Board of Trustees: History
“The Patriot” will break down the Board of Trustees’ history, role, importance, and goals over the coming weeks.
President Richard O’Hara said, “There is always a need in schools to demystify the Board and their role and purposes. The Board at John Carroll functions very well. They are thoughtful of what their role is compared to the role of the administration.”
However, much of the work of the Board is unknown to students as part of a more general policy. “If you’re having big Board problems and it’s in the news, that’s really not good. Whether it’s a business institution or a school, if we’re doing our job, it will be under the radar,” said Rachael Rice, class of ’88.
The Board was created because JC, unlike popular belief indicates, is an independent and nonprofit [tax exempt] school, not under the direct control of the archdiocese.
Under the leadership of former President Charles K. Riepe, the school severed its sponsorship with the archdiocese in 1971.
The archdiocese could no longer afford subsides to all schools, forcing JC to either shut down operation or become a nonprofit corporation. According to a 1971 “News American” article, Riepe said, “I want to emphasize that the decision I have made is my own idea. This is not the Catholic position. I speak for no one but myself and John Carroll.”
Although former Cardinal Lawrence Sheenan agreed that the move was the best for the school, he did not, according to Riepe, agree with Riepe’s “philosophy on private schools.”
The decision was made because “our survival is not a religious matter – it is first and foremost, from the community’s point of view, an educational matter. I have one basic concern: survival. As far as I am concerned, we have only one problem and that is money. With money we can do all things; without it, we close our doors,” said Riepe in the same article.
Currently, the school is under a ten year lease, renewed in 2007, from the archdiocese.
To still maintain a relationship with the archdiocese, the Archbishop was given a permanent seat on the Board, as well as final approval of the president. In addition, the Archbishop must approve “significant changes to the facility. There are stipulations about caring for the property,” said O’Hara.
However, “the assumption is the Board and the people here take care of the school. It’s not a checking up sort of thing. There’s usually a certain amount of trust,” said Chairwoman of the Board Sister Mary Helen Beirne.
Members of the Board are recruited by a trusteeship committee, as the Board is “self perpetuating. The Board tries to get different areas of experience represented. They have an ongoing list of folks that are considered, then determine if they are interested, approached, and they submit an application,” said O’Hara.
Added Brown, “[It is] the committee of the Board which oversees the designation of trustees, the selection process of trustees. It oversees the development of trustees that are on the Board and the development of trustees that we hope will come on the Board.”
Previously, Board members were elected by current parents and faculty members. Barker said, “[It was] very sort of democratic, very 1960s and 70s way of thinking about governance. In today’s climate, that kind of structure is unusual because certainly on the level of the faculty, faculty are hired by and paid by the school, yet we had a structure where they were entitled to decide who essentially their employers were going to be.”
In 1992, the Archbishop approved changes in the bylaws of the Board determining how members were selected to the current system of the trusteeship committee. The system continued until 2005, when the Board was renegotiating a lease with the cardinal.
The attorneys for the archdiocese informed the Board that the Article of Incorporation (document that created the corporation of John Carroll) had to be amended in addition to the 1992 bylaw change. Before the archdiocese would agree on the lease renewal, the Board was told to get its corporate documents in order.
Because parents and faculty were considered to be voting members under the Article of Incorporation, they were part of the final voting process that approved the amendment.
Greg Szoka, chairman in 1992 had been in conversation about the change with the archdiocese. Former chairman, now trustee emeritus, Augustus Brown said, “It is my understanding that there were so few members of the parents or faculty that came to the annual meeting to vote that there were more parents on the Board to do the voting than there were parents at the meeting.”
“In addition, the archdiocese wanted the amendment to take place because they felt that the Board should be supervising the policy of the school rather than having faculty and staff and parents vote on who should be setting the policy of the school. The archdiocese felt there was potential conflict there,” said Brown.
The role of the Board has changed from its original mission. According to Brown, whose father, Freeborn Brown III, served as the first chairman, “The Board was in its infancy, feelings its way. The school didn’t have the financial resources and didn’t have the experience to appreciate that its role was to help the president and principal. Today we have learned out of necessity that the Board has to operate as a business.”
Kate Froehlich can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.