Accessibility and prestige trade off in selection of IGC advisory board members

By Zac Farber

The Global Advisory Board, which was conceived about three years ago and whose membership includes Kofi Annan, Walter Mondale and Julian Bond, lies under the aegis of the Institute for Global Citizenship and is dedicated to addressing an issue consistent with the IGC’s mission–“how to conceptualize global citizenship.” But the members’ primary tie to the college is through President Brian Rosenberg, not Ahmed Samatar, the IGC dean. Rosenberg said elevating the college’s visibility nationally and globally is a central purpose of the advisory board and was a motivating factor in the selection of the board’s members, particularly the higher profile members such as Annan, Mondale and Bond.

“By attracting people from a variety of fields to work with you, you attract more visibility to your own efforts,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg emphasized how the disparate backgrounds of the members help guide the institute.

“We have people from the non-profit sector, from politics, from business,” he said, “and you use their advice to help shape what the programs of the institute should look like.” While four of the 12 members live in the Twin Cities, the rest are dispersed around the country and the English-speaking world. (Lloyd Axworthy is the president of the University of Winnipeg and Lord Daniel Brennan is a member of Britain’s House of Lords).

The geographic diversity of the board’s members, when combined with the sundry obligations that come with their high status positions, can make scheduling meetings difficult. The board held its first meeting in March 2008 and may hold a second meeting this spring, though plans are tentative.

The demands on members’ time can also translate to low participation for some of the board’s members.

Bond, who is the president of the NAACP, came to campus this fall to give a speech at the dedication of the IGC building and guest-taught a class, opportunities Rosenberg said were direct results of his participation on the IGC advisory board.

When The Mac Weekly asked Bond about his role on the board, he replied, “Well, I’m on the advisory board, which means I give advice. Whenever they ask me for advice, I give advice.”

When asked about what specific advice he had given, he replied, “I knew you would say that. They haven’t asked me for any advice.”

Rosenberg said that Bond can be “a hard guy to communicate with, and that’s not any fault of his.”

“He lives in Atlanta and he’s busy,” Rosenberg said, “and so we’ve tried to get him here several times and just hasn’t worked schedule-wise, and I haven’t had any opportunities to be in Atlanta.”

Rosenberg has had a different type of relationship with Harry Boyte, the director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.

“We’ve talked fairly often,” Rosenberg said, “and we exchange e-mails, and we’re in what I would describe as pretty regular communication. He’s someone who has been working with the Obama Administration since before the election on civic engagement so he’s got a good national picture of how these efforts work.”

Rosenberg said Boyt and other local members of the advisory board have stressed the importance of reaching out to the Twin Cities.

“There even now is a sense in the Twin Cities that Macalester’s focus is to internationalism, that it isn’t as engaged at a local level as some other institutions or as it might be,” Rosenberg said.

Phil Geier, the executive director of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, said he gained the experience he uses on the advisory board through a career in international education. He said he talks to Rosenberg frequently.

“I don’t think I entered anything terribly new,” Geier said of his conversations with Rosenberg. “I was reinforcing of what the inclinations were there.”

“To be honest,” he said, “I think when you talk to people outside your institution, you often have your own ideas validated or modified but not necessarily radically changed.”

Rosenberg said that in selecting the members of the advisory board, there is a tradeoff between accessibility and prestige.

“You need some people who will, even if their interaction with you is infrequent, be able to both increase your visibility and give you access to some other people who it will be useful to have access to,” Rosenberg said. “And you need other people who will be more willing and able to engage regularly at a nuts-and-bolts level.