Following a lengthy battle with its governing body, The University of Pennsylvania’s Board of Trustees voted this week to move off-campus.
The Board – the most powerful administrative and financial body on campus – made the unanimous decision Friday to cut official ties with the University. The vote came following a protracted battle between the Board and the Office for Fiduciary Solvency and Logistics (OFSL), which supervises the operation of all American universities.
The Board of Trustees first came under fire last fall when member Leopold J. Speigelman W’43 was found unresponsive the morning after a Board event. Speigelman’s family accused members of the organization of forcing the retired hedge fund manager to review countless administrative files without access to whiskey or cigars. The Board countered that none of the alleged file perusing occurred, and that the 94-year-old simply fell asleep.
A second incident occurred in January 2015, when the Board hosted its annual Alumni and Faculty happy hour at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The event’s theme immediately came under fire from several campus groups, who felt that it discriminated against non-academics. Following a OFSL investigation, the Board was placed on probation and forced to undergo sensitivity training.
The tipping point came in early May, when cell-phone video emerged of Board members making highly controversial remarks during a meeting. In the footage, one unidentified member can be heard saying, “while we as an institution have a duty to admit students of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds — I’d even go as far as to say diversity is our number one goal as a University — I believe that the burden for achieving this objective cannot be placed on the shoulders of otherwise deserving applicants who happen to be part of the racial plurality.”
The footage — leaked onto the internet shortly after the meeting — soon went viral on campus. Several protests occurred outside College Hall, and President Amy Gutmann called for a full investigation into the Board’s actions. This fall, OFSL released its report on this incident, placing sanctions on the board ranging from a ban on social galas to a switch from Pellegrino to Dasani water at meetings.
Immediately following the ruling, the Board took steps to disengage from the University.
“The Office’s decision is a blatant case of the punishment not fitting the crime,” said Board Chairman Wellington Fairfield IV. “This ruling was clearly designed to extinguish our presence on campus.”
The decision to leave went to a vote amongst the Board’s members, passing unanimously.
The group plans to continue its operations off-campus as the newly formed TRUST Society. The new organization aims to carry out virtually all of the former Board of Trustees’ functions outside of the jurisdiction of OFSL. Fairfield says the group plans to buy an off-campus office to house its operations within the next year.
“This was a tough time for all of us members, to be sure,” said Fairfield.
“So I’m glad it’s over. Freedom sure feels good.”