From: Raymond Erickson
Date: Sun, Feb 26, 2023 at 9:57 AM
Subject: Whittier College
Dear Trustee of Whittier College,
Since my original communication to you (which should have come through Miguel Santana, but he reneged on his promise to send it to you), I have learned that the Board has taken some dubious actions that do it no credit and possibly will create problems for you and the College down the road.
I speak, of course, of the surreptitious purge of two of your members without due process. It gives me, an outsider, the impression that the members of the Board are a bunch of snowflakes who have no backbone or moral compass, blindly following leaders who may be leading them down a dangerous path.
Needless, to say, this turn of events makes my opinion of the College’s Board of Trustees, which has never been very high, even lower. (Just look at the size of the endowment.)
I find it interesting that you have chosen to throw off the Board two of your more generous donors, Christopher Cross and Barbara Groce—no doubt following some business school textbook’s principles on how to consolidate power—because the action was contrary to your fiduciary responsibility.
Before writing this, I went through the College’s Annual Report for 2021-22 to gauge how much the individual members of the Board really cared about the College, as measured by their financial support of the institution—the state of which is critical, as you know.
When I looked at the donation levels—and, remember, we are talking about the trustees of a college—I was appalled by the lack of commitment. Only four of you (Miguel Santana, Fred Anderson, Alan Lund, and Meghan Morrissey) are listed in the Trustees Circle of $30,000 or more. (Incidentally, Christopher Cross, Barbara Groce, and I are also listed there.). Now maybe there are some 7-figure donations among these gifts, but I rather doubt it. Having $30,000+ as the highest category is really laughable for such an institution, and represents to me small-time thinking.
At the President’s Council level of giving, $15,000-29,999, there is only one person (Richard Lichtenstein). There are two Benefactors, $7,000-14,999 (Anne O’Donnell and Bharat Patel), and six Fellows, $3,000-6,999 (Jascha Kaykas-Wolf, Leda Muller, Kenya Williams, Matt Knight, Shveta Mujumdar, Vincent Vigil, and Stephanie Wiggins), and four in the Wardman Circle, $1,000-2,999 (Yvonne Romero da Silva, Francisco Rodriguez, Michael Brown, and Mei-Ian Stark). For four trustees, no contributions at all are specified (Tim Yamauchi—the Treasurer!, Harold Allen, Christina Bouchot, and Erin Clancy), although perhaps they donated since the Annual Report was issued.
When I as a donor and alumnus look at this list and see that eight of twenty-two trustees gave less than $3,000, I ask myself: who is running this show? I have the feeling that the Board—and in particular its leadership—is clueless about how to raise the money that is the primary responsibility of any board, and which is the most important thing that can be done at this time. (And don’t believe claims that the MacKenzie Scott money was simply a sign of confidence in the College’s current leadership: it was primarily the result of years of effort, by committed Whittier College faculty and staff, to get Latino students through to graduation at a rate higher than at almost all other institutions. That was what put Whittier College on MacKenzie Scott’s radar.)
Since I have lived my post-College life on the East Coast, I am not familiar with California law as regards the responsibilities and liabilities of trustees. However, I would point out that in recent years there are instances where the State of New York has removed an entire board or selected members of a board of trustees of an academic institution. So Whittier College Trustees might want to think twice before engaging in questionable actions.
As I said in my original letter, the rule I follow for my own board participation and expect of others is: give, get, or get off. I do not wish anyone ill, but I hope all trustees will focus on the first two options for the good of the College, but, that failing, will exercise the third, for the same reason.
Raymond Erickson, ’63
P.S. Just as I was about to send this to you, a classmate sent me the following article that illustrates how the College is getting national attention under its current leadership.