Fall 2017 Board of Trustees Meeting Summary

A letter summarizing the Board Meeting that took place October 12 through October 14, 2017.

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke College community,

We write to report on the recent meeting of the Board of Trustees, held on campus from October 12 through October 14, 2017, amidst the glorious colors of our New England fall.

On Thursday morning we were joined by six new trustees, Elizabeth Barbeau ’85, Jennie Berkson ’76, Lori Bettison-Varga, Erin Ennis ’92, Gareth Ross and Raj Seshadri ’87, for a lively orientation session on departments and initiatives at the College, as well as a review of Board roles and fiduciary responsibilities. Later the new trustees joined members of the Advancement Committee for an afternoon-long session focused on understanding philanthropy in the context of higher education and the important role it plays in securing the vibrancy of the College.

We were delighted to be joined for a reception and dinner on Thursday evening by nearly a dozen newly hired tenure-track faculty, a number of student trustee fellows and several award-winning students who are involved in a range of innovative entrepreneurship activities.

On Friday morning, Acting President Sonya Stephens introduced a strategic plan scorecard and provided the Board with an extensive update on the College’s progress to date on the four strategic priorities of the Plan for Mount Holyoke 2021. Included in the report was an announcement that, in support of Priority #3: An Inclusive and Collaborative Community, the College will be hiring a vice president for diversity and inclusion to advance the ongoing work of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative.

Later, trustee Heather Harde ’91 and Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness Polly Prewitt-Freilino provided the annual overview of the U.S. News and World Report ranking system, noting specific areas of future College focus, consistent with its mission and priorities, including:  

  • increasing the retention rate of first-year students and overall student graduation rate
  • improving faculty resources
  • further optimizing class sizes
  • enhancing applications and improving applicant yields
  • increasing alumnae giving.

Dean of Faculty Jon Western, Dean of Students Marcella Runell Hall and Vice President for Finance and Administration Shannon Gurek presented an update on efforts tied to the College’s facilities master plan. Gurek reported that construction of the new $50-million Community Center is on time and on budget, with the new dining center slated to be fully operational in January 2018. Runell Hall reported on the repurposing of opportunity space in residence halls — space that will be freed up when the new dining facility opens in the spring. Priorities include creating additional rooms for students in Brigham Hall and the Rockies; the addition of multipurpose space in Abbey/Buckland and Ham/MacGregor; and an innovative interdisciplinary design and makerspace in Prospect Hall. Western then provided a detailed presentation on the proposed expansion of a design space, which will enable students to utilize technology in a wide range of object-based, project-based, community-based and team-based learning projects. We look forward to sharing more about this exciting project in the near future.

Standing committees met throughout the day on Friday, which culminated in the dedication of the new Weissman Student Commons. Former trustee Harriet Weissman ’58 and her husband, Paul, longtime supporters of the College, greeted student leaders, faculty and President Emeritus Joanne Creighton for a reception and tour of the newly renovated Blanchard Hall. Acting President Stephens described the historical evolution of Blanchard Hall from its earliest beginnings as a gymnasium to its current status as a hub for student life and activities, celebrated the leadership and generosity of the Weissmans in support of student development and described the vision for the Weissman Student Commons. On Saturday morning, the Board heard reports from standing committees. In its formal actions, the Board:

  • voted to enter into a new 10-year agreement with the Alumnae Association, with a formal joint announcement to be released shortly
  • approved a gift acceptance policy
  • endorsed an ethical code of conduct policy for College employees
  • discussed proposed revisions to the bylaws, to be reviewed at a future meeting
  • approved additional spending in support of planning work on the potential design space in Prospect Hall
  • approved the conferral of degrees for seven seniors and 24 graduate students
  • approved the posthumous promotion to the rank of full professor for Kavita Datla.

Following an executive session, the Board met jointly over lunch with the Alumnae Association board of directors to discuss further alignment between their respective strategic plans, particularly as it relates to alumnae engagement.

Finally, on Saturday evening, several members of the Board attended a remarkable a cappella performance celebrating the 75th anniversary of the V8s. Members of the V8s representing four decades were on campus for the concert, which provided the perfect ending to a productive and collaborative weekend.  


Barbara Baumann ’77
Chair of the Board of Trustees

Sonya Stephens
Acting President