The Board of Trustees
You’ve heard the name thrown around: the Board of Trustees—“The Board of Trustees is on campus this weekend,” or “Come to this networking event with the Board of Trustees”—but many Whitties have no idea what exactly this mysterious group is.
The Whitman College Board of Trustees is one of the two Governing Boards of the college, the other being the Board of Overseers. Currently, there are fifteen members on the Board of Trustees, twelve of which are Whitman graduates.
“We are trying to maintain balance as much as the college does,” said Peter van Oppen, the current chair of the Board of Trustees. “It is the quality of diversity that makes an education better. We don’t want everyone to look like everyone else in order to get different perspectives.”
The Trustees work with officers and the president of the college to help support and govern the college in certain areas, from diversity to student life to investment. They have a judiciary responsibility to the college, handling the legal assets as well as responsibilities appointed by the chair.
Van Oppen set three goals to reach his vision for successful governing at Whitman College: fostering financial strength, increasing communication and becoming more agile to cope with a high rate of change in education.
“Agility is hard for institutions that have been around for a long time, and increased communication [is] the only way we can change, mak[ing] sure everyone is engaged and talking,” he said.
The Board has one student representative serve on most committees and two faculty and staff members on each committee to get multiple perspectives from all aspects of the school.
“I have tried to foster increased and more frequent communication with faculty and students, and we think that’s extremely healthy with all of the changes in society,” said van Oppen.
Megan Medica, a Board member on the student life committee, tries to bridge the gap between students and the Trustees. She keeps in touch with the student on her committee, frequently asking about school and how things are going. Medica was also able to interact more extensively with students at the networking event held last Wednesday.
“Although that meeting had a specific agenda, I spoke to about twenty students about a whole variety of things,” she said.
In addition, Medica’s committee interacts with ASWC. The ASWC president and vice president sit in on a committee meeting, give a presentation and have a lunchtime conversation. This gives the Trustees an opportunity to ask questions and interact in dialogue with engaged and involved students on campus.
“Students and faculty are very stimulating and interesting to work with,” said van Oppen.
The cooperative aspect is a large part of what makes serving on the Board of Trustees a worthwhile experience, even when the work is tedious.
“The job is sufficiently time-consuming where people wouldn’t want the job unless it was rewarding,” he said.
Medica admits to the rewards outweighing any negatives that may be at the surface of the job of serving on the Board, since it is a complete volunteer position.
“At first I was a little nervous about serving on the Board because I wanted to make sure I did a good job, because there is a lot of work involved,” she said.
But now, Medica loves serving on the Board and has not looked back on joining.
“I continue to learn things about the college,” she said. “Being a Trustee I have become even more proud of Whitman.”
The Board of Trustees proves its commitment to serving the school through hard work on a monthly—and sometimes weekly—basis. Before the Board meets formally, the members are sent a Board book, which contains a report from every one of its committees.
“Sometimes it may be action items, individual Trustees or things we just need to get acquainted with. Frankly, every month I am doing something for the college,” said Medica. “I feel like I invest a fair amount of time being a Trustee because there are so many things affiliated with the position.”
The Board is given articles on anything from trends on high school students and where they are going to college to higher education programs in other colleges that Whitman admires.
The Office of Financial Aid and the Dean’s Office contribute to the readings sent to the Trustees so that they are well acquainted with Whitman College itself and with higher education as a whole. Various journals are recommended but Medica likes to stay in touch with Whitman and the realities of student life by reading The Pioneer.
Although the Board does put a fair amount of hours into serving on a governing authority of Whitman College, sometimes students overestimate the powers of the Board’s governance.
“We cannot unilaterally make decisions,” said van Oppen.
For example, last year, students wanted the Board to intervene and act on a tenure decision. The Board is able to encourage raising money for a particular curricular offering but the decision-making, however, is ultimately within the faculty.
“We will try to react to important issues,” said van Oppen. “But we are only one of the authorities on campus.”
The Board of Trustees does all in its power to help all aspects of the college as much as possible, and its members are all very committed to serving the school. They are a resource for the school just as much as they are fellow Whitties who love this school.
“I wanted to help give back something to the college because I very much valued my education and experience … at Whitman,” said Medica.
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