Calkins, Veitch discuss role of board of trustees

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Chair of the Board of Trustees Chris Calkins ’67 joined President Jonathan Veitch in a campus meeting Wednesday to answers students’ questions and dispel potentially misleading notions about the board of trustees.

In an open meeting titled “How Oxy Works,” Calkins spoke to students about the role of a trustee, the basic makeup of the board and issues currently facing the administration. Veitch introduced Calkins and addressed issues with the board’s image on campus.

“I think there are misconceptions about the board,” Veitch. “People imagine a smoke-filled room, with corporates sitting around a table governing the lives of those separate from themselves.”

There are 45 active trustees comprised of people from diverse socio-economic, geographic and professional backgrounds, according to Calkins. The trustees are broken up into various task forces, which are supplemented by student and faculty representatives, that monitor the college’s academic and fiscal health.

Calkins said one of the board’s most important responsibilities is hiring the president of the college. The board works with the president throughout the year to help fundraise for the college. Calkins believes these responsibilities keep the board engaged with the campus.

“Our board of trustees have to have visibility and understand what’s going on and if something’s not going right at least ask questions to help see that actions are taken to move us in the right direction,” Calkins said. “Trustees here are asked to be active and responsive to staff and prepare for the meetings. That is a big commitment.”

When the floor was opened up for questions, audience members questioned Calkins about the board’s lack of diversity and high executive salaries. One student asked how the board could recruit members of different backgrounds when trustees must pay to be a member.

“We ask trustee members to give philanthropic donations according to their means,” Calkins said. “Yes, we have a need for financial resources but we also have a need for active, diverse voices. We balance it.”

Calkins was also asked why he was passionate about Occidental and what factors drove him to give time and money to the institution. He responded from a place of personal and professional experience.

“Family. My parents went to Oxy. My wife’s parents went to Oxy. My son went to Oxy. And I think all of us have found better lives,” Calkins said.

The discussion ended with talk of the future. Both Veitch and Calkins exhorted the transformative power of technology in higher education and the need to adjust policies and visions for the college accordingly.

Despite the effort to shed light on the role of the board, some students were still not pleased with the level of clarification.

Calkins started out his talk by saying that the board of trustees is actually not as powerful as most think it is, and spent the next 30 minutes talking about how the board discusses issues facing the college but ultimately almost all decisions are made by the president or outside consultants.” Danielle Raskin (sophomore) said.

“So, as with most administrative responses at this school, the talk was very effective in deflecting responsibility to different decision making bodies.”