Board of Regents Student Committee questions Regents selection process, representation
The St. Olaf Board of Regents convened over Zoom for their tri-annual meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8 and Friday, Oct. 9.
The Regents discussed and voted on issues including racism on campus and the St. Olaf Avenue student housing project in a shortened meeting that raised conversations about the structure of the Board and how the Board receives student input.
In response to calls for action to address racism on campus, the Regents voted to create a permanent Board committee on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” through which the “Board signals its intention to continuously monitor the College’s actions in this area, to hold us accountable for making progress and to offer guidance and support in our efforts,” President David Anderson ’74 wrote in an email sent to all St. Olaf students on Oct. 9.
The committee, chaired by Sean Burress ’94, will consist of nine members who are current Regents and will also include Glen Taylor ’73, the donor and namesake of the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion. While Taylor’s term as Regent expired this month, the Board asked him to continue as a committee member.
In the Oct. 9 email, Anderson wrote that the Board approved a change to the way that the College will measure progress towards goals in their strategic plan, such that “the question asked is whether in pursuing any particular priority of the plan the outcomes for marginalized communities are the same or better than they are for majority communities.” In an email to the Messenger, Anderson explained, “The point of this revision is that it enables us to see disparities more clearly so that we can remedy them.”
The Regents’ actions follow a growing conversation both nationally and on St. Olaf’s campus about institutional racism. Addressing racism on campus was a main focus of the Board of Regents Student Committee’s (BORSC) presentation to the Regents at the meeting.
The mission of BORSC is to represent students at Board of Regents meetings, and the Board allocates them time at every meeting to give presentations about topics that are impacting students on campus. At Thursday’s meeting, members of BORSC had 12 minutes to present to the Regents, and the Regents had 36 minutes to ask questions to both BORSC members and the St. Olaf faculty representatives, explained BORSC Chair Fricka Lindemann ’22. During in-person meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic, BORSC had around half an hour to present.
At the 2020 fall meeting, BORSC presented to the Regents on two topics: racism on campus and the College’s response to COVID-19. Lindemann said that BORSC will publish a practice recording of their presentation that they made prior to the meeting for all students to view.
Additionally, three BORSC members attended the Community Life Committee meeting.
While Lindemann expressed that many Regents were receptive to BORSC’s presentation, asking many questions about how the Board can support anti-racism in particular, Lindemann pointed out that movement on issues that BORSC brings up are at the discretion of the Regents.
“I feel like what I do is always kind of dependent on the good will of the Board members,” Lindemann said. “So if they somewhat understand my idea or my intentions then they will pay attention and if they don’t, if we’re not able to establish a common ground, then they can just shut their ears.”
Lindemann was the only student representative present for the majority of the meeting — yet she — along with the President’s Leadership Team were not allowed to attend the last session on Friday. Only Regents and Anderson attended the fully confidential session.
Article Three of the College bylaws requires that “unless the subject matter is otherwise generally available or known to the public.” The bylaws cite confidentiality as “vital to promoting free and candid discussions.”
As part of Lindemann’s role, she writes and publishes a summary of the meeting which, after Vice President for Student Life Hassel Morrision checks for confidentiality breaches, BORSC will publish on their website and Instagram page as well as send out in their committee newsletter.
“For some of the information it is obvious I cannot share it,” Lindemann said. “That pertains mostly to finances … but I’m not sure where the boundaries are. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to share in what tone a certain topic was discussed, for example.”
While Anderson sent out the overall results of the meeting in an email to the student body, Lindemann said that “it’s also kind of relevant to better understand how they reached that result, and if it was a consensus or if it was debated.”
Lindemann also raised concerns about the process of how the Board appoints new Regents.
“To actually have a somewhat more anti-racist approach, it would be necessary to restructure how the Board works itself,” Lindemann said. “Because right now, Board members are appointed by each other, and if the social networks of all these white people don’t really reach people of color in different positions, then there won’t be many Regents of color.”
The feedback that Lindemann received from many Regents regarding her critique of the current board member selection process was positive overall, she said.
When asked for comment, Anderson responded in an email to the Messenger that the “Board is keenly aware that its membership needs to be more diverse. The committee that brings recommendations to the Board for new members, the Nominating and Governance Committee, will be very focused on that.”
Anderson also wrote that “regarding the selection process for Regents. BORSC has essentially the same process that Regents use. The BORSC Chair is elected. None of the other members are. They are selected by a process of application and interviews run by the BORSC Chair that is not open to public scrutiny. So, if the worry is that people will pick people like themselves, BORSC might want to re-think their own process of selection of members before addressing the process used by other bodies.”
While the applications of BORSC members are not open to public scrutiny, the BORSC application process differs from that of the Board of Regents in that students who desire to be members of BORSC can choose to submit an application to be on the Committee. In contrast, current Regents must nominate new Board members.
Lindemann acknowledged that she currently makes the decision as to which individuals to accept into BORSC, but added that she would be open to having someone else also involved in the application review and selection process. Additionally, by BORSC’s bylaws, “[BORSC is] required to represent the different identities present on campus as best as we can (as well as year groups),” Lindemann wrote in an email.
Lindemann encouraged students to follow borsc_stolaf on Instagram and visit BORSC’s website on Oleville, where they can sign up for the committee’s newsletter, share what changes they want to see at St. Olaf and find information about applying to be a member of BORSC in the future.