Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

How are trustees chosen?


Illustration by Sophie Cooper-Ellis.

The Whitman College Board of Trustees will meet for the first of its three annual meetings this Wednesday, Nov. 5 through Friday, Nov. 7. While the board holds the college’s final say on everything from the budget and endowment to financial aid and diversity, its member selection process remains largely unknown to students around campus.

There are currently 17 trustees sitting on the board, which selects its own members for four-year terms. While the Whitman College Constitution suggests that each board member serve for up to three consecutive terms, trustees holding important offices at times serve beyond that limit. Ultimately, becoming a trustee is a commitment that asks individuals chosen to dedicate large amounts of time, money and experience towards making Whitman the best it can be.

The Nominating and Governance Committee, headed by Vice Chair Nancy Serrurier, is responsible for finding new candidates for the Board. According to Serrurier, candidates are selected based on their skill set, experiences and what the perceived needs of the board will be in the years to come.

“We are constantly looking for people who will bring a new perspective to the table. We ask ourselves, is this person going to make a difference in the conversation that we are going to have? Are they of the highest integrity and are they someone who we want influencing Whitman’s future?” said Serrurier.

Candidates for new Trustee positions are often active Whitman alumni who are involved with the Board of Overseers, the W Club, the Alumni Club or who show their commitment to Whitman in other ways. Not all board members need to be alumni, though, as the selection process also looks at individuals who did not attend Whitman but who have valuable expertise in management and governance and would be willing to make Whitman a priority in their lives.

“Every year we look at what skill sets might be rolling off the board as people’s terms end. We then try and match the kinds of qualities we want for the issues of the future with the qualities and experiences and skills of the people who are currently on the board and then we look and see, do we have any holes?” said Serrurier. “[From there], we look at what kind of person, what skill set, [and] what experiences could the board benefit from and then we go talk to them.”

After candidates are identified, approached and asked whether they would be willing to serve, the final decision is determined by the amount of time and resources that people are capable of giving. Current Chair Brad McMurchie ‘84 highlighted that often times there are many people qualified to become trustees but that it can be tough for people to find the time in their lives that this position requires.

“It’s a job that takes a lot of time a lot of energy and requires a lot of commitment to Whitman. Sometimes people who have the ability to serve may just be in a place in their life or their career where it’s just not the right fit for them,” said McMurchie.

The fact that the timing doesn’t always work out is one of the reasons that most of the members of the board are older than 50.

“The board looks for people of different ages, but the people who have the time to devote to nonprofit board service are generally older,” said Serrurier.

In addition to time, trustees are asked to make significant financial contributions to the college. As Serrurier put it, the selection of board members is not all about fundraising, but finances and financial expertise is a consideration that has to be recognized.

“Money does play a role. Boards set the direction for the future for their organizations and the future does not come to be reality without money. So trustees are asked to make Whitman one of their top philanthropic priorities, and how much each trustee gives varies hugely depending on the person’s individual circumstance,” said Serrurier. “If you look at the colleges and universities who have really soared, it’s in part because they’ve had very generous and engaged board members who are both giving and encouraging others to give.”

Ultimately the trustees do what they do because they care about Whitman. It is a job that requires a lot of work, time and a commitment to Whitman as an institution, both now and in years to come. However, as trustees attest, it is a worthwhile endeavor that allows them to stay involved with the students, faculty and the campus as a whole and to continue to make Whitman an amazing place.

“I think the relationship between the trustees and the students is an important one, and I think that we need to learn more about the students and the students need to learn more about the trustees,” said Trustee Jim Moore, ‘66, who joined the board in 2013.+

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