This past weekend, members of Swarthmore’s Board of Managers gathered for their annual fall meeting. Among the issues to be dealt with over the weekend, as many students were aware, was the decision of whether or not to renew the College’s contract with Coke in light of what some members of the Board felt was insufficient evidence of Coke’s alleged misconduct.
After last week’s
Earth Lust Kick Coke study break highlighted students’ worries that the Board was setting a negative precedent for future student activism, it seemed likely that the Board would postpone its decision. Ultimately, however, the Board elected not to make any decision at all on the matter, and to leave the decision to the administration of the College.
The Board also approved the results of several audits and discussed the upcoming decisions that it will be making regarding the matters of the inn project and the deer in Crum Woods. The Daily Gazette spoke to Vice President Maurice Eldridge about the Board’s agenda for this weekend and the upcoming year.
DG: Obviously, the Coke decision has been on everyone’s minds. What did the Board end up deciding?
ME: No decisions were made, and the board ultimately doesn’t think it’s their decision to make, but the administration’s. Some members still feel that the evidence supporting the decision isn’t sufficient to continue [with the boycott]. On the other hand the argument was made in the Social Responsibility committee that Coke’s behavior has been influenced by the student movement around the country, both in terms of their efforts to be more transparent and more apparently responsible with respect to labor relations and the environment, and they’ve agreed to investigations both in India and in Columbia. We haven’t had enough time to see if anything is going to emerge from those investigations before making any other kind of decisions. Maybe at some point we’ll all feel that enough movement in the right direction has been made that we can declare victory and be done with it.
DG: For comparison’s sake, the decision to increase use of wind power was actually a Board decision, and was influenced by student activism.
ME: It was certainly influenced by student activism and student perception and student work along with members of the college staff on understanding what the cost would be and how to go about it, but it was a Board decision in the sense that it was a part of the budget, and the Board has to approve the budget, not so much as they said, “Hm, wind power, yea or nay?”
DG: So in what way was or was not the Coke decision analogous to the wind power decision?
ME: [The Coke decision] in fact does have some budget implications but at a level at which the administration essentially makes a decision. The broad budget has been approved – are we going to spend more money here than here within a given area’s budget. Those kinds of decisions get made all the time, and it has to do with the budget… but the operations of the college on a day to day basis the Board doesn’t want to deal with.
If it’s a huge policy issue, an issue about the reputation and image of the college, then they want a voice, not even necessarily [to be part of the] decision-making, but to be a part of the consultation that leads in one direction or another, and I think that’s kind of where we are on Coke. People have had the opportunity to talk about it, and now they’ll leave the administration the role of playing out the implications.
DG: What other issues was the Board dealing with this weekend?
ME: Two committees had meetings that were dealing with business items, and that was the Property Committee and the Social Responsibility Committee, and most of what they had to do was forecasting things about which the Board may well have to make a decision somewhere down the road.
The question of how to protect the Crum and the culling of the deer was discussed in both committees. Again, in this instance it will be a decision made by the administration and that involves external governments – the Borough of Swarthmore and Nether Providence – but the Board is informed and knows about that possibility. On the case of whether there will be an inn developed on college property the Board will have to make a decision and one hopes will be in a position to make a decision by its February meeting.
The Property Committee also talked about the audit of our adjustments for disabilities, things we’ve done physically on campus for the disabled. The Department of Justice audits this, so that was another informational piece for the Board – that we’ve had an audit, that we’re looking at negotiating with them which things we need to do next and how fast. We’ve been doing things steadily since the law was passed, but maybe we need – from their point of view – to do some of it faster. And that of course has budget implications.
The Finance Committee had to report two things that get Board approval, but they’re quite routine things. One is an annual resolution that allows us to manage our endowment in appropriate ways. The other thing is the approval of the audit report. We dont vote – there’s consensus that both of those things were approved.
DG: Wasn’t the zoning for the Inn already approved?
ME: That was approved, but what’s being proposed now by the developers who are interested is a mixed-use kind of facility, and that would require a new zoning, or at least an amendment, in order to go forward, because the first one talked about an inn with a restaurant and with a liquor license on college property and other possible retail.
Now people are looking at a market point of view [which suggests] that profitability would be greater in a mixed-use facility that included retail, a restaurant, an inn, and maybe condominiums or another kind of rental housing… Eventually the board is going to have to say “Yes, we’re going to go ahead with the project and we want this developer to do it” or “No, this doesn’t seem to be a good idea.”
DG: Does one of those proposals include moving the Bookstore to that location?
ME: It may well be that the proposals that come from the developers will include housing the Bookstore there in the proposal. But we have lots to think about, about the nature of our Bookstore, period, just because the college bookstore world is changing so dramatically, as students must know more than I do. But yes, that’s certainly been in the proposition as one possible outcome. Part of this has to do with how important it is to the college and its future that Swarthmore itself, the borough, remains a vital community and has a downtown that has some life and activity in it economically, rather than some of the other surrounding older suburbs that kind of decline and decay.
DG: Can you give a quick preview of what the Board will be dealing with in its next meeting?
ME: The next two meetings [lead to] the proposal of the budget for the ’08-’09 year…Maybe there will be something new to report on the inn project in December that will bring [the Board] closer to making a decision in February. The budget will get approved in February, [and] includes what the tuition will be for next year. If there are any changes with regard to how we award financial aid, that will all come through this process. The college will also have to have made some decision about the deer matter.
DG: You mean whether to cull the deer in Crum Woods?
ME: Or at least to take the next steps, which is to get the two boroughs involved to create an ordinance that allows the firing of firearms within their boundaries which is not allowed unless this happens, and then apply to the department that manages gaming and game hunting in Pennsylvania. They then have to give a permit to the boroughs in order to have the college then engage someone to do it.
So clearly if we’re going to do it, it won’t happen this year – there are enough steps in between that it’s going to be another year before something actually happens. I think the important thing there was the recognition of the Crum Woods as an asset to the college in a variety of ways, as well as to the community both academically and aesthetically, and that we need to do something to protect that asset.