Thursday, April 15, 2010

In which I write a letter.

Brendan Coughlin
Chair, Nominating Committee
Wesleyan University Board of Trustees

Dear Brendan,

I am writing to tell you that I will not be voting in this year's Alumnae/i Trustee election. None of the candidates can be fairly described to represent me, or any of the thousands of Wesleyan graduates like me.

Of the six Alumni/ae Trustee candidates, five are from the business world. Of the six current trustees who will be returning, three are from business backgrounds -- so, regardless of the outcome of the election, business is guaranteed a majority of alumni trustees.

Outside of business, alumni trustees and candidates represent two professions: medical school professors and directors of nonprofits. It's worth noting, also, that the nonprofits we're talking about -- the Tiger Foundation and the Philanthropic Institute -- are both of the type generally referred to as the Nonprofit Industrial Complex; in other words, they're nonprofits who view themselves as primarily accountable to donors, rather than to the communities in which they work. Here's a text sample from the Tiger Foundation's "Who We Are" page:
Since inception, Tiger Foundation has pursued the dual mission of providing financial support to the top nonprofit organizations serving New York's neediest families, and training active and engaged philanthropists who serve on the foundation's board. Tiger Management was dedicated to maximizing the return on every investor dollar. Similarly, Tiger Foundation is dedicated to investing in nonprofit organizations in the five boroughs of New York City that maximize the social return on every contributed dollar.
I can understand why this is exactly what a Board made up largely of corporate officers and wealthy donors likes to hear -- but as someone whose primary involvement with Wesleyan was as a student rather than a donor, it makes me a little nervous to think our decision-making bodies are made of people who believe their primary responsibility is to donors.

You have to know that this isn't a representative sample of Wesleyan graduates. In fact, Wesleyan's embarrassingly small endowment is constantly being blamed on the fact that this isn't what most Wesleyan graduates look like. We're all going off to become social workers, and teachers, and community and union organizers, instead of going where the money is, the way all these nominees have.

Ultimately, I don't see any reason to vote for three more representatives of business and the nonprofit industrial complex to join a board that's already full of representatives of business and the nonprofit industrial complex. Boards of Trustees are not democratic institutions, and allowing us to choose from a list of pre-screened, pre-vetted candidates doesn't change that. This is a charade, and I'm not participating.

If you'd like some nominees that reflect the rest of the spectrum of Wesleyan graduates, I'm happy to submit a few.


1 comment:

  1. Accountability to donors, who provide the money? What a terrible thing. Next thing you know people will want out elected representatives to be accountable to taxpayers.



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