July 6, 2015; Roanoke Times

Sweet Briar College’s brand new board met quickly at the end of last week to elect its new president in Philip C. Stone, but its first regular meeting was yesterday, when it elected a slate of officers including Teresa Tomlinson, the mayor of Columbus, Georgia, as the new chair of the college’s board of directors.

Tomlinson, as you may recall, is the donor who delivered a memorable commencement address about the college’s need for faithful and inspired governance. In it, she declared,

“Leaders understand that solutions come from the most unlikely place. The solution may come from your perceived ‘enemy’; it may come from those perceived to be uninformed; it nearly always comes out of nowhere. And, that is why inclusiveness is so important. The larger you make the conversation, the more impressive the results. Now, there are people out there thinking: ‘No way. I am not about to tee-up some broad conversation with a bunch of people I do not know to discuss possible solutions when I know the short list of what is viable.’ I understand that sentiment, but you are going to fail as a leader if you follow it. If your ideas are so good, if your short list so miraculous, then test it against the critical eye of stakeholders.

“If you cannot do that, I suggest that you know your motives are not pure. You are not looking for the best solution: you are looking for the solution most comfortable for you. And, that, friends, is not leadership.”

Now, she will have a chance to try out those governance concepts in a system that is already activated for participation.

“It’s going to be a board of high engagement,” Tomlinson has said. “It will not be a hands-off or disengaged board. I assure you of that.”

The board spent time with the faculty after the board meeting and heard from at least one student during the meeting.

The entire board of 20 is new. Even though the settlement left room for ten former board members to stay on, they elected to resign. This means a clean slate, and a lot of catching up as the year-end financials are fully sorted out and the board develops its own style in this highly unusual situation.—Ruth McCambridge