To the Amherst Community:
With this letter, I am beginning a new practice of providing regular summaries of the meetings of the College’s Board of Trustees. These summaries will be archived on the Trustees webpage. Last weekend—February 16-18—the Board convened for its third regular meeting of the academic year. This meeting has long been designated “Instruction Weekend,” and it is devoted primarily to offering our Trustees the opportunity to learn about our academic mission and to meet with faculty and students about topics relating to our curriculum.
On Friday, the Trustees heard a panel discussion moderated by Advisor to the Provost on Campus Initiatives and Director of Community Engagement, Sarah Barr, showcasing ways that community engagement can be embedded in the academic curriculum. The panel included Sara Brenneis, professor of Spanish, who spoke about her department’s work to integrate engagement with the Spanish-speaking community in Holyoke and elsewhere into its major; Jeffers Engelhardt, professor of music, who spoke about the music department’s work with the town’s new music venue, The Drake; and Anna Martini, professor of geology and environmental studies, who discussed her and her students’ research and involvement with local environmental issues. Trustees also heard an update on course enrollments and the distribution of students across the curriculum from Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Catherine Epstein, and from the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) on their work. The Trustees met in executive session with members of the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC)—a meeting that continued the tradition of meeting with the Committee of Six, the FEC’s predecessor. That evening they dined in small groups with members of the faculty.
Several Trustee committees also met on Friday:
- Advancement: Co-chairs Bill O’Malley ’84 and Elizabeth Shelburne ’01 gave an update on FY23 fundraising results to date, including the cumulative $626 million raised toward the Promise campaign and fundraising plans for the proposed Student Center/Dining Commons project.
- Audit/Risk Management: Chair Nick Zerbib ’93 discussed the FY23 audit plan and the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers as auditors for FY23.
- Budget and Finance: Chair Dave Novak ’91 discussed the preliminary FY24 operating budget and the proposal for the FY24 comprehensive fee. The Board will vote on the comprehensive fee later in the semester and will review the administration’s budget proposal in May.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI): Chair Sarah Bloom Raskin ’83 introduced interim Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer (CEIO) Sheila Jaswal. Angie Tissi-Gassoway, who served in the interim CEIO role previously and is now serving as our interim chief student affairs officer, highlighted the accomplishments of the past 14 months in the Office of DEI; and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matt McGann updated the committee on the search process for our next CEIO.
The Trustees convened on Saturday and voted on several routine items of business, including officially approving the appointment of Mike Thomas as our new chief financial and administrative officer; the promotion of five faculty to the rank of associate professor, with tenure; and several student prizes that will be awarded later in the semester. The Trustees also met in executive session.
Finally, before the meeting began, several Trustees arrived on Thursday and had the opportunity to engage with the community outside of the official meetings. Andy Nussbaum ’85, chair of the board, met with first-year Association of Amherst Students (AAS) senators to continue the Board’s effort to increase engagement with the Amherst community and to discuss matters of current interest to AAS. And many Trustees attended a panel discussion that evening reflecting on the events of the Amherst Uprising of 2015.
That event—featuring alumni who participated in the Uprising as students—was especially meaningful, and Trustees throughout the meeting referred to the necessity of continuing to engage in the work of cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community that serves all of our students, staff, and faculty. The Trustees continue to be concerned by—and to prepare for—the results of the anticipated Supreme Court decision regarding the role of race in admissions decisions. As articulated in the brief that we filed in the case before the Court, the Trustees believe strongly that our current practice of considering race as part of a holistic admissions process is both legal and essential to our mission. Should the Court rule against the use of race as a factor in admissions, we are prepared to be an institutional leader in responding with vigor and determination to continue our work in admitting and supporting a racially diverse student body.
Michael A. Elliott
President, Amherst College