The members of our Board of Trustees play a unique role in the life of the university. Not only do they have fiduciary responsibility for Tufts as an institution, they also provide the administration vitally important counsel and guidance on a wide range of policy issues. They also serve as advocates and ambassadors for Tufts and play a leadership role in philanthropic support for our academic mission. Going forward, I plan to report regularly on the meetings of the Board, building on a tradition already in place in the Faculty meetings of the Schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering.
The most recent meeting of the Board took place on November 4-5, 2011. This was of course my own first meeting with the Board since assuming the Presidency. The opportunity to engage over these two days with virtually all of our sitting Trustees, and some of the Emeritus members of the Board as well, reaffirmed my sense of their great dedication to Tufts and its people.
Most of our Board meetings follow a pattern that includes a number of committee meetings as well as two plenary sessions for the full Board, one of them a business meeting and the other typically devoted to one or more discussions of key strategic issues facing us. The November meeting followed this typical pattern.
One important theme for discussion was diversity. At one of the plenary sessions, I reviewed the rationale behind plans for the university-wide Council on Diversity that is now in formation. At the same session, Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, discussed the work underway in the School to develop curricular programs dealing with issues of race and ethnicity.
Another important topic was how best to support undergraduates’ transition to Tufts. The Academic Affairs Committee heard a report from Dean of Engineering Linda Abriola on the BEST program (Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts). Joanne Berger-Sweeney reviewed with the full Board a proposal under development to establish a “bridge” program for entering undergraduates in Arts and Sciences.
The Academic Affairs Committee is one of the standing committees of the Board. In November it reviewed proposals for programs including potential additional opportunities for professional education at the master’s level at the Tufts University School of Medicine. Academic Affairs also approved the name change for the former Department of Geology in the School of Arts and Sciences, whose new name, Earth and Ocean Sciences, better reflects its intellectual focus and dynamism. Academic Affairs is the primary venue by which student life issues reach the Board, and the committee discussed how best to address that portion of its mission going forward.
Two other standing committees of the Board are Administration and Finance, and University Advancement. The Administration and Finance Committee reviewed the university’s financial operations for the fiscal year that ended in June, heard a preliminary projection on the outlook for this year, and discussed the factors that will influence the shaping of next year’s budget. The committee also heard a report on how the university uses its reserve funds to make capital and strategic investments, and on deferred maintenance needs over the next decade. The Buildings and Grounds Committee (a subcommittee of Administration and Finance) also met in conjunction with the Board meeting, as did the Audit Committee, where our external auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers, provided a review of their audit of our financial statements for FY11.
The Committee on University Advancement is charged with addressing the full range of advancement, external relations, and public policy issues. In November, its members discussed developments regarding Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972, the important federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex by educational institutions that receive federal funding. Tufts has been working to ensure that its policies and procedures meet the requirements of the law and its evolving interpretation and protect members of the community. The Committee also heard a comprehensive report on the Beyond Boundaries campaign, which concluded successfully over the summer.
The November meeting is the Board’s annual meeting, so the business meeting included the yearly election of officers and a new member proposed by the Committee on Trusteeship, as well as approval of a number of amendments to update the university’s Bylaws. The Board also welcomed two new Alumni Trustees to their first meeting. Notable committee reports included an update from the Honorary Degree Committee on plans for Commencement 2012, and a report from the Council of the Boards of Overseers on a review of the Overseers program conducted on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary.
It was, as this summary suggests, a very full couple of days. Throughout the weekend, the high quality of the discussions demonstrated the strength of Board governance at Tufts and the deep engagement of our Trustees.