Board of Trustees’ Co-Chairs Respond to Open Letter on Divestment

submission to Cooper Point Journal, May 31, 2011

As the co-chairs of the Board of Trustees, we want to respond to the open letter addressed to the Board in the May 19 issue of the Cooper Point Journal.

Almost a year ago, the Geoduck Student Union's representative to the Board shared with us the results of student resolutions calling for divestment from companies profiting from the Israel-Palestine conflict and a boycott of Caterpillar. The GSU representative also shared with us the GSU's related resolutions.

Since then, the GSU's representative to the Board has re-emphasized these resolutions and we have heard dozens of people make public comment on these resolutions over several hours at several meetings. We have heard from students, alumni, staff, faculty and community members. We have also received written comment. Most of the comment we received supported the student resolutions. Some opposed the resolutions.

The comments we have heard have made a powerful impression on us. We heard deeply- felt views on all sides of the issue, powerful calls to action, and an almost universal concern for social justice. We heard judgments based on both personal experience and research. The views we heard were expressed with compassion and respect. We are grateful to all those who took the time to talk to us. A college can be proud to produce this range of informed and expressive voices on an important issue.

We know that the experience of public comment has been frustrating for some. While most communication at Evergreen emphasizes dialogue, the formal public comment sessions at our Board meetings consist largely of one-way communication in which members of the public make brief statements while the Board members focus on listening. These sessions are valuable in helping the Board understand the concerns of the college's constituents, but they do not provide the kind of interchange that produces deep understanding or resolves conflicts.

Toward that end, the President met with the GSU last fall and published a letter to the campus community responding to the student resolutions. As co-chairs, we wrote to the Geoduck Student Union in response to the GSU resolutions in January. In response to the open letter to the Board published in the CPJ on May 19, we want to re-state some of the points made in those previous letters.

The Board long ago delegated to the President, and through the President to the administration and faculty, the responsibility and authority for the operation of the college, including the college's investment and purchasing policies. A Board that, under pressure from either external or internal sources, involves itself in matters that it has previously and appropriately delegated to the college’s operational leadership risks creating chaos in the college and, more importantly, may place at risk the principles of shared governance and academic freedom. For these reasons, as co-chairs we have declined to put the questions of divestment and boycott on the Board's formal agenda. From our perspective, the decision about whether to divest or boycott is the President's to make. If we were to launch a formal deliberation of these questions at a Board meeting, we would in effect be revoking delegated authority, and we are not willing to take that step. The President has previously expressed his decision to not take the college down a road of divestment or boycott as described in the student resolutions. He explained his reasoning in a message to the campus. At the same time, he gave the Vice President for Finance and Administration responsibility for reviewing the college's investment policy. That review, which is being undertaken by a committee that includes members of the faculty and of the GSU, has produced a proposed revision to the college's policy intended to better define and implement the college's commitment to socially responsible investment and to ensure that its investment practices are regularly reviewed in the future. When this work is complete, we look forward to hearing a report on the revised policy.

Finally, we want to make two points. First, we support the President's decisions and actions in response to the student resolutions. Second, the Board’s position on the issue of divestment does not represent a failure to hear, listen or respond. Our position is grounded in our understanding of the role of the Board and the institution on these issues. We understand that some may not share our view, but this doesn't mean that we haven't listened, understood and responded to their views.

In closing, we want to express our gratitude for the opportunity to serve Evergreen as co- chairs of the Board this past year. We take very seriously our responsibility to keep Evergreen accessible and affordable to students, to provide equitable compensation and benefits for its faculty and staff, and to stay true to the college's historic commitment to providing a quality interdisciplinary liberal arts education. This has never been easy to do, and the current economic conditions make this work much more difficult. Only the continued dedication and creativity of all members of the Evergreen community can overcome these challenges. We are honored to be a part of this community.

Sincerely,
Irene Gonzales, Ed.D. Co-Chair
Anne Proffitt '76 Co-Chair