It wasn’t the first time that the Lane Board of Education was presented with opposing opinions at a meeting. I was expecting the May 13 meeting to be long with rigorous questioning and examination by board members, but that’s not what happened.
With the college mission, along with people’s careers and livelihoods at stake, I did a double-take when board member Rosie Pryor called for a vote so early in the proceedings. Yes, a lot of guests had addressed the board, and there’d been some discussion. I thought things were just getting going, but Pryor apparently had already made up her mind.
I’m not convinced that the college will save what the administration claims, by cutting the Electronic Technology and Auto Collision and Refinishing programs. If the figures did prove to be correct, and that can only be tested if the programs are indeed gone for good, there are other reasons why the board needed to ask more probing questions at the meeting.
For example, it was stated quite plainly that state and national statistical forecasts, which paint a dismal picture for future job candidates in these fields, don’t include students who may start their own businesses or local independent businesses that might employ students.
These very business owners stood before the board saying they need Lane graduates, and they spoke of business expansion, not contraction. This is a community college, and its purpose is to serve the community. This means students and their prospective employers, thus rendering the state and national forecasts irrelevant.
Programs might need to be cut at Lane for financial reasons, but I’m pretty concerned about how these particular programs were chosen. There are too many people calling foul and too many unanswered questions for this decision to have gone through as it did.
Rarely have college boards pressed administrators for answers in the past. However, now it’s becoming more common according to John Marcus in an article titled “Once invincible, college boards of trustees are in the spotlight — Some critics say boards aren’t doing enough; others say they meddle too much.” The article was posted on on April 30, 2015.
Lane board members aren’t likely to be accused of meddling. However, they could be accused of not doing enough.
“Populated largely by wealthy alumni and political appointees, college boards of regents and trustees have historically operated largely out of sight. But as tuition escalates, along with questions about what students and their families are getting for their money, boards are finding themselves in an unaccustomed spotlight — or are taking matters into their own hands — just as corporate boards of directors did in the wake of Enron-era scandals,” writes Marcus. Things are changing in higher education according to Marcus, and boards need to change too.
Board members are unpaid, and they generously provide a valuable service to the college. I’ve observed them closely for a year and I’m convinced they care, but they aren’t being as challenging as they should. And I think they are somewhat out of touch with the college.
When plans were presented last winter for a warming center at Lane, Pryor who has been a board member since 2011, was shocked at hearing that Lane has homeless students.
Those of us who spend time on campus know only too well about homeless students. What else don’t board members know about their own college?
Board members Pat Albright and Robert Ackerman will retire as of June 30, 2015. Newly elected directors Phil Carrasco and Susie Johnston will replace them. Board members Rosy Pryor and Tony McCown were re-elected to another four year term. The terms of Sharon Stiles, Gary LeClair and Matt Keating run until June 30, 2017.
I’m advocating for the inclusion of new members on the Board of Education at the next available opportunity, which may not be until 2017. We need members who are involved in the college. In fact, Lane is well behind the times in this regard. The mix of board members at Lane isn’t right. We need members who have a closer association with the college.
According to a survey conducted in 2010 by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, 70.8 percent of public institutions include students as board members and often more than one. Not all student board members have voting power. However, that is changing.
Five years ago the number of student members with voting rights reached just over 50 percent. “The percentage of student board members granted a vote more than doubled between 1997 and 2010, increasing from 20.5 percent to 50.3 percent,” according to the AGB website.
Potential conflicts of interest exist when students serve as board members, the AGB reports. For example, when voting on tuition increases, students are biased.
To remedy the conflict, some colleges appoint recent alumni to the board because they “might be more in touch with student life than their older board colleagues,” according to the AGB website.
In keeping with an egalitarian college with inclusive governance, it’s about time that students or recent alumni be included as board members at Lane. I strongly make this recommendation.