BOV doubly damned
March 21, 2008
Regardless of whether you think it right for the Board of Visitors to have let former President Gene Nichol’s contract lapse, it failed in its task of stewardship. The BOV failed to articulate a doable job for the president and to accept the agenda which it demanded he set. If the BOV was right to let Nichol go, then in hiring the wrong man and working ineffectively with him, the BOV acted as a bad steward. If, by contrast, in Nichol’s ouster you see nothing but mammonism trumping the programs Nichol initiated and the good will he sowed, then, again, you are faced with a BOV that failed to represent your interests as a student, faculty member, staff member or alum. Thus, the BOV is doubly damned.
p. If its decision to let Nichol go was right, then the BOV erred in hiring him. Picking the president is the most serious task the BOV undertakes, and it chose the wrong man. There was no doubt in hiring him because of his evident desire to forcefully act for students’ rights and diversity on campus. The BOV knew what it was getting itself into and did not have the courage to follow through on its decision. Much as it insisted on accountability from the president, so I insist on accountability for its mistake. The only foolproof way to prevent similar mismanagements will be to change the makeup of the BOV such that the College’s constituency can represent itself directly.
p. If the BOV erred in letting Nichol’s contract lapse, you see in its decision a bungling of the College’s priorities tantamount to a violation of a sacred trust. Feeling that the BOV erred raises questions about their priorities. What is the work of the College president if not to nurture an environment in which money is simply the means to the ends of truth and reason? What are we to think of an effective president, championing the ideals of our College, who is cut down merely because he has not stayed the night often enough with our 100 most willing donors? What are we to think of a BOV that can find no other way to move the College forward than by relying on the president’s sole action? The BOV must take pause and consider that it has prioritized the pursuit of the College’s material wellbeing over the invaluable fruits of the open community Nichol fostered.
p. There is, fortunately, ample precedent for ways to change the BOV to be more representative of its constituency. The simplest of these would be to change the way members are appointed. At Penn State, the governor appoints six members; the alumni appoint nine members; and their agricultural, business and industrial constituencies appoint 12. The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents is elected in a state-wide election. Though in the University of California system the governor appoints the Board of Regents, there is one voting student member appointed by the Regents. College BOV Rector Michael Powell said that the problem with having a student, faculty or staff voting member on the BOV would be that they should not be privy to the personnel decisions the BOV must make. Penn State offers a simple solution by adding the following clause to its Trustee’s bylaws, “No member of the Board of Trustees shall for personal gain or for the gain of others use any information not available to the public at large and obtained as a result of service to the University.” These are just a few of the many changes the BOV could make to prevent future damage like that which it recently inflicted.
p. W.E.B. Du Bois said that, “The function of the university is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.” The BOV has fallen from this work. It sacrificed inspiration, humanity and community to wealth’s pursuit. Only by dramatic structural change will I be convinced that it truly understands the priorities of this College.
p. Daniel Souleles is a senior at the College.