Interim Board Meeting 2021: Student Summary
As the BORSC Chair, Fricka Lindemann '22 attended the interim board meeting on February 4-5, 2021.
Just as the previous meeting in October, the interim meeting of St. Olaf College's board had much of its contents revolve around "DEI" - diversity, equity, and inclusion. The board voted to make some changes to their bylaws. Now it is a requirement that every new member is to be reviewed by the entire board, not just the chair. Also, intentions to make the board more diverse in regards to e.g. race, gender, and occupation were also captured in the bylaws.
Faculty representative Matthew Richey talked about the serious and ongoing internal process of improving the situation for BIPOC faculty. Vice president for mission Jo Beld reported that the Higher Learning Commission, an organization creating standards for universities countrywide, is working to create and implement metrics by which DEI can be measured. BORSC had criticized such efforts in their October presentation as they shift the focus from the affected individuals and turn their personal experiences into graphs and numbers. The Community Life Committee committed their entire meeting to have the directors of different campus offices speak on their efforts to uplift DEI. María Pabon Gautier represented the Taylor Center, Edmund Santurri represented the Institute for Freedom and Community, Deanna Thompson represented the Lutheran Center, and Leslie Moore presented the Piper Center. One statement that stood out to me came from Leslie Moore; that the Piper Center worked to help students to decide which battles they want to take on after leaving St. Olaf College. She shed light on the fact that the college is somewhat isolated from the "real world" and conversations about racism, equity, and inclusion that take place here will likely differ from those we will experience in other structures we move in.
BORSC's presentation on Student Mental Health during COVID-19 received mostly positive responses. A conversation about a potential budget allocation for preventative mental health was started, and BORSC was later invited to share the same presentation with the faculty student life community. One college-affiliated attendee of the board meeting suggested that some of the recommendations we made would be homemade remedies, referring to the student government and the student body.
Another issue that the student body has been pushing for is divestment from fossil fuels, as well as other unethical investments. At the meeting, it was confirmed that the college is currently not invested in private prisons. A decision about a divestment resolution as brought forward by the student group Climate Justice Collective will presumably be made at the May Board Meeting.
Head of the COVID response team Enoch Blazis reflected that the college had been doing well so far and that the future outlook was promising. The spring testing strategy would operate with doubled capacity compared to the fall semester, and there is the potential for vaccinations to take place on campus.
In terms of future development, Jan Hanson, vice president and CFO, reported that the Ole Avenue projects should be ready for move-in in Fall 2022. She also mentioned that several already existing dorms were to be renovated to lift their standards closer to the new dorm. The visioning task force of the board shared ideas and ideals for the college in the medium-term future, based on shifts and trends that can already be forecasted.
Many items and details discussed at the board meeting could not be shared with the wider student body as they are to be treated as confidential by the student representative. There were multiple sessions, including two executive sessions, for which the student representative was not invited at all.
The Mess has also covered this board meeting with a slightly different focus and after conversation with the student representative. You can find it here.