Board Meeting: April 13-14, 2018
The Sweet Briar Board of Directors convened its April meeting amid a flurry of campus activities: a lecture by Sally Mott Freeman ’76 on her recently released book, “The Jersey Brothers,” the Spring Dance Concert and the 91st Annual Horse Show. The Board also held a dinner with graduating seniors. Most were in their freshman year in 2015, returning to Sweet Briar for fall 2016.
Board Chairwoman Teresa Tomlinson opened by welcoming new board members Claude Wasserstein ’83, of New York, John Alford, of Lynchburg, and Karen Jackson, of Richmond. The chair notified the board that Jax Bullett and three other board members in the historic settlement board will be stepping down as their three-year term ends. Tomlinson invited President Meredith Woo to provide her update.
President Woo reported on the state of the College. She started by noting that previously there were those who might have thought that the College ought to close because they believed the college was the wrong idea, at the wrong time and in the wrong place. She said the objective before us now today is to ensure that Sweet Briar is the right idea, at the right time and in the right place. She spoke of the two fundamental assets of Sweet Briar: 1) our legacy as a superior liberal arts college for women; and 2) our land. She noted how those assets have evolved over time and how our challenge to continue to make them relevant and desirable to young women. Woo spoke of the repeated theme of opportunities that continue to present themselves — that of Sweet Briar as an academic artisanal community. The inquiry must be how that fits with our academic curriculum and our objective to attract and retain students.
After a year of comprehensive academic and financial realignment, the College is well-situated to consolidate and build on the gains of the past year. She also reported on her visits with the alumnae across the country (over 30 cities) and discussions with national media such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. She reflected on the fact that Sweet Briar is an important part of American cultural legacy — the architecture of Ralph Adams Cram being the core of the status Sweet Briar enjoys on the National Register of Historic Places — and invited the board to think about how best to communicate this to the nation. She also reflected on the other physical legacy: the fertile land, which used to be a plantation in the 19th century, and a working farm for practically all of the 20th. She reported that she is learning from experts on bee keeping, viticulture and sustainable farming. An architectural firm has also visited to begin exploring redesign options for Guion and Babcock Fine Arts Center. They are also thinking about best ways to design the landscape, thus to create greater architectural coherence and foster a sense of density and intimacy on campus.
President Woo continues to be amazed at the support of the alumnae. She noted the acclaim given our alumnae relations and development office by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. This is the third year of “turbo-charged” fundraising. As we pivot toward programmatic support, we still have a large need for operational support. She also noted that Melissa Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management, and the communications team have done a remarkable job in transforming the website and rebranding, and supporting admissions. Sweet Briar is unusual in having combined communications with enrollment management — or in the parlance of business, marketing with sales.
President Woo shared that the College is in the midst of a comprehensive review of the athletics program. Two athletics reviewers were on campus this week. The small size of our student body is a structural impediment to excellence. She spoke in particular of injuries to athletes.
President Woo asked Vice President for Alumnae Relations and Development Mary Pope Hutson to reflect on our challenges and opportunities going forward. Hutson noted the need to articulate our needs. She asked the board’s help with telling the story of the new Sweet Briar and sharing with others why support of the College is a good investment. At this time, non-restricted funds are needed. While endowment support is important, budget-relieving support is most critical at this time.
Hutson reviewed the current fundraising report, noting that as of the meeting date, $7,652,732 had been raised toward the goal of $12,500,000. There was discussion of increased foundation support, but it was pointed out that the size of the College limits the support that big national foundations can provide.
Richards shared admissions progress. As Sweet Briar practices rolling admissions, we will not know the enrollment number until the end of August. She shared that we continue to attract smart students without lowering admissions standards. The average SAT score is 1105, ACT 23.
Tomlinson commented on efforts of alumnae relations, communications and a large group of alumnae volunteers who have made great strides on social media in correcting misinformation of independent posts and who are posting information of our actual progress. These efforts are integrated with the content strategy of the communications team.
In considering whether the admissions requirements at the College are too cumbersome and, therefore, inhibit the completion of applications, Richards has researched admissions application requirements nationally, and will be considering and recommending proposed adjustments to better streamline our admissions system for more early applications and acceptances. She reported that so far we have applicants from 38 states and 8 countries. Twenty-five percent of the students are athletes and 20 percent are riders. We also enjoy a good transfer rate into the College. It also looks like the tuition reset has had the effect of reducing our discount rate to 31 percent, less than half of what it was previously.
President Woo introduced Lori Husein, the new vice president for finance and administration. Husein reviewed the finance/budget update, highlighting year-to-date expense and revenue results. She discussed multiyear budget scenarios and pointed out improvements, as well as potential risks to be reviewed and addressed. She further briefly updated the group on budget planning and process for fiscal year 2019.
Interim Dean of Students Marcia Thom-Kaley provided a brief update on health care services for the College. Proposals from Central Virginia Family Physicians and Blue Ridge Medical Center are under discussion. She informed the board that a new director of student life and an assistant director of student life have been hired. Thom-Kaley is looking forward to exciting new directions for student life.
Acting Dean of the College Lynn Rainville joined the meeting via Zoom to share the curriculum update. As evidence of the enthusiasm of the students for the new curriculum, she shared that 20 percent of the current student body (who did not have to make a change) have requested to switch over to the new leadership core from the general education requirements. She reviewed the leadership core class list and samples of course descriptions. Rainville noted that the work of re-envisioning majors is ongoing. This work will be finished by the end of April, in time for the course catalog. Once completed, the link to the catalog will be shared with the board.
The board passed the resolutions honoring departing settlement class members Jax Bullet, Butch Drake, CeCe Valentine and El Warner. The new board members, Claude Wasserstein and Karen Jackson, will serve on the Buildings, Grounds and Technology Committee. John Alford will serve on the Audit Committee, and Alice Dixon will resign from the Board Governance Committee and instead serve on the Buildings, Grounds and Technology Committee.
On Saturday, April 14, the Board Governance Committee reported that it continues to consider possible changes to its committee structure. Bernie Niemeier suggested that all committee members review committee descriptions in the board bylaws to consider structure and usefulness.
President Woo mentioned that the College’s SACSCOC recertification is coming up. In fall 2018, the College will begin ensuring we are in compliance in all areas, including any issues regarding the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors. The updated principals of SACS will be shared with the board in preparation for this review.
The Directors Committee recommended Lynn Pasquerella. Upon recommendation by the Directors Committee, the board unanimously approved membership of Fred “Buzzy” Griffin, Sally Mott Freeman and Keenan Kelsey.
For the Finance Committee, Kelley Fitzpatrick reviewed the Prime Buchholz (PB) report. There was discussion of a rebalance of the portfolio. PB recommended the College select a new fixed income manager and the committee selected a solid performing firm to serve in that capacity. Fitzpatrick also discussed the alignment of investment policy with asset allocation.
There was discussion of outsourcing the endowment through an Outsourced Chief Investment Officer (OCIO) for the endowment investment piece. It was moved that the Finance Committee will research this and put together a report for the board to consider. Fitzpatrick reminded the board that the endowment is a tool to be used for the College and those options, as well as any applicable restrictions, should be researched for resource optimization. There was a question of the various endowed funds and whether they are quasi-restricted or restricted. The administration is currently reviewing these funds.
The board meeting was adjourned to Executive Session on Saturday, April 14, at 10:30 a.m.