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February 2021 Board of Trustees Meeting Summary

March 26, 2021

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke community,

Spring has come to South Hadley and so has the anniversary of the closing of our campus because of COVID-19. The impact of the past year will reverberate for a long time: Our lives changed, many in our midst suffered losses and we were all forced to redefine the Mount Holyoke experience in real time.

Yet it is with hope and excitement that we look forward to a new academic year and a return to a more usual expression of Mount Holyoke’s academic and community life. We hope that you share a similar sense of anticipation as the College completes planning for the fall, which will include the full residential experience, in-person instruction, and a return to 15-week semester-long courses. This is enabled by greater access to vaccines and declining infection rates in many states, as well as our own track record. Thanks to support from staff, students and faculty who have worn their masks and participated in regular testing protocols, Mount Holyoke has safely resumed limited residential operations.

The Board of Trustees recognizes this has been a difficult period. We are grateful to everyone in the community who worked creatively and unfailingly to adjust to the changes necessitated by COVID-19. We look forward to preserving some of the innovations that have emerged during these times. While we have successfully faced many challenges brought by the pandemic, we recognize additional challenges lie ahead. We will need to think deeply about other changes that will be necessary to preserve Mount Holyoke’s character and reputation while ensuring a strong future for the College.

All of the Board of Trustees meetings have now been remote for over a year and we too look forward to returning to campus in the fall. As is customary following each meeting of the Board of Trustees, this update summarizes our recent meeting, which was held February 25-27, 2021.

The Board has adopted a streamlined committee structure to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our fiduciary oversight. This was our first meeting under the new structure. As part of a pilot program that will run through spring 2022, three major committees encapsulate the full spectrum of the Mount Holyoke experience:

  • Before MHC: focused on attracting the most talented students, shaping a diverse and global community and extending the reach and reputation of Mount Holyoke College.
  • During MHC: focused on academic excellence, the strength of the faculty, and the important intersection of the curricular and cocurricular experience.
  • After MHC: focused on the continued connection to and support of Mount Holyoke through enhanced engagement and giving opportunities for alums and friends.

The new structure ensures that the trustees have a multi-faceted view of key priorities while placing academic excellence, engagement, and diversity, equity and inclusion at the center of our work. It reduces overlapping portfolios of the prior structure while helping to focus the work of legally mandated committees that include the Finance, Nominating and Governance, Audit/Risk and Investment committees. Every committee is charged with engaging our strategic priorities, including Mount Holyoke’s long-term financial sustainability and short-term financial health. The changes are also intended to strengthen relationships between trustees and campus constituents, and to make more visible the work of the Board and its emphases.

The formal business of the Board of Trustees included the following actions:

  • The setting of the 2021-2022 tuition rate at $56,300, the room rate at $8,320, and the board rate at $8,260, for a total fee of $73,098 (this includes a student activities fee of $218, set by the Student Government Association). 
  • The awarding, in March, of the Bachelor of Arts degree to 77 seniors, and the degree of Master of Arts in Teaching to one graduate student, provided that each candidate has met all degree or certificate requirements and subject to a vote of the faculty.
  • The awarding of tenure to Jason Andras, Kyle Broaders, Serin D. Houston and Matthew C. Watson, who will be promoted to the rank of associate professor on July 1, 2021.
  • The reappointment of Jonathan Ashby, Ali Aslam, Andrea Lawlor, Rebeccah Lijek, Sabra Thorner and André White as assistant professors.
  • Confirmation of the retirements of Giuliana Davidoff and Mark Peterson, effective  June 30, 2021, and of the recommendation that Bettina Bergmann and Donna Van Handle be awarded emeritus status following their retirements on December 31, 2020.
  • The election of Kira Hudson Banks ’00 as an Alumna Trustee for a five-year term, beginning July 1, 2022.
  • The amendment to the bylaws section, changing the designation “Young Alumna Trustee” to “Recent Graduate Trustee.”
  • Approval of a recommendation from the Investment Committee that there be no new endowment commitments to specialist private funds focused on coal mining and/or the acquisition, exploration or production of oil.
  • Approval of capital projects to begin in fiscal year 2021-22, which will be funded by deferred maintenance reserves in the amount of $6,600,000 and existing debt in the amount of $1,925,000, for a total of $8,525,00. These include a major renovation to Gamble Auditorium and the replacement of the synthetic turf field and track, as well as a range of safety and code upgrades.

Two general sessions were held over the course of the Board’s meetings: a workshop on financial aid and an update on sustainability efforts.

The College’s strategic focus on academic excellence and leadership, global understanding, community,  financial sustainability, and diversity, equity and inclusion, requires that every dimension of our work and operations respond to these imperatives. Our admission and financial aid policies are key to success in these areas. With this in mind, and in light of the additional goals in the College’s anti-racism action plan, the Board engaged in a preliminary analysis of the College’s financial aid program, led by Vice President for Enrollment Management Robin Randall, and supported by Kathy Blaisdell, director of student financial services, and Kate Rajbhandari, senior associate director. Following this detailed analysis, there was discussion of the study that has been launched to benchmark and evaluate the College’s financial aid policies and practices.The preliminary recommendations of this study will be considered at the May meeting of the Board of Trustees.

The second general session was a four-part presentation of initiatives linked to the College’s commitment to sustainability — another key priority in the current Strategic Plan — as well as  the focus of related recommendations made in 2017 by the Sustainability Task Force. This session began with an overview of the College’s ongoing sustainability efforts, including the work of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment, the director of sustainability, and the Sustainability Steering Committee, which includes representatives from across the campus.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Shannon Gurek provided an overview of the range of ways in which the many divisions and departments of the College are working toward the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2037. The College recently commissioned a study of campus energy to identify solutions that would address our direct greenhouse gas, or Scope 1, emissions, and the future of heating and cooling on the campus. This preliminary presentation to the Board of Trustees laid out a phased plan, including the capital investments that would be required. V.S. “Raghu” Raghavan, director of sustainability and associate director of the Miller Worley Center, described in more detail the multi-phase proposal of transitioning the campus from energy-intensive, steam-based heating that is generated by fossil fuels, to a low-temperature, hot-water-based system that would use renewable geothermal energy.

Chief Investment Officer Ana Yankova ’97 then shared updates from the investment office and the Investment Committee, describing the progress that has been made toward sustainable investment since 2017. 

That progress includes:

  • The reaffirmation that no new commitments to private coal, oil and gas funds have been made since 2017. 
  • The resolution, adopted by the Board, that there will be no new investments in specialist private funds that include coal mining and/or the acquisition, exploration and production of oil. 
  • An updated Investment Policy Statement, noting that the endowment will consider return-enhancing investments in the environmental, social and governance area. 
  • The hiring of three sustainability impact managers across six funds, for a total commitment of $19 million, up from $4 million five years ago.

Current exposure to private funds that include coal mining and/or the acquisition, exploration and production of oil is in commingled vehicles only, and these will be phased out by 2037. These actions are consistent with the College’s stated goal of becoming carbon neutral by our bicentennial, a goal set by the Board of Trustees in January 2018. 

In the final segment of this session, Olivia Aguilar, Leslie and Sarah Miller Director of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment and associate professor of environmental studies, described a proposed framework to deepen community engagement: the Community Commitment to Climate Action (CC2CA). This holistic initiative would ask every member of the Mount Holyoke College community to commit to sustainable actions and goals, encouraging transparent and sustained dialogue. The desired outcomes of the CC2CA include: 

  • Increased awareness among all stakeholders of sustainability efforts and measures. 
  • Opportunities for organizing and community building. 
  • Opportunities to engage in effective leadership practices, interdisciplinary studies and teamwork. 
  • A culture of sustainability across the campus.

The identification of representatives to the CC2AC will begin this spring. An initial summit to identify commitments and report back to stakeholder groups will take place in the fall of 2021 and the group will reconvene in the spring of 2022 to formalize these commitments and develop accountability measures.

  

In an informational presentation, Vice President for College Relations Kassandra Jolley provided a fundraising update. She reviewed initiatives from fiscal year 2015-16 to the present, and shared an update on the current Meet the Moment Scholarship Challenge. The Board wishes to acknowledge the many Mount Holyoke alums, families, employees and friends who have continued to invest in today’s students and faculty — in expanded ways — during this critical time, and we express our gratitude for your loyalty and support.

We have faced many challenges, together and apart, over the last year. This has been an exceptionally difficult time, and yet it is also a moment to recognize collective resourcefulness and effort, as well as just how much we gain from the opportunity to be on campus together. As always, we express our deep appreciation to the Mount Holyoke community for its continued commitment to, and energy and support for an exceptional learning and residential experience.

Sincerely,

Karena Strella ’90
Chair, Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees