Great Williams Alternative article by Mariah Widman ’15 about the embarrassment that is the Alumni Trustee election process.

All three candidates are clearly very passionate about Williams and accomplished in their fields, but, from the ballot, I did not think that I knew enough about each candidate to make an informed decision. Which issues would candidates be most passionate in addressing or promoting in their roles as board members? How would (or wouldn’t) they communicate with the Williams community? The answers were unclear.

I decided to interview the candidates for the Williams Alternative. If they answered my questions other alumni could make an informed decision, and students could participate in the process. I emailed all three of the candidates asking them if I could speak to them for the Alternative about their positions on issues currently important to the college. I also reached out to the head of the Alumni Society, Lelia Jere ‘91, to see if she would be willing to give me more information about how the candidates had been selected. Perhaps the nomination process would give me more insight on why each of the candidates had made it onto my ballot.

I ended up speaking with both Leila and Brooks Foehl, ’88, the Director of Alumni Relations, who, together, suggested that a holistic character assessment is an appropriate basis for selecting a Trustee.

Leila informed me that “the nominees are not running on a platform, as with political candidates, and therefore do not have a “position” on issues. They are being presented to alumni as individuals with the requisite professional and life skills to serve on the Board of Trustees.” In response to my query about how to make my decision, Brooks reiterated this and further elaborated, “As to what qualities alumni weigh in making a choice, there are any number. We know that professional background, volunteer engagement, alumni demographics, personal relationship, etc., are just some of the factors that go into people’s consideration.” This is not only the college’s de facto arrangement, it is also the Society of Alumni’s official policy, written in its Constitution (which is well-worth a read if you have the time).

In his email, Brooks informed me that he had advised the candidates against speaking to me, and invoked a categorical imperative-style justification. If they agreed to speak to me they might have to speak to any number of alumni asking all sorts of questions. Not being obligated to, they chose to remain silent, and I received no responses.

As if there are dozens of alumni who would bombard trustee candidates with questions! Hah! Brooks is a smart guy. He can do better than this.

Accepting a position on the Board is a huge responsibility, and I understand that not all of us can or should aspire to the job. But if the rest of the community is excluded from the room where it happens, then we need even more confidence that those we elect are representing our voices. Otherwise what’s the point of having a vote in the first place?

The point is to provide the veneer of caring what alumni think. News Flash: The College wants you to shut up and write checks. The last thing that Brooks or Leslie or Adam Falk or the Trustees want is for alumni to discuss important policy questions and then to vote for candidates based on their positions on those policies.

As an alumnus I wanted to differentiate the three candidates from each other so that I could make an informed decision about whom I was electing.

Me too! We have discussed precisely this issue in the past: here (from a decade (!) ago), here and here.

Should we seek to permanently change the Trustee election process, it only takes fifty alumni to petition an amendment to the constitution, and a simple majority vote of at least fifty members of the society of alumni at a society meeting.

Hmmm. When was the last time that there was a rebel movement like this during Reunion Weekend? Has the Saturday morning alumni meeting even been disrupted? Who knows this history?

Perhaps Mariah Widman ’15 would be interested in joining EphBlog and using it as a platform from which to agitate and organize for change? She would be welcome!

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