Your Alumni Voice

Should Bates change the way alumni Trustees are elected? You can help make the call

By Michael Bosse ’93, Alumni Association President

Time for a Change

With 1,200 alumni and family members hungry for lunch, nothing gets voted on more quickly than the Alumni Association bylaw changes offered during the Reunion Awards Ceremony. But bylaws are important, as they shape patterns of alumni involvement with Bates.

Historically, Alumni Association bylaws could only be modified by a vote of alumni gathered at Reunion. This process had two downsides. First, changes were slow to occur. Second, the venue for voting — the sun-splashed Quad, filled with alumni whose minds tended to be on friends and food — was hardly conducive to discussing issues behind the changes.

Passed last Reunion, a bylaw change allows the Alumni Council to modify directly the bylaws of the Alumni Association — but only after giving all alumni, not just those at Reunion, two opportunities for general input. During the 60-day period before the Alumni Council votes on a proposed bylaw change, alumni can respond to the proposed change(s), and those responses will be part of the council’s deliberations prior to voting. During the 60-day period after the council passes a new bylaw, alumni can file a petition to request reconsideration of the change.

With this essay, we offer for comment two potential bylaw changes, the first for consideration this spring, the other for more extended consideration.

A Bigger and Better Council

In the summer 2002 issue of Bates, we listed here the principal goals for alumni work at Bates. They included increasing the involvement of alumni with Bates, giving alumni more opportunities for growth and leadership with the College, and listening to alumni.

To support these goals, we want to grow the Alumni Council itself, to make it a bit larger and, more importantly, more representative. At least for the last few decades, the council has been a self-selecting and self-perpetuating body of 16 alumni. We added two students as full voting members three years ago, and their input has been valuable.

But for an organization that has as its fundamental purpose to represent the alumni body, the Alumni Council is not terribly representative in terms of the vast array of College groups served by alumni volunteers.

This proposed bylaw change would allow the appointment of council members from other alumni groups, such as the College Key, Alumni-in-Admissions, the Bates Fund Committee, the Athletic Advisory Committee, and the like. This bylaw proposal, on which the council intends to vote in April, is posted at Click on “bylaw changes” under the Alumni Association subhead.

Trustee Elections: the Best Route?

The Alumni Council also wishes to solicit opinion on the selection of alumni Trustees. The council is not ready to propose a bylaw change, but we would like to consider this issue over the next several months, gather opinions carefully, and be prepared to consider a bylaw change perhaps next fall or winter.

The bicameral Bates Board of Trustees comprises 40 members: 15 Fellows (appointed) and 25 Overseers (15 appointed and 10 elected through the annual Trustee ballot). Under Bates’ charter, the Alumni Association nominates two persons annually as Overseers. At least since the 1920s, the method of nominating these alumni Trustees has been an election with all alumni eligible to vote.

Several issues lead us to consider a change in this electoral process (indeed, many of Bates’ peers have made or are considering parallel changes). The most fundamental issue is that the Alumni Council wants to find the strongest possible Trustee candidates. We question whether an election is the best route to do that and want to review possible alternatives. Some of the strongest candidates politely decline to run in an election; others who run unsuccessfully are understandably discouraged. Also, there is scant evidence that alumni embrace this option to choose their Trustees: only about 10 percent of alumni, at Bates and at most other parallel colleges, vote in such elections, and the voting is heavily skewed to older classes.

The council has decided to consider possible alternatives to direct elections. Our principal goals are to select alumni Trustees who can make significant contributions to the leadership of Bates and to have those candidates “grown” in a more sustained form of lifelong involvement with and commitment to the College.

Could we employ a more intensive nominating process, considering larger numbers of candidates and getting to know them on a more substantial basis? Or could we consider more precisely the needs of our board, to fill the slots with candidates who meet expressed board needs? At other colleges, some alumni councils directly appoint trustees, while others bring a slate of nominees for approval by the alumni, and others bring a short list to the board for selection.

Posted at the Alumni Relations Web site is a position paper on various ways to select alumni Trustees. We would be very grateful for your comments and ideas.