Trustees to tackle economic crisis at weekend meeting

 As the recession chips away at Tufts’ endowment and operating budget, the trustees will evaluate this weekend how the university is weathering the fiscal storm.

“Each of them is going to address the economy in its own way,” Trustee Secretary Linda Dixon said of the trustees’ three main committees.

While on campus this weekend, board members will also examine a draft proposal from the Task Force for Freedom of Expression and investigate the university’s $20 million loss in Bernard Madoff’s alleged Ponzi scheme. Endowment transparency advocates hope the trustees will turn their attention to calls to expand the committee that advises the board on proxy votes in external corporations.

Today, the Administration and Finance Committee will approve expenditures for renovations and look into the performance of the endowment

Laura Herman, the student representative to the committee, will ask its members to focus specifically on minor renovations to the campus center. She will propose some “modest physical changes” such as tweaking the floor space, furniture and walls in hopes of making the campus center a more inviting gathering space.

“This is not a, ‘You must tear down the campus center and start again’ [proposal],” Herman, a senior, said. “These are some very small changes that we can make.”

She will also address ways to expand programming in the campus center and in Brown and Brew, drawing on examples from locations like the Sophia Gordon Multipurpose Room.

Meanwhile, the Academic Affairs Committee will focus on the university’s academic strategy in light of the struggling economy and on faculty promotions. For its part, the Advancement Committee will tend to reports on Beyond Boundaries, Tufts’ ongoing capital campaign, and to alumni relations issues.

On Saturday, University President Lawrence Bacow will brief the trustees on the university’s response to the darkening financial climate. Current projections indicate that the endowment will fall by 25 percent, and the university is looking to make $36 million in budget cuts for next year.

Bacow will also touch on the fallout from the Madoff scandal. “The trustees are very interested to hear [about that],” Dixon said, noting that his remarks will be only one piece of the board’s ongoing evaluation of the university’s $20 million loss.

Also during the weekend, a trustee subcommittee will meet with members of the Task Force on Freedom of Expression, a group convened by Bacow to formulate a speech policy for Tufts.

“After they meet, the Task Force will submit their final recommendation, which will be considered by the full board at the May meeting,” Bacow said in an e-mail.

The Task Force, which is chaired by Fletcher Professor Jeswald Salacuse, presented its first draft in September. Salacuse addressed the document with Tufts Community Union (TCU) senators during a meeting in October.

While some expected the Task Force to move Tufts to a First Amendment standard in the aftermath of the Committee on Student Life’s decision to sanction controversial material in The Primary Source, the draft shies away from specific policy recommendations.

Instead, the Task Force is looking to balance freedom of expression with freedom from harassment, calling on members of the community to “respect the dignity of others.”

Some have labeled the draft’s statement of principles as overly broad, but Salacuse has defended the document.

“The First Amendment does not apply to the university. We are a private university. We are a private educational space,” he told the Daily in September. “What we tried to define is the freedom of expression and inquiry on this campus, keeping in mind that our fundamental goal is not a political process; it’s an educational process.”

Another possible agenda item is a request from TCU senators and Tufts Students for Investment Responsibility (STIR) to expand the size of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, which was created by the trustees two years ago to add student input to the university’s financial decisions.

Senators and STIR members are calling upon the administration and trustees to authorize the addition of faculty members, graduate students and alumni to the committee, currently comprised of three undergraduates, by early next month.