Starting this Wednesday, Lawrence will host a group of people who, without exaggeration, hold much of Lawrence’s future in their capable hands. The annual Lawrence University Board of Trustees meeting will be held from Oct. 13-15. This year, the board faces a much different format and a new outlook on Lawrence’s future with President Jill Beck.Despite the board’s direct and profound influence on the academic experience of Lawrence students, many are not familiar with the purposes of the board. The board essentially functions like the grandmother – or perhaps the wealthy lover – of the university, stopping by a few times a year to check in, supplying funds, monitoring the decisions of the president and other administrators, occasionally making major decisions of their own, and, naturally, singing the praises of Lawrence in their everyday lives.
Past decisions of the Board of Trustees have included the establishment of the residence life task force in 1998, dealings with Bjorklunden, and, most recently, the appointment of Beck as Lawrence’s 15th president.
Men and women of the board, most of whom are Lawrence graduates, leave their “normal lives” in all corners of the country three times a year to visit Lawrence “in order to do whatever we can to help the learning and living that is the core of Lawrence,” says the incoming chair of recruitment and retention, Priscilla Weaver, ’69.
Jeff Riester, current chair of the board, says the goal of the trustees at the annual meetings is to “seek to assist the administration and serve the college by setting directions for the future.” Although much of this planning deals with finance, the endowment, and the operating budget, Riester asserts, “the best reward for trustees is to see ambitious plans fulfilled, and to develop a fresh sense of the exciting possibilities for Lawrence’s further success.”
This week, the board will face especially exciting possibilities as they are introduced to Beck’s plans for Lawrence. In contrast to past years, this year’s meeting will include many more “plenary sessions,” in which the entire board is involved, as opposed to smaller committee meetings. Riester states that this change will allow the trustees to become familiar with Beck and her vision for Lawrence. “We designed the meetings to focus on certain ‘guiding themes’ which President Beck has offered for our consideration as focal points for the college.”
Beck has great expectations for meeting with the trustees and this week will serve as a starting point for her grand “individualized instruction” scheme. Beck considers the meeting as a chance to present to and create with the board a “synthesized vision for moving forward.”
The meeting’s most excited and most anticipated event is a panel discussion, followed by a question and answer period, designed to introduce trustees to individualized instruction at work at Lawrence.
The panel discussion, scheduled for Thursday morning at 10:30 in the Barber Room of Downer Commons, will feature faculty and students demonstrating the kind of instruction that Beck supports. Individualized instruction in fields such as chemistry research and vocal performance will be showcased.
The feature of the discussion will be a demonstration of a coaching session between Tim Troy, the J. Thomas and Julie Esch Hurvis professor of theatre and drama, and one of his theatre students. Beck excitedly relates that the coaching session will be held in the middle of the Barber Room, surrounded by trustees. The trustees will be able to follow along as Troy teaches with copies of the Shakespearean script.
Riester said that the panel discussion is the portion of the meeting that he is looking forward most. “As a trustee one often feels distanced from the most important thing happening here at the college: the teaching and learning that goes on every day. That really comes to life when we hear from those of you who are most directly involved.”
Thursday’s panel discussion is only one of many ways in which the trustees and administration of Lawrence will explore new ideas for Lawrence’s future during this week’s meeting, and the meeting will hopefully mark the beginning of a successful future for Beck’s tenure as president.
As Weaver said, “All of the other goals [for the meeting] flow from this central premise: starting and building on the two-way communication process between the board and its ‘CEO,’ President Beck, that will enable us to make the college even better than it is today.