Statement of Board Activity

Board Meeting: November 16-17, 2018

The Sweet Briar Board of Directors held a productive meeting in November. First, we welcomed three new board members: Holly Prothro Philbin ’95, Olivia Meyers ’17 and Edward J. “Ned” Kelly III. The meeting theme was “requirements for excellence.” The meeting was designed to set up a discussion at the February 2019 meeting about the resources that would be needed to support the College going forward. At the February meeting, the board will consider strategies for obtaining the needed funding and will be working with the administration on prioritizing projects.

College Update

Dean Rainville reported on the results of a student Academic Reset Survey that revealed that students were positive about the three-week courses, including the required Design Thinking course.

Mary Pope Hutson ’83 reported on a survey sent to all alumnae, with over 1,000 alumnae responding. Especially relevant to the theme of the meeting was the finding that alumnae overwhelmingly believe in President Woo’s vision for the College.

Melissa Richards reported on the success of our new Early Action program: applicants are strong, with a mean GPA above 3.5. Athletics director, Jodi Canfield, told the board that our athletes’ skills are improving dramatically, although roster sizes remain an issue. Her department is working hard on the recruitment and retention of student-athletes.

President Woo’s Requirements for Excellence

President Woo presented her vision, which builds on the innovative curriculum ideas unveiled last year: the liberal arts leadership core, and the arts and engineering. President Woo shared her strategy for rebuilding the prestige of Sweet Briar College: Sweet Briar should be delivering an excellent education in an exquisite setting, known for arts and engineering. Having recently been chosen as one of the most innovative institutions, she noted that it is important for the College to move as quickly as possible to take advantage of this recognition. The College needs to communicate that Sweet Briar is a world-class iconic institution. The three areas upon which this will be built are: academic innovation, scholarship and stewardship of our natural and built environment.

President Woo explained that the focus areas for academic innovation will be the leadership core, arts and engineering. The administration is working with faculty to think creatively about ways to enable these areas to work together. She noted that our curricular changes resonate with students and thought leaders in higher education. She explained that investment in infrastructure and program support are a requirement for building our academic reputation and prestige, and should be addressed as a first priority. During a working lunch, a presentation was made to flesh out the academic innovation element. VMDO, an architectural firm retained by the College, studied our campus through the prism of our priorities. It recommended immediate improvements to landscape design, Guion Science Center, Murchison Lane/Babcock Auditorium, Pannell Gallery and Museum, and Benedict entry. Costs and timelines were presented.

Stewardship of the natural and built environment of the College is the second focus. Our entire campus is on the National Register as an historic district. With the second largest Ralph Adams Cram collection of buildings in the nation, it is important that the historic restoration and preservation be part of our planning. While important, investment in this focus is likely to be the second phase of development.

With respect to our natural resources, the Committee on Sustainability, consisting of board members, faculty and staff, suggests that we undertake regenerative artisanal agricultural projects, which both honors the agricultural legacy of the property and provides opportunities for enhanced auxiliary revenues. As a first step, chair of the Finance Committee, Kelley Fitzpatrick, introduced the committee’s recommendation of a bridge loan from the endowment for the vineyard and greenhouse initiatives. She explained that the period of the loan would be three years. Anticipated gifts and grants will be used for loan payback. The endowment loan will have a return on investment of approximately 4% per annum. The board unanimously approved the motion.

Lori Husein and Mary Pope Hutson provided an update on the status of the Sustainability Committee, including their research and planning for greenhouses to grow our own food and, ultimately, for sale to the public; vineyards; and orchards. The committee is currently engaged in researching and gathering data on additional sustainability and artisanal farming initiatives, including a winery, which would have a longer lag for auxiliary revenue generation. The College is creating partnerships with experts at the local, state and federal level. These partnerships have, and will continue to, assist with master planning and securing funding sources through grants and partnerships.

The Facilities Use Committee, made up of students, faculty and staff, has been examining the use and condition of all campus buildings and will have more information to share with the board at the February meeting. A future phase of the Natural and Built Environment plan will focus on the historic national register buildings, including Faculty Row, the Health Center and buildings of the Quad.

The other element of President Woo’s vision is the need to raise funds for more scholarships. The administration is already working on creating a compelling case for donors to enhance presidential scholarships. Additionally, Melissa Richards reported on the College’s financial aid initiatives.

Board Breakout Sessions

The board divided into three groups to consider the earlier presentations. In the report from those sessions, the board provided the administration with feedback:

With respect to the Academic Innovation element, the board members noted that our academic experience should include innovative and diverse learning, a focus on sustainability, leadership, hands-on and experiential opportunities, state-of-the-art equipment with a strong focus on state-of-the-art technology. Our physical environment should be strongly associated with the academic experience. Investments in these areas should be relevant to student experience and include a strong, talented faculty; and also focus on mind and body wellness. This should be well underway within three years and fully in progress in five. The board requested information about our career placement assistance.

With respect to Scholarship, the board opined that our academic profile should become more selective. Students should be dedicated, intellectually adventurous, civically minded, committed to the community of Sweet Briar and the extramural community. Programmatic incentives should be added to our scholarship offers and a new category of ultra-high selectivity range of scholarships should be considered. Faculty engagement is vital.

With respect to our Natural and Built Environment, the board opined that priorities should include historic building restoration and modernization, with Guion as a top priority. An artisanal farming priority should emphasize tourism, demonstrating SBC as a destination campus. More importantly, academic quality should drive the investment in our natural resources with hands-on experiential learning and to encourage a student commitment to stewarding the land. The board asked the administration to provide more information about improving energy efficiency, budgeting, academic credit for work done in our farming enterprises, and understanding our options with respect to alternative energy sources, including biomass and solar energy. It also asked the administration to develop a comprehensive plan with respect to addressing deferred maintenance.

A discussion then followed about capital budget needs to support the Requirements for Excellence. It is estimated at this point that at least $125 million to $150 million will need to be raised from various sources to fully fund these initiatives.

Other Business

Kelley Fitzpatrick updated the board on the ongoing Outside Chief Investment Officer (“OCIO”) search process. There will a final series of interviews and then the committee will carefully review and discuss results of interviews and report back to the board. Although our current firm has performed well, in fact outperforming other Colleges for two years, with an OCIO, the board will get better access to better management at a lower fee.

With thanks to all of our community,

Georgene Vairo,
Chair, Sweet Briar College Board of Directors