Board Rejects A Better Colgate’s Proposal for Alumni Elections

Mstislav Fedorchuk

After several months of debate, the Colgate Board of Trustees has decided against a motion that would establish a policy of alumni election of some of the Board’s members.

The motion was proposed by A Better Colgate (ABC), an alumni activist group whose members do not agree with some of the Board’s decisions in governing the University. To the 1,500 ABC members who signed the petition, establishing greater alumni influence over Colgate’s affairs would encourage alumni involvement with the University and would allow the campus to expand and prosper.

Comments, written by alumni and directed to members of the Board of Trustees, are available on the ABC website.

Disapproval of “self-selected trustees who are answerable to nobody… [and run] a multi-million dollar entity with a broad-based constituency of alumni, students, faculty and employees,” is voiced by Al Wanamaker ‘53 on the website. Subsequent comments express a loss in confidence in the University due to decreased participation and influence on the part of the majority of alumni.

Board President Chris Clifford ‘67 explained that though the option of alumni elections suggested by ABC was discussed and investigated, “the Board felt that direct elections had serious real and possible challenges including losing control of the skill sets necessary at any point in time, obtaining a diverse Board based upon experience and backgrounds; concerns that dedicated volunteers would be discouraged from serving via an election process; injecting politics into the trustee selection process and attendant agenda setting; a history of low voter turnout at institutions using elections; and a lack of recognition that universities employ a shared governance model with several constituents deserving to be represented by trustees for the common good.”

Clifford also noted that ABC’s proposal did not allow for the abolishment of the election system in the future if it proved to be ineffective, a stipulation that “disturbed” the Board.

“In general there was a feeling that the current system has served the institution well and the proposed change while offering the possibility of improvement, also carried well-documented shortcomings which were deemed to outweigh the possible benefits,” Clifford said.

Though the Board of Directors and ABC have not made any plans to negotiate a compromise or alternative solution, “it was agreed […] that the nominating process should be further evaluated to determine ways to make it more robust and encourage better alumni engagement.”

In a response letter to ABC, Clifford wrote that the members of the Board will “be reviewing the way in which nominations for the board are gathered and make recommendations for further strengthening this process to promote more significant input from alumni.”

In the past, tensions have flared between ABC and the University, with both sides accusing one another of misinformation and mismanagement. However, Bob Hartje ‘72, one of the signatories of ABCs petition, noted that “for me, it is important that Colgate stop the in-fighting.”

“It really doesn’t matter who is right or wrong,” Hartje said. “What does matter is that a considerable number of alumni are not pleased with the direction of Colgate. And, please do not tell us one side or the other is misinformed or wrong. That only widens the rift. We need to treat each other with respect. Both sides, we would like to see Colgate get its act together, with an emphasis on ‘together.'”