William “Bill” Kelley ’60 Letter to the Board of Trustees

From: William E. Kelley
Subject: A Matter of Great Concern and Urgency
Date: Feb 23, 2023 at 9:05 AM

Dear Whittier College Trustees,

First, let me introduce myself. I am a proud graduate of the Class of 1960. In my senior year I was elected President of the ASWC student body: the first African-American to be elected to that office. After graduation, I went to Sweden as part of a fellowship to work with the YMCA in that country and after a year there, I returned to Los Angeles and served as the Program Secretary for a YMCA branch serving the community that is now generally known as South Central L.A.

In 1962, as the American presence began to grow in Vietnam, it became clear that I would likely be drafted to serve in the U.S. Army. Never having any ambition to serve in uniform, a better option seemed to be to apply for a commission in the U.S. Navy. In December of 1962, I was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve with an obligation to serve for three years. My first duty station was a destroyer based in Long Beach. After about two years and duty aboard a second destroyer, the Navy invited me to become a member of the regular Navy rather than just the Reserves. I accepted that offer, in part because I had enjoyed being in the Navy and believed I could one day become the commanding officer of a destroyer myself. Indeed, I eventually became the first commanding officer of a new guided missile frigate built in Bath, Maine and successfully led that ship and crew on its first deployment to the Mediterranean and Black Sea. After being promoted to the rank of Captain, I served as the Commander of a Destroyer Squadron based in San Diego. That is considered a Major Command by the Navy, an assignment given to only a select few. 

After a little over 27 years, including important assignments at the Pentagon, I retired from the Navy in 1980 and entered the private sector as an association executive, an occupation where my role was to assist not for profit boards and organizations to succeed. I served as the National Director and CEO of the Congressional Award Foundation with offices in the Ford House Office Building in Washington, DC. I was also elected by my peers in that industry to be the Chairman of the Board of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives. In 1990, I retired from all employment. I have provided this narrative not to tout my own achievements, but to illustrate how incredibly valuable my education at Whittier College was. Along with my parents, Whittier made me who I am. I care.

I recently learned that the Whittier trustees voted to suspend Barbara Groce and Christopher Cross from the Board. I am unable to imagine a scenario in which these long-serving, devoted and loyal trustees could be seen as anything but valued contributors to Whittier College’s best interests. I have known Christopher Cross since our days as undergraduates, a period of about 65 years. I recall inviting him to visit my parents at our home in Watts. We have been in each other’s homes on several occasions through the years and have dined together often when our paths have crossed. We dined together here in San Diego just a few months ago.

I also have a fond memory of inviting Barbara Groce and her husband to dine with me aboard the ship in which I was embarked while serving as a squadron commander. Having expressed her desire to do so over several years even while I was far away, Barbara went out of her way to reciprocate with lunch at her club in San Diego just last year.

So I feel a connection to both Chris and Barbara. I am appalled that these two people, both of whom have been generous contributors of their personal time and money, have been removed from the board.  Even more so having learned at this removal has been done in such a tawdry, unjust and possibly illegal manner.

It also concerns me that the current college president seems to be taking credit for the college’s equity and inclusion efforts when, in fact, the college’s long history and linkage with its Quaker past make that a long-standing part of its history. I am concerned that enrollment at the college has fallen in such a significant manner and the president’s assurances that all is well appears questionable. I am part of the broader Whittier College community that is shocked at the treatment of these two dedicated trustees. It is my fervent hope that you, as trustees, will reexamine this action and take steps to restore our confidence in the responsible oversight role expected and to which you committed by becoming a trustee.


William E. Kelley
Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret)
Class of 1960

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