By Nathaniel Shahan
Low voter turnout is among the primary reasons cited for the change in the trustee selection process. The Board made the final decision during their Oct. 23-25 meeting. The highest recorded voter turnout since 2008 was 12 percent. In the new process, trustees and Alumni Council members will no longer be selected by a vote from the alumni association, but will rather be nominated from the ranks of the Kenyon College Alumni Association and selected by the Alumni Council.According to a press release from the College, the Alumni Council has been watching and debating this issue for several years, and in September voted to make the final decision the prerogative of the Board of Trustees.
Low turnout has occurred despite attempts by the College to advertise the elections through its alumni bulletin and encourage voting with offers of discounts from the bookstore. Trustee Todd Leavitt ’73 P’10 wrote in an e-mail to the Collegian that the shift will yield “significant savings in time and efforts required of the staff of the development office” and furthermore will result in monetary savings as the College will no longer have to “spend marketing dollars in connection with contested elections that have not sufficiently engaged the alumni body.”
Lack of diversity on the Board of Trustees was also noted as a contributing factor to the change in the selection process. According to the Kenyon website, “the [new] nomination protocol is expected to bring fresh perspectives to the board and the Alumni Council.” The trustees and Alumni Council members believe the nomination process will allow for the nomination and selection of a more diverse slate of representative officials, better able to represent and support Kenyon as the institution itself becomes more diverse. Campus Senate Co-Chair Conrad Jacober ’15 believes the new process will provide more diversity, “if only because the way in which it was run before the change seems to indicate more of a popularity contest and one that not a lot of people participate in. [The new system] will allow for a more conscious representation of the alumni.” Leavitt sees “many valuable purposes,” including “to ensure on-going diversity of the alumni that represent their peers.” Leavitt said diversity “can only improve.”
The new selection process will undergo a four-year trial period. Leavitt believes that if the changes are successful “there will be a significantly improved process that does not result in any ‘hurt feelings’ among alumni who have been trusted ‘heavy lifters’ historically, but were asked to submit to an election process that was not truly representative of alumni sentiment.”
Trustee Brackett Denniston ’69 described Board members’ reaction to the change as positive. “The trustees do feel positive about this, including alumni trustees elected under the old process,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian.
In terms of student relations with trustees, Jacober feels there is work to be done, and says “if students thought there was a problem,” they should be allowed to have a say in selecting trustees.