Letter to the Editor – Alumni for Alumni

I recently read Ron Joyce’s commentary regarding “A Better Colgate” that was published in the March 26 issue of The Maroon-News. I know Ron, both as a classmate and fraternity brother, and have the highest respect for him. Therefore, I read his comments very carefully. While Ron’s position is clear, I do not believe that he addresses the simple message that A Better Colgate proposes: alumni “electing” alumni to Colgate’s Board of Trustees. Regardless of whether you are a Colgate “insider” as Ron (he admits this), a member of “A Better Colgate” or a Colgate “outsider” (like me), alumni electing alumni trustees seems to be a pretty simple proposition that should be seriously considered by the University and the Alumni Council.

When I ask myself what is wrong with alumni electing some alumni trustees, I cannot come up with one good reason for rejecting A Better Colgate’s proposal without fully vetting it first — something Colgate does not appear to be interested in doing.

While I have not spent muech time pondering the proposal, I see a lot more pros than cons. First and foremost, permitting alumni elections would engage all interested alumni in the selection process. This potentially would include both alumni who give and do not give to the University. In fact, I believe more Colgate alumni will make donations to the University if their engagement with the University increases.

Giving alumni a voice in electing some alumni trustees may help. It certainly cannot hurt. A decreasing number of alumni have been giving gifts to the University over the last several years. The percentage of alumni giving to Colgate has dropped from 55 percent in the 2002-2003 fiscal year to 46 percent in the 2007-2008 fiscal year. This decline is definitely not a good indicator for the University, and it directly affects Colgate’s ranking in U.S. News & World Report.

Colgate needs to reverse this trend. Alumni trustee elections could be a first step towards doing that. As an alumnus of Cornell’s Business School, I know that Cornell elects eight alumni trustees out of a total 64 trustees. In fact, Cornell also has student-elected trustees and faculty-elected trustees. There are many other schools like Amherst and Dartmouth that permit alumni to elect alumni trustees. Colgate should consider speaking with these schools and other peer institutions to determine the right number of alumni trustees and the appropriate nominating process. Right now, only a few “select” people control the trustee selection process at Colgate. Future membership is based upon a self-selecting process. A committee within the Board selects new Board members. As I understand it, additional “alumni” trustees are selected by a committee within the Alumni Council. While it may be argued that this process is a time-honored one that has resulted in the selection of excellent members, this is done at the price of leaving most alumni out of the process.

I see no downside to alumni electing alumni trustees. Instead, I foresee a way for alumni to engage with the University and have the opportunity to have input into the group that is governing and running our beloved Colgate. Some might argue that elections would be a waste of time, as well as expense, in these current economic times. However, other schools do not find this to be a waste of time or a hardship.

Also, I would expect the Alumni Council to be responsible for efficiently organizing and operating the election process. In addition, in this electronic age, voting could take place over the Internet. Others might argue that an election process would enable a group like A Better Colgate the opportunity to elect its own members to the Board. However, the right to elect alumni trustees does not give A Better Colgate any real advantage.

While A Better Colgate probably would have the ability to petition for a nomination slot, that nominee must still be elected by the alumni. If an A Better Colgate nominee gets elected, it is because he or she is obtaining votes from more alumni than just members of A Better Colgate. Voting for alumni trustees would give me and other Colgate outsiders — the true majority of Colgate alumni — a stake in the future of Colgate. I believe that stake would make Colgate a better and more inclusive university. It is a pretty simple concept.