Report on the April Board of Trustees Meeting

May 12, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I am writing to report on the virtual Board of Trustees meeting held on April 27-28. Given the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of the meeting focused on university operations, academics, and finances in light of COVID-19. 

At the opening session, I provided the board with a review of the university’s transition to remote learning. I also provided an overview of the COVID-19 Task Force and its working groups, highlighting their tasks in providing the necessary information we will need to scale up operations of the university.

Many of the issues the board reviewed and discussed in its plenary sessions were covered in my May 1 message to the community.

Highlights from the Committee Meetings

Each of the board’s committees focused on how COVID-19 has affected and will continue to affect its particular area of focus.

Provost Lisa Lynch led the discussion with a presentation to the Academy Committee on the transition to remote learning and the multiple scenarios we are considering for the coming academic year. The committee heard from the student and faculty representatives to the board, who gave their assessment of their new learning environment — what worked and what areas require improvement. It also reviewed the protocols for the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students, which will determine how and when we can increase the number of individuals living, working, and learning on the campus.

The Risk Management and Audit Committee heard a presentation from Sam Solomon, chief financial officer and treasurer, that reviewed the financial risks associated with COVID-19 and strategies to reduce the impact of the pandemic. The committee discussed the timing of and the approach to scaling up operations of the campus, health risk mitigation strategies, ideas for addressing the expected large increase in financial aid, the challenges of donor engagement and fundraising, and issues surrounding the accepting of funds from the federal CARES Act.

The Resources Committee heard an update from Stew Uretsky, executive vice president for finance and administration, on the university’s current cash position and multiple scenarios of projected revenue shortfalls for FY21. Stew reported that, on account of the university’s relatively conservative investment strategy, the endowment has lost less value (percentage-wise) than most other university endowments. At the same time, a major down year in endowment performance will reduce funds available in future years, as endowments are calculated on the basis of funds’ performance across a three-year period.

Zamira Korff, senior vice president of institutional advancement, provided the Institutional Advancement Committee with an overview of the FY20 fundraising results and projections for FY21. Projections for both years show that fundraising totals will be less than planned due to the economic crisis and the associated loss of jobs. The committee discussed a number of strategies our IA staff will take to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on fundraising, but it is clear projections for the next few years will be lowered, which will have an impact on our overall budget. Institutional Advancement also explained how fundraisers are working to expand the prospect base to develop new and broader sources of philanthropy to support the university beyond the short term.

The Nominating and Governance Committee reviewed a number of trustee candidates and began to review the role of emeriti trustees.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion met on April 8, prior to the board meeting. Members heard a presentation from Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Raymond Ou, vice provost of student affairs, on the approximately 290 students who remain on campus, many of whom are international students, underrepresented students, or students with challenging home situations and in need of significant support. The committee discussed how the demographics of these students reflect the inequitable impact the pandemic is having on students from diverse backgrounds.

Day Two — Plenary Session

During Tuesday's plenary session, the full board engaged in a discussion led by EVP Uretsky on the multiple financial scenarios we are modeling to prepare for the future effects of COVID-19. Members also reviewed the related proposed strategies to mitigate the financial impact on the university.

Provost Lynch led a discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on teaching, learning, and research and creative work. As with finances, the university is modeling multiple scenarios related to our capacity to hold in-person instruction and research activities. Across these scenarios, our planning will be informed by Massachusetts guidelines on social distancing and guided by the need to maintain the health and safety of Brandeis students, faculty, and staff.        

Jen Walker, dean of admissions and financial aid, gave an update on undergraduate admissions and the steps the Admissions Office has taken and continues to take to ensure that we meet our undergraduate enrollment targets for the upcoming academic year. The board then heard a report on graduate school admissions from Eric Chasalow, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Kathryn Graddy, dean of Brandeis International Business School; David Weil, dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management; and Lynne Rosansky, interim vice president of the Rabb School of Continuing Studies.

Votes and Actions Taken by the Board

The board voted to approve a revised Investment Policy Statement, which the Investment Committee drafted and voted on in September 2019, prior and unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic. The updates are intended to keep the policy in line with best practices and to streamline Investment Office procedures.

The board also voted on an addendum to the 1973 Responsible Investment Guidelines. The addendum establishes a clearer mechanism through which community members can raise socially responsible investment concerns with the board through a formal and defined process. In addition, the addendum brings the 1973 guidelines up-to-date with the university’s use of externally managed comingled funds.

The board then voted on a change to the Faculty Handbook. This change will provide the university with a more flexible faculty promotion and tenure schedule, so that there are no discrepancies in the timeline for the reviews of faculty members hired in the fall versus the spring semesters.

I am pleased to announce that, in executive session, the trustees elected a new board member, Xiru Zhang, MA'90, PhD'91, P'22. Dr. Zhang was the first PhD candidate in Brandeis’ computer science department and went on to become a research scientist in artificial intelligence. He later pursued a successful career in asset management and investment. Today, he is the founder of Double Q Investments and a research affiliate at the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Dr. Zhang studied with the late Brandeis computer science professor David Waltz. To honor his mentor, Dr. Zhang made a lead gift to help establish the David Waltz Graduate Fellowship Endowment Fund at Brandeis. I am delighted to welcome Xiru to our board.

The board reelected the following seven trustees:

And the board elected the following individuals to the Brandeis Board of Fellows:

The board took the following actions to grant tenure and promotions to these outstanding members of our faculty:

Please join me in congratulating all 10 faculty members on these votes of recognition for their scholarship, teaching, and contributions to the Brandeis community.

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In this virtual meeting, the board engaged our institution's emerging challenges and needs with a sense of purpose and perspective. As the university and higher education prepare for challenging times ahead, I am grateful for the insight and expertise of our trustees, and for their support of Brandeis.

Best regards,

Ron

This text was updated on May 13, 2020, to correct errors in an earlier version.