Abolish the Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees has shown its teeth. It’s time we show ours.

Many students camped out throughout the halls of Demaray to protest the Board of Trustees statement on human sexuality that came out earlier this week. (Gabrialla Cockerell)

After months of “thorough and prayerful deliberation” (don’t laugh), the Board recently decided to maintain its discriminatory and homophobic hiring policy. This was a wildly unpopular decision, with about 80% of the students, staff and faculty saying they support the removal of Seattle Pacific University’s hiring policy.

Despite this overwhelming majority, the Board went forward with its decision in order to maintain its relationship with the Free Methodist Church. The Board should not be able to exert so much control over the SPU community. More importantly, the Board should no longer even exist.

In the Faculty Governance Constitution, which details the responsibilities and functions of the faculty and the Board of Trustees, the Board is given a concerning amount of control over the operation of SPU. They are responsible for approving the school’s basic academic structure (Article III, Section 7), they have the final say on amendments to the Governance Constitution (Article V, Section 3), they decide who serves as President (Article B-I, Section 1), and they have full control over the faculty policies.

The Faculty Handbook itself says that the Board holds “the final authority.” Rayna Martin puts it well in her Falcon article “Power dynamics at SPU” in which she says, “there is little influence [faculty and staff] have that does not eventually lead back to the superior authority of the Board.”

Yet little is known about this mysterious overseeing force at SPU. The school’s website only gives us a list of names. There is no contact information, credentials (save for the occasional “Dr.”) or any reason why these people are allowed to have so much control over the operation of SPU.

Photos of the Board members were only recently added on May 25. To echo Rayna Martin’s sentiments, this allows the Board to “fly-under-the-radar” and protect itself from being held accountable for its decisions. The only information that is known about the Board is that only some members are alumni, and haven’t attended SPU in decades.

During the protest on Tuesday, May 24, an SPU alumni, Kerri Gibbard Kline (they/them), who graduated in 2008 recounted their experiences as an LGBTQIA+ student 14 years ago. They also talked about the ways the school has changed since their attendance and how they struggled to receive approval for the LGBTQIA+ club, Haven, which didn’t become official until 2013.

The school has clearly developed since this time as we now have the established Haven club, the EnGAYge the Culture Instagram page (@engaygetheculture), and a student and faculty body that strongly supports the LGBTQIA+ community. In fact, 80% of students and faculty at SPU have stated that they do not support the board’s decision to maintain the policy.

We clearly have developed as a community and the Board of Trustees has an outdated mindset and view of the students of SPU. We deserve people in power that are knowledgeable and aware of the community here, people that live here and interact with the community and people who are chosen for more reasons than just their financial prowess.

On top of the board’s unwillingness to respond to the interests of the SPU community, their handling of the school financially is subpar. It should be no secret to anyone that SPU is not doing well financially. This is evidenced by the fact that after promising to reduce tuition for the students, they also reduced financial aid and scholarships. Along with that, because of the Board’s homophobia, a coalition of students, faculty and staff placed sanctions on the Board, pledging to not donate any money to the university.

The Board’s decisions are putting the entirety of SPU at risk. If the school continues on this path, there will not be a future for it. These problems need to be addressed and drastic action is clearly necessary. A continuation of these policies will continue to anger the student/faculty body, the school will continue to suffer until there is change or until SPU crumbles as an institution.

The solution to these problems is simple: the Board of Trustees should be completely abolished and control of SPU should instead be placed in the hands of an elected body of students, staff, and faculty with its members subject to recall.

While this may seem radical and impossible for SPU, a university run in this fashion would have precedent, and we wouldn’t be the first. Mondragon University in Arrasate, Spain opened in 1997, and has been run and operated by a governing body of faculty, staff and students similar to what we are proposing.

The responsibilities of the university are split between the General Assembly, Governing Board and Executive Board. While this model doesn’t have to be followed exactly, it demonstrates that abolishing the Board and changing the structure of power at SPU is possible.

Why is SPU so set on holding onto the Board of Trustees and homophobic policies? The Free Methodist Church. As the Board was still prayerfully deliberating, the FMC announced that schools whose hiring policies did not align with Church values could not be associated with the Church.

What do we gain from The FMC anyway? According to ASSP, about $5,000 per year, about 14% of what one undergraduate student pays to attend. The only other attachment is that three members of the Board identify with the FMC.

The Board of Trustees is running this school into the ground. The maintaining of the homophobic hiring policy, their unwillingness to respond to the needs and desires of the community and their poor handling of the school’s many operations all demonstrate that the Board no longer has any place at SPU. The control and operation of the school should instead be in the hands of the actual members of its community: the students, staff and faculty.

As Dr. Neuhouser said, “Today is the first day of the resistance.”