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The Board of Managers needs greater transparency with students

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

This past weekend, approximately 35 business people gathered in the Scheuer room of Kohlberg to discuss matters relating to the college. These people, also known as the Board of Managers, convened behind closed doors around conference tables for one of the four meetings they hold each year. Their main purpose was to make decisions regarding the endowment and, alongside President Smith, set a direction for the college.

Yet, if students did not pass through Kohlberg Hall this weekend, or even if they were in Kohlberg but not during a break in the Board of Managers meeting, they may have been completely unaware that the meeting was taking place. Even if students did know the meeting was occurring, they remained unlikely to know the purpose of the Board of Managers, much less anything about their current agenda. For students, the Board of Managers appears to be an obscure entity of business people in suits, sitting in a dark room, drinking coffee, and discussing which fund the endowment should be invested into next.

We at the Phoenix believe this relationship between students and the Board of Managers is disheartening and unproductive. Especially for an institution like Swarthmore that prides itself on supporting student efficacy and responsibility, we believe students have a right to know the issues and solutions on which the board is actively deciding, especially since those decisions will have a direct impact on our lives as students.

For example, students are left completely unaware of the board’s agenda and the topics they discuss at the meeting, both before the meeting and after it.  While there are archives of records from the Board of Managers’ meetings online, these records seem to be from over 30 years ago and still state that  “Permission to this material is restricted and requires the permission of the Office of the President of Swarthmore College.” There is no explanation of who is allowed to request these documents.

The minutes from past Board of Managers meetings should not be restricted and the minutes should be made available to students within a week after the meeting. The United States government posts an outline of Congressional meetings, along with extended remarks from members of congress who spoke.

We recognize that Swarthmore College is much smaller than the U.S. government and operates much differently as a private institution. Still, since Swarthmore has fewer students than the U.S. government has citizens, and arguably much less highly classified information than the U.S. government, it should be easier for Swarthmore to be transparent with students, not harder. If citizens have the right to hear about the government making decisions that will affect their lives, shouldn’t students be extended this same right as members of the college community who are impacted by the decisions board members make?

We at the Phoenix also recognize that the board may not mean to appear so secretive. Most board members were Swarthmore students themselves, so they likely are able to understand our perspective. We also recognize that limited efforts have been made by the board to breakdown some of the barriers between them and students, such as allowing two observers from SGO to attend this weekend’s meeting. Part of the meeting for the board this past weekend was applauding and supporting the work of current students, such as listening to Lang Social Impact Scholar presentations and considering the project proposals from the President’s Sustainability Research fellows. We commend the beginnings of a relationship between the board and students, but we also believe that these small-scale connections are not enough.

The Board of Managers should allow open meetings in which any student who wishes to observe the meetings are allowed to attend. Minutes from the board’s meetings should also be made easily accessible online, so that students can be informed about the concerns, changes, and decisions that will ultimately affect them. After a Board of Managers meeting, President Val Smith should send out the minutes from the meeting through email, along with the major announcements she makes, like the new provost.

These are just a few methods in which the Board of Managers could become more transparent and develop a stronger relationships with students. The secretive arrangement between students and the board that currently exists undermines student trust in the institution and portrays the current student perspective as unimportant, even if this is not the intentions of the board. By taking steps to foster a more open relationship between the board and students, Swarthmore can foster a greater community while upholding their goals as an institution.

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