Summary of the April 2020 Board of Trustees meeting

Dear faculty, staff and students,

The Williams Board of Trustees held their April meeting virtually last week. While the format was novel, the proceedings were characterized by the Board’s abiding concern for the college. They expressed their gratitude for the courage and creativity with which we are all continuing our work while contending with the effects of the pandemic and economic turmoil. They focused in the meeting on how they can do their part by protecting college resources and maximizing long-term support for our mission and people.

The Board devoted most of their agenda to discussing how they can ensure Williams’ financial health to this end. The major themes and discussion topics are outlined below. As always, you can find reports from past meetings on the News from the Board website.

Friday’s agenda included:

  • Reports from Senior Staff members about pandemic response and long-term plans for recovery. Comments were provided by Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Fred Puddester, Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische, Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass, Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology Marlene Sandstrom, Dean of the Faculty and Cluett Professor of Religion Denise Buell, and Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leticia Haynes ’99.
  • An update about the effect of COVID-19 on Williamstown and the Berkshires, from Assistant to the President for Community and Government Affairs Jim Kolesar ’70.
  • An analysis of the pandemic’s financial impact on Williams from Provost and Class of 1969 Professor of Economics Dukes Love, with Chief Investment Collette Chilton, Vice President for College Relations Megan Morey and Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Fred Puddester. This session also included an introduction to the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Financial Planning.
  • A discussion about our approach to scenario planning for fall 2020. This included an overview of the initial work of the Academic Continuity Planning Group. The Group’s chair, Professor of Psychology and incoming Dean of the Faculty Safa Zaki, joined the meeting by invitation. We are several months away from being able to make an informed decision about fall, so the discussion focused on possible factors in such a decision and the beginnings of a process for collecting the necessary information. The Board supports our work to plan for a diverse array of scenarios, making sure anything we do next fall serves our students well and is worthy of our mission and reputation for excellence.

The Board took a number of votes during their meeting:

  • They approved the re-election of Trustees Tim Barrows ’79, Val DiFebo ’84 and Jeff Harleston ’82 for second terms, from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2027.
  • They approved the appointment of two new trustees, who, if they accept the Board’s invitation, will begin their terms on July 1 of this year.
  • They approved the election of a new alumni trustee whose term will run from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2025, following a final vote by the Society of Alumni later this spring. I look forward to announcing all three of these new board members to you in a future meeting summary.
  • They approved a preliminary fiscal year 2021 budget, with the expectation of further discussions in June to review the college’s financial plan and in October to assess the institution’s ongoing fiscal health.
  • They approved changes to the College Laws that will allow electronic meetings in certain circumstances and permit the Board’s executive committee to conduct work between meetings.

Sadly, the pandemic deprived the trustees of opportunities to visit with faculty, staff and students in April, as they like to do during many of their meetings. Members of the Board’s Executive Committee did hold a virtual meeting with the Faculty Steering Committee as one way to stay connected. And hopefully we can reinstate in-person gatherings soon. Meanwhile, I am grateful to the Board for ensuring that our resources are well-managed. Their leadership will help us weather the storm and welcome everyone safely back to our academic community in the Purple Valley as soon as possible.