In light of the increased mobilization of Swarthmore Mountain Justice, study breaks with Dean of Students Liz Braun earlier this year in Parrish Parlors, and the selection of Valerie Smith as the college’s 15th president, the Board of Managers has become more visible on campus in the past academic year. Despite its heightened profile at the college, students know little about the select group of alumni, and know even less about the selection of this committee that handles the majority of the fiduciary responsibilities and makes some of the most important decisions at the college.
Many of the Managers cited a deep love of Swarthmore as both the reason why they believed they were selected for the position and the reason why they chose to accept it. For Ann Reichelderfer ’72, a shareholder of Stevens & Lee PC, her interest in Swarthmore was reignited when her daughter began playing here as the goalie of the women’s lacrosse team, and she found herself more frequently at the college.
“It was much easier to become reengaged with [Swarthmore] because I was there a lot, and it’s such a great place to be,” she said.
For Nate Erskine ’10, becoming a member of the Board came as a surprise, but felt like it was a natural progression from his position as the chair of the Appointments Committee while a student at the college. Having graduated just five years ago, Erskine had become acquainted with many of the current members of the college administration during his tenure as appointments chair and already felt as though he had contributed to lasting change at the college. However, Erskine felt that actually becoming a Manager and joining this group of alumni was an entirely different experience. He said it was a very interesting transition, and something he had to work hard at.
“It was very intimidating, because you’re working with Board members who had years of amazing professional experience, who have gone on to accomplish amazing things, and then it was interesting trying to figure out what I could be doing to contribute to the Board,” he said.
None of the board members interviewed for this article expected themselves to have a position on the board while they were students at the college or even before the day they were notified they were being considered.
David Singleton ’68 called his invitation to join the Board “very unexpected”.
“[Former President] Al Bloom approached me and asked if I’d be interested. He felt I’d could bring some new perspectives to the board as an alum, the parent of a recent alum, a Quaker, and the son of an alum,” Singleton said in an email.
The college website notes that while non-Quakers have served on the Board since 1938, and although Friends compose a small minority of students, faculty, and staff members, the college still holds many Quaker principles in high esteem. Because of this, it appears that the college looks highly upon many of the values of the Society of Friends when it considers candidates to the Board.
David Ko ’92 did not become a part of the Board through a traditional route; as the sitting President of the Alumni Council, he joined the Board when he took office two years ago. He said that his growing involvement in the alumni council after graduation, in which he was able to stay connected with aspects of the college community and engage with other alumni across generations, led him to seek the presidency and eventually become a part of the Board. He also cited his strong desire to give back to the college as another reason for his heavy involvement with the Alumni Council, and by extension, the Board.
After speaking with these Managers, it remains unclear the exact process by which potential Board members are asked to join. None of the Managers were involved in the actual selection process, but several were able to point to values that the college generally looks at during the selection process. Reichelderfer noted that she started to serve the college as an administrator because she wanted to be able to give back her skills as a legal expert in estate management and planned giving. She served on the Planned Giving Committee before being asked to join the Board three years ago.
Erskine said that the college is generally looking for a diverse group of alumni to make up the Board; he believed that a significant factor in his selection was his ability to present a newer, younger perspective on the college to the Board.
Even though Erskine and Reichelderfer both noted the Board’s desire for diversity, a closer analysis of its makeup makes this claim less than certain. Out of the 39 regular (non-emeritus) Managers, 56 percent are men, 72 percent are white, and 90 percent graduated from the college before the 2000. Thirty-six percent of the Managers fit all three of these categories. It is also worth noting that the most common career field amongst the Board is in investing, finance, marketing, or consulting, in which 54 percent of the current Managers currently work. In fact, 56 percent of the Board went on to earn either an master’s in business administration or a law degree after they completed their studies at the College.
Many of the more recent appointments to the Board of Managers have been to more diverse alumni, and that the Board is making a conscious effort to promote more diversity amongst its ranks. It remains to be seen if this trend of increased diversity will continue.