Board of Trustees Update December 2015
The Board of Trustees’ second meeting of the academic year took place in Oberlin December 3 and 4. Although most of the work described in this update is typical for December board meetings, the board well recognizes that much campus discussion is not routine and that this is a time of disquiet across much of American academia. Trustees had numerous occasions to meet with students and other Oberlin community members during the weekend. One loud message is that the board is slow to respond to petitions, and this is doubtless true. Our process is deliberative with an attempt to hear every voice, and this takes time to accomplish. With more experience we may succeed in improving our response times. I recognize that asking for patience will be unpopular, but we must give each issue the attention it deserves. And speaking of patience, this report is one week late because its writer underwent surgery soon after the board meeting. I trust that I will not have that excuse in the remainder of my term!
The December board meeting is the one time that the Investment Committee meets in Oberlin, and this occurred Thursday, December 3. This meeting is open to all trustees and offers the entire board the opportunity better to 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 and consultants. Later in the afternoon the Audit Committee met and approved the financial report for the previous academic year. In this meeting the committee meets with outside auditors who have analyzed the College’s financial procedures.
The Strategic Planning Steering Committee also met on Thursday. The steering committee has been meeting almost monthly as it endeavors to meet its self-imposed March deadline for its final report. The Oberlin community has given the steering committee considerable feedback on the draft report, and the committee and the board thank all who have contributed.
Thursday evening the board worked to streamline its work through combining the Capital Planning Committee and Budget & Finance Committee meetings. These two committees are closely connected, as most capital planning motions proceed to budget & finance before being forwarded on to the full board for approval. The combined committees discussed financial planning parameters, the capital maintenance budget for the next fiscal year, and various capital projects connected to the current Oberlin Illuminate campaign. The board moved from that presentation to the Trustee-Student Forum.
On Friday morning the board breakfasted with members of the faculty who serve on board committees. Most board standing committees have two faculty representatives who contribute their opinions on board matters and act as liaisons to the General Faculty Council. The dialogue in the annual breakfast gives the board the opportunity to hear faculty observations and suggestions concerning their board work.
The board began Friday morning’s plenary session with the adoption of a memorial minute for former member Jacqueline Berrien ’83. The board moved next to a review of the Oberlin Illuminate Campaign and was pleased to learn of its success to date. In the campaign’s remaining months, its focus will be student aid and capital projects. The Investment Committee gave its annual review of the endowment and was pleased to report returns that are highly competitive with peer group institutions but also cautioned that our spending rate has been high relative to those peers.
The board has changed its schedule so that the findings from the Trustee-Student Fora come early in the plenary session. Current practice is to have several contemporaneous fora, so it is important for each individual trustee group to report its findings to the entire board. Topics of discussion in some of the sessions included the strategic planning process and student involvement, divestment proposals and the timing of board responses, shortcomings in providing support for international students, security issues, and food service challenges. Racism issues were broadly identified and discussed, including an incident at Afrikan Heritage House. Students expressed the need for more mentors and faculty who can better appreciate and identify with the experience of students of color.
The board next moved to an update from the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. The steering committee reported on community feedback and stated that the next draft will attempt to have the spirit of diversity and inclusion better permeate the report.
The lunch time period was divided between a general luncheon for trustees and students and a meeting of the Academic Affairs Committee.
In the afternoon the board began its plenary session earlier than normal in order to accommodate the timing of the memorial celebration for Nancy Dye. The board approved various tenure and promotion cases, the capital maintenance budget, the financial report for fiscal 2015, several financial planning parameters that will help Oberlin address the financial pressures we face as a higher education institution, and changes to the alumni-elected trustee election process. Finally, the board voted to rescind the honorary doctorate of humanities presented to William Cosby in 2010; the college has issued a statement regarding this decision, which can be viewed on this webpage. After completing its official business, the board moved to the Nancy Dye Memorial Celebration.