Statement of Board Activity

Board Meeting: Feb. 28-29, 2020

The Sweet Briar Board of Directors February 2020 meeting was conducted in Washington, D.C.  It began on Thursday, Feb. 27, with a series of board committee meetings.  The day was capped off with a festive reception attended by approximately 200 alumnae, their families and other friends of the College.  President Meredith Woo, Vice President of ARD Mary Pope Hutson, Vice President of Enrollment Aaron Basko, Dean Teresa Garrett and Chair Georgene Vairo spoke to the group.

On Friday morning, Chair Georgene Vairo convened the board’s regular meeting.  She began by noting that the meeting would focus on finance, enrollment, retention and our agricultural and sustainability initiatives.  She then turned the meeting over to President Woo who spoke to her areas of focus. Pres. Woo first addressed enrollment. She noted that our One Sweet Briar enrollment initiative has been enhanced by utilizing the fly-in program for prospective students and by deliberately focusing on enrollment pipelines such as agriculture, engineering, international and equestrian. She also discussed a number of projects that will increase Sweet Briar’s visibility, including a potential Virginia Tech engineering and admissions cooperative project as well as leveraging outside partnerships, including local, state and federal government, for technical leadership, manpower and leadership in sustainability, agriculture and food systems.

Next, VP for Enrollment Management Aaron Basko reviewed immediate and long-term admissions efforts, including the alumnae ambassadors’ admissions campaign, international recruitment, faculty engagement and the success of the fly-in program. He noted that projects are underway to improve the efficacy of prospective student campus visits and leveraging influencer networks. Although still early in the cycle, he noted that deposits are ahead of last year.

VP for Finance and Enrollment Luther Griffith reviewed the FY 2020 budget and presented a financial projection for FY21 and beyond. Mr. Griffith then presented an overview of the apiary, vineyard and greenhouse projects. The ensuing discussion was around how our agricultural initiatives are more about the educational component of agriculture and not increased College revenue although it is projected that over time auxiliary revenue will be realized at an increasing rate. President Woo stated that she has created a greenhouse advisory committee of agricultural experts that will provide assistance in creating and executing plans.

Dean Teresa Garrett gave a brief update on preparations for SACSCOC reaffirmation of accreditation. She explained that developing a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is a primary focus of the process and that the Women’s Leadership Core has been chosen as the QEP. Dean Garrett reported that Fall retention numbers were vastly improved over the prior Fall.

The board broke for a working lunch. OCIO Committee Chair Kelley Fitzpatrick introduced Kathryn E. Mawer and Gary R. Price of F.E.G.  Ms. Mawer and Mr. Price guided the board through a review of our endowment portfolio. They reviewed asset allocations, liquidity levels and a private capital glidepath to enhance returns. Last year’s performance was exceptional as a result of the decision to stay invested in liquidity and the market. Looking ahead, the College’s investment policy will diversify to preserve capital. There was a discussion of market volatility regarding the coronavirus and FEG’s plans for responding.

After lunch, VP for Alumnae Relations, Communications and Development Mary Pope Hutson guided the board through an in-depth presentation. She highlighted FY20 fundraising goals of $6 million in new unrestricted dollars for the Sweet Briar Fund and $500,00 in restricted dollars. Ms. Hutson reviewed challenges faced, efforts and opportunities. Ms. Hutson predicted that historical trends show that the College will meet its budgeted target.

Ms. Hutson also noted that $12.3 million has been raised to support President Woo’s strategic priorities. These funds will support: academic innovation, Presidential scholarships, stewardship of the natural and built environment, including the agricultural initiatives and equestrian program. Other priorities include supporting campus life and student success, as well as enhancing the endowment’s unrestricted funds.

In her communications update, Ms. Hutson shared key findings of the Simpson Scarborough report, demonstrating the need to rebrand. Working with Lipman Hearne and Adam Shapiro, we are now being more strategic to drive enrollment, increase the reputation of the College through the thought leadership of President Woo, and raise awareness with a more academically oriented brand.

The last session of the day focused on the Mission Statement Task Force. Chair Vairo asked the Task Force Chair Keenan Kelsey to discuss the makeup of the task force and its work. The board broke into four working groups to brainstorm bullet point concepts, with shared sample mission statements for examples. After reconvening, those concepts and or words were shared. Next steps for the task force will include involving various constituencies in the process.

During the Saturday portion of the meeting, the board discussed board committee reports and voted on action items.

Finance Committee Chair Gillian Munson brought several action items to the board for consideration. The board approved the committee’s recommendation to raise tuition and fees 2.8% for FY21. The board approved the recommendation for endowment withdrawals. The policy codifies a policy requiring the administration to prepare a written request to the Finance Committee, which will make recommendations to the board, if it anticipates a need to draw any funds from the endowment beyond the operating spend rate approved by the board. The board also approved committee recommendations to loan funds from the endowment to support the stable renovation project, for which substantial funding from a donor has been secured and for our agriculture/sustainability initiatives.

On behalf of the Governance Committee, Committee Chair Mason Rummel recommended and the board approved an amendment to the board bylaws section 8.4.1.1. to allow a member of the finance committee to serve simultaneously the Audit Committee and to reduce the number of independent non-directors from three to two.

Alumnae, Communications and Advancement Committee Chair Sally Mott Freeman provided a brief update regarding changes and mandates for this committee, noting that four advisory working groups have been created: graduate outcomes; communications, alumnae outreach and engagement; alumnae enrichment opportunities; and advancement.

The Committee on Academic and Student Excellence (“CASE”) Co-chair Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp notified the board that the committee is working with board consultant Mary Davis to consider how best to structure the newly formed committee. A meeting of the committee will take place on campus at the May meeting.

In addition, CASE Co-Chair Mimi Fahs presented, and the board approved, the committee‘s recommendation to grant tenure and promote music Professor Joshua Harris.

Finally, Chair Vairo announced that she is calling a July 2020 Board Zoom teleconference meeting.