Report on the January Board of Trustees Meeting

Feb. 18, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing to report to you on the latest Board of Trustees meeting, held January 27-28.

The meeting began with a memorial resolution for one of Brandeis' greatest benefactors, Barbara Mandel, P'73, H'19, who passed away in November. Barbara was a Brandeis parent; a Board member for 15 years; an honorary-degree recipient; and a generous supporter of the university, who donated funds for scholarships, professorships, research centers, and a major building. She will be greatly missed.

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The Framework for the Future

While the meeting covered many important issues, which I will describe below, I am delighted, first, to announce that the Board of Trustees has approved the Framework for the Future — our strategic vision for Brandeis.

Over the past 16 months, more than 500 members of the Brandeis community contributed to the Framework process, which included 11 task forces and working groups. I would like to thank the faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends of the university, and trustees who contributed their time and input to the development of the Framework. Additionally, I hope you will join me in thanking the members of the Steering Committee — Kim Godsoe, Constance Horgan, Jon Levisohn, Sacha Nelson, Sara Shostak, and Chad Williams — for their hard work and their leadership of the Framework Task Forces.

As I say at the end of the final report, for more than 70 years our institution has been guided and inspired by the words of our namesake, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: "If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold." The Framework for the Future is a bold plan for Brandeis University — one that challenges all of us to build upon our history, strengths, and institutional ethos for the coming decades.

I invite you to visit the new Framework for the Future website to read the report and learn about the many goals and initiatives that will shape Brandeis in the coming years.

Moving Ahead on the Framework for the Future

Following the Board's endorsement, I presented our proposed comprehensive plan for implementing the initiatives included in the Framework report. This plan includes several administrative efforts, and each step of implementation will depend upon our securing the necessary resources.

First, as you might remember from my earlier communications, last fall we implemented the Springboard Funding Plan, which over three years devotes $84.7 million beyond our current operating budget and capital plan to fill critical gaps across the university. These funds have enabled us to commit to hiring at least 15 incremental faculty members and a number of staff members in various areas of the institution. The funds have also enabled us to add resources to several departments and offices that will be critical in meeting day-to-day operations and in implementing and sustaining the goals of the Framework.

Second, while all of the initiatives included in the Framework will be essential to our success, it has still been necessary for us to identify a small number of initiatives and goals to begin the process. Since the Task Forces and Working Groups submitted their reports last spring, my senior leadership team, the Steering Committee, and I have worked to synthesize the 250+ recommendations and distill them into a list of priorities for us to focus on as we begin to implement the Framework. We will share more about these priorities soon.      

Finally, because implementing the Framework will require us to marshal funds for many significant projects, we are also in the process of planning a major capital campaign. This planning includes internal efforts to identify existing funds that can kick-start some of the highest-priority Framework initiatives as we complete our planning to lay the groundwork for such a campaign.

Summary of Committee Proceedings

Institutional Advancement Committee

In the context of this discussion of the Framework for the Future, the Institutional Advancement Committee heard more information about the development of Brandeis' forthcoming capital campaign. 

As part of planning for the capital campaign, the university has begun a major effort called One Brandeis: A Strategic Plan for Alumni Engagement. Lewis Brooks '80, P'16, the Alumni Association president, and Patsy Fisher, vice president of alumni relations, provided an overview of the plan's five strategic objectives and associated initiatives, developed through the collaborative efforts of Alumni Association leadership, the Office of Alumni Relations, and a number of campus partners.

The committee also reviewed a proposed new gift acceptance policy, which will guide decision-making surrounding significant donations made to the university. While there is an existing policy in place, the updated policy provides greater clarity around which gifts are acceptable to the university, and lays out new processes to ensure that all accepted gifts fully benefit the university. A final draft of the gift acceptance policy will be ready for a Board vote later this semester.

Academy Committee

The committee discussed a number of issues related to Framework initiatives, including the diversity of the student body, creating more time and resources for faculty to pursue research, and enhancing the student experience.

Provost Lisa Lynch shared the results of the Faculty Work Life Survey, which show that Brandeis ranks higher than peer universities in overall job satisfaction among faculty, the intellectual life on campus, university leadership and strategic direction, and involvement in decision making. The findings also indicated, however, that Brandeis faculty report a lower level of satisfaction than peers around the issues of scholarly work and compensation. The university is working to address both issues, aided by Springboard investments and Framework initiatives.

The committee heard "100" reports on student-related issues from two new staff members. First, Raymond Ou, vice provost of student affairs, discussed student life and living, providing examples of students' eagerness to help the university improve in these areas. He also presented his strategic thinking on defining measurable goals and programming related to student mental health, extending the Orientation experience throughout the first year, and aligning his office's goals with the Framework initiatives.

Then Lauren Haynie, director of athletics, described the many interactions she has already had with devoted athletics staff and dedicated students at Brandeis. She is developing an action plan, which will align with Framework priorities, that includes a focus on facilities, the management of time and financial resources, and external relationships and communication.

Resources Committee

Members of the financial management team discussed plans for the long-term financial well-being of the university, the current level of endowment draw, administrative staffing levels, faculty compensation levels, and the extent of deferred maintenance of campus buildings and technology infrastructure.  

The committee heard a report from consultants who have been engaged to assess the university's debt capacity, to assist with planning future bonding for Framework initiatives. 

The committee was also updated on the request-for-proposals process leading to the selection of a food service provider (the plan is to have a new food service contract in place by fall).

And Mary Fischer, sustainability programs manager, provided an update on the President's Task Force on Campus Sustainability, which will release a final report on its work in early summer.

Nominating and Governance Committee

To ensure the Board of Trustees is able to provide strong leadership for the university, especially during the Framework's implementation and the university's launch of a major capital campaign, the committee discussed how to maximize the Board's strengths by effectively recruiting new trustees and enhancing its governance infrastructure.

Risk Management and Audit Committee

Audit partners from the accounting firm KPMG presented the committee with an industry update, including Moody's outlook for the higher-education sector and the revised federal financial responsibility standards. The committee also heard an update on the university's current insurance coverage and its projected future needs.

Led by Ed Callahan, director of public safety, and Stewart Uretsky, executive vice president for finance and administration, the committee discussed campus safety and security updates (see "Special-Topic Presentations During the Plenary Session," below, for more information).

Finally, Jim La Creta, chief information officer, and David Albrecht, chief information security officer, reported on the recent interruption to campus internet service and the steps Information Technology Services is taking to enforce stricter adherence to university cyber policies.

Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer, and vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, reported to the full Board on the work of the newly created Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The committee has met to determine the types of data it will track over time, and to develop a procedure for keeping the Board aware of initiatives and challenges on campus.

Special-Topic Presentations During the Plenary Session

Campus Safety and Security

During the Board meeting's second day, Stew Uretsky updated trustees on safety and security measures on campus, including steps taken during the past six months and those planned for the future. The measures reviewed were the ones I mentioned in my January 3 community message on antisemitism and campus safety.

Broadening Financial Aid to Increase Opportunity and Access

Sam Solomon, chief financial officer and treasurer; Jen Walker, dean of admissions and financial aid; and Sherri Avery, assistant vice president of student financial services, gave a presentation on undergraduate financial aid at Brandeis, the recent changes made to student aid awards, and the financial challenges undergraduates face despite the university’s current commitment to "meeting the full demonstrated need" of each student.

Increasing undergraduate financial aid is an important Framework initiative. In their presentation, Sam, Jen, and Sherri discussed how an increase in aid would increase opportunities for students to participate in various university programs and explained ways of reducing the financial burden on students who receive aid, including:

Five Professors Granted Promotions

The Board of Trustees voted to promote five professors — one to full professor, the others to associate professor with tenure.

Please join me in congratulating these faculty members for their achievements and contributions to the university.

Highlighting the Strengths of Our Student Experience and Faculty Research

During lunch on the meeting's first day, the trustees heard firsthand how the strong academic relationships between faculty and students, as well as the strong connections across academic departments, allow Brandeis students to pursue unique academic endeavors. In a panel discussion led by Meredith Monaghan, director of academic fellowships, four students and a recent alum explained how they tailored their academic pursuits to their interests with the help of faculty and the Academic Fellowships office. A special thank-you to Natalia Gonzalez '19, Abby Miranker '20, Evan Moloney '20, Agnele Sewa '20, and Ryan Shaffer '21 for sharing their experiences, and to Meredith for organizing and chairing the session.

At dinner, which took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Laura Jockusch, the Albert Abramson Associate Professor of Holocaust Studies, presented her research on Stella Goldschlag, a German Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust, then faced great scrutiny after she was accused of betraying fellow Jews to protect her family.

New Vice President of Human Resources

Stew Uretsky introduced Robin Switzer, the new vice president of human resources. Robin, who comes to Brandeis from Partners HealthCare, has valuable experience in higher education from his work at the University of New Hampshire and Northeastern University. 

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I am grateful for the Board's commitment and contributions to all matters raised and discussed at this meeting, especially its endorsement of the Framework for the Future.

Best regards,

Ron Liebowitz