By Dave Gulliver, Ellie Bullen and Megan Delehanty
People sometimes see a Board of Trustees as unapproachable, even operating in secrecy.
To counter that perception, the chairs of New College’s two primary boards came to the College Hall Music Room on Wednesday, Sept. 25, for “Chats with Chairs,” a conversation with students, faculty and staff.
Felice Schulaner, an alumnus and the first female chair of the Board of Trustees, and Sue Jacobson, chair of the New College Foundation’s board of directors, spoke and fielded questions from the 30-plus attendees for nearly 90 minutes.
They began by explaining their roles. Board members generally oversee financial matters, strategy, mission and compliance with regulations, but are not involved in day-to-day matters.
Schulaner described a board member’s role as being curious about what the college is doing, but leaving the work to the administrators – “Noses in, fingers out,” she said, to laughter.
Meanwhile, the two boards have to work together to advance the College’s mission. The Trustees looking over College operations, and the Foundation supporting the College’s mission. “We’re the car, she’s the gas,” Schulaner said.
Attendees, including faculty, staff and students, asked questions for nearly an hour. They covered topics including:
- Are the College and Foundation preparing for an expected economic downturn? (Yes, by meeting with investment advisors);
- What are the College’s priorities? Iincreasing enrollment, improving facilities, re-accreditation, filling vacant leadership positions, and focusing on improving students’ post-graduation prospects);
- Will the new honors program at University of South Florida affect enrollment? (Unlikely, because those students want a different, big-college experience. “They want sports and the Greek life,” Schulaner said. “I know when I came to New College I wanted none of that.”)
- How does New College plan to house the additional students it hopes to enroll, given the already-tight housing availability? (Schulaner said the College was working on several options, including developing property close to campus, creating public-private partnerships or teaming with the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.)
Jacobson said a top Foundation priority is raising money to repair and improve Pei dorms. That pleased Schulaner, who lived there for three years when she was a student. “I thought Pei was Shangri-La!” she said.
Writing program director Jennifer Wells asked how the community could communicate its priorities with the board. Schulaner invited people to attend the next NCF Board of Trustees meeting, see how it works and how they might be able to present their concerns. And if necessary, she said, she would find a way to put them on the agenda.
“The more people who know about what happens at the College, the better we can do our jobs as board members,” she said.
With the strong turnout and wide-ranging questions, Schulaner and Jacobson said they would begin holding community discussions quarterly.
— Ellie Bullen and Megan Delehanty are interns with the Office of Marketing and Communications. Dave Gulliver is interim associate director of communications and marketing at New College of Florida.