October 2021 Meeting Summary

A report on the meeting of the Board of Trustees from October 7–9, 2021. This was the Board’s first in-person meeting since February 2020.

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke community,

We write to update you on the recent meeting of the Board of Trustees, which took place on the Mount Holyoke College campus October 7–9, 2021.

This was the Board’s first in-person meeting since February 2020, and trustees expressed how much they had missed meeting with faculty, students and staff and working together on our beautiful campus. We were delighted to welcome new trustees Ashanta Evans Blackwell '95, Joud Mar'i '19 and Shirley Wilcher '73 for their first board meeting; to spend some time—in both Board deliberations and in social settings—with members of the Faculty Conference Committee and new tenure-track faculty Shakia Barron (dance), Amanda Maciubo (art studio) and Laurie Tupper (mathematics and statistics); the members of the Strategic Planning Committee; and Student Government Association executive board members EJ Jankovic ’23, Shula Matthew ’22, Sophia Jung ’22, Viveca Holman ’22, Lasya Priya Rao Jarugumilli ’23 and Ananya Singh ’22. We express our heartfelt thanks to the V8s for joining us at the Friday evening reception, and for a memorable performance.

The Trustees thank the entire Mount Holyoke community for individual and collective efforts to ensure this fall’s successful return to the full expression of our academic and cocurricular community. The College welcomed the Class of 2025 to campus for the first time, and we were pleased to bring the full Class of 2024 together on campus for the first time, too. While the pandemic and its many consequences continue to occupy our attention, the return to in-person teaching and learning, campus traditions and other activities has been reinvigorating, and was made possible by the community’s collective attention to maintaining both health and safety, and to delivering the core academic program of the institution. 

Despite the many upheavals of the past year and a half, and in the face of related declines in revenue, Mount Holyoke had, with the extraordinary support of alums, families, friends, faculty, staff and students, a record year for fundraising. This generosity—due in large part to the success of our Meet the Moment Challenge—will allow us to invest in important new initiatives that support student access and success.

In its work, the Board focuses on topics of strategic importance to the College and on areas of challenge and opportunities for growth, as reflected in our most recent agenda. 

(Sensitive Content) Compliance with the Native American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)

Members of the History, Legacies and Memory Task Force shared an update regarding ongoing work to repatriate human remains and return objects in the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum's collections to Indigenous communities as appropriate. Speakers included: Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer; Leslie Fields, head of archives and special collections; Gabe Hall, assistant director of campus diversity programming and LGBTQ initiatives; Aaron Miller, associate curator of visual and material culture and NAGPRA coordinator; and Tricia Paik, the Florence Finch Abbott Director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. 

The discussion of Mount Holyoke’s legacy in relation to Indigenous communities is leading to action. Human remains, held by the College since 1919, left our campus on October 16, 2021 and have been repatriated to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, connected to the Nipmuc tribe. The College also recently adopted a Land Acknowledgement Policy and published capacity-building and support resources. November marks Indigenous Heritage month, featuring a variety of educational and community programs open to the entire Mount Holyoke community. We are giving thoughtful consideration to additional investments in programs to further address the College’s legacy and will share those plans as they are finalized. 

Strategic Planning Process

With the College’s current strategic plan coming to a close, President Sonya Stephens led the Board and representatives from the College’s Strategic Planning Committee and Senior Leadership Team in a discussion of the launch of a new strategic planning process that began this month and will continue through next fall. This is a collaborative exercise that will engage a broad and diverse group of community members in participative meetings to think about the very best future we can imagine for Mount Holyoke. The goal of this process is to craft an informed vision for the institution within a 15-year framework (to our bicentennial in 2037) and construct an actionable four-year plan. This exercise will highlight what is most distinctive about Mount Holyoke and identify those ideas where our mission and values and the interests and commitments of our faculty and staff meet the aspirations and desires of prospective students, so that we might advance the College and the educational experience it offers and continue to attract the most talented students, faculty and staff to our campus.

Supporting Student Success

Amber Douglas, dean of the College, Robin Randall, vice president for enrollment management and Alex Wirth-Cauchon, executive director of LITS and chief information officer, summarized  the cross-divisional efforts underway to support student success. They shared our coordinated, student-centered vision and a renewed focus on the student academic experience, as we work to create the pathways to success, integrate multiple forms of advising and provide easy access to other resources in support of academic excellence. Central to implementing this vision is a newly-launched project to examine the College’s business processes, applications, data and reporting environments, the result of which will be a seamless and integrated experience for all users, especially students, throughout the life cycle of their engagement with the College. This investment will enable faculty and staff to integrate new and existing tools and processes to provide individualized advising and services, and to use data to improve the student experience and student success.

Board of Trustees Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force

The Task Force met to review progress and recommendations related to the Anti-Racism Action Plan. The 2020-21 annual update was published to this website in July. The full Board of Trustees participated in a plenary session focused on the College's history related to Indigenous communities. At a future meeting, the Board of Trustees will receive a report from the History, Legacies and Memory Task Force and work in partnership to connect the Task Force findings to the Board’s current commitment to inclusion and equity There was also an opportunity for the focused engagement of Board members in reflective work on questions of gender equity and inclusion at Mount Holyoke. Two focused sessions led by DEI team members included education on anti-racist policies and practices and gender affirming sessions focused on support trans and non binary members of the campus community. The sessions were instrumental for personal development and better understanding institutional policies and practices around inclusion.

Endowment Report

Ana Yankova ’97, chief investment officer, reported on the performance of the endowment, reviewing FY21 performance and providing FY22 projections. In FY21 the endowment generated an investment return of 38%, the highest since 1987 and a marked increase from 4% in FY20. This result places the endowment in the top quartile of nearly 400 institutions of higher education in the Cambridge Associates universe, which benchmarks endowment performance in the sector. As of June 30, 2021, the endowment was valued at $1.068 billion. A strong endowment allows the College to invest in areas directly impacting student access and success, including prioritizing forthcoming changes in financial aid awards to better support low income students. We also draw your attention to the letter of October 18 which provided an update on the Board’s February 2021 decision to phase out fossil fuel investments in the context of the College’s broader environmental efforts and initiatives

In the meetings of the standing committees:

  • Shannon Gurek, vice president of finance and administration, reviewed with the Finance Committee early FY22 budget forecasts and longer-range steady-state projections through FY31, against which the impact of future changes to variables such as enrollment, endowment distribution and tuition discount rate can be tested for their long-term impact. The Committee also received an update on the Mead Hall restoration project in preparation for the accommodation of students in the spring semester. The Energy Master Plan was also discussed, in keeping with the significance of this project in the context of environmental sustainability and the College’s overall capital plan. The Finance Committee will meet again prior to the February board meeting.
  • The Joint Conference Committee discussed faculty engagement in the strategic planning process and a proposal to include some faculty representatives in future board meetings.
  • The Before MHC Committee was briefed on recently completed financial aid studies and the most salient financial aid policy recommendations, which reflect national conversations about college costs, access, affordability and inclusion. The Committee discussed ongoing and frequent review of Mount Holyoke’s financial aid program and a range of metrics that might be used to measure impact in admissions and financial aid awards. Leykia Nulan, dean of admissions, also presented the work of the Admission Access and Inclusion Planning Group, and this group reviewed progress made on their commitments in the Anti-Racism Action Plan.
  • Dean Douglas, Dorothy Mosby, interim dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs and Marcella Runell Hall, vice president for student life and dean of students, shared updates from their divisions to the During MHC Committee, focused on the return to in-person teaching and learning and the student on-campus experience, as well as on growing use of Pathways, the College’s interactive advising tool. There was also discussion of the recent external review of the Equestrian Center, with a commitment to gathering more data in advance of considering strategic recommendations.
  • The After MHC Committee discussed the College’s exceptional fundraising momentum and engaged in conversation about the technological and human resources necessary to achieve the College's future stakeholder engagement and participation goals. The committee discussed specific priorities and actions for examining barriers to equity and inclusion in stakeholder engagement and participation.

In its formal actions on October 9, the Board approved the following:

  • The fall conferral of Bachelor of Arts degrees for nine undergraduate students and Master of Arts in Teaching degrees for 35 graduate students, approved by the vote of the faculty on October 13, 2021.
  • The recommendation for retirement of Girma Kebbede, Professor of Geography, in 2021; Larry Schipull, Professor of Music, in 2022; and Margaret Robinson, Julia and Sarah Ann Adams Professor of Mathematics, in 2025.
  • An amendment to the bylaws to name the Vice President for Student Success and Dean of the College as an Officer of the College. This adds the title of Vice President for Student Success to that of Dean of the College, a position currently held by Amber Douglas. 

The Board looks forward to continuing its conversations with the Strategic Planning Committee, the Joint Conference Committee, the Alumnae Association and other constituents about our vision for the future of the College and ways to engage the Mount Holyoke College community in support of this work. And we express our profound gratitude and appreciation for the many ways in which the College’s dedicated faculty and staff continue to offer an outstanding educational experience for the students, to our students for their patience and energy and to our alum and friend community for generously supporting that mission and vision.

Karena Strella ’90
Chair of the Board of Trustees

Sonya Stephens