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October 2020 Board of Trustees Meeting Summary

The Mount Holyoke College seal

October 28, 2020

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke community,

We write to update you on the recent meetings of the Board of Trustees, which took place virtually from October 8 through October 10, 2020. This was the Board’s second time meeting virtually, rather than in person, and trustees expressed how much they missed seeing each other and meeting with faculty, students and staff on our beautiful Mount Holyoke campus.

On October 8, the Board received updates on and discussed a number of topics of strategic importance to the College. 

Mount Holyoke College has received the largest gift in support of financial aid in its history. Among the updates and highlights of the meeting was the announcement of an exciting gift. A Mount Holyoke graduate and trustee and her family have committed a $10 million lead gift for the College’s upcoming financial aid fundraising initiative. This exceptionally generous commitment speaks to the extraordinary power and value of a Mount Holyoke education. The gift underpins a financial aid matching initiative that will be launched in January 2021. We, and the entire Board, are deeply grateful for this extraordinary generosity, which ensures that now more than ever students have access to the distinctive, 21st-century liberal arts education offered at Mount Holyoke, and, in turn, give rise to a better world for all.

Other updates included the following:

  • Detailed Budget Update. Vice President of Finance and Administration Shannon Gurek reviewed FY 2020 outcomes, along with the current forecast for FY 2021. Because of the range of spring enrollment possibilities, from having a sizable cohort of students on campus to having a very limited residential cohort, the FY 2021 forecast is still uncertain. The impact of reduced revenues was fully explained, with the expectation that additional planning and adjustments will be needed to address likely budget shortfalls. The Board, under the advisement of the Finance and Investment committees, voted to increase the draw from the endowment for FY 2020-2021 to help close the budget gap. The Board affirmed its commitment to participating in alleviating the impact of the budget shortfall, while making clear that any additional deficits in the operating budget will need to be closed from sources other than the endowment, and limiting the draw from the endowment to comply with the parameters of the endowment spending policy. These parameters work to maintain the corpus of the endowment and to ensure that, over time, the draw does not exceed investment growth. A projection through FY 2024 noted that COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the financial picture for the College and will, therefore, require structural expense reductions to achieve balanced budgets.
  • Endowment Report. Ana Yankova ’97, chief investment officer, reported on the performance of the endowment, reviewing FY 2020 performance and providing FY 2021 projections in a potentially volatile market. The endowment generated an investment return of 3.3% in FY 2020, having weathered a tumultuous year. This result places the endowment in the top 15th percentile of nearly 400 institutions. As of June 30, 2020, the endowment stood at $789 million.
  • Enrollment. Robin Randall, vice president for enrollment management, shared recruitment and enrollment strategies in the current COVID-19 environment and provided preliminary financial aid updates. While fall first-year enrollments are down slightly, the total yield on accepted applicants was very strong, with some students deciding to delay their enrollment by a semester or a year. Recruitment of prospective students for the class of 2025 has taken new forms, with campus tours and visits re-created in virtual formats. Randall and her team are working with established partners, engaging high school counselors in innovative ways, utilizing a new guidebook format, and enhancing volunteer programs to ensure robust outreach. Thus far, inquiries from prospective students are up by 30%.
  • Update from the New Dean of Faculty. Dorothy Mosby, interim dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs, reported on transitions in her office. Dorothy is supported by a team that includes Gary Gillis, associate dean and director of the Science Center; Amber Douglas, dean of studies and director of Student Success Initiatives; and newly appointed Associate Dean of Faculty Elizabeth Markovitz, director of the Teaching and Learning Initiative. During her first year as interim dean, Dean Mosby’s priorities are to address curricular sustainability and financial stabilization, with a critically important commitment to shared governance. She also reported on the current modular semester system being implemented by the faculty; faculty development to address the pedagogical demands of remote and hybrid teaching; and the revised course schedule designed to accommodate students from a wide variety of time zones and locations.
  • Update on Athletics. Marcella Runell Hall, vice president for student life and dean of students, provided an update on the Department of Physical Education and Athletics. It included information about fall staffing, the Equestrian Center and plans for an external review; the Athletics strategic plan and varsity sports; the upcoming periodic academic review, overseen by the dean of faculty, of the department and its programs; virtual recruiting in partnership with the Office of Admission; NEWMAC rules and regulations governing varsity athletics practices and programming during COVID-19; and an update on the Be Well initiative.

The Work of the Board of Trustees. The Board also held an extended session and discussion with Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran of the Association of Governing Boards to discuss proposals for new Board committee configurations developed by a trustee working group. Following a robust discussion, the Board voted on a two-year pilot of a model that coordinates the Board’s deliberations around the three distinct experiences of Mount Holyoke constituents: before Mount Holyoke, maximizing interest in and the reputation and reach of the College; during Mount Holyoke, with a focus on enhancing the College experience; and after Mount Holyoke, maximizing connectivity to the College. It is anticipated that this new structure will be in place by spring.

Formal Actions. In its formal actions on October 10, the Board approved the following:

  • The conferral of Bachelor of Arts degrees for 11 undergraduate students and Master of Arts in Teaching degrees for 21 graduate students, subject to the vote of the faculty on October 19, 2020.
  • The recommendation for an endowed chair, The Mary E. Wooley Chair in Spanish for Professor Dorothy E. Mosby.
  • An additional distribution from the endowment to support the FY 2020-2021 operating budget; and a range of capital projects to begin in FY 2020-2021 with debt previously issued in FY 2019-2020.
  • An updated Investment Committee endowment policy statement.
  • And, an updated nondiscrimination policy statement in compliance with current state and federal guidelines.

The Board also approved:

  • The election of Rhynette Northcross Hurd ’71 as a Term Trustee, beginning July 1, 2021.
  • The election of Elizabeth Weatherman ’82 to a second consecutive term as a Term Trustee, beginning July 1, 2021.
  • The election of Elizabeth Weatherman ’82 as chair of the Investment Committee, effective July 1, 2021.
  • The election of Ellen J. Ellison ’80 as vice-chair of the Investment Committee, effective July 1, 2021.
  • The election of Monica Landry ’90 as a member of the Investment Committee, effective January 1, 2021.

The Board looks forward to continuing its conversations about board structure, and how we will more fully engage faculty and students as a result of the changes. We express our deep appreciation to the Mount Holyoke community for its continued energy, commitment and caring during this challenging time, and as we continue to adapt to the ongoing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karena Strella ’90
Chair of the Board of Trustees

Sonya Stephens