Summary of the June 2020 Board of Trustees meeting

Dear faculty, staff and students,

I’m writing, as I do after every Board of Trustees meeting, to summarize the meeting and share some of the Board’s contributions to governance of the college.

In most years, the Trustees schedule their last meeting of the academic year to coincide with Commencement. Sadly, that wasn’t an option this year, so they held their June meeting virtually on Friday, June 5. I can report that they lamented the loss of a favorite opportunity to meet and celebrate with the graduates in person! They did, however, offer warm wishes as part of our online celebration for the unique Class of 2020. And they look forward to being with the graduates and all of us in person once it becomes possible again.

To start off the summary, I’m pleased to report that the Board endorsed a strategy we’d proposed for expanding work in the area of racial justice. I’ll outline that strategy in a community letter tomorrow morning.

Like all of us, the Trustees are focused on preparations and options for the coming academic year. They fully support our two-scenario planning approach, and want to help us make sure that whichever path Williams chooses will serve our students well and be worthy of our mission and reputation. With that in mind, they invited overviews from the co-chairs of our two working groups for fall:

The co-chairs of the Curricular Planning group, Edan Dekel, Chair and Professor of Classics and Chair of Jewish Studies, and Safa Zaki, Professor of Psychology, Chair of Cognitive Science, and incoming Dean of Faculty, spoke with the Board about pedagogical and curricular issues.

The co-chairs of the Fall Return group, Professor of Philosophy Bojana Mladenovic and Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Fred Puddester, highlighted for them the operational and co-curricular factors involved in planning for the possibility of an in-person fall term.

Both groups are thinking carefully about work environments for faculty and staff, alongside their attention to the learning and living conditions for students given the unlikelihood of a COVID-19 vaccine being ready this year.

The Board in their fiduciary role also reviewed our finances. Provost and Class of 1969 Professor of Economics Dukes Love led a discussion about the college’s financial response to the pandemic. He highlighted the critical work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Financial Planning, as well as the important role that campus feedback played in their recommendations for how to respond to significant financial pressure and uncertainty. Their final recommendations centered on sharp reductions in capital spending, a 10 percent cut in managers’ budgets relative to fiscal year 2020, and a slowdown in compensation growth, which will be achieved by keeping salaries and wages flat and freezing all but essential hiring. Provost Love argued that, if current financial conditions hold, these steps will likely allow the college to absorb much of the projected financial damage from the pandemic without resorting to layoffs or furloughs.

The Board also addressed other, more routine topics and votes during their meeting:

  • Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01 presented an update on the recent admission season.

The south building of the renovated Science Center will be named the Hopper Science Center, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous family. The Hopper, as you may know, is the glacial cirque on the west side of Mount Greylock, whose shape is said to resemble a grain hopper (an angled bin used to hold grain, for those of us who’ve spent less time in agriculture!).

The north building of the renovated Science Center will be named the Wachenheim Science Center, in recognition of the generosity of Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III ’59.

The quadrangle bordered by Stetson Hall, Sawyer Library, Schapiro Hall and Hollander Hall will be named the Williams Quad, thanks to the generosity of anonymous donors.

Lastly, the directorship of the Graduate Program in Art History will now be known as the Halvorsen Directorship of the Graduate Program in Art History, in honor of O. Andreas Halvorsen ’86 and Diane Koenitzer Halvorsen ’84.

The Board also voted on “degrees in course,” the official list of graduates, which they must approve before degrees can be granted. Other Board votes included the appointment of new trustees to the board of the Clark Art Institute.

They also heard reports from a number of senior staff:

  • Chief Investment Officer Collette Chilton provided data on the endowment, particularly on liquidity in support of college operations.
  • Vice President for College Relations Megan Morey updated them on promising fundraising results, despite the challenging economy.
  • Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Fred Puddester updated the Board on this year’s budget, and on adjustments to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
  • Finally, Assistant to the President for Community and Government Affairs Jim Kolesar ’72 gave an update about the effects of COVID-19 on Williamstown and the Berkshires.

While I don’t typically report on Board committee activities in my summaries, I do want to highlight that in June the Board also voted to create three new committees, which will work to support three major areas of high priority for the college: diversity, equity and inclusion; sustainability; and technology. The Board has long been engaged in those areas, including through existing committees, but they are very supportive of the fact that this work has, in recent years, taken a more central role in our mission. The newly-formed groups will enable them to partner with us on these efforts in more coordinated ways. I look forward to sharing the results after future meetings.

Finally, it was a time to say thanks and farewell to three people who’ve been important to the Board’s work but are leaving their roles:

  • Tom Gardner ’79 received wide applause after his final annual report to the Board as Society of Alumni president. Tom will step down from the role at the Society’s Annual Meeting this weekend, and will be succeeded by Kate Boyle Ramsdell ’97. All of us are grateful for Tom’s leadership, good humor, and love for Williams. As deep as his affections for the college are, I feel sure Tom will continue to contribute to our alumni community for years to come.
  • I also had the bittersweet responsibility of marking for the Board the upcoming departures from Senior Staff of Dean of Faculty Denise K. Buell, who’s returning to her wonderful work as Cluett Professor of Religion, and of Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass, who will retire on June 30. It was a privilege to recount for the Board the many ways that Denise and Steve have made Williams a better place. They’ll be deeply missed by the Trustees and all of us.
  • Finally, the Board honored Trustee Kate Queeney ’92, who completed her twelve-year term and will be leaving the Board on June 30. Students in particular may know Kate, Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Chemistry Department at Smith College, from her extraordinary leadership as longtime chair of our Student Experience Committee and convener of the Board’s annual open forum for students.

Our virtual June meeting was somehow both extremely effective, in the face of historic challenges, and unusually emotional, given our postponement of graduation and farewells to colleagues and friends. Williams is a dynamic and resilient community, and hopefully that spirit is reflected in this summary of what was quite an exceptional agenda.

As always, you can find archived reports from past meetings in the News from the Board section of