Summary of the October 2018 Board of Trustees meeting

Dear faculty, staff and students,

The Williams Board of Trustees held their regular fall meeting last Friday and Saturday. I’d like to briefly summarize the topics they covered and a few notable discussions and votes.

Every year, the Trustees devote time to learning about important college issues and making decisions in their fiduciary role. You can find reports from past meetings on the Board News section of the college website.

A first piece of important news is that the Trustees selected Liz Robinson ’90 as the next Board chair, beginning her term on July 1, 2019. As a Williams student Liz was a JA, sang in the choir and worked as a teaching assistant in the Economics Department. After graduation she went on to a successful career at Goldman Sachs, ultimately becoming a partner and the firm’s global treasurer. Now retired, Liz serves on the board of Every Mother Counts, among other organizations. Her service to Williams includes chairing the Board’s Audit Committee and membership on the presidential search committee, as well as being an associate class agent and member of her class’s 25th Reunion Fund committee.

July 1 will also end the term of our outgoing Board chair, Michael Eisenson ’77, P ’07. Under Michael’s leadership the board announced its landmark sustainability commitments—goals toward which we’re continuing to make progress. He also guided the creation of our Investment Office, which has done such an extraordinary job of generating support for financial aid, among other programs. And he led the search process that brought me to Williams as president, for which I’m especially grateful!

Here’s an overview of many of the other issues the Trustees covered during their meeting:

  • The Board received an update on the consideration of options for enhancing our curricular offerings in Asian American Studies. That work is being coordinated by the Curricular Planning Committee, which will make a recommendation to the faculty later in the academic year. The Board is following that process with great interest, as Trustee Kate Queeney ’92 explained to students at Saturday’s open forum.
  • Dean Marlene Sandstrom introduced the Trustees to the college’s approach to parental notification practices in situations when students are facing severe academic or personal difficulties.
  • As part of an ongoing series of Board discussions about access and affordability, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01 presented on current admission and financial aid policies, as well as areas of unmet need and tradeoffs for future discussion.
  • Provost and Professor of Economics Dukes Love updated the Trustees about the college’s work toward the Board’s aforementioned sustainability and climate change initiatives. This includes our progress on carbon reduction, implementation of sustainable building practices and standards, the filling of two new faculty lines in the field that are now occupied by Assistant Professors Alice Bradley in Geosciences and Laura Martin in Environmental Studies and History, and our investment in renewable energy projects. A highlight is the college’s partnership in a major new solar facility, which, when it opens in 2019, will provide 18,000 megawatts per year of clean energy and reduce Williams’ annual emissions by about 5,200 tons annually.
  • The Board also approved the renovation of Fort Hoosac, our residence for first-year students in the Graduate Program in Art History. The renovated building will be known as Fort Bradshaw in honor of donor support that allowed the renovation to be completed.
  • Relatedly, the Board heard a progress report from Vice President for College Relations Megan Morey on the Teach It Forward campaign, which has raised $639.8M to date and achieved our 85% alumni engagement goal with eight months to go until the campaign’s conclusion in June 2019.
  • College treasurer Fred Puddester provided his quarterly financial report, which indicates that the college is in sound financial health.
  • Chief Investment Officer Collette Chilton reported strong endowment performance for fiscal year 2018. The results will be published later this fall in the Investment Office’s annual report, to be available on the Office’s website.
  • The Board also voted to contribute funds toward the acquisition of Prospect Mountain, a Nordic ski facility north of the Vermont border. The facility will be managed by a nonprofit that includes Williams alumni, and our investment will secure the right for Williams athletes to use the facility for training and competition.
  • In the Board’s closing session on Saturday I reviewed plans to conduct a strategic planning process. I shared with Trustees the same slides that I’m using in faculty meetings and will show at our upcoming staff and student forums. The Board is strongly supportive of this process.
  • Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Trustee Kate Queeney ’92 and fellow members of the Committee on Student Experience hosted an open student forum on Saturday. Approximately 20 students attended, and Kate reports that it was a very good discussion on topics ranging from Asian American Studies to concerns about how the college would navigate the economic impact of catastrophic events. I appreciate everyone who took time to attend and learn about the Trustees and their work.

Every board meeting also includes the work of numerous committees, informing the decisions of the Board as a whole. I encourage you to visit the Committees page of the Board website to learn about each committee’s charge and leadership.

As you can see, it was a typically busy and productive meeting! Future meeting agendas will be equally packed, and I look forward to reporting about them to you in letters like this one.