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Progress at the College of William & Mary

purplefinger.jpgJoy and good tidings from Virginia and the College of William & Mary: they are working toward converting their Board of Trustees into one elected by the alumni.

The majority of members on the College of William and Mary’s Board of Visitors would be elected by alumni, not appointed by the governor, under a bill proposed in the state House of Delegates.

Del. Robert Marshall, R-Prince William, said he crafted House Bill No. 427 to boost the role of alumni in overseeing affairs specifically at the College of William and Mary because there are “more problems with the governance of that school than the other (state) schools combined.”

A best practice, indeed.

This is a friendly juncture at which to pause and wonder: which constituency, exactly, ought to form the body politic of an institution of higher learning? Dartmouth, along with most other institutions, long ago selected the alumni body. This idea is occasionally attacked by people who—through some misapprehension of the facts—believe that “alumni” compose a single-minded monolith. Of course this is not so: they form an extremely capable deliberative body. Witness Dartmouth’s highly competitive—and sometimes close—Trustee elections.

But, if not the alumni, what are the other options? One thinks of the non-administrative employees of the college—the faculty—but they are by definition in a conflict of interest. One thinks of the administrators themselves, but that is akin to a man being his own boss. No supervisory pressure at all in that situation. One contemplates the studentry for the job, but they are extremely few in number, are rather mercurial, and are unduly obedient to the trends and fashions of their four years at college than is healthy. And, what’s more, they by definition lack the sort of real-world experience that counts in governance.

What more prudent body is there, really, than the alumni? They are educated, world-wise, and properly interested: their dollars and their children both go to the institution, yet their own prosperity is not predicated upon college policy. This makes the alumni interested but, unlike faculty and administrators, purely interested.

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