The St. Olaf College Board of Regents had their fall meeting last October 14 and 15. According to a Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC) report, they discussed methods of increasing new student applications, the Ole Ave. construction project, the “wet” venue status of the new President’s House, and methods of diversifying the student population. It was revealed that, for the first time, the college’s total assets surpass $1 billion.
The Board of Regents are to the college what a Board of Directors is to a company – in fact, the Board of Regents bylaws refer to the college as “the corporation,” and to the students as “customers.” Given that they have such power, the Messenger decided to dig deeper into their role at St. Olaf.
According to St. Olaf’s website, the Board of Regents “establishes and advances the mission and strategic priorities of the college.” These powers allow the Board of Regents to shape the future of St. Olaf by creating financial targets and other goals for the college as a non-profit corporation.
The website goes on to say that the Board fulfills this mission by “appointing and assessing the performance of the college president; approving tenure for faculty members; approving and monitoring the college’s strategic plan; reviewing and approving the college’s annual budget and long-term financial plans; assuring the quality, integrity, and sustainability of the college’s buildings and grounds; and monitoring student outcomes, community well-being, and institutional effectiveness.”
Through these various responsibilities, the Board of Regents affects the college systemically, making decisions that affect the college on every level by determining how the college spends its resources. In summation, the board determines the allocation of the college’s assets. Understanding the Board of Regents as an institution and a set of individuals gives insight into the motivations behind the college’s financial decisions and plans for the future.
Exploring the regent’s careers and motivations becomes especially important when conversations about divestment at St. Olaf and Carelton remain in recent memory. For example, throughout the spring 2021 semester, the Climate Justice Committee (CJC) participated in nationwide protests against Wells Fargo bank. Wells Fargo was one of the leading banks funding Enbridge’s Line 3 project, a pipeline that damaged Indigenous land and is likely to cause severe damage to the environment.
The CJC held protests encouraging the school to end its partnership with Wells Fargo. Only a few months earlier, in October 2020, Laurie Nordquist ‘81, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Lead Region President for the Upper Midwest of Wells Fargo, Minnesota, began her six-year term as a regent.
Of the 28 voting Board members, many have served in head positions in private companies, including six regents who currently serve or previously served as Chief Executive Officers. Other notable careers of regents include several Chief Information or Operations Officers and a retired venture capitalist. In addition, one of the youngest board members, Chad Jerdee ‘90, retired from Global Lead, Responsible Business, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship position at Accenture, Inc.
The Board of Regents is overwhelmingly composed of people from business leadership careers, complicating concerns about how the college uses its endowment funds. In 2021, the board committed to lowering the amount of the endowment invested in fossil fuels from its current 6.3 percent to 1 percent by 2034. However, as conversations about divestment from other controversial industries, including private prisons and the defense industry, the career backgrounds of the regents suggest they will respond to these concerns from the perspective of protecting capital.