What is the Role of the Board of Trustees at Gettysburg College?

By Katie Oglesby, Editor-in-Chief

Glatfelter Hall from a distance, spring 2023 (Photo Eric Lippe/The Gettysburgian)

Glatfelter Hall from a distance, spring 2023 (Photo Eric Lippe/The Gettysburgian)

One of the few student representatives to the Board of Trustees (BOT), Student Senate President Miranda Zamora ’23 noted that, “I do not feel that students understand the BOT. If I am being completely honest, I do not fully understand it myself…”

Similarly, Rachel Herr ’26 said, “I don’t know what the Board of Trustees is. I’m sure they make important decisions, but they have had no impact on me during my first year.”

Zamora continued on to say that she believes students should be more involved in the Board of Trustees, and noted that she herself only appears at one of their committee meetings: the College Life Committee. This is due to her role in Senate. In this role, she said she answers questions the Board of Trustees has from the perspective of a current student. 

The Chair of the Board of Trustees David Brennan ’75  said the Board of Trustees is very focused on students, though, across the board, students seem to feel disconnected from it.

Carter Zamora ’23 also attends Board of Trustees meetings through his role as the Chair of the Academic and Career Affairs Committee in Student Senate. 

He noted that, “Part of the student not knowing what the Board of Trustees does is probably in communication. Maybe a yearly report on open sessions of the Board meetings would help clarify what the Board does.”

When asked to explain what the Board of Trustees does to students who may be unaware, Brennan shared that the Board of Trustees’s main role is to “provide oversight and assurance” and that the Board has the authority to approve certain decisions. 

He explained that the Board of Trustees provides oversight of (and development of) the strategic plan and the academic programs, amongst others. The Board also approves the annual budget for the College. 

This annual budget is “created by each individual area of responsibility under the president…The provost is responsible for the administration of salary and wages for the faculty. The Chief Financial Officer Dan Konstalid looks at the assumptions about wages for staff.”

Brennan elaborated that the Board of Trustees also approves and oversees spending from the endowment fund. 

Though, Brennan noted that there are donor restrictions and state guidelines and limits on the spending from endowment funds. He explained that Pennsylvania relaxed the guidelines during the pandemic, which allowed the Board of Trustees to approve “a modest, temporary increase to endowment spending” to help with the impact of the pandemic. 

Brennan further explained that the Board of Trustees is broken up into committees, as previously noted by Miranda Zamora, who attends only College Life Committee meetings while her brother Carter Zamora represents students at the Academic Affairs Committee. Carter Zamora noted that he was able to give feedback on their discussions during these meetings, as well. 

Brennan shared that the Academic Affairs Committee reviews the curriculum, but “the charter of the college specifically states that the faculty have the power to prescribe the academic program of the College. The President is the chairman of the faculty, but all the faculty officers are elected by the faculty.” 

Moreover, Vice Provost and Dean of Arts and Humanities Jack Ryan shared that he and his colleagues in the Provost’s Office, along with the chair of the Academic Policy and Program Committee, are on the Academic Affairs Committee. 

He explained that during these meetings, “Academic Affairs committee hears from the chair of a department that has undergone an external review. The committee—and the full board—are provided documents prior to the meeting: a department’s self-study, the report from external evaluators, and the response from the department under review in response to the report. At the meeting the department chair is asked to respond to three questions: ‘What did you learn and/or what surprised you from the review? What are the opportunities for improvement that lie within the sphere of influence of the department itself, and its members? What are you most proud of?’”

He added, “Many board members know faculty because of social gatherings and/or the amount of years of board service.”

Brennan shared some of the other committees, as well; these include but are not limited to, the Executive Compensation Committee, the Executive Committee, Finance Committee, Governance and Nominating Committee, Information Technology Committee, and Enrollment and Education Services.

He said that one of the chief concerns has been the decline in net tuition revenue, which he said has caused the Board to spend “nearly every meeting some discussion on finance…We look at the projections going forward as to what net tuition revenue per student needs to be, what the size of the incoming class needs to be, and the campus as a whole.” 

He shared, though, that the Board does not set the agenda. Instead, Iuliano and his Chief of Staff initiate them, but are reviewed by Brennan. He noted that he decides what the “deep dive for each meeting” will be.

“I like to pick a topic and spend a fair amount of time on it,” he said. “I like to go an inch wide and a mile deep on a topic or two at each meeting, rather than just kind of skim the top of everything.”

He said the last meeting included a deep dive into the budget. He explained that this was because of demographic shifts reducing the number of College graduates post-COVID, and the impact it may have on net tuition revenue. 

He also shared the demographics of the Board itself. 

“The Board is primarily made up of alumni,” he said. “We have a couple of non-Gettysburg members of the Board who have an interest for one reason or another. We have the president of the alumni board and the president of the BOLD council, and they are members of the board for I think two years…so they can carry the message back out to their constituencies as well.”

He also explained that the expectation of trustees is to be philanthropic toward the College. Trustees share four year terms, and the maximum is three terms of four years (so a maximum of twelve years). That said, members can become a Trustee Emeritus which says they may attend meetings, but are a non-voting member. 

Most of the members are alumni from the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s. Brennan noted that he and two other members from the ’70s will be leaving in May when their 12 years are up, which will leave only one Board member from the ’70s left.

Miranda Zamora noted that she wished the Board of Trustees would include students more. 

“I wish students had more of a role with the BOT,” she said, “as I feel it is important to connect the trustees with the students. I personally would have been willing to attend more meetings outside of the College Life committee if I would have been provided with the opportunity.”

She continued by saying, “I feel that administration could do a better job of relaying information back to students. They discuss so many things at the board of trustees meetings, yet students are often unaware of what was discussed, including myself. I can update students on the College Life Committee of the BOT since I attend those meetings, but those hardly give a full picture of what was discussed, seeing as this is only one meeting out of the many that occur when the BOT meets.”

This article originally appeared on pages 6 to 7 of April 2023 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.

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Author: Katie Oglesby

Katie Oglesby ‘23 serves as the Editor-in-Chief for the Gettysburgian. She has previously served as Magazine Editor, News Editor, Assistant News Editor, and Staff Writer. She is an English with a writing concentration and political science major, hailing from San Diego, California, but now living in rural North Carolina. On campus, Katie works at the CUB information desk, is an Eisenhower Institute Fielding Fellow, and serves as co-service vice president for the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. She spent a semester abroad in Bath, England studying British literature and politics, and spent this past summer interning with the Winston-Salem Journal in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She can usually be found perusing books in the Musselman Library browsing room.

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  1. Thanks for the insights, however, many questions remain.
    For example, is there a business survival model being utilized? If net tuition income why are there plans to reduce student population? Why not increase student population under a trimester system combined with cost-cuts of administrative overhead and reduction of tuition coverage? There is a choke point for “free money” from alums when it is clear all assets are not fully utilized. Housing and academic buildings standing empty signal insufficient attention to creating alternative uses for future solvency and growth? Would like to see followup to this article to include composition and role of alumni board, which was effectively gutted a couple decades ago.

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  2. Interesting that David Brennan is concerned about “the decline in net tuition revenue.”
    Ironic, as Brennan was happy to raise drug prices at annual unconscionable levels while helming the pharma behemoth Astra Zeneca. AZ’s R&D stumbled under his watch, so raising prices was the easy way to keep up revenues.

    Brennan is/has not been the right person for his role on the Board, as his instinctive impulse to impose much higher “prices” (tuition) clearly won’t work here.
    Has Brennan mentioned that he left AZ in disgrace? That he was forced into early retirement? Perhaps the Gettysburgian staff might want to investigate this fact. perhaps an interview with Mr. Brennan would be instructive.

    Notice how quickly he lapses into over worn/stale marketing lingo such as “take a deep dive” and “inch wide and a mile deep.” These words are the purview of many who have MBA’s- they believe these tired/and banal phrases are indicative of marketing prowess. Truth be told- they’re not.

    Brennan’s thinking is inappropriate, as a small liberal arts college can’t be run just like a big corporation. Brennan’s arrogance is that he believes it can.

    Hopefully new leadership on the Board of Trustees will keep this in mind as they help navigate Gettysburg College through the coming rough waters.

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