Earlham alumni demand reinstatement of President Alan Price
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As Earlham alumni, we write to express our alarm at the resignation of President Alan Price and its consequences for Earlham's ability to respond effectively to its chronic recruitment and funding crisis. We believe that in this instance the survival of the College is at stake. The decision to remove Alan from his position was premature. We ask that his resignation and its terms be suspended immediately, that he be reinstated pending further deliberation, and that a new process of disclosure, review, and reconsideration be undertaken to rally the entire Earlham community--alumni, current students, faculty, staff, and the Board—with a view to putting the College on a firm financial as well as educational footing.
Liberal arts colleges across the country have been failing. Enrollments are declining and competition is stiff to recruit students who can pay full tuition at current rates. At the same time, colleges like Earlham that are committed to expanding access face pressure to provide substantial aid to offset spiking tuition costs. Construction of new dorms and student centers and the expansion of student services along with investment in facilities designed to compete with larger institutions for grant money—measures driven by the competition for enrollment—have meanwhile expanded administrative overhead at the cost of academic programs as well as added to capital debt. Only the strongest and smartest of small colleges will survive this crisis. Earlham’s unusual culture and the particular strengths of its education of undergraduates demand that Earlham be one of them.
Many of us saw Alan’s arrival at Earlham as a chance to restore the college’s traditional emphasis on robust undergraduate teaching, on a simpler and more sustainable, as well as more affordable, set of values for college life, and on the expansion of Earlham’s educational mission—both academic and social—to a broader group of students. Alumni excitement over Alan’s appointment at events across the country reflected this hope. Since his resignation was announced we have found that students, faculty and many of the alumni are very unhappy at the prospect of his premature departure. This distress is compounded by the fact that the decision appears to have been taken by a subset of members of the Board of Trustees. While this action may have been legal under the Board’s bylaws, it is not at all reasonable, or desirable, or wise. The costs of this fracturing of our community are, we are quite sure, in no way outweighed by the still-mysterious upsides of ridding the College of a dynamic and talented convenor after less than a year on the job.
Many have suggested that the College’s financial straits require deep cuts to this, that, or the other important parts of Earlham’s expenditures. We agree that a significant overhaul of spending is necessary for the College to survive. We insist that any cuts to the remuneration or employment of the teaching faculty be addressed by that faculty itself, with recommendations advisory to the full Board. We demand a reconsideration by the full Board, with the inclusion of Alan, of the policies constraining both the use and the management of the College’s endowment during this crisis. We require, in addition, a detailed summary of the spending together with its expected return-on-investment that led to the current debt so that decisions about how to address it are made in full view of the priorities it reflected, and their consonance, or dissonance, with the College’s priorities going forward. Finally, we find that the current by-laws of the Board concentrate entirely too much discretion and executive power in a subset of the Board’s members, so we also call on the Board, working with the Alumni Council and the faculty, to produce a new set of by-laws that reflect Earlham’s traditional governance culture and ethos.
If the College is to avert the additional disaster of alienating its alumni support for decades to come, it needs to hold to the values of extended and exhaustive community deliberation that formed the best thing we learned at Earlham, and which Alan is himself so good at fostering. That process takes time, and requires the recognition of missteps. Alan’s premature departure is just such a misstep.
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