By: Sandy Pfeiffer
I’m using this monthly report to offer some thoughts about our governance process. My goal is to get us thinking about changes that might give more members of the community the chance to influence the direction of the College. But before I launch into that discussion, I’ll comment briefly about happenings on campus this past month, offer a “communication opportunity” to students, and give you the latest draft of a “vision statement” I’ve been sharing with you.
1. GOOD NEWS DURING OCTOBER
The last month was packed full of good news for the College, much of which has been distributed to you already. Here are just two examples:
First, early in the month we were informed that the College won a 193K Arthur Vining Davis Foundation grant to fund our Advancing Environmental Literacy proposal. This project not only will create new team-taught courses that infuse environmentalism into our curriculum but also will establish a course template that can be used by other colleges and universities around the country. Our academic division deserves enormous credit for writing our successful proposal.
Second, Sierra Magazine included us as third among the “top-10” colleges and universities in the nation that have taken steps to combat global warming. A bimonthly publication with a large circulation, Sierra chose Warren Wilson from among dozens, probably hundreds, of colleges and universities that are working hard to “walk the talk” of sustainability and environmental responsibility. Sierra Magazine’s “10 That Get It” list comprised the following institutions: 1. Oberlin College, 2. Harvard University, 3. Warren Wilson College, 4. University of California System, 5. Duke University, 6. Middlebury College, 7. Berea College, 8. Pennsylvania State University, 9. Tufts University, and 10. Carnegie Mellon University. The magazine text included the following passage about us: “This small Southeast star wears its environmental ethos on its sleeve and backs it up with a sustainably managed farm, garden, and forest that provide food and lumber for the campus; streetlamps that reduce light pollution; and community service as an integral part of the curriculum.” As I mentioned at Staff Forum, an article like this one in a major publication with wide circulation can do wonders for the College. My thanks to every member of our community for helping to generate this kind of visibility.
2. DINING WITH STUDENTS
Yesterday I enjoyed speaking with members of a composition class, at the invitation of a faculty member. It was a treat to talk with these mostly first-year students about their lives at the College. When I asked about ways I could meet more often and more informally with groups of students, they suggested that dinners in Gladfelter would work well. So I offer the following opportunity to any and all students. Any group of four or more students that wants to meet with me for dinner may contact my assistant, Rowena Pomeroy, to arrange a time and day to meet in Gladfelter. If there’s a particular issue you want to discuss, just let me know ahead of time so I can ponder it a bit. That said, there doesn’t have to be an “agenda”—you may want only to chat about how things are going for you and your fellow students.
3. VISION STATEMENT DRAFT
You’ll recall I’ve been sending you drafts of a vision statement over the last few months. The purpose of the statement will be to outline where and what we want to be as a college in the near future—and thus to serve as the basis for other documents we prepare for our upcoming Comprehensive Campaign to raise funds. Below is my latest draft. If you wish to comment on it, please send an email to email@example.com. I’ll not be able to acknowledge or respond to your comments, but I promise they will be read carefully. Many thanks.
Vision Statement 11/2/07 Draft: “By 2012 Warren Wilson College will (1) integrate its Triad of academics, work, and service to create the best liberal arts education of its kind in the nation; (2) place more emphasis on personal, social, and global responsibility, within a community focused on wellness; (3) give students more opportunities to develop physically, spiritually, and intellectually; (4) be distinguished among all colleges and universities in teaching environmental responsibility and emphasizing sustainable practices; and (5) attract a more economically, racially, and culturally diverse student body.”
4. THOUGHTS ON GOVERNANCE
At the outset I’ll state two points: first, I don’t want us to have an extended discussion about governance unless a critical mass of people favor change; and second, I understand it’s unusual (even a little suspect!) for a college president voluntarily to take on the topic of college governance. (“Let well enough alone,” I hear fellow presidents saying.) So there need to be compelling reasons to do so. For me, the main reasons are that (1) our current system is not sufficiently representative of the college community and (2) it does not give faculty, staff, and students enough opportunity to share decision-making at the College.
My ideas on this subject are quite preliminary, so I’m certainly not prepared to outline a detailed governance plan—nor would it be appropriate to do so at this point. That said, here are a few of my observations to help start the discussion:
a. Students need an elected governing body that represents all major student constituencies, with a leadership team that meets regularly with the president of the college. Although there can and should be meetings to which all students are welcome, only the elected members (representing all classes equally, in my opinion) should be voting members.
b. Faculty and staff need an elected governing body that represents major faculty/staff constituencies, with a leadership team that meets regularly with the president. This body either can replace the Staff Forum or can report through the Staff Forum via its minutes. The latter arrangement may be appropriate at a college like ours that has a long tradition of meetings to which all faculty and staff are invited. My experience is that as the faculty and staff become more trustful that an elected body will represent its interests, its review and discussion of the elected body’s minutes by the entire faculty and staff would become routine. Further, the regular meetings of the elected body (say, weekly) would begin to take on more significance than the regular meetings (say, twice a semester) of the complete faculty and staff membership.
c. Both the leaders of the elected student group and the leaders of the elected faculty/staff group would meet regularly with the PAC (President’s Advisory Council) to discuss substantive issues that concern the future of the College—-for example, the annual budget, security of the campus, and various policies. These periodic meetings, perhaps every four weeks, would give the leaders critical information to bring back to their respective elected bodies for discussion.
d. The leaders of the elected student group and the leaders of the elected faculty/staff group should meet together regularly to discuss topics germane to the entire community and to decide, jointly, when a community meeting is needed. Community meetings should be more regular than currently scheduled, should have joint support of faculty/staff and students, and should involve issues of most importance to the future of the College.
e. Separate groups such as Faculty Body and Staff Body could continue to exist, if deemed useful to their constituencies.
If we were to design a system based on principles similar to those noted above, I believe there would be a more compelling case for requesting a second trust
ee member from among faculty and staff (that is, for us to have one faculty member and one staff member on the Board). Of course, these are my personal views, and I must be quick to add that I have not discussed them with all the trustees.
Well, there you have it: a few preliminary ideas to start a discussion about governance, if you choose to have it. Again, I can support the current system if it’s the will of the community to keep it, and I fully appreciate its historical roots. Yet I think it’s the right time in the history of the College to make some changes.
For now, feel free to send any thoughts or responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Although I will not have time to acknowledge or respond to your comments, be assured that I will read them with interest. Further, I’ll consider responses confidential. Although I may share your ideas and words in a document to the community, I will not reveal authors. If it appears it would be useful to pursue a more specific proposal, I’ll seek your thoughts about a next step. If it does not, we’ll continue with our current system until or unless proposals come forward from the community.