January Board of Trustees Meeting Report
Feb. 3, 2022
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
As we mark the beginning of a new year and semester, I hope that you are all safe, rested, and well. Today, I am writing to report on the recent Board of Trustees meetings which were held virtually January 24-25.
In the main plenary session of the meetings, I updated the trustees on the state of fundraising at the university. Thanks to the diligent work of our colleagues in Institutional Advancement, Brandeis is well on its way to meeting its fundraising goals for new gifts and pledges, total cash, and unrestricted cash for the fiscal year. Indeed, the institution has secured a number of generous gifts from alumni, friends, and partners of the university in recent months, including an extraordinary gift from Bobbi Samuels '63 and the Samuels Family Foundation to create the Vic and Bobbi '63 Samuels Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation.
I also spoke about Brandeis' ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I detailed our planning for the beginning of the semester, which included allowing for students to arrive on campus throughout the month of January, encouraging pre-arrival testing for all members of our community, and delaying the start of in-person classes and on-campus work for non-essential employees to the first day of February. With your cooperation, we have been able to maintain a relatively low positivity rate, despite the state-wide rise in infections due to the Omicron variant. As we track updates from the CDC, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and our local board of public health, we will continue to examine and adjust our protocols to reflect the evolving data and guidance of public health professionals.
In light of the recent hostage-taking in Colleyville, I dedicated a portion of the plenary session to discussing the university’s response to the events and concerns about overall campus safety. The university will continue to identify and address measures that will improve physical security on campus, strengthen our collaboration with law enforcement, and provide safety training to our community as part of our commitment to making all members of our institution feel safe at Brandeis.
The Board unanimously adopted several amendments to its bylaws related to its own internal governance. These changes were an outgrowth of a retreat that the Board held last November, following a full governance review that was facilitated by an outside expert in governance practices in higher education. The amendments establish outside term limits for board service by all current and future trustees, establish the process by which trustees may be considered for re-election (subject to the outside term limits), and establish criteria for election of retiring trustees to emeritus status.
At the meeting, the Board welcomed Brandeis alumnus and new trustee Todd Soloway '88, who was elected earlier this month. Soloway brings to the Board his extensive experience in the fields of hospitality, real estate, and real estate finance law, and the Board looks forward to working with him through his term as a trustee.
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:
- Karen Donelan, the Stuart H. Altman Chair in U.S. Health Policy, in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, was granted tenure at the rank of full professor;
- Monika Mitra, the Nancy Lurie Marks Associate Professor of Disability Policy and Director of the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, was granted tenure at the rank of associate professor;
- Pamina Firchow, associate professor in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, was granted tenure;
- Omer Offen was promoted to the rank of professor with tenure in the mathematics department;
- And Olga Papaemmanouil was promoted to the rank of professor with tenure in the computer science department.
Please join me in congratulating Professors Donelan, Mitra, Firchow, Offen, and Papaemmanouil.
Highlights from the Board Committees
In the Academy Committee meeting, trustees discussed the university’s interim report to the New England Commission of Higher Education in fall 2022. The report will highlight Brandeis' successes in implementing, to date, portions of the Framework for the Future, addressing budget and operational challenges, advancing the effectiveness of university governance, and increasing diversity at the university. The committee also reviewed preliminary data on student retention rates.
Professor Sara Shostak provided a presentation on plans for the Vic and Bobbi '63 Samuels Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee
Interim Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer David Fryson updated the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee on the implementation of the university’s revised Anti-Racism Plans, which were shared in early December. Trustees were also provided an update from representatives of the faculty Committee on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice on their goals and areas of focus for the academic year.
Institutional Advancement Committee
The Institutional Advancement Committee heard a detailed update on the university’s progress toward realizing its fundraising goals for FY'22, which are significantly higher than those of FY'21. When controlling for bequests and Springboard, which vary greatly from year to year, the levels of both new gifts, pledges, and cash totals through Q2 are higher than at this time over the preceding five years. Institutional Advancement attributes these results to the Springboard investment in frontline staff and gift officers working at a significantly higher level. Other drivers of success include a greater awareness of Framework opportunities and priorities, a heightened culture of philanthropy among university volunteers, pride-building campaigns, and improved reporting.
Members of the committee also heard an update on capital campaign planning and the progress of the Campaign Working Group, which plans to make recommendations to the Board on the scope and contours of a fundraising campaign. The committee also offered suggestions for possible themes, publications, events, and other ideas as part of the university's 75th anniversary planning, which is currently under way.
Nominating and Governance Committee
At the Nominating and Governance Committee meeting, committee members discussed processes for trustee recruitment and review of those trustees whose terms will expire in the near future.
In the Resources Committee, members received an update on the FY'22 operating budget. A modest budget surplus is forecasted due to a number of factors, which include strong student enrollment and increased sponsored research.
Committee members also heard updates on the proposal process for the administration of the dining program beginning this July, planning for the Science Phase 2A construction project, and a housing planning study to improve student residential life.
Risk Management and Audit Committee
Members of the Risk Management and Audit Committee participated in a discussion about the challenges the higher education industry faces with regard to securing insurance coverage, gaps in coverage, and increases in premiums. After reviewing Brandeis’ coverage and premiums, the committee resolved to gather information on possible strategies to address the challenges.
The committee also heard updates on the three-year internal audit plan, Information Technology Services security initiatives, enforcement of our conflict of interest policy, and public safety.
Student Life Committee
Members of the Student Life Committee heard from Monique Gnanaratnam, Dean of Students, who led a presentation on Brandeis’ Care Team, whose members are tasked with evaluating and responding to students in need of significant support. The committee then participated in a discussion where they were able to ask questions about the increasing challenges related to mental health-related cases.
Jessica Basile, Assistant Dean of Students, gave a presentation on the Office of Graduate Affairs (OGA), which supports graduate students at Brandeis through coordinated social programs, off-campus housing assistance, and peer mentoring networks. Wendy Cadge, the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, also reported on joint efforts with OGA to standardize the health leave process and TA training for graduate students.
I appreciated having this opportunity to connect with the Board to solicit their guidance as the university seeks to respond to the challenges and opportunities it faces. Their support and engagement continue to be invaluable to me, and I look forward to our next set of meetings in April. I would also like to thank my colleagues in the administration and their staffs for assembling all supporting materials necessary for these board meetings, and our faculty and student representatives to the Board for their participation and input into the conversations and decisions ultimately taken by the Board.