November Board of Trustees Meeting Report

Dec. 9, 2019

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing to report on the recent Board of Trustees retreat held on November 18-19.

This retreat provided our trustees with the opportunity and time to review and provide further input on important parts of our planning for Brandeis’ future, including the Framework for the Future, the revitalization of our infrastructure, and our brand position in today’s higher education landscape. The trustees also received a detailed report on the Campus Climate Survey and the action steps the university has taken, and will continue to take, to address sexual misconduct and the negative effects of harassment and exclusion on members of our community.

Board chair Meyer Koplow ’72, P’02, P’05, opened the retreat by honoring the late Morton Mandel, P’73, H’89, who passed away in October. The participants respectfully held a moment of silence for one of Brandeis’ greatest benefactors. Sadly, soon after the board retreat, we would learn that Mort’s wife, Barbara Mandel, P’73, H’19, who served as vice chair of the Board of Trustees, passed away. Mort and Barbara Mandel loved and generously supported Brandeis, and we have benefited tremendously from their generosity and guidance. 

Chair Koplow then welcomed our newest board member, Monique L. Nelson, who is the chair and chief executive officer of UWG, the country’s longest-standing multicultural marketing agency. She has agreed to serve on our board’s ad hoc Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

Supporting the Goals of the Framework by Improving Our Infrastructure

In the first session, Dick Reynolds, the interim vice president for campus operations, presented findings from the Framework’s Task Force on Focused Physical Planning. This review was developed in partnership with external consultants William Rawn Associates and Leggat McCall Properties. The trustees heard more about how the approach to the Focused Physical Planning is informed by the Framework for the Future and the related Task Force reports. The Brandeis Campus Operations team, together with the outside consultants, are currently assessing the physical condition of more than 100 campus buildings and the ability for those buildings to meet current and envisioned programmatic needs. The main areas of focus are:

Understanding Our Brand Position in the Changing Higher Education Landscape

Our Senior Vice President for Communications, Marketing, and External Relations Dan Kim, along with Assistant Vice President for Communications and External Relations Max Pearlstein ’01, led the session on the brand awareness report that will soon be finalized by SimpsonScarborough, a national leader in higher education research, marketing, and branding. 

SimpsonScarborough CEO Elizabeth Johnson presented findings from her firm’s extensive research on Brandeis to the trustees. The study was conducted to establish benchmarks of Brandeis’ brand strength, to identify marketing challenges and opportunities, to assess the brand narrative developed for the university in the last year, and to support the development of even more effective marketing, recruiting, and fundraising strategies. 

SimpsonScarborough surveyed approximately 5,000 prospective undergraduate and graduate students from across the country, as well as alumni, parents, philanthropists, friends of the university, and academic and administrative leaders at peer institutions. In testing the brand narrative that reflects key characteristics of Brandeis, the statements that most consistently resonated with these groups included:

Following this presentation, the trustees shared their insights on the brand research and the key messages. Their feedback was informed by their professional expertise and, in some cases, by their experience as Brandeis alumni. Some trustees asked that additional specific information on the audiences and messages be distilled from the data and included in the final report. The trustees also discussed the importance of keeping Brandeis’ distinct values and unique academic value proposition front and center in our marketing and communications efforts. Our university communicators will use the findings and analysis from the SimpsonScarborough report to inform their work going forward.

Findings of the Campus Climate Survey

In the final part of the first day, Provost Lisa Lynch, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas, and Vice Provost of Student Affairs Raymond Ou led a discussion of the recently released Campus Climate Survey. During the session, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Kim Godsoe, Office of Equal Opportunity Director Sonia Jurado, and Director of Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Sarah Berg presented the survey findings.

The trustees engaged with the presenters to learn more about issues of sexual harassment and assault on campus, as well as the factors that are contributing to students’ feelings of alienation, and what was being done to improve the climate on campus.

The presenters shared the action steps the university has taken to address the issues present in the Campus Climate Survey, including:

Update on the Framework for the Future

On the second day of the retreat, I updated the trustees on the process of seeking input from the Brandeis community on the Framework and the process we will follow to finalize the Framework report for release in the spring semester. With Board approval of the final Framework report anticipated in early 2020, we intend to make it and the full Task Force reports available to the public on the Framework website.

I then presented an in-depth overview of the historical context in which Brandeis was founded and how its creation resounded in many different communities across the world. Transitioning to the present, I reviewed Brandeis’ academic value proposition: in brief, how we offer both vertical connectivity in which faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, and staff work and learn together, and horizontal connectivity in which these same constituents transcend department, division, and school boundaries to collaborate and create dynamic learning and research opportunities. The trustees provided constructive feedback on how we can better communicate these concepts in the Framework.

The trustees and attending deans, faculty, and executive staff then broke into small groups that covered key parts of the Framework:

In all three sessions, trustees provided valuable feedback on the major themes distilled from the work and recommendations of the Framework Task Forces. I am grateful for the Board’s commitment and insights, and I look forward to engaging the campus community as we continue to plan Brandeis’ future.

Please feel free to reach out to me anytime with questions or comments.   

Best regards,

Ron Liebowitz