Alumni Council Forced to Hold Elections

For only the second time in his­tory, Colgate alumni will be asked to vote for several candidates who are seeking positions on the Alum­ni Council in the spring. Open seats on the council, usually filled by nominees appointed by the Council itself, will have to face an election due to outside candidates who have petitioned to challenge the Council nominees.

The Alumni Council is the or­ganization that leads the Colgate Alumni Corporation. To be a mem­ber of the Alumni Corporation, you must have attended Colgate University for at least a semester and your class must have gradu­ated. It is an independent, volun­teer-based organization whose goal is to help keep University-alumni and alumni-alumni relationship strong, as well as serving as an advisory board to the University.

Each year, roughly a quarter of council mem­bers’ terms end, leaving vacant seats on the Council. At any time during the year, members of the Col­gate University Alumni Corporation can be nomi­nated for council membership by Colgate alumni, staff or faculty. Each year, the Council’s Nomina­tions Committee considers close to 300 candidates for council positions. The Council’s guide to select­ing candidates involves strong performance in a number of categories: “volunteer service and leader­ship in Colgate affairs, consistent history of financial support to Colgate, meaningful personal or profes­sional accomplishments or contributions to the greater community and readiness and willingness to become more involved on behalf of the university.”

After initial deliberations, the nominations committee narrows the field to approximately ten candidates for each available spot on the Council. Then at the fall meeting at Colgate, the final candidates are selected and announced in the winter edition of the Colgate Scene.

“We have seven ‘era’ and two ‘at large’ seats open,” Vice President for Alumni Affairs RuthAnn Loveless said. “We always have at least 10 or 11 open seats each year.”

Without contest, the candidates are then approved during the annual meeting held on Reunion Weekend. If a member of the Alumni Corporation decides to contest the nomination, an election is held in late April/ May and concludes at the annual meeting to determine who will take the seat.

This year, two alumni – William Waller ’91 and Todd Buchner ’88 – have completed the req­uisite paperwork to contest the nominees of the Alumni Council as of this publication. Others could potentially be eligible provided that they submit their registration by April 8. The organiza­tion “A Better Colgate” (ABC), an organization of Colgate alumni who promote changing university policy in order to allow alumni to directly elect trustees, lists two other candidates who are peti­tioning to appear on the ballot – Sean Fitzmichael Devlin ’05 and Bill Kerchof ’49.

In 2006, the last year that contesting candi­dates appeared on the ballot, eight candidates ran against the Alumni Council nominees. None won, though independent candidates did take between up to 39 percent of the vote in some races.

Sean Fitzmichael Devlin ’05, who is running as a petition candidate and is also on the Board of Directors of “A Better Colgate,” felt that his candidacy and the elections were a way for him and other alumni to get involved with Colgate.

“I don’t want to be appointed to the Alum­ni Council: I want to be elected to the Alumni Council by my fellow Colgate alumni,” Devlin said. “The distinction is very important. I’m running because I love Colgate and want to be more involved – the same reasons the Alumni Council nominees are running.”

President of the Alumni Council Gus Cold­ebella ’91 illustrated the importance of the elec­tions, while emphasizing that the goal of the Alumni Council was to promote connections between alumni, and that elections tended to do the opposite.

“While any alum has the right to challenge one of the Alumni Council’s nominees for a seat on the Council, that’s not the best, easi­est or most efficient way to get involved with Colgate,” Coldebella said. “Elections produce both winners and losers. As president of the Alumni Corporation, I want everyone who has a desire to volunteer for Colgate to do so—and not to become potentially disaffected by losing a contested election.”

Todd Buchner ’88, the president of ABC who is running as a petition candidate, felt that the elections were an important right for alumni to excercise.

“My intent is improving alumni involve­ment and the Alumni Council elections are a great way of doing that,” Buchner said. “I want to work on some of the problems that are facing Colgate. I want to inspire people to get involved with the university.”

During an election, the Alumni Council must provide both a fair election, while also proving to Alumni Corporation members that their nominees were well-chosen.

“It’s the responsibility of the Alumni Coun­cil to demonstrate that its nominees are wor­thy of the alumni vote, primarily because of their record of outstanding volunteer service to Colgate,” Coldebella said. “The integrity of the process is so important.”

These elections can be expensive—in 2006 costs exceeded $120,000.

“This time, the Alumni Council has changed its bylaws to allow online voting,,” Coldebella said. “But even with that change, we expect the election to cost over $50,000.”

While recognizing the opinion of “A Better Colgate,” Coldebella believes that their voice was heard and that the University’s institutions have handled their cause appropriately.

“ABC’s big issue over the past few years has been campaigning for the direct election of the Board of Trustees by Colgate alumni—even though 31 of the 33 trustees are Colgate alumni, and the other two are a Colgate parent and Presi­dent Herbst. After a full and fair hearing of ABC’s views, the Trustees decided to keep the selection process they had. This has caused ABC to do what it did in 2006: mount a challenge to the Alumni Council’s slate of candidates to try to influence the Board of Trustees’ selection process.”

Devlin disagreed, seeing ABC’s involve­ment in the election as a catalyst for promoting independent alumni involvement.

“The broad goals of A Better Colgate are better accountability, better transparency and better alumni participation,” Devlin said. “We believe better alumni participation is key to achieving [these goals].”