In our continuing efforts to understand and explain the structure of governance at Williams, here is a description of the different categories of Trustee. There are currently 24 trustees; 5 Alumni, 5 Term and 14 Permanent. (The Permanent are sometimes referred to as just, without qualifier, trustees.)

Alumni Trustees:
Paul Grogan ’72
Delos Cosgrove III ’62
Steven Rogers ’79
Michael Reed ’75
Cesar Alvarez ’84

The Alumni Trustees serve five years and are elected by, you guessed it, alumni. Three alums are nominated by a somewhat secretive committee (see Article IX of the Consitution of the Society of Alumni) and a vote happens in the spring. I am trying to convince the College to be more transparent in this process, to let us know the names of the people on the nominating committee so that we might suggest names/ideas directly to them, but so far without success. It is somewhat strange that all the current alumni trustees are male. Why would that be? Are men more likely to be nominated than women? Do more men vote in the election and/or are men more likely to vote for other men? Are the male candidates just, objectively, better? I have no idea. It does seem like the nominating committee is more likely to select candidates of color than random chance would suggest, but I have not collected the data on this. Three of the five current alumni trustees might be categorized as being a darker shade of purple. Perhaps alumni voters, open-minded souls that they are, are more likely to vote for URM candidates. Perhaps such candidates have, in the last few years, just been better. (Note I am not trying to be offensive here. Really! I am honestly curious about the causes of the current racial/gender background in this group.)

Term Trustees:
Janet Brown ’73
Gregory Avis ’80
Jonathan Kraft ’86
Barbara Austell ’75
Yvonne Hao ’95

Term Trustees also serve for five year but are selected by the board of trustees itself. (The Trustees, like the Gargoyles and (somewhat) the JAs, are self-replicating.) I would have guessed that Term Trustees — since they are clearly second-class citizens to Permanent Trustees — would be more likely to be selected for the racial/gender/age balance that they bring to the overall composition of the Board. I do not think that it is a coincidence that they are 60% female. I do not think that Yvonne Hao would have been selected had she been, say, a Jewish male from the class of 1975.

(My point here is not to criticize this policy. Indeed, there are all sorts of reasons why you want to have a Board which “looks like” Williams. My lovely wife would certainly be quick to notice if the Board had no Asian females. The purpose here is just to understand and explain.)

Kraft ’86 and Avis ’80 are interesting Term Trustees because their extensive wealth would seem to qualify them for permanent status. Why aren’t they Permanent Trustees? I predict that they will be. I suspect that the board occasionally identifies younger, wealthy Ephs (both Avis and Kraft are younger than every Permanent Trustee) and grooms them for long terms on the Board by starting them out as Term Trustees. (I do not know how wealthy Brown, Austell and Hao are.)

Lucienne Sanchez ’79
William Simon Jr. ’73
Peter Wege II ’71
Paul Neely ’68
Robert Lipp ’60
E. David Coolidge III ’65
Michael Keating ’62
Carl Vogt ’58
John Wadsworth Jr. ’61
A. Clayton Spencer ’77
Laurie Thomsen ’79
Stephen Harty ’73
Robert Scott ’68
William Oberndorf ’75

Permanent Trustees serve for 15 years. These are the most important people on the board, a status gained via both longevity and financial clout. They are overwhelmingly rich and male. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) If you want to be a Trustee at Williams, the surest route is to be very rich and to give a great deal of money to the College. Best is to give a bunch while implicitly promising to give much more at a later date. Of course, no one would be so crass as to have an explicit conversation along these lines, but when the hat is passed for the Climb Far campaign, you can be sure that the Trustees are expected to (and expect each other to) pony up. As best that I can tell, every male on the board is successful in his field and very wealthy.

But do not assume that the non-white-males on the board aren’t wealthy too! No stereotypes here, please. Laurie Thomsen ’79, for example, is a prominent venture capitalist. Indeed, she may have made as much money on her own as just about any Eph, male or female, of her generation. (Or maybe not. It is hard to know the wealth of Ephs working outside of publicly-held companies.)

The other two female permanent trustees are trickier cases. Is Spencer part of the same Spencer family that is behind, say, the Spencer Studio Art building? I don’t know. She did not spend long enough in the private sector to generate significant wealth herself, but non-work wealth can come to someone in a vaiety of ways. Sanchez is similar because, whatever else one might think about doctors, they no longer earn trustee-level wealth, at least at a young ago.

So, if the answer isn’t money, then why were Sanchez (1992) and Spencer (2001) selected to be permanent trustees? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I suspect that the permanent trustees do not want to be placed in a position in which all their number are white men. Ideally, they would want to find some very rich and generous non-white-men to include on the board. They can partly do this via the Term Trustee position, but even better are Ephs like Thomsen. Sanchez is, obviously, a three-fer and Clayton knows a great deal about higher education so these factors might have played a role in their selection.

My prediction is that, once Sanchez goes, you will not see a permanent trustee like her (meaning one without a great deal of wealth) for many years to come. Fifteen years ago, it was much harder to find wealthy Eph non-white-men to include on the board. Now that it is easier, there will not be a need to “spend” one of the 15 permanent trustee spots on someone without the means and inclination to be a major contributor to the College.

I think that all three categories of trustee feature staggered terms. That is, one alumni, term and permanent trustee is replaced each year. The ordering above is chronological, so Grogan, Brown and Sanchez will be leaving the board this year. I don’t know nearly as much about trustee history as I should. The 1984-1985 Bulletin lists only 20 Trustees without an indication of different categories. Thanks to JoAnn Muir for providing me with a breakdown of the status of the current trustees.

On the whole, the structure and composition of the Board of Trustees seems perfectly reasonable. My only cpmplaint is that, at minimum, the names of the members of the Nominating Committee should be public. Even better would be if their were a petition procedure whereby alumni from outside of the College’s “in-crowd” could find a place on the ballot. But that is a windmill for another day.

UPDATE: See here for more info.

Print  •  Email