost; and Melissa Kosinski-Collins, professor of biology, presented an overview of the recent five-year $1M Inclusive Excellence grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The grant will help build our capacity for inclusion and success in the sciences for students of all backgrounds, expanding the success of the Science Posse and Galaxy programs.

Data on the incoming undergraduate class was reviewed by Jen Walker, dean of admissions and financial aid. Dean Chasalow; Katy Graddy, Brandeis International Business School dean; David Weil, Heller School dean; and Lynne Rosansky, Rabb interim vice president, also presented information about their incoming graduate-student cohorts. The discussion highlighted incoming undergraduates’ strengths, our efforts to diversify the student body, and the marked increase in visa denials for graduate students from Africa. 

In the Resources Committee meeting, members reviewed the FY19 financial results and heard an update on the current FY20 budget. FY19 ended with an operating surplus of $3.7M on a total revenue budget of $356M. This was the fifth year of narrow yet positive operating results.

The committee received a report from Human Resources, which included an update on the search for a permanent HR vice president. We anticipate the search process will be completed over the next four months.

The committee heard a report from our chief information officer, Jim La Creta, on such key initiatives as the creation of a Data Governance Committee and an IT Governance Committee.

It also heard an update on the Workday HR/Finance implementation, which went live in July, as well as the status of the Workday Student implementation, which will take place over the next two years.

The Institutional Advancement Committee discussed FY19 year-end results, FY20 fundraising progress to date, and IA’s long- and short-term strategic objectives. A number of fundraising goals were met or exceeded during the past fiscal year, with the division achieving 97% toward its overall cash goal.

Patsy Fisher, vice president of alumni relations, and external consultant Kathy Edersheim, president of Impactrics, spoke about a plan to build a powerful, sustainable, volunteer-led campus-wide alumni relations program that would serve the Brandeis community in a number of ways. Alumni Relations will work with campus partners on the implementation of the plan’s initiatives during the next academic year.

The committee reviewed FY20 fundraising goals. Zamira reported that, to date, fundraising totals for FY20 are tracking well ahead of last year.

The Nominating and Governance Committee received a report from the Diversity Recruitment Subcommittee on its efforts to build a strong pipeline of diverse trustee candidates. The committee also discussed a proposed guidance document setting forth best practices for the chair of the board and conducted an assessment of the new trustee orientation program, including an analysis of the informational videos and the mentor program. The committee will continue to refine and improve the orientation program. Finally, it discussed a revised guidance document that articulates criteria for membership on the board.

The Risk Management and Audit Committee reviewed the status of the current financial statement audit and discussed the changes in this year’s statements that reflect new FASB and GAAP requirements. Dave Gagnon from KPMG, the university’s auditors, gave an update on audit and accounting issues in higher education. The committee also heard an update on the current internal audit plan, which is heavily focused on processes that use the new Workday system.

Vincent Lim, assistant vice president of strategic initiatives, led an update and discussion on the Enterprise Risk Management process, which had identified campus safety and security as its pilot risk area for in-depth study. The committee also received an update from Ed Callahan, chief of police, and Josh Manfredo, our new director of emergency management, on recent measures taken to enhance campus safety and security.

Interim vice president for human resources Larry Lewellen discussed the status of HR strategic initiatives, including new policies and benefits.

Jim LaCreta provided an update on the Workday system implementation; the university went live with HR and Finance on July 1, with most key modules working as expected. As with any major system initiative, a number of post-implementation issues are being addressed. The Workday implementation continues to offer important opportunities to review business processes. Certain system roles are still being confirmed and adjusted as needed.

Chief information security officer David Albrecht discussed IT security, including the new two-factor authentication requirement and other techniques being used to thwart malicious phishing attempts. Disaster recovery was also discussed. Our systems’ capacity to be up and running in the event of an unplanned outage has improved exponentially over the past two years; our use of an off-site server facility in Boston accounts for a large part of this improvement.

Finally, the Investment Committee reviewed investment returns, risk exposures, liquidity, cash flows, and investment manager news. Equity market volatility began to increase significantly in January 2018. The cumulative return over this period of increased volatility, through July 2019, was 10.1% for Brandeis versus 8.3% for the policy benchmark. Additionally, the volatility of returns of the Brandeis portfolio was half that of the benchmark. The endowment’s FY19 return was 5.8% (estimate), and assets had grown to $1,074 million by June 30, 2019, up from $1,046 million on June 30, 2018.

The trustees participated in a variety of productive, informative discussions throughout this board meeting. Once again, I am grateful for the level of engagement, thoughtfulness, and insight that our trustees regularly demonstrate.

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Best regards,