Board of Trustees Update December 2014
The Board of Trustees’ second meeting of the academic year took place in Oberlin on December 4 and 5. This meeting took place during a time of great distress and unrest, both in Oberlin and across the entire nation. It is not possible for me to express fully my sadness for our country and for the families of those whose loved ones have died unjustly.
The program began with orientation for two new trustees who joined the board at this meeting. This orientation process helps new trustees to understand the current work of the board and the responsibilities of trustees.
The December board meeting is the one time that the Investment Committee meets in Oberlin, and this took place over five hours on Thursday. This meeting is open to all trustees and offers the entire board the opportunity to better understand that committee’s important work. This committee also meets away from Oberlin three times per year in order to make it easier to meet with outside investment managers.
Also on Thursday, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee met. The Steering Committee has met several times during the semester. Much of its work to date has been to determine how to organize and operate as well as to gather information. As the committee develops findings and suggested action plans, the committee will communicate to the Oberlin community through its website.
In the current academic year, the Steering Committee has scheduled a series of lectures and discussions with outside experts to help the committee and the board gain additional perspective on the state of liberal arts education. On Thursday evening, the board and the Steering Committee attended the presentation “Financing Higher Education” with experts Sandy Baum, independent higher education policy analyst and consultant; Michael McPherson, president, Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College; and Dan Madzelan, associate vice president-government relations, American Council on Education. Mike Frandsen, Oberlin College vice president for finance and administration, moderated the presentation.
The board moved from that presentation to the Trustee-Student Forum. The board engages with students both formally and informally in a variety of settings, but the Trustee-Student Forum provides the opportunity for board members to hear a wide variety of student voices. The dialogue was unusually challenging at this forum. I thank the student participants for their passion to make both Oberlin and the broader world a better place.
On Friday morning, the board had breakfast with members of the faculty who serve on board committees. The dialogue in this session gives the board the opportunity to hear faculty observations and suggestions concerning their board work.
Friday morning’s plenary session included an extended discussion of recent campus events and an update from the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. Next, the Audit Committee met with all board members invited to attend its meeting. The December Audit Committee meeting is the time when the committee reviews and approves the audited financial statements for the previous academic year. Some trustees also took advantage of this time period to attend classes.
All remaining board committees met on Friday afternoon, though these committee meetings generated only two motions. The Academic Affairs Committee approved the appointment of Professor Matthew Senior to the Ruberta T. McCandless Professorship in French, and the Capital Planning Committee approved the Capital Maintenance Budget for the next academic year. The Capital Maintenance Budget needs to be approved well in advance for planning reasons. As always, the work of the committees and therefore the board, may be found on the trustee website.
The afternoon plenary session began with the annual review of the college’s endowment funds. The Investment Committee diversifies the endowment with a wide variety of investment managers, and this demands much time, effort, and skill to monitor. The endowment provides considerable support to the college’s budget, so its growth is an important factor for the budget process. Also during the meeting, the development staff was pleased to announce the current total of $245.4 million for the Oberlin Illuminate Campaign. This puts the campaign in excess of 98 percent of its $250 million goal. It is a tribute to all who love Oberlin College that this campaign is close to meeting its goal well ahead of schedule. I thank the development staff for its hard work and all of you who have pledged or contributed to the campaign. The focus of the Illuminate Campaign in its remaining time is fundraising for financial aid, health and wellness, and improvements to Hall Auditorium.