Introducing Coyote Don: Who’s in Charge?

Welcome to Coyote Don! This is a new more-or-less weekly column of context and opinion for the SLC community, written by one particular, somewhat quirky, member of the faculty. I will use this space to talk about what every I darn well feel like–in some weeks it will be relatively sedate background information I think is helpful for understanding campus issues, in others rants (ahem–I mean opinion pieces) or pleas. At one point or another, I expect to challenge the beliefs and priorities of students, faculty, staff, administration, trustees, alums, and anyone else I can think of. But I hope I may always be on the side of truth, and on the side of Sarah Lawrence.

This series will be uncredited, in the same way that Dear Abby was originally uncredited, or that the SLCSpeaks editorial staff is uncredited. That is not the same as being anonymous; if anyone wants to know who I am, they can email SLCSpeaks. To put it another way, Coyote Don is more like Iron Man than Batman. Not that I’m comparing myself to Tony Stark–I don’t drink as much.

Occasionally, another faculty or staff member may write a piece for Coyote Don. Since it’s uncredited anyway, that won’t always be announced.


This Week’s Topic: Who’s In Charge?

Suppose you’ve got a concern about how Sarah Lawrence is being run. You’re worried about the size of the College, or financial aid, or how staff is being treated, or what courses are being offered, or how parties in the dorms are regulated. In order to effectively promote change, you need to know who is responsible for that thing. Just as it is helpful in national politics to understand the difference between the powers of the President and Congress, or the federal and the state government, it’s important to understand how our own system works.

Starting at the Top: The Board of Trustees

At the top of the Sarah Lawrence governing structure is the Board of Trustees. The Board makes all of the top-level budgetary decisions: they set tuition rates, goals for the size of the College, the student:faculty ratio, and overall faculty and staff compensation and benefits. The Trustees also choose the President of the College (currently Karen Lawrence), and have a significant role in choosing the Dean of the College (currently Jerri Dodds).

So how does one get to be a Trustee? Believe it or not, it is a self-perpetuating group. In most cases, new Trustees are chosen by the current Trustees, in such a way that there are always between 21 and 40 total. Of those, one Trustee must be a faculty member (currently Ron Afzal) chosen by the faculty, one is the President of the College, and one is the President of the Alumnae/i Association (currently Rona Carr).

Student Senate also chooses a student to be a representative at Board meetings, as does the graduate student Senate. These two students attend Board meetings and can participate, but don’t get a vote.

Trustees have a strange job. They get paid nothing, but most are expected to give large sums of money to the College for the privilege of working for us and for the honor of having some faculty complain that they aren’t giving enough. Despite sounding a bit counterintuitive, this is a common system for the governance of non-profits, including colleges.

The current Chair of the Board of Trustees is John Hill.

The President: Powerful but Not All-Powerful

The President of the College (currently Karen Lawrence) is SLC’s CEO. Except for the high-level constraints set by the Board of Trustees, for most decisions the buck stops at the President’s desk.

Senior Staff: The President’s Cabinet

Just as the President of the United States has cabinet members, each of whom has the dual role of advising the President and heading up a department of the government, the President of Sarah Lawrence has her Senior Staff. Positions at this level are the Dean of the College (Jerri Dodds), the Dean of Graduate Studies (Susan Guma), the VP of Marketing and Communications (Gerry Schorin), the VP of Advancement (i.e., fundraising–Charles Raspberry), the Dean of Studies and Student Life (Al Green), the Dean of Enrollment (Mary Beth Carey), the VP of Human Resources and Legal Affairs (Julie Auster), the VP for Finance & Operations (currently vacant, with Vince Massaro holding the position in an interim capacity), and the VP for Administration (Tom Blum).

Among this group, the Dean of the College is first among equals. If the Presidency becomes vacant, it’s the Dean of the College, rather than one of the VP’s, who steps in to that role until the Trustees can name a successor. The Dean of the College is also the Chief Educational Officer of the College, so for matters having to do with teaching and classes, the buck usually stops with her.

Standing Committees

Senior Staff do not have unlimited control over their own domains, however. Sarah Lawrence has an unusually strong system of “standing committees” which are responsible for a lot of the detailed decisions which have to be made. Students serve on many of these committees as full voting members. These committees are important and diverse enough that they’re worth listing individually:

General Committee: This is the committee that handles Big Issues that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. They also set the agenda for faculty meetings. It includes six faculty, two students, a staff member, the President, the Dean of the College, the Dean of Studies, and the Dean of Graduate Studies. Read that through again: two students have a vote on what should be on the agenda at faculty meetings. We may set the syllabi for your classes, but you help set the topics for our meetings!

Advisory Committee: Makes recommendations related to who gets hired for a faculty position, tenure of faculty, individual faculty salaries, and stuff like that. No students on this one.

Curriculum Committee: Deals with issues like what departments should be allocated new faculty (both tenure-track and guest), what courses will be offered, the balance between lectures and seminars, etc.. Five faculty, two students, the President, the Dean of the College, and the Dean of Studies serve on the Curriculum Committee.

Committee on Diversity: Just what it sounds like. Five faculty, two undergraduate students, a graduate student, a staff member, and a whole bunch of specific administrators sit on this committee.

Admission Committee: In theory, they decide who gets admitted to Sarah Lawrence. In practice, they delegate that task to the Admission department, and serve in an advisory capacity. Seven faculty, two students, and the Dean of Enrollment.

Committee on Undergraduate Student Work: This committee reads every evaluation of every student, except graduating seniors. They decide on whether to grant students waivers from requirements and whom to recommend for fellowships and abroad programs. They also discuss general policies on topics such as academic integrity, transcripts, and worksheets. Six faculty members, two students, and a bunch of specific administrators.

Committee on Undergraduate Student Life: Addresses multiple issues having to do with the student experience outside the classroom. Remember the discussion of a smoking ban? As I understand it, that originated with students on this committee. Fifteen (!) students, one graduate student, three faculty, and a bunch of specific administrators. This committee is usually chaired by a student.

Committee on Graduate Studies

Committee on Conditions of Teaching: Advises on issues related to salaries, benefits, and working conditions for the faculty.

Committee on Academic Freedom

Committee on Graduate Student Life

Other Structures

Sarah Lawrence is small, but we’re not tiny. Below Senior Staff are a whole bunch of other power structures. Most obvious are other staff members, including a variety of Deans and Directors. But in addition there are special structures for students and faculty.

The undergraduate students, of course, have Senate. Senate has its own budgetary authority–the kerfuffle over funding the Teahaus last fall was entirely internal to Senate. If Coyote Don is not mistaken, Senate is formally under the Dean of Studies and Student Life, but has considerable autonomy.

The faculty are organized in to Faculty Groups. These Groups are often a little larger than departments–for example the Social Science Group includes Anthropology, Economics, Environmental Studies, Geography, Politics, Public Policy, and Sociology. For large departments, such as Psychology or Music, the department and the Group are the same thing. Each Group has a Chair, who interacts directly with the Dean of the College.

Coming Next Week: Where Sarah Lawrence Gets Its Money

Now that we’ve covered who is in charge of what, we can start talking dollars and cents–actually, millions of dollars. Next week is revenues. And the week after that will be expenses. Get ready for pie charts!

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