Board Meeting Marks Several Firsts

There was a lot of love for President Joe Urgo at this year’s first Board of Trustees general session. The meeting, held on the Saturday during fall break, was Molly Mahoney Matthews’s first as the Chair of the Board of Trustees and also marked the first held with President Joe Urgo at the head of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

“We have a new beginning with Dr. Urgo at the helm of the institution, and with Molly chairing the board,” said Dean of Students Laura Bayless.

The Board of Trustees is comprised of people selected by the Board itself and appointed by the Governor to shape and implement governing policies for the College.

The Trustees, who work on a volunteer basis, meet in committees to shape these policies and then meet in general session in order to vote and implement any changes.

Revisions to the College’s mission, the operating budget, and to other monetary matters were all approved at this past meeting.

Matthews called the Board to order with a speech claiming that the Board’s commitment to students, faculty, and staff has been “stronger in the previous few months than ever” and that a new President heading the institution is the mark of a new era.

She thanked Tom Botzman, Vice President for Business & Finance, for handling the effects of having “finances constrained” due to the economic downturn but also addressed that the pay freeze is having an impact on employee morale.

Urgo’s address to the Board introduced “four guiding principles” for discussions held throughout the year, asking that the Board renew the College’s mission, “reaffirm the foundations” by constantly asking what is best for students, “ensure the public trust” by maintaining a community with “core principles of access, inclusiveness, meritocracy, and sustainability,” and “sustain the monument school” by becoming “a monument to the highest standards of public endeavor and educational practices.”

Many reports to the Board, including Student Trustee Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall’s, ‘11, and Alumni Council Chair Paul Schultheis’s, ‘98, addressed excitement towards President Urgo’s start at St. Mary’s, with Faculty Senate President Bob Paul saying that “we [the faculty] like Joe Urgo a lot.”

Despite the pay freeze Board Chair Matthews addressed earlier, Paul mentioned that the faculty “believe they are being heard at all levels” and that they are confident “in their ability to effect change.”

Ruthenberg-Marshall, in his first report to the Board as the Student Trustee, reported on many student concerns such as the Bike Shop’s loss of funding, with 90% of students responding to him that they were upset with the possibility of its services no longer being available.

He also addressed the restrictions placed on academic work due to the slow internet service on campus, but acknowledged that discussions on the issue will only be likely to effect significant change in the coming years.

Neil Irwin, ‘00, reported for the Enrollment and Student Affairs Committee and announced that Aaron Williams, the current Director of the Peace Corps, has been selected as the Commencement speaker for 2011.

Williams will still need to be confirmed, but he was one of the people suggested by the Class of 2011 last spring.

With a new President at the school and with Matthews being the new Chair for the Board, there are likely to be changes in the Board’s vision for the College. Dean Bayless pointed out the increased focus on fundraising consistently mentioned throughout the meeting as evidence of this new direction. However, Ruthenberg-Marshall claims that, despite the new Chair, there seem to have been few changes to how the Board operates.

Only four students attended the open General Session, including the Student Trustee, which is not unusual according to Dean. “In the 13 Board meetings I have attended, I don’t recall a student just attending because it is an interesting open meeting,” said Bayless, acknowledging that the students present are usually the Student Trustee, Student-trustee-in-training and a Point News reporter, with the President of the Student Government Association occasionally attending.

Students are allowed to attend the General Sessions, which are open to the public, and while the public is not allowed to participate in the discussions within the meeting itself, many Trustees are open to speaking with students before and after the session is adjourned.

Despite the lack of students attending such meetings, both Bayless and Ruthenberg-Marshall believe that the Board is in tune with student concerns. Ruthenberg-Marshall believes that the position of the “student member does contribute to that” understanding, but he also thinks it is a “product of how in tune [the] administration is” with student opinions.

Bayless hopes that student awareness of the Board’s work will increase, with Matthews and Irwin scheduled to appear at one of the Neighborhood Chats she and President Urgo will hold throughout the year.

However, she believes that Ruthenberg-Marshall “is doing a good job of being visible as the Student Trustee, which helps students know more about the work of the Board.”

The next General Session will be held Saturday, Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C., though the time and location are to be determined. The next session held on campus will be Saturday, Feb. 26th in the Glendenning Annex.

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