Milo Levine’s ’23 recent column in the Collegian called for greater transparency in how Kenyon’s Board of Trustees spends the College’s money. I suggest that the opaque ways in which priorities are defined and actions are taken at the College are rooted in the relative isolation of the primary decision-makers, the Board of Trustees. An unelected body, its members answer to no one on campus, nor are they required to share their vision for the school and the rationales for their actions.
K-SWOC’s recently released “Brackett’s Path: Health and Safety Addendum” highlights three major problems resulting from the trustees’ isolation. First, the trustees are seemingly unaware of the significant difficulties members of the community face on a daily basis. Delaney Gallagher ’23, for example, in an email sent to the entire community this semester, recounted the ailments she suffered due to mold in student housing. The problem she described is serious, the outcomes severe, and yet a recent article in the Collegian and testimonials in the “Health and Safety Addendum” indicate that the situation has yet to be adequately addressed. The Board must know about the health risks detailed in the “Health and Safety Addendum” with “the recent KSWOC report as the data presented in that document come from officially sanctioned sources at the College. If they are aware of the issues raised in the “Health and Safety Addendum,” Ms. Gallagher’s email and other places, then, to paraphrase Mr. Levine: Where is the money taken in by one of the most expensive private colleges in the country going if not to meet student needs?
Second, the Board’s isolation means that they cannot benefit from the advice of those most directly affected by these and other challenges. President Decatur, in an all-campus message last year, urged campus-wide respect for the different forms of expertise that students, staff, faculty and administrators bring to promoting Kenyon’s success. The Board’s isolation denies its members access to these valuable perspectives. Consequently, the Board is ill-equipped to provide effective solutions. The “Health and Safety Addendum,” by carefully identifying threats to student health and safety on campus, opens the door to such productive conversations among all interested parties. In the absence of these open discussions, students have few other options than to support each other in finding solutions. The steward structure that K-SWOC is forming, and which is described in an Oct. 27 Collegian op-ed, is a step in that direction.
Third, the Board’s isolation means that its priorities for Kenyon have to be inferred from its visible actions. For example, the appointment of Mr. Richard Lovering, recently retired from the law firm Bricker and Eckler to a permanent position on Kenyon’s senior staff was an unprecedented step made without a clear rationale. Associates from Bricker and Eckler regularly represent the interests of Kenyon’s Board in negotiations with the College’s unions, for example. They have done so, however, as outside counsels and never as members of the administration. It appears that Mr. Lovering’s appointment as a vice president was driven by the Board’s desire to have his skills ready to hand as they continue to deny Kenyon’s student workers the right to vote on whether they want to form a union.
The naming of Mr. Brian Selden, a lawyer with the firm Jones Day, to the Board of Trustees seems to be motivated by the same concerns. Associates with Jones Day are representing the College before the National Labor Relations Board in the trustees’ efforts to deny all student workers in the country their right to a union election. The firm also has a well-earned reputation for fighting unions in many fields.
The Board, therefore, acts quickly on issues its members think are important. When it comes to denying Kenyon student workers a democratic say in how they want to be represented, the Board moved with alacrity. The significant costs of those actions, paying Jones Day lawyers $950/hour and Mr. Lovering’s salary at the vice-president level, seems to be no object. Meanwhile, students are still getting sick from mold, many endure long waits for counseling, faculty and members of SASS are struggling to accommodate students with learning disabilities, the Mods flood and, as was pointed out in a recent Collegian article, Middle Path remains a danger for much of the year.
Mr. Levine urges, in his column, a community-wide dialogue on how Kenyon’s money is spent. That seems to be a step in the right direction. I very much hope that the Board will take the opportunities provided by K-SWOC’s reports, Mr. Levine’s column and numerous articles in the Collegian to initiate that conversation. Failure to do so leaves open the question of what the trustees think their mission really is and what the College they serve stands for.
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology