Who Holds Our Trust?
The sad account of the termination of Father Ed Glynn (MAR) as president of Gonzaga University must trouble any thinking Jesuit. The earlier incident inwhich he was refused approval as president of Weston School of Theology can be attributed to members of the hierarchy. In the Gonzaga situation members of our own Society are apparently pulling in different directions.
There will doubtless be much rec-room conversation laying blame for the painful situation at the feet of a variety of players, apart from that attributed to the lay trustees involved. What should Father Bernie Coughlin have done? What about Glynn's responses? How did the Jesuits on the Board of Members contribute to the unpleasant outcome?
My comments will not pursue that course. After all, none of us were in the shoes of any of these players, nor did we carry their responsibilities. We owe all of them our non-judgmental empathy.
However, there is a serious structural question raised by the whole story. It is one that prescinds from personalities, and one which needs to be looked at in all of our institutions. It concerns the criteria being used for selection of members to our boards of trustees in the first place.
From the account of the Gonzaga struggle it appears that many of the members-of the board of trustees are themselves CEOs of big corporations. I submit that such men (and they are almost always men) have precisely the wrong background and orientation for membership on a board.
They are executives, managers, and this is what they do day in and day out, and they are doubtless very good at it. They will naturally imagine that the president ought to manage his itution the way they manage their business. (It has been wisely said that if you are born with a hammer in your hand, everything in life your will become a nail.) The Gonzaga story offers an excellent illustration of this point: You know things are amiss when board members are involved in determining where the president's office should be located.
A board of trust-holders (a significant modulation in terminology) is not a managedal body. It is a wisdom-seeking entity, able to step back from the preoccupying issues of day-to-day organizational practice and lead the institution, and its executives, to ask the more difficult questions concerned with subtly shifting environments and directions, nuanced but enormously significant issues of mission and strategies. Those who spend their days executing and directing are rarely constituted to provide that form of service.
It has become common practice — even among religiously oriented institutions — to seek out the "successful" local banker or insurance executive, or businessman or real estate tycoon and invite them to sit on the board. Catholic, if possible, but wealthy enough to make a solid personal contribution to the next capital campaign, or at least holding connections that can enable him to touch the people who will pay. Is this what we want on a board?
Some will object that the president may want the advice of those who have themselves sat in a CEO's chair. Fine. Then let him set up a managerial advisory group where skilled managers can show him how to drive his nails straighter or re-align the lumber. Such consultation, if needed, should by all means be sought, but that doesn't translate to a seat on the board of trustholders. It should be located elsewhere in the organization's structure, not contaminating the quite different expertise needed on the board.
Nor should the likelihood of a significant contribution to the financial well-being of the institution be linked to appointment to the board. Once again, securing funding for the institution is a laudable and necessary endeavor, but we only create other problems if we link financial contribution to board appointment.
By all means, do honor donors with plaques: awards, recognition in the new chapel, statues, membership in the president's inner. circle, court-side seating for the local gladiators' games, even honoraq degrees. Make them chairs of development campaigns where they can use their civic visibility and financia connections to provide a valuable service to the school. But do not appoint them to the board of trustees. Save those precious roles for persons who have demonstrated the ability to bring widely diverse realms of thought and praxis into balance in confronting complex issues of policy.
I am not suggesting a board made up of philosopher kings lost in the clouds of speculation; but then again, it probably wouldn't hurt to have a dash of artists and poets in the mix from time to time.