Trustees anticipate year building funds, facility

By Matthew Stone

Despite a summer leadership shakeup, members of Macalester’s Board of Trustees say they are anticipating a tranquil year as they concentrate on helping the college meet its fundraising goals and maintain student services as a substantial portion of campus is overtaken by construction.At the same time, members say they’re hoping that a new student liaison to the Board will help to chip away at the Board’s perceived aloofness on campus.

The Board of Trustees saw multiple changes in its ranks this summer as chairman Jeffrey Larson ’79 resigned from his post following the collapse of his Boston hedge fund, Sowood Capital Management. Vice chairman Timothy Hart-Anderson assumed the interim chairmanship and the Board will settle on a permanent chair in May. Five new trustees, all alumni, replaced five retiring trustees, including former chairman Mark Vander Ploeg ’74 and Joan Mondale.

Hart-Anderson praised Larson for his leadership during the inaugural year of the college’s latest $150 million fundraising push.

“We were all very sorry to see him go,” Hart-Anderson said. “I’m humbled by the idea of having to follow someone like Jeff.”

In conversations this week, trustees said the Board would continue to address the issues it normally takes on–endowment stewardship and fundraising for construction projects and scholarships–as the college embarks on its $150 million capital campaign.

Expectations for a major controversy, like the debate surrounding the Board’s decision to shift Macalester away from a financial need-blind admissions system in Jan. 2005, are low.

“I don’t see any major controversial issues or particularly sticky or tricky issues on the horizon,” said Hart-Anderson, a Presbyterian pastor and the only Board member who is not a Macalester alumnus.

The absence of controversy should clear the way for the Board of Trustees to “demystify” itself to the student body, according to trustee Peter Fenn ’70, a Washington, D.C.-based political consultant. Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) confirmed this week that Blythe Austin ’08 would serve as a student liaison to the trustees.

“I’m very pleased to have a student liaison,” said Fenn, who chairs the trustees’ Campus Life committee and worked with student government members to establish the position. “I think it’ll help improve communications between the board and students.”

Fenn recalled that, as a student, he and his peers wondered about the men in suits, the college’s trustees, who would occasionally appear on campus and meet behind closed doors.

“We’d say, ‘what do those people do? They sure look important.'”

Trustee Collin Mothupi ’00 held out hope that the student liaison would “be a true ambassador for the students and a very objective ambassador for the students.”

Mothupi, a Minneapolis resident and strategist with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, said the student liaison would add transparency to the Board and make it easier for members to hear student voices on issues under the trustees’ consideration.

“I think this is another step toward assuring accountability,” he said.

Austin, in an interview this week, said she sees her role as a way to facilitate additional student participation in Board of Trustees business. Student representatives already sit on trustee committees that deal with technology issues, academic life, campus life, buildings and grounds, and finance, among other areas.

“I’m hoping to give more support to those representatives and make them more effective in their jobs by providing them with guidance, support, just making the whole process more clear,” Austin said.

Hart-Anderson suggested more interaction with students between trustee meetings, which could be easier now that a board chairman resides in the Twin Cities. Larson and Vander Ploeg, the two previous chairs, live in Massachusetts and California, respectively.

Austin will participate in an orientation at the beginning of October, prior to the Board’s fall meeting, alongside the Board’s five newest members.

All five additions are alumni, making the Board of Trustees almost exclusively composed of alumni. Three of the five new trustees, like a number of other trustees, work in finance and investment.

Peter Ahn ’87, a partner with the Minneapolis investment group Hemisphere Capital Partners, said he hopes his finance experience can pay off when it comes to fundraising.

“I’m just looking forward to doing all I can to help the college,” Ahn said. “I look forward to seeing what the Board is all about and adding some value.