Members of the Corporation convened on campus Friday and Saturday for their first meeting since the economy took a sharp turn for the worse last month, discussing academic programs and addressing financial concerns but announcing no major decisions.
The University's highest governing body - which meets three times annually and typically discusses a wide range of issues at each gathering - addressed budgetary and fundraising issues related to a slumping economy at this weekend's meeting. It also focused on academic programs and was briefed by the provost on Friday.
Allison Ressler '80 P'09 P'10, the treasurer of the Corporation and the chair of the committee that oversees fundraising, alumni affairs and public relations, said the economy had been given "significant attention" in the meetings of every committee she attended - including those that oversee the University's budget and the investment of its endowment.
Economic circumstances often impact the University's strategic plans, she said, adding that the budget committee had completed a "detailed review" of the University's capital projects, financial statements and debt situation and presented its report to the whole body.
"You budget, and then things change, and you have to adapt to that," she said. "All of our capital projects ... are going to be dependent on us prudently determining we're in a position to go forward."
Cornelia Dean '69, a member of the advancement committee Ressler chairs, said Corporation members were "very concerned" about recent developments in the economy. "The people in the University who deal with money are having to cope with these changes," she said.
Still, the Corporation did not announce any major decisions after it adjourned Saturday afternoon - as it did, for example, after its February meeting, when it approved a sweeping expansion in financial aid.
The specificity and quantity of major announcements after a given meeting do not necessarily reflect the importance or depth of the Corporation's discussions at that meeting. "Most of our decisions are not made based on a single meeting," Ressler said.
But the lack of any major actions officially taken by the Corporation was apparent in President Ruth Simmons' summary e-mail to the community, which offered a vague characterization of the Corporation's discussions and could highlight as major news only a fundraising goal for financial aid that has been public for at least a month.
"The meeting focused on operating, investment and academic priorities in view of recent global financial events," wrote Simmons, who chairs the Corporation's Board of Fellows.
In her e-mail, Simmons praised the Corporation's endorsement of a plan to raise an additional $100 million for the endowment for financial aid - on top of the nearly $300 million that has been raised so far - but that plan was publicly advertised more than a month ago in the Brown Alumni Magazine.
That initiative, which will aim to reach the new goal of $400 million for financial aid by the formal conclusion of the Campaign for Academic Enrichment at the end of 2010, will be led by Richard Barker '57 P'03 P'05, the Office of Advancement announced in the magazine advertisement.
Dean said the Corporation continues to see financial aid as "a very high priority" despite an economic situation that is "not rosy."
"People are very committed to the goals that the University has set out," she said. "Thinking about how to meet them in this new economic climate is complicated and difficult."
Friday afternoon, Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98 briefed Corporation members on academic news and issues at the customary "strategy session" that precedes the Saturday morning business meeting. He was joined by Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P'07 and three members of the faculty, who discussed academic departments in their respective fields.
The primary purpose of the briefing, which was also attended by alumni fundraising leaders, was to "give the Corporation and the leadership of the Campaign (for Academic Enrichment) a sense of the academic strengths at Brown," Kertzer said, but several of the administration's concerns were also brought up for the trustees' consideration.
Those included the need to better "nurture and maintain" prized members of the faculty, the importance of endowed professorships to aid that goal and the urgency of pushing ahead with the planned $70-million brain sciences facility temporarily known as the Mind Brain Behavior Building, Kertzer said.
Other issues, such as the need to expand the size of the Graduate School to keep pace with the growth in faculty, were not addressed to a great extent because they had been discussed at length at recent meetings, he said.
While economic developments can affect the University's ability to carry out its goals, Kertzer said, members of the Corporation agreed that "nevertheless, we need to keep our eyes on the ball here."
Professor of Neuroscience John Donoghue PhD'79 P'09, the director of the Brain Science Institute; Professor of Mathematics Jill Pipher; and Professor of History Michael Steinberg, the director of the Cogut Center for Humanities, spoke about developments and issues in their areas of study.
The Corporation meeting was not entirely without incident, as members of Students for a Democratic Society engaged in a noisy protest outside University Hall Saturday morning. The student group has demanded more community participation in the body's meetings and access to its minutes, which are sealed for 50 years under current policy.
At its meeting Saturday, the Corporation also formally accepted a number of large gifts to the University, including $7 million for the Creative Arts Building, $3.7 million for the Nelson Fitness Center, $3 million for an endowment that will support Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellows in the Humanities and $2.25 million for undergraduate scholarships.