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Meet & Greet: Understanding the Board of Trustees

Members of the Board of Trustees. (First row) Anita Bowers, Kathleen Burke, and Lorry Lokey. (Second Row) Muffy Thorne, Helen Muirhead, and Cora Tellez.

The president may be the face of Mills College, but the Board of Trustees work to keep the institution running smoothly. Aside from overseeing decisions made by the president, the board is in charge of hiring top College officials, guiding the College’s financial health and ensuring it is headed in the right direction.

Normally, board members serve a maximum of three terms that last three years each. The only exceptions are the president of the College, president of the Alumnae Association and board members that are elected as lifetime trustees.

Serving as a trustee is only a part-time, philanthropic job for most members, but the trustees have varied backgrounds. Some are retired and spend their days traveling, while others still have careers and go to work every day. Their geographic locations are equally varied — living everywhere from Oakland to Hong Kong.

Job duties of Board members

The board members’ job description includes a varied set of tasks, but their primary responsibility is to manage the financial aspects as well as the direction of the College. All board members serve on a variety of committees.

According to Anita Bowers, a Mills board member and president of the Alumnae Association, the board is an “oversight committee.” Bowers believes it is the board’s job to lead the College, not follow blindly.

“We do not want to rubber stamp everything we hear,” she said.

Each member has their own interpretation of the board’s duties. Lifetime board member Muffy Throne, who is a member of the development, student life, and campus planning committees, said the board’s job is to guide the president in a specific direction.

“I think [our job] is to make recommendations to the president to carry on the life of the College as we see fit,” Throne said.

Fellow lifetime trustee Helen Muirhead serves on the development and campus planning committees and said the purpose of the board is to take responsibility for the “fiscal health” of the College, while trustee Glenn Voyles emphasized the board’s obligation “…to protect and to give guidance to the administration in managing the College.”

Alumna trustee Gayle Rothrock emphasized that board members should be proactive and do their jobs properly.

“As a trustee, I do not sit at home and suck my thumb. I really get involved,” Rothrock said.

While Lorry Lokey, whom the new MBA building is named after, certainly takes his job seriously, he joked that his job as a board member is to “keep the president in line so she does not go spend all the money.”

What board members love about the job

Every board member has taken on this sometimes tough and time consuming job for various reasons. Bowers, who taught at Mills in the 1970s and has been an educator and teacher for most of her life, said she loves being on the board because she wants Mills to “thrive as a women’s college.”

The Chair of the Board of Trustees, Kathleen Burke, likes being on the board for a different reason. She said she loves the fact that she gets to work with people who are committed to and interested in Mills.

“This is a group of individuals who are clearly dedicated to the mission and goals of the College,” Burke said.

Rothrock agrees with Burke. She said she loves being a board member because she gets to work with a lot of “fascinating people.”

How board members are elected

Board members are chosen through a nomination process that begins with the Committee of Trustees. This committee is responsible for gathering nominations for new board members, interviewing them and presenting the candidates to the entire board for a vote.

The board meets in October, February and May for two days each month. Specific committees meet for half a day before each of these meetings.

Board members are elected to the board for various reasons, including their professional background, their work with Mills, or both.

“I was elected because of my background in higher education,” said Thomas Ehrlich, current trustee and chair of the educational policies committee.

Another trustee, John McDonnell, said he was elected because of his interest in the College and his professional background.

“I am a lawyer…who is well acquainted with people in the East Bay Area who can help the College,” McDonnell said.

Board member Cora Tellez said she was elected for similar reasons.

“I was elected because of my experience as a businesswoman, my interest in Mills College and in women’s education,” Tellez said.