On Business and Boardrooms: January Board Meeting: Strategic Plan priorities approved

Editors’ note: Lisa Hu ’15 is the Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees. The goal with this column is to create a dialogue between Trustee activities and student voices. Feel free to contact Hu with more specific questions and comments.

Every two years, the Macalester Board of Trustees schedules an additional January Board meeting. As the only current student present at January meetings this year, I feel a deep responsibility to discuss the issues of interest this particular year.

Friday’s agenda began with a Finance Committee meeting discussion about increasing the comprehensive fee for the next academic year. Next, a presentation on sexual misconduct policy compliance briefed Trustees in the various policies, channels, checks, responsibilities and challenges of assessing and investigating issues of sexual misconduct and sexual assault at Macalester.

After a brief break, Trustees asked specifically for faculty input regarding ‘shared governance’ versus ‘divided governance’—terms used in the Strategic Plan, which premiered last year. Professors Moe and Dawes both acknowledged pockets of faculty frustration regarding the famed Russian Studies Department votes, the weighty tasks of faculty campus committees and reluctance to engage moving forward. President Rosenberg contextualized these comments, diplomatically acknowledging the difficulties of agreeing to discontinue programs in comparison with funding new exciting opportunities.

President Rosenberg then tasked the Trustees with a ‘working lunch’—an opportunity to frankly discuss governance at Macalester. Armed with this charge, the Trustees, senior staff, two faculty members (Karine Moe of Economics and James Dawes of English) and myself wrestled with Macalester’s history of governance from varying perspectives.

Diverging from our specific lunch discussion topics, then, Trustees wanted to hear my impressions of Macalester distinctiveness as a current student. The institution they continually choose to support has unquestionably evolved since their four years at Macalester (all but two Trustees are Mac alums); these Trustees knew Macalester in the days of riots protesting the Vietnam War, when Dayton Hall seceded from MCSG, when post-Macalester options meant law school or conscription. Yet, the pride they glean from their association with this school, these students and this community persists.

I voiced my opinions regarding the evolution and expansion of departments like Math, Statistics and Computer Science, now much larger than the Math Department some Trustees themselves encountered. I also noted my perceptions of challenges facing foreign language majors, like Arabic and Japanese, in relationship to their respective departments.

Shifting gears again, the Trustees then entered heated discussion over the fate of Board governance and the current organization of Board Committees. Most concern seemed over the alignment of committee goals with responsibilities and in distributing decision-making power and communicating topical issues to the Board at large.

Finally, the Board tackled the Strategic Plan’s Objectives. A project countless meetings and drafts and conversations in the making, many Trustees expected to approve these priorities this meeting. After lengthy remarks from President Rosenberg, some discussion followed.

I here imperfectly shared my perceptions of student feedback to the Plan: excitement over commitment to diversity amidst cries to do much more; satisfaction at the eventual adoption of the sustainability priority; deep frustration over the delayed Theater Department renovation; concern over the fate of the Center of Religious and Spiritual Life at Macalester; mixed emotions regarding a third-year residency requirement; critical questioning of the transparency and student involvement in committees moving ahead; and continued tension between entrepreneurship and civic engagement as modes of engagement with the world.

The Board approved these Strategic Plan priorities with minor edits on Friday, January 16. Applause accompanied the declaration: “Mr. President, you have yourself a Strategic Plan.” From here, the tactics themselves remain under discussion and these priorities move to their respective channels of control.

At the Business Meeting, the Trustees approved the Finance Committee’s decision regarding the comprehensive fee increase; approved the list of 12 tenured faculty members; and approved the addition of new Trustee M. A. “Mort” Mortenson, Jr.