Statement of Board Activity

Board Meeting: February 22-23, 2019

The Sweet Briar College Board of Directors held board committee meetings on Thursday, Feb. 21, and its regular meeting Friday and Saturday morning, Feb. 22-23. The chair first introduced the board’s advisor, Mary Davis, former chair of the board of Mount Holyoke College, who is working with us on governance matters. The chair then announced that the major themes of the meeting would be resources and governance. The resources aspects of the agenda were designed to follow up on the November 2018 meeting during which the board considered the “Requirements for Excellence” plan presented by President Woo. At the February meeting, the board discussed strategies for building financial stability and for obtaining the funding for the “Requirements for Excellence” plan.

Planning for Growth

President Meredith Woo presented a multi-year plan for fiscal sustainability. The key is enrollment. Our enrollment target by FY22 shows the College with over 600 students. In May of 2019, the 30 students in the very small incoming 2015 class will graduate. We are on track to bring in 155-175 new students in Fall 2019; thus, the student population will grow to more than 400 students. Similarly, the Class of 2020 is small. By bringing in 175 or more students in Fall 2020, the student population ought to be more than 500 students, with improved retention rates taken into account.

By FY22, with 600-plus students, the budget will show a surplus to enable the College to reinvest in faculty, staff and initiatives. As enrollment grows, unrestricted giving will go to a more sustainable level and enable us to procure restricted gifts in support of the plan. The next goal for the student population will be 800, a number often associated with financial equilibrium for a residential liberal arts college. The growth of our endowment funds will be based on responsible endowment drawdown, as well as the restricted fundraising for scholarships and professorships. We also hope that the new OCIO will help us grow the endowment in even more robust ways.

President Woo noted that our faculty are working hard to implement our new curriculum, and that we have several new faculty members. As faculty retirements occur, we will hire new faculty who are versatile and adaptive to our vision for our innovative liberal arts curriculum.

President Woo stated that we have inventoried facilities maintenance needs, and that she reviewed proposed renovations to Guion, Pannell, Babcock and the Benedict lobby. In addition, President Woo and the board discussed our commitment to producing scientific, regenerative, sustainable, artisanal agriculture on our campus. This commitment will provide academic opportunities for our students, as well as become a source of auxiliary revenue and help facilitate economic growth in Central Virginia. The board agreed that future expansions and investments will not use College funds but will rely on investors in future projects and grants from private and governmental sources.

The board also discussed that the College could draw on the attorney general-released funds of $15-16 million, which is designed to support the operation of the College as we grow enrollment. The board intends to maintain a 5 percent drawdown policy on the endowment.

By focusing on engineering, arts and the leadership core, as well as our outstanding equestrian program, Sweet Briar College will not try to be all things to all prospective students, but rather will be a niche school with a compelling vision that will attract excellent students; an institution that delivers a superlative education and develops women leaders in a unique and beautiful surrounding.

Priority Fundraising Initiatives

Vice President for Alumnae Relations and Development Mary Pope Hutson ’83 reported on priority fundraising initiatives. Hutson discussed the transition from Sweet Briar’s current operating revenue composition, with fundraising now making up 41 percent of revenue and student revenue at 33 percent, to a target of 72 percent student revenue and 8 percent annual fundraising revenue by FY22. Hutson noted that substantial progress has been made in terms of reversing the fundraising/student funding ratio. During FY16, fundraising represented well over 80 percent of the budget and has been moving down every FY since.

In reviewing funding priority initiatives, strategic outcomes and required donor investments, she reviewed a program for enhancing the Presidential Scholars Program with an investment of $25 million, to grow enrollment with more excellent students. In addition, as it had at the November meeting, the board reaffirmed its support of the funding needed to renovate Guion, Babcock, Benedict and other buildings.

Hutson shared that donors are ready to shift their philanthropy towards investing in what will set Sweet Briar apart as a distinctive and unique college. Collaborations, private and public grants, and other funding from corporations and foundations are and will increasingly play a significant role in our operational and capital plans for the future.

The board indicated its view that donors and the College’s various constituencies would react positively to the fiscal presentations and the funding that would be required for the Requirements for Excellence plan. The board encouraged the administration to continue its work in fine-tuning the plan and will receive an update at the April meeting.

Galleries and Museums

Annie Labatt, director of galleries and museums, shared a brief update on Sweet Briar’s art collection, currently made up of 4,432 pieces which is primarily made up of pieces purchased by the Friends of Art. Labatt’s team is working on a digitization project and they plan to eventually move this information onto a web kiosk. Responding to a question, Labatt notified the board that there has been no valuation of the collection in recent times. That will be a future project. On Friday evening, Labatt provided the board with a tour of the current exhibition in Pannell Gallery, which highlights many of our most important works of art.

Agricultural Enterprises

Nathan Kluger, director of agricultural enterprises, presented an update on the artisanal and sustainability plans:

  • Apiary fencing and hives were installed and the first crop of honey is expected in June or July 2019.
  • Vineyard construction is in the design phase and soil preparation is underway. Installation of deer fencing, plantings, building and installing of trellis and training of vines are weather-dependent and will begin as soon as possible.
  • The 27,000-square-foot greenhouse design process will begin within the month; construction will follow. It is expected that by midsummer, the greenhouse should be ready to produce food for our students.

Technology Services

President Woo introduced Hooshang Fourdastan, our newly hired director of technology services. He shared his priorities:

  • Information security is his top issue. To that end, the College will be introducing two-step authentications for Gmail, educating the community regarding cyber security, implementing data security policies and performing penetration testing of the system.
  • Another key goal is to implement student-centered use of technology that will assist with student recruitment, freshmen orientation, advising and retention.
  • Securing digital integration and privacy protection are top priorities.

Guest Speaker

President Woo introduced Daniel Jordan, the former head of Monticello, our working lunch speaker. Jordan spoke to the board about the power and benefits of evolving into a resource board. He talked of the characteristics of a heart/friend board as opposed to a resource board, sharing that a fundamental element of fundraising is the capacity of the board to give and introduce other large capacity individual and corporate donors. Capacity and genuine interest in the institution or mission are essential characteristics of a resource board member. Drawing on his experiences with the Monticello Foundation Board of Directors, Jordan offered several suggestions for transitioning to a successful resource board, noting most importantly that “resource” trustees can help recruit new board members, suggest big ideas, advertise for the institution and serve as high-level connectors.

Jordan ended his presentation with kudos to Sweet Briar, noting that there is already a case for optimism for the success of the College and her board.

Alumnae Alliance Update

Claire Griffith introduced members of the Alumnae Alliance in attendance. The chair thanked the Alumnae Alliance leadership for its hard work on behalf of the College. Kathryn Yunk presented the Alumnae Alliance update, beginning with a discussion of the evolution of the Alumnae Alliance hub and spokes model. She described the various working groups and their key accomplishments, provided statistics on social media metrics, a summary of AA initiatives from the past year and an update on how the AA and the College are working together. Yunk shared information on next steps and on the proposed revision of the hub and spokes model.

There was a brief discussion of plans for Sweet Work Weeks, for which a new working group was created to coordinate with the College on logistics, and the recently completed alumnae survey. A key finding of the survey is that alumnae remain in support of the College and are confident that the innovations revealed over the last year will lead to success. The chair encouraged the Alumnae Alliance leaders to work to recruit more alumnae to volunteer to work with the AA’s working groups.

Faculty Update

Jeff Key, interim dean of the College, shared his initial thoughts. He noted his long history with Sweet Briar and his understanding of the faculty side of the College. The work of making curricular changes that has been undertaken at Sweet Briar has presented some challenges. He is confident that faculty will finalize the implementation of the new curriculum with President Woo’s and his encouragement, guidance and direction.

Noting the faculty’s questions around the agricultural initiatives, Key stated that he is working to ensure the faculty understand that these initiatives will enhance and not take away from the academic programs, as they already have with the apiary, and appreciate the revenue-enhancing value of these initiatives. There was discussion around ways to create opportunities for conversation and communication around these issues and more.

There also was discussion around misconceptions and concerns surrounding the computer science major with suggestions for future discussions. The board wishes to ensure that all Sweet Briar students graduate with computer and data literacy. In response to the chair’s request, Melissa Richards referred the board to the description of our core course, which provides an introduction to these concepts, and it was noted that computer science and data analytics electives will be offered regardless of whether a computer science major is suspended. Dean Key will convey the board’s support of computer science and data analytics to the faculty, and will work with the faculty to clarify the issues and provide solutions. Under SACS rules, a major can be reinstated.

Joint Academic Policy, Student Life, Enrollment Management Committees Report

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp reported on admissions progress and on a holistic approach to recruitment to assure student fit and academic success at Sweet Briar. Student life will coordinate with students who deposit to lay the framework for ensuring their success. The academic caliber of incoming classes continues to increase, and 70 accepted students have been offered Presidential Scholarships.

Mimi Fahs provided a brief discussion around the implementation of the core curriculum.

Caville Stanbury-Woolery reported that the combined meeting provided a good opportunity to hear from students, faculty and staff. The overall tone from students was honest but positive.

Advancement and Alumnae Committees

Mason Rummel reminded the board that the advancement team is working to raise the last half of the $10 million goal. She thanked the board for their support to date, noting that the board has nearly 100 percent participation. Rummel stated that as strategic priorities are further fleshed out, the College will reach out to board members for contacts and will engage the board in fundraising.

Finance Committees

Kelley Fitzpatrick shared the Outsourced Chief Investment Officer (OCIO) search committee process and results. The committee recommended Fund Evaluation Group (FEG) as the preferred OCIO. The board unanimously approved the recommendation. FEG fees will be approximately $100,000 less than our current fees, and FEG will provide better access to various forms of investments. As our endowment grows, incentive fees will be considered.

Board Governance and Directors Committees

The committee voted to formally present four prospective members to the board at the April and September meetings: Lendon Gray ’71, Sarge Reynolds, Kathy Upchurch Takvorian ’72 and Scheline Crutchfield.

The committee will work on bylaws revisions that will include a strategic streamlining of the work of board committees.

Building and Grounds Committee

Fred Griffin discussed the need to correct the HVAC system. A sustainable heating system is now under review, with an expected cost of $5 million to $8 million. There are discussions around a biomass system with a revenue component. The committee is also looking at a potential use of conservation land easements. And, the College will outsource its ERP system to Marist College, a budget-neutral move that will result in better support.

Executive Committee

There was discussion of moving to three board meetings per year. Upon recommendation by the committee, the board unanimously approved a three-meeting schedule, following the April 2019 meeting. Special meetings via Zoom will be called when required for business between regularly scheduled meetings, and committees will meet throughout the year.

With thanks to all of our community,

Georgene Vairo ’72
Chair, Sweet Briar College Board of Directors