Around Tappan Square

Keeping Tradition Alive

Oberlin's Tried and True Alumni-elected Trustee System

story by Yvonne Gay Fowler
photo by Al Fuchs

Being chosen by your peers to serve on a college board that is ultimately responsible for the future character of the institution could make anyone's heart beat a little faster. Just ask Karen Florini '79.

"When the Alumni Nominating Committee called to say that they wanted to nominate me, I was surprised to say the least," recalls Florini. "After I picked my jaw up off the kitchen floor, I realized that I couldn't possibly say no." It had been several years since she was told that one of her classmates had nominated her to serve as an Alumni-elected Trustee, and Florini says she had long since assumed that her services were not needed.

She couldn't have been more wrong. Now a six-year veteran, Florini's career experiences as a senior attorney with the Environmental Defense in Washington, D.C., are welcome ingredients to the board, where she also serves as chair of both the budget and finance committee and an ad hoc committee helped oversee construction of the Science Center.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," says Florini, who was recently re-elected to a second six-year term. "I'm glad I can be a part of it. And I was fascinated to learn recently that the alumni-elected trustee system has a long tradition."

Oberlin's Board of Trustees, the governing body of the College, first met on March 10, 1834, less than one year after the institution opened. In 1878, the 18-member administration authorized participation by alumni in the selection process. However, the administration still had the authority to vote on the candidate. It wasn't until 1892 that the administration finally agreed to a strict alumni-elected trustee system.

Today, there are 24 board-appointed and six alumni-elected members (one trustee is elected every year for a six-year term), working together for the common good of the College.

According to Jean Bailey Jerauld '69, chair of the Trustee Search Committee of the Alumni Council, the number of colleges with an alumni-elected trustee system is dwindling. "The concept of alumni-elected trustees is a logical extension of Oberlin's ethic of service and tradition of engagement," she says. "The alumni-elected trustees are welcomed as equals and often bring a different perspective to the deliberations of the board."

To keep the tradition strong, alumni are encouraged to submit nominations to the Alumni Office. There, background information on the nominees is gathered and sent to the Alumni Council's Trustee Search Committee, which meets twice a year to review nominations. "Previous nominees are also considered," explains Jerauld. "The extraordinary and varied talents of the pool of nominees gives us the opportunity to select candidates according to the current needs and future challenges of the College." The final candidates are placed on the annual fall ballot.

Larry Gladieux '65 was in the middle of starting his own consulting company when members of the Trustee Search Committee came knocking in the spring of 2000. But it didn't take long for him to accept the position, just as his father had done nearly 50 years ago. He now serves on the Budget and Finance and the Academic Affairs committees.

"Since I knew I was going to become a trustee, I started attending more alumni meetings and events in Washington, D.C, where the concentration of alumni is one of the highest," Gladieux says. "I'm connecting with alumni more than before because I'm representing them."

Get Involved...

By nominating alumni who have a deep regard for the unique character of the College, and who have the talents to serve Oberlin in its pursuit of educating undergraduates in the arts and sciences and in professional music.

By voting for one of the Alumni-elected Trustee candidates that appear on mailed fall ballots. The committee is hoping to offer the first electronic vote with this year's ballot, but the option of paper ballots will continue.

By becoming active Alumni Council members. Members serve in many roles, including working in regional activities, admissions, fund raising, and affiliate groups, and they are eligible for appointment to the Trustee Search Committee.

Nomination letters should be submitted to the Alumni Office at 50 West Lorain Street, Oberlin, Ohio 44074. E-mail:

-Jean Bailey Jerauld '69, chair of the Trustee Search Committee of the Alumni Council and Cynthia Brown '74, member, Trustee Search Committee.


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