From: William A. (Bill) Shonborn ’65
Date: Thu, Mar 9, 2023, 7:12 PM
Subject: Concern Regarding the Future of Whittier College
Whittier College Board of Trustees,
I am writing this email to add my support to those concerned alumni, faculty, staff, and students who have become aware of, and are alarmed by the intransigence of the current college leadership and the uncertain path down which they are taking Whittier College. Clearly, the college has debilitating financial problems and enrollment has decreased alarmingly. Further, there is confusion and turmoil over the administration’s vision and future direction. The COVID-19 pandemic can be partially blamed for the situation; however, comparable local colleges are recovering, while Whittier is still floundering.
The Whittier College President and the Board of Trustees Chairman have tried to dismiss the “SaveWhittierCollege” movement as a bunch of stuck-in-the-past troublemakers and crackpots; however, this biased view is exposed as unfounded once one reads the thoughtful and insightful letters and emails of protest. Those who have tried to steer the President and Board away from bad decisions have been ignored, abused, or threatened. The alumni who have taken the time to compose these communications have vast and valuable experience both in education and in the business world. It’s disappointing to have the President and Board ignore good advice without the courtesy of a response. With trust and transparency absent, one wonders what the President and Board Chair are really up to and what their vision for Whittier actually is. Chances are that it’s worse than we’ve seen so far and something the alumni will not be able to accept.
I’d like to make a few observations and suggestions about some of the many problems:
1. Whittier College Board of Trustees (BOT). The Board of Trustees (BOT) is neither functioning as an independent body nor fulfilling its duties and responsibilities. Those who object are ignored or worse, and the Chair has used intimidation and threats to support the President’s and Chair’s unrevealed agenda. The “suspension” of two very senior, competent, valuable, and respected Board members, Barbara Groce and Christopher Cross is ludicrous. This action, taken without revealing any specifics about the supposed infraction on which it was based, is possibly illegal and patently unfair. It is also destructive to the College and to the credibility of the Board. Further, the Board does not possess the legitimate power to suspend a member. The bush-league threat/action of calling in investigations is absurd and calls into question the competence and judgement of the Board’s decision makers. The Board Chair seems to have taken off the gloves to engage in a bare-knuckles fight against any opposition. Certainly, it does not show any level of collegiality. With these two Board departures, plus the departure of many others in the previous year, the loss of institutional knowledge, experience, and wisdom is crippling; one wonders if there has been a conscious attempt to weaken the Board, thus rendering it easier to manipulate. The BOT Chair has violated several articles and stipulations of the BOT Code of Conduct including fabricating a threat allegedly made to the President. Given the Chairman’s unrestrained and callous disregard for the Board’s own Code, which the Chair himself is responsible for enforcing, there can be no option other than his removal. The Code apparently applies to everyone but the Chair himself: Hypocrisy reigns. In his letter to the Board, Dr. Richard H. Diehl, a distinguished Whittier College alumnus, made several strong points regarding the BOT duties and responsibilities, including independence from the President, and the duty to oversee their actions for the good of the school. This behavior has not been evident in the actions of the Chair. The Board Chairman needs to resign and the new Chair should get on their knees and beg Mr. Cross and Ms. Groce to return to the Board.
2. Whittier College Faculty. The College needs to reinstate the employer contribution benefits of the retirement plan for the faculty. Such corrective action may be too late because trust has been severely damaged. With the windfall $12M grant, the administration could certainly find the way to fund the faculty’s retirement benefits in the near term; it’s a matter of establishing sensible priorities. While showing disrespect for the faculty and demonstrating bad faith, the President has gone on an administrative hiring binge for new vice presidents with dubiously justifiable duties. In the past, outstanding faculty members such as Professors Newsom, Upton, Pyle, Gratsky, Harvey, Nerhood, and Schutz; and Coaches Bonham, Godfrey, and O’Brien contributed greatly to Whittier’s success. These people provided inspiration, counsel, and guidance; they helped shape the lives of students under their care. A college cannot endure without an excellent faculty that is invested in the success of their students and of the College. This President has broken the trust of the faculty and, in doing so, threatened the College’s survival.
3. President of Whittier College. The College President has excellent credentials but has not displayed competence or good judgement as a leader. A competent leader would never have this degree of dissention in the ranks; a leader is supposed to be a unifier, not a divider. The President has earned a reputation for a lack of honesty and transparency, as well as a propensity for dismissiveness and disingenuousness. Responses to policy questions are aggressive and defensive, basically showing an abuse of power and the behavior of a bully. This President has been in place for more than 4 1/2 years and obviously some of Whittier’s current problems existed before her arrival. The pandemic may have exacerbated those and led to additional new problems. These problems have been building, seemingly unaddressed; a comprehensive plan for identifying, tracking, managing, and resolving issues is not in evidence. In place of sound management, there’s been arm-waving, generalizations, and smokescreens. An integrated planning approach is needed identifying methods and milestones that would be used to guide the recovery process and allow objective measurement of success. This administration has consistently shown questionable judgement and knee-jerk “solutions,” such as liquidating of college assets, eliminating sports programs, suspending faculty retirement benefits, community college discounts, and the LUX program. The President has replaced several valuable, dedicated, and knowledgeable senior staff with new people who lack knowledge and experience at Whittier; one wonders if a loyalty oath is now required. Hiring exclusively from outside the College community diminishes the admin staff’s understanding of the inner workings of the College and weakens the family atmosphere that has characterized Whittier for generations. The morale of those staff members remaining is also impacted given the decreased opportunity for promotion. The President answers to the Board. What performance metrics are used to measure her job performance success? In the eyes of many, the President has already failed irrecoverably. For the good of the College, the President needs to resign or to be removed.
William A. (Bill) Shonborn
Class of 1965