Office of the President

September Board of Trustees Meeting Report

September 24, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff, 

I am writing to report on the Board of Trustees meeting held virtually on September 13-15. 

Since I last wrote with updates on the Board, the trustees welcomed three new members into their ranks — Merle R. Carrus, P'12, president of the Brandeis National Committee, Linda Heller Kamm '61, and Bing-Le Wu, PhD'91. The trustees also welcomed Sonali Anderson '22, the new junior undergraduate representative, to the Board. 

In the main plenary session, I provided the trustees with updates on the university's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to discussing the successful rollout of our mandatory, high-frequency testing program and key on-campus metrics, the trustees also heard updates on the challenges that students, faculty, staff, and administrators have faced in adjusting to the new campus environment; the creativity with which our faculty have re-imagined their courses to adjust to hybrid and online learning; and our continued efforts to maintain our current success in limiting COVID-19 on our campus.

Following this discussion, Mark Brimhall-Vargas, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I provided the trustees with updates on Brandeis' ongoing work to develop action plans to transform our campus and address anti-Black racism. In particular, we discussed the recent meetings that senior administrators and I have had with the student leaders of the "Black Action Plan," which provides actionable items for how we can build a more equitable institution. Mark has been working hard over the past several months with colleagues across our campus to develop these plans, which we look forward to sharing with the Brandeis community later in the fall semester.

I want to thank the Board's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for its advice and support over the past several months as the university has grappled with these important issues. In advance of the September Board meeting, the committee met twice to review the Black Action Plan and discuss how it can support the administration in its partnership with the students who are leading these efforts. The committee is also beginning to plan for an in-depth discussion of these topics with the full Board at its November retreat. 

In addition to these topics, throughout the meeting the Board discussed the ongoing efforts to re-imagine Brandeis' approach to public safety and the search process to identify Brandeis' next provost.

Finally, Board Chair Meyer Koplow '72, P'02, P'05, announced the intention to separate out student life from the Board's Academy Committee's mandate and create a separate Student Life standing committee. This will allow a committee to focus on a key Framework goal of enriching the student life experience at Brandeis. I look forward to providing further updates on the formation of this committee in the coming months. 

Highlights from the Board committees 

In the Academy Committee meeting, members heard updates from Provost Lisa Lynch on the 31 new faculty members and postdoctoral faculty fellows who joined Brandeis this academic year; the trends in enrollment across the university's schools and units; and overall data and discussion on how academic affairs and student affairs are managing and responding to the consequences of the pandemic on students' experience with the fall semester.

In the Resources Committee meeting, members reviewed the preliminary FY20 financial results and heard an update on current (FY21) finances. FY20 ended with an operating surplus of $1.15M, and was the sixth consecutive year of narrow positive operating results. In addition to general updates from Campus Operations, Human Resources, and Information Technology Services, the Committee heard reports on the university's management of the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the increased distribution of financial aid; the processing of $3.2M in CARES Act funds; and the mitigating financial levers that were implemented in the summer to offset a projected $38M in reduced revenue. 

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. Fundraising totals for FY20 represented a 15% increase over FY19, and the best fundraising year in 10 years with the exception of FY17, when the university received a $50M bequest. 

The Nominating and Governance Committee received updates and engaged in discussion on a number of topics, including the continued efforts to build a strong pipeline of diverse trustee candidates; recommendations to improve Board governance; and trustee engagement.

Finally, in the Risk Management and Audit Committee, members received an update from KPMG, the university's external auditor, on the status of FY20 audits; it also reviewed a report from the Boston Consortium, the university's internal auditor, on Brandeis' compliance with donor restrictions on gifts to the university. Additionally, the committee received an update on the university's efforts to track and manage risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.    

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I want to thank the trustees for their ongoing engagement with Brandeis during this difficult time, and for their insight, expertise, and partnership as we chart a path forward for the university. 

Best regards,