College optimistic amid trustee resignations

By Campus Editor

Six members of Columbia’s board of trustees have resigned since President Kwang-Wu Kim and Richard Kiphart, chair of the board, assumed their new positions. 

Allen Turner resigned as chair in February and officially stepped down in March when Kiphart took over. Since August, six of the 37 board members have submitted their resignations, resulting in the departure of Ellen Stone Belic, a Chicago psychotherapist; Ralph Gidwitz, a managing partner and investment banker at Capital Results, LCC; Joseph Seminetta, president of Premier Asset Management, LCC, an investment counseling firm; Pamela Kendall-Rijos, a vice president at Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.; Marcia Lazar, president of InterGroup Associates, Inc., a genealogical legal consultation firm; and Paul Knapp, a senior executive at DST Systems, Inc., a consulting firm.

Asked whether the mass departure represents dissatisfaction among some members, Kim told The Chronicle that board transition is natural when new leadership is introduced and said he would not categorize the resignations as negative but merely as an opportunity to attract new members.

“It’s probably fair to say that they’ve completed their service to the school,” Kim said. “There are probably some people who are leaving because this isn’t the team they want to work with.”

Kiphart said he does not believe the resignations will negatively impact the college. Because the board has been composed of the same individuals for years, he said it makes sense that some of them would leave.

“The individuals who left were wonderful individuals who dedicated their time,” Kiphart said. “They saw it as a time [to go] off and [pursue] other opportunities.”

Kiphart said that as chair, Turner was more directly involved in the day-to-day management of the college’s affairs. Kiphart said he prefers the board to be more involved with the big-picture policy issues, a direction that departing members may have disagreed with.

“From a chairman’s standpoint, it is really worrying about policy and staying in touch with the president,” Kiphart said. “We, as trustees, are there to talk about policies. If a college is running appropriately, it is run by the staff with regular check-ins with the board.”

Kiphart said Kim being named president most likely did not influence past members to give up their seats. The board unanimously selected Kim out of a pool of 70 applicants, Kiphart said.

“A number of those who resigned were on the search committee and everyone voted for [Kim],” Kiphart said. “I think they were, frankly, thrilled by [Kim].”

Kim said he appreciates the former members’ dedication and is planning to honor their commitment with gifts of student work. Going forward, Kim said he would like to see board members who are dedicated to his administration’s vision for Columbia’s future.

“You try to bring everyone along, but you also have to make it clear that people have to recommit and decide whether they want to be a part of [the college’s future] or not,” Kim said. “The best thing is when people step aside because the worst thing is when people who don’t believe in what’s going on stay. It makes it harder to move [forward].”

Gidwitz, Kendall-Rijos and Seminetta did not return requests for comment as of press time. 

Stone Belic, a former adjunct professor of psychology and founder of Columbia’s Ellen Stone Belic Institute of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media, could not be reached after multiple requests for comment as of press time.

Lazar, who during her trustee tenure helped form the President’s Advisory Council, a group of prominent individuals in the arts and media who advise and guide the president on  collegewide issues, declined to comment on her departure from the board.

Knapp also declined a live interview request but released his thoughts on the college and his departure in a written statement submitted to The Chronicle, which can be read in full on Page 35.

In his statement, Knapp shared his concern about Columbia’s long-time open admissions policies, its poor graduation rates and the prodigious amount of student debt accrued by Columbia graduates, which is the highest among Chicago colleges, as reported Feb. 22. He also discussed concerns regarding how the board operates and whether it is collaborative enough.

“Importantly, as recent trustee resignations attest, many knowledgeable, capable trustees who will take time to learn and to think about their roles as trustees, who will work hard, who will be engaged and who truly want to contribute to Columbia’s success, will not serve long in an environment in which they are not encouraged to collaborate and contribute,” Knapp wrote.

Board members serve three year term and are not subject to limits, Kim said. Members are required to attend the four annual board meetings and serve on specialized committees that meet four to six times a year to discuss various facets of college operations, according to Kim.

The board oversees all institutional budgets and policies and acts as the driving force behind philanthropic ventures through its members’ connections and their own donations to the college, Kim said. The board is also actively recruiting new members and exploring the qualities desired in a member, Kim said.

“Ideal board members are greatly committed to education,” Kim said. “Because of our continuing need to grow our resource base, the ideal board member would come to this school with philanthropic capacity so we can benefit from that as well.”

Despite the recent shifts in membership, Kiphart said the board is operating as normal and is a little larger than other colleges’ boards.

“I’d love to have more young people on the board,” Kiphart said. “You need more young blood thinking about what’s going on and the world of technology.”