What needs to change, part 3: trustees

Dave Broker

By now you should be well aware that the Warch Campus Center is a “green” building. We’ve been constantly reminded by the university that it is LEED gold certified and part of our new collective sustainability push.
What you probably don’t know is that while the Campus Center was being built, the contractor – Thomas J. Boldt, CEO of the Boldt Construction Company – was the chairman of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s big business lobby. WMC has been fighting environmental protection in Madison for as long as anyone can remember.
So how did the university choose Boldt Construction Co. to build our new campus center? To me the answer is obvious. Oscar C. Boldt – the CEO’s father and the chairman of the firm’s parent company – is a Lawrence trustee.
To be fair, while Oscar Boldt never attended Lawrence, his wife and daughter did. Furthermore, the family has donated plenty of money to our institution, for which we must be grateful.
Yet while the Boldts may be giving to our university, they’ve been able to bring back millions of our dollars for themselves – getting the contracts to build the campus center, Hiett Hall and Science Hall. I wouldn’t have a problem with this, except I very much doubt there was a competitive bidding process for the contracts.
If being a trustee means you can steer millions of dollars your way, then the trustees need to be addressed in this series.
I cannot say for sure whether or not there was a competitive bidding process for the campus center contract. I cannot say how Oscar Boldt – or any trustee, for that matter – was elected to the board. The decision-making processes the trustees use, and even the university’s governing documents, which grant the trustees their powers, are not easy to find.
There is a lack of transparency, and it needs to change.
So far in this series, I have noted that the student body needs more power here on campus. That’s why I was glad to see that the new 16-member Strategic Planning Committee is not only composed of administrators and trustees, but also of faculty, alumni and even two students.
Furthermore, long-term “shared governance” has been made one of the committee’s priorities for reaching the goals of “transforming students” and “creating community.”
Despite this progress, however, the way in which this committee was assembled seemed all too much like what we’ve seen before. There is student representation on the committee, and I am confident that the two particular students who were selected will actually look out for our interests.
Yet, according to one I spoke with, they were not elected by the student body or even appointed by LUCC – they were chosen by a small group of faculty and students of which very little is known by the general student population. Few of us have any idea how they were selected because the process was not completely transparent.
It is a positive step forward for the Board of Trustees to work alongside students, as well as other groups of the Lawrence community with vested interests in campus affairs, in the strategic planning of our university’s future. Bringing about shared governance is something I very much hope is achieved, even if I won’t be here when it becomes a reality. But in order for this arrangement to work, transparency is critical.
As the Strategic Planning Committee continues its work, I hope the members consider the following suggestions for improving student, alumni and faculty relations with the Board of Trustees.
First, the board should send the agenda for their meetings to The Lawrentian for publication before they actually meet. This will give students the opportunity to learn the business the board will be discussing and the chance to voice their concerns with trustees when they come to campus for the meeting.
Second, the trustees should release recorded votes from the committees and the board at large so students know which trustees should be addressed concerning the decisions that affect their life on campus.
Finally, large financial decisions – such as contracts for buildings, meal plans and other services – should be overseen by LUCC to guarantee that bidding is competitive and so potential contractors can be heard by students before any final decisions are made.
In the past, trustees have made many decisions that faculty, alumni and students have been wholly unhappy with. With shared governance we can limit the frustrations that so many in the Lawrence community have. Yet, without increased transparency to that community, we will miss a critical opportunity to improve the tranquility of our campus.

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