April 2021 Board of Trustees Meeting Report

April 30, 2021

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

As the semester begins to wind down, I hope that you are getting the chance to enjoy the warmer weather. Today, I am writing to report on actions taken by the Board of Trustees during its recent virtual meeting, held April 25-27.

At the meeting, we were delighted to welcome our two newest trustees, Ronald Ratner ‘69 and Daniel Blumenthal ‘85. Ron and Dan, who were elected earlier this month, bring deep experience in real estate and the nonprofit sector to the board. The entire board and I look forward to working with them throughout their terms as trustees.

In the main plenary session, I provided the trustees with an update on the ways that Brandeis is continuing to adapt to the evolving constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic — and I reflected on the success and challenges of the past 12 months for our university.

As I have noted previously, our sustained low infection rates, the advent of effective vaccines, and our community’s demonstrated commitment to embracing public health practices give us the confidence to offer a robust, safe, in-person experience for the fall 2021 semester.

Already, we have taken steps toward this "new normal." Last week, Brandeis conducted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic on our campus, which provided approximately 1,300 students, faculty, and staff with their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. In the coming months, we will continue to host these clinics so that unvaccinated community members can easily obtain a COVID-19 vaccine. As we've experienced warmer weather in Waltham, it has also been encouraging to see an increasing number of events and activities take place across our campus.

With the end of the semester rapidly approaching, we are also preparing for our 2021 Commencement ceremony. Our hybrid approach to the ceremony will span the weeks leading up to the conferral of degrees on May 23, enabling all members of our community to participate regardless of where they are. On May 23, students, families, and members of the Brandeis community will have the opportunity to watch the main ceremony, which will be streamed and accessible through a university-provided link. We are excited to welcome this year's Commencement speaker, Bryan Stevenson, to Brandeis, and to honor each of the 2021 honorary degree recipients.

Beyond these updates, I also shared information with the trustees about the longer-term strategic work that has progressed at Brandeis despite the challenges of the pandemic. This includes the ongoing Reimagining Public Safety process and the search for the New Chief of Public Safety; the continued progress on the university’s draft antiracism plans, which will be posted to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion website by mid-May for community review and feedback; the launch of the new Indigenous Land Statement Committee, which is charged with drafting an accurate and informative statement that acknowledges the indigenous land on which Brandeis resides; and the development of several key initiatives that will advance some of the core ideas and goals outlined in the Framework for the Future.

Following this general 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 an update from Carol Fierke, provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, and Stewart Uretsky, executive vice president for finance and administration, on the ongoing efforts, with collaboration of the Committee for Strategy and Planning, to address long-term financial planning and budget prioritization.

I am pleased to share that the board approved the university’s Fiscal Year 2022 operating and capital budgets, which include a restoration of the retirement match contribution and the 2.75% merit pool increase for faculty and staff. In addition, after holding both tuition rates and room and board rates flat last year, the FY22 budget includes a 4.9% increase in the tuition rate and a 3.5% increase in the room and board rate, which increases the Brandeis cost of attendance by 4.56%. It also includes difficult, but necessary, administrative budget cuts totaling approximately 3.5% of our operating budget, and continues to account for the financial uncertainty that the institution continues to face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Please join me in congratulating professors Brooks Hedstrom, Jadhav, and Xue on these votes of recognition for their scholarship, teaching, and contributions to the Brandeis community.

Highlights from the Board Committees

In the Academy Committee meeting, members voted to approve a recommended change to the Faculty Handbook, which adjusts the composition of the Committee on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice and staggers the members’ terms.

The committee also received an update from Provost Carol Fierke on the introduction of a new combined BA/MA in Philosophy; the discontinuation of the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program; and general information about Brandeis’ planning for the fall 2021 semester.

Erika Smith, dean of academic services, provided the committee with a report on the retention of students and noted that, despite the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandeis' retention rate has remained high. Haley Rosenfeld, director of institutional research, then gave a presentation on key metrics that the Office of Institutional Research regularly tracks, and discussed with members how data from that office can inform their discussions at future meetings.

Finally, Avital Rodal, associate professor of biology, presented the proposal for a new Interdepartmental Program and Bachelor of Science Major in Engineering Science at Brandeis, which the Committee voted unanimously to advance for a final vote. At its plenary session, the full board approved the creation of this exciting new program and major at Brandeis.

In the Resources Committee, members reviewed the Fiscal Year 2021 operating and capital forecasts and the Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal. The operating forecast for FY2021 reflects a breakeven operating margin, after accounting for $4.4M in federal relief funding that will offset lost revenue due to COVID-19.

Beyond these budget discussions, the committee voted to authorize the university to pursue a debt refinancing opportunity in August 2021, which could generate as much as $200,000 in annual debt service savings, and to extend the date by which up to $5M in unrestricted bequests may be redirected to the Springboard Funding Plan.

Members also received updates on key strategic capital projects, including the “Science Phase 2a” building project, on the implementation of Workday Student and Salesforce to replace the Institutional Advancement CRM software, and on continued sustainability and carbon reduction efforts on campus.

At its meeting earlier this month, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee received a presentation from Mark Brimhall-Vargas, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion and chief diversity officer, Provost Carol Fierke, and Haley Rosenfeld on DEI metrics for undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty. Following a discussion of these data, members heard from Sava Berhané, faculty representative to the committee and senior lecturer in the Brandeis International Business School, about the ongoing work of the Faculty Senate’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Committee.

The Student Life Committee received a presentation from Leah Berkenwald, director of health promotion and wellness initiatives, and Amy Scobie-Carroll, director of the Brandeis Counseling Center, on Brandeis' mental health and wellness infrastructure and ongoing efforts to further support student mental health on campus.

Next, members heard from Jon Schlesinger, interim director of the Hiatt Career Center, about the center's recently completed external review report. The report highlights the importance of building relationships with community stakeholders; shifting toward an industry-based model for career advising and employer relations; integrating alumni into career services events and networking; and more proactively responding to the needs of students of color.

Finally, Brandeis student leaders and student board representatives discussed several topics of interest with the committee, including Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for faculty, graduate student resources, Community Advisor compensation, student life programming and club support, and summer school costs.

Zamira Korff, senior vice president for institutional advancement, provided the Institutional Advancement Committee with an overview of progress toward FY21 fundraising goals. The committee also heard updates on the robust virtual alumni programming that has occurred in the first three months of the calendar year, which included 92 programs with several thousand faculty, students, staff, alumni, parents, and friends participating. This high-touch virtual programming will continue throughout the spring semester, including through Alumni College and Alumni Weekend. Members also received an update on the launch of the new BConnect online community for alumni and students, which offers opportunities for networking and mentoring.

Finally, the committee discussed the ongoing planning for Brandeis' fundraising campaign with MaryJane Kubler and Karl Wirka, principals of KublerWirka, who serve as counsel to Institutional Advancement for the campaign.

The Nominating and Governance Committee met earlier this month to receive updates and engage in discussion on a number of topics, including trustee engagement and the ongoing efforts to develop more robust best practices for board governance.

In the Risk Management and Audit Committee, members heard a report from Vincent Lim, associate vice president of financial and strategic initiatives, and representatives from the consulting firm Baker Tilly on enterprise risk management in a post-COVID-19 environment. The committee also received updates from RSM US, the new auditor for the university’s financial statements, and from the internal audit team at the Boston Consortium.

Finally, Nicholas Warren, chief investment officer, provided members of the Investment Committee with a report on endowment performance.

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I am grateful for the trustees' deep support for Brandeis — and for their ongoing partnership as we have navigated the challenges of COVID-19 over the past year.

Best regards,

Ron