January 2021 BOT Meeting Report

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I hope that you had a safe and restful winter break. Whether you’re returning to campus or starting the semester remotely, welcome back.

I am writing to report on actions taken by the Board of Trustees during its recent virtual meeting, held January 24-26.

In the main plenary session, I provided the trustees with several updates on Brandeis’ ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of our low rates of infection last year, it is clear that our campus community demonstrated a strong commitment to our health protocols throughout the fall semester. To date, we have collected nearly 100,000 COVID-19 tests, with fewer than 125 students, faculty, and staff infected.

As a new semester begins and we welcome approximately 1,900 undergraduates back to live on campus, we are eager to build upon the success of the fall semester. In addition to continuing our high-frequency, mandatory COVID-19 testing program, we also sent approximately 1,400 testing kits to students’ homes over the past several weeks so that they can receive a test result before traveling to campus. This pre-arrival testing added an additional layer of security to our COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Formalizing a public health advisory process that we started last semester, Brandeis has also recently established a Public Health Advisory Committee, which includes several doctors, epidemiologists, and public health experts. The committee — which is chaired by Carol Fierke, PhD’84, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs; Stewart Uretsky, executive vice president for finance and administration; and Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, vice president of student affairs — will provide high-level strategic guidance and recommendations on all university public health decisions and strategies related to COVID-19.

Additionally, over the break, the Facilities Services and Student Affairs teams planned a variety of new outdoor activities — including a winter market and the installation of an ice-skating rink — that will enable students to connect with one another and spend time outside while remaining safe throughout the winter months in Waltham.

As the semester ramps up, we are planning a series of community check-ins to continue the conversation with students, parents, faculty, and staff about Brandeis’ spring operations and future plans in the face of the ongoing pandemic. We will send out more information about these events over the coming weeks.

Following this update, the trustees received a report from Jennifer Walker, dean of admissions and financial aid, on the status of undergraduate admissions for the upcoming academic year; and they heard a brief report-out from Stew Uretsky on the ongoing Re-Imagining Public Safety process.

Finally, I am pleased to share that the board took the following actions to grant tenure and promotions to these outstanding members of our faculty:

●   Joel P. Christensen ’01, MA’01, was promoted to professor with tenure in the Department of Classical Studies.

●   Sarah Mayorga, of the Department of Sociology, was appointed associate professor with tenure.

Please join me in congratulating Professors Christensen and Mayorga on these votes of recognition for their scholarship, teaching, and contributions to the Brandeis community.

Highlights from the Board Committees

Zamira Korff, senior vice president of institutional advancement, provided the Institutional Advancement Committee with an overview of progress toward FY21 fundraising goals. The committee also discussed the formation of a new fundraising campaign working group, which will be charged with making recommendations for future campaign goals and timeline, provide feedback for campaign messaging, shape the campaign menu of giving opportunities, and advise on fundraising strategies. Trustees Mindy Schneider ’75, P’17, and Dan Jick ’79, P’09, P’12, will co-chair the group. Due to a shortage of time, the committee planned to reconvene to review progress made toward the Alumni Relations strategic plan, “One Brandeis.”

In the inaugural meeting of the Student Life Committee, Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, vice president of student affairs, facilitated a discussion about priorities for the committee’s work in the coming months, including Hiatt career services, student mental health, student life programming, community living, and graduate student affairs.

Jon Schlesinger, interim director of the Hiatt Center, outlined steps the Hiatt Center is taking to improve operations, including formalizing a new employer relations strategy and expanding outreach to students and clubs to provide internship and job information.

Finally, undergraduate representative Sonali Anderson and graduate student representative Twama “Pheora” Nambili, as well as undergraduate DeBorah Ault, shared several updates about student life with the committee.

In the Academy Committee meeting, members heard from Carol Fierke, our new provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, about her first three weeks back at Brandeis, where she received her PhD in biochemistry in 1984. They also received a report on the spring 2021 semester, and updates on how the academy is continuing to innovate and adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katy Graddy, dean of Brandeis International Business School; Dorothy Hodgson, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences; and David Weil, dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, presented information about some of the opportunities and challenges associated with faculty recruitment and retention, including the high cost of living in the Boston area.

Finally, members received a report by Matthew Sheehy, university librarian, which highlighted the ways that the library has served the Brandeis community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Nominating and Governance Committee received updates and engaged in a discussion of a number of topics, including trustee engagement and the ongoing efforts to develop a strong pipeline of diverse candidates for board membership.

Earlier this month, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee met to review a presentation by Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, on demographics at Brandeis. The metrics included information on full-time faculty recruitment, undergraduate and graduate students, and staff. Following this presentation, the committee discussed ideas for other data points that would be beneficial to track moving forward.

The Risk Management and Audit Committee received a report on public safety initiatives, and an update on the search process for the director of public safety/chief of police, which is expected to be completed by summer 2021.

Jim La Creta, chief information officer, and David Albrecht, chief information security officer, provided the committee with several updates regarding Brandeis’ information technology infrastructure, including efforts to enhance cybersecurity measures and cellular coverage across campus, security camera installations, and Workday Student implementation.

In the Resources Committee, members received a report on the FY21 operating budget forecast. Despite the increased costs associated with Brandeis’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university is expected to maintain a balanced budget this fiscal year, due in large measure to the sacrifices and contributions of members of our community. The committee also received an update on the status of the ongoing FY22 budget process.

In addition to general reports from Campus Operations, Human Resources, and Information Technology Services, the committee also discussed preliminary planning for a new Science Complex building project, which will provide Brandeis with more space for research labs, project labs, and learning spaces in the sciences. This project, which was outlined in the Framework for the Future, is still in the early phases of development.

Finally, Nicholas Warren, chief investment officer, provided members of the Investment Committee with a report on 2020 investment performance, reviewed U.S. equity and fixed income valuations, discussed portfolio rebalancing options, and reviewed the real estate allocation.

* * * * *

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us at Brandeis to reevaluate and adjust every facet of the institution. I am grateful for the trustees’ continued support of and engagement with our community throughout this difficult period, and for the incredible effort put forth by the faculty and staff.

Best regards,

Ron Liebowitz