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ISSUE 119 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/2/2005

Board of Regents isolated

By Joel Bergeland
Contributing Writer

Friday, December 2, 2005

The announcement of President Christopher Thomforde’s removal has been met with widespread anger from students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents – and rightfully so. President Thomforde has done nothing to merit his dismissal. Even were that not the case, students are right to be angry about the secretive, sudden and isolated nature of the decision.

The problem here is a fundamental disconnect between the student body and the Board of Regents over their conceptions of President Thomforde, of the role of a college president and of the college itself.

The way to solve this problem is not to clamor for President Thomforde’s reinstatement. What’s done is done. The solution lies in the pursuit of three interrelated goals which will create a healthier relationship between the Board and the student body.

The Board must level with the St. Olaf community and give its reasons for forcing President Thomforde’s departure. In its e-mail to students this past June, rather than positively identifying a reason, the Board only ruled out some of its possible motives, specifically the sale of WCAL.

Its failure to disclose why President Thomforde is leaving has caused unhealthy speculation among the student body, and unfounded rumors regarding the real reason for Thomforde’s departure run rampant (“Is it his politics?” we whisper).

President Thomforde has tirelessly promoted the idea that St. Olaf is more than a place that hands out degrees. He has lived out the college’s calling to be an institution which encourages a global perspective, a college of the church and a school where lives are lived in community and shaped for service.

Examining the reasons behind the Board’s decision will reveal differences in its vision for St. Olaf College held by the Board of Regents and that held by the students. The examination will also provide a good starting point for a new, open dialogue between the Board and the student body.

Students must come to understand the Board, its ideas and its decision-making processes. Most of the time, students do not even know what the Board is doing.

The Board conducts its activity behind closed doors, and controversial decisions are announced after the student body has left campus to avoid any backlash. Not only is the Board physically separated from the student body, it is conceptually separated as well.

The Board views the office of the presidency differently than the students, seeing aspects that are not apparent to us: finances, alumni affairs, intercollegiate issues and relations with the Lutheran Church.

Feelings of mistrust toward the Board and its motives have settled in among students.

To remedy these harms, the Board should seek to make students more aware of its views and concerns to promote fuller understanding. Holding public meetings and forums on campus during the school year to let students see the Board in action would aid student understanding of the Board’s perspective.

As current residents of this campus, we have a lot invested in this college, and not only financially. For four years, this is our home, and that gives us a unique voice which deserves to be heard in all decisions affecting the school.

The Board of Regents Student Committee must expand its role from “an avenue for information to flow between students, faculty, administration and Regents” into a clear voice for the student body it represents.

Ultimately, some form of institutional mechanism, such as voting status in Board meetings for the student observer on the Board, must be obtained to ensure that the Board heeds the voice of the student body.

As our community struggles through the presidential search process, now is the time for cooperation between the Board of Regents and the student body. By revealing the reasons for President Thomforde’s untimely exit and making its meetings more accessible and transparent to students, the Board would ensure that students appreciate its viewpoints.

Though we are saddened and angered by President Thomforde’s departure, the start of a new, healthy student-Board relationship would salvage some good from this undeniably bad situation.

Contributing writer Joel Bergeland is a sophomore from Minnetonka, Minn. He majors in political science and religion.

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