One of journalism’s greatest attributes is its ability to be a comparative craft. In investigative reporting, I always enjoyed the opportunity to compare institutional documents that focused on the same moment in time. It is often through discrepancies between documents where the truth slowly emerges in the journalistic pursuit.
In this spirit, I want to compare two recently formed committees at the College of Wooster: the 2022 Presidential Search Committee (PSC) and the 2021 Special Committee Review (SRC) of Howard Lowry ’29, the College’s president from 1944 to 1967, that “look[ed] into concerns raised by two alumni about alleged actions of President Howard Lowry ’29,” as brought to light in Maggie Dougherty, former Voice editor in chief’s, “The Complicated Legacy of Howard Lowry President: As our Values Evolve, do our Heroes Change Well?”I believe the formation of these two committees and the differences between the two reflect strongly on the College.
Let’s start with the purposes of these two committees. According to a letter sent to the campus community by Sally Staley ’78, chair of the Board of Trustees, on March 2, 2022,the PSC “[was] charged with leading a transparent, inclusive, and successful search that leads to identifying a candidate to become Wooster’s 13th president by July 2023.” In October of 2021, Sally Staley and Tom Gibian, Chair and Vice Chair, outlined that SRC “was directed to research what took place, and then make recommendations regarding the places where President Lowry’s leadership has been honored at the College, including the naming of the Lowry Student Center, as well as a named professorship, scholarships, and prizes.”
I would now like to look at each committees’ responsibilities. According to the 2021 letter from Staley and Gibian, “the Special Committee spoke to more than 50 individuals with personal experience with Dr. Lowry, reviewed over 2,000 pages of documents from archives, and heard from more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff, and alumni by meeting, phone call, letter, and email.”
According to numerous letters from Peter Sundman ’81, trustee and chair of PSC, PSC’s responsibilities included eight listening sessions for the campus body; the creation of a “presidential prospectus advertisement” for applicants, the identification of potential candidates; interviews with said-candidates and guided tours for finalists.
I will now touch on each committee’s final “recommendations.” To clarify, special committees have no governing power in the sense that they make final decisions. That power lies with the board as a whole through a majority vote.
According to Sundman’s Dec. 2 letter to the campus community, “[PSC] presented our recommendation to the Board of Trustees in November, and they unanimously approved the selection,” later implying that the committee’s recommendation was to select Dr. Anne E. McCall as the College’s 13th President. According to Staley’s October 2021 letter, the Special Committee “[SRC] recommended to the board that we not remove the current name of the student center, Lowry, that has been selected by the donors, or take any action to change other Lowry-named honors.”
I want to now focus on one component of these committees, the people in the committees. Regarding PSC, “Board of Trustees Chair Sally Staley ’78 partnered with faculty and staff administrators, Scot Council, Wooster’s Staff Committee, Conference with Trustees, and the faculty’s Committee on Committees to identify the respective students, staff, and faculty representatives for the Committee,” according to the College’s website. On Feb. 26, 2022, the board approved the presidential search committee’s members which “consist[ed] of 17 members of the Wooster community, including two students, two members of the staff, four faculty, and nine trustees and alumni.”
Regarding SRC, Donald R. Frederico and Marianne Sprague, former chair and vice chair of the board, wrote on April 12, 2021 that “the board will appoint a group of trustees to work with the independent expert or firm, oversee the investigation, and advise the full board concerning appropriate action to take in light of the information learned.” According to the College’s website, “[w]hen deciding the composition of [SRC], the Board considered a cross-section of gender, age [and] expertise to ensure a variety of perspectives and life experiences were reflected.” Ultimately, there were five trustees’ in SRC, the only members of the committee.
It is on the difference in the makeup of these committees where I want to insert my opinion. For two committees tasked with the review of decisions that shape the campus community, the selection of a president and the name of the student center, it is inexplicable to me why one committee had students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees while the other consisted of only trustees.
This difference in committee construction reminds me of a conversation I had with one of my best friends regarding player safety in the National Football League. In summer training, the NFL recently adopted a policy to add extra padding to NFL helmets to limit the amount of head injuries. During the regular season and playoffs, however, the NFL does not have this extra padding on helmets. When the Damar Hamlin injury happened on January 2, my friend asked “If the NFL knows that extra helmet padding during training camp is safer for players, then why does the NFL not implement this policy in the regular season and playoffs?”
That is the same question I have here. If the board of trustees knows that a key step “with leading a transparent, inclusive, and successful search” for Wooster’s next president involves a committee that consists of students, staff, faculty, trustees and alumni, then why were there only trustees in SRC?
An opponent of my argument may bring up the fact that these are entirely separate committees with different topics. In the College’s “Naming Policy for Facilities, Spaces, and Programs,”however, section E outlines that “In the event of unusual or compelling circumstance, the College reserves the right to withdraw a name from a facility, space, program, fund, professorship, or other similarly named College priority.” I believe it is a fair interpretation that the term “College” does not just refer to the board but to staff, students, faculty, administrative members, trustees and alumni.
It is clear that the trustees in SRC spent a great deal of time reviewing Lowry’s behavior, scanning through thousands of documents, interviews and opinions on the matter. While I respect the committee’s dedication , a wise member of the College for decades once told me that the interpretation of documents and historical materials from the past are profoundly shaped by the experiences, perspectives and views of those looking at documents.
I refuse to speak on behalf of faculty, staff, trustees, administration or alumni⎯ I am not a member of either of these groups. As a student, however, it greatly concerns me that a student was not a member of the special committee’s review of Lowry’s behavior towards students, in the process of deciding the name of the student center.