The Demise of a Pioneer
in Progressive Colleges

How Corporate Structure Undermined Democratic Governance at Goddard

Andrew Dinkelaker

Goddard College was chartered in 1938 under the leadership of Royce “Tim” Pitkin. Its mission was ‘to advance the theory and practice of learning by undertaking new experiments based upon the ideals of democracy, and the principles of progressive education first asserted by John Dewey.’ In the vision of its founders, students were to 'take responsibility for the management of the college'. 1

If we practice reason, we must learn to think. If we make decisions, we must learn to make choices and develop leadership abilities. Democracy demands freedom for people to think, speak, and act responsibly. This is why we organized Goddard the way we did. ... Authoritarian colleges, which issue rules formulated by trustees, presidents and faculties, are not equipped to educate for democratic living. 2

It was clear that the founders of Goddard placed significant emphasis on the practice and theory of democracy in both the academic and operational affairs of the college.

And for more than fifty years the community of scholars at Goddard – comprised of faculty, students (all of whom also worked at the college in the kitchen and other capacities), and support staff – actually did design the curriculum and academic policies of the institution in committees and community-wide meetings that operated with the principles of participatory democracy and consensus decision-making in mind. 3 But a structural anomaly nonetheless existed in the governance practices at the college. For a Board of Trustees was put in place to ‘officially’ take charge of the administration of the college, in accordance with the laws that govern corporations – laws that favor organizations structured as top-down decision-making hierarchies.

As long as the board (whose members, according to by-law, were not elected by the community 4 ), and the President of the college, who was appointed by the board, chose to comply with the democratically determined will of the community, all went reasonably well. But when, in the mid 1990’s, the democratic vision on which the Goddard community had been founded was openly and actively attacked and undermined by its 7th President, Richard E. Greene, the structural anomaly underlying the governance at Goddard was brutally exposed. For the first time in the history of the college the hidden contradictions of a traditional top-down hierarchy with a President and Board of Trustees operating within an educational community ethos of participatory democracy was brought fully and painfully into relief.

In hiring Richard Greene in 1994 the Goddard community came face-to-face with a man who was later to be described as 'a tough as nails' [1] traditional president, an autocrat who was previously president of a Catholic college in Florida and a former marine. Richard Greene, supported by the majority of the Board of Trustees - whose membership included such publicly recognized 'progressive' figures as Jane O’Meara Sanders, Francis Moore Lappe and Frank DuBois - acted in the following manner:

  • In May 1995 he fires six staff (of whom three were openly gay);
  • In August of 1995 he fires the kitchen staff and has the services sub-contracted to the New England Culinary Institute. This results in an additional cost of $200,000 – despite the fact that financial concerns, which had chronically plagued the college since the 70s, had been cited as a reason for previous layoffs and other administrative decisions;
  • Fall 1995 - Greene accepts the resignation of the Dean of Academic Affairs (who publicly stated that his reason for leaving was the difficulties that he had had working with the President) and refused the faculty’s request to follow the Goddard tradition of having the next dean chosen from among the faculty;
  • Spring 1996 - Greene makes an executive decision to hire outside admissions consultants (at an additional cost of over $100,000) without the approval of the Goddard community. This consulting firm institutes 12hr shifts for the admissions staff, and boldly abandons other revered Goddard traditions – including the policy of offering students financial aid on a needs basis, and the policy of utilizing an interview-admissions process 5;
  • Spring 1996 - Richard Greene rejects a grant check of $180,000 because the grant agency insists that the existing interim dean of students, the individual who developed the grant proposal, be placed in charge of the funds, and not the President;
  • The Womyn’s Center, Queer Studies, multicultural studies are eliminated;
  • Greene accepts 3 Staff/Faculty resignations [see the following press clippings for details: A and B] from individuals who cite the corportizing of Goddard and Greene's intolerable management style as the main reasons for resigning;
  • March through June of 1996 - Greene undermines the College Executive Committee’s (made of student, staff, and faculty representatives) efforts to effectively draft budget proposals that avoid personnel cuts. He does this by refusing to provide the committee with complete information, and by forcing the committee to meet arbitrary deadlines for “recommended” action, thereby making it impossible for the committee to thoroughly deliberate and process the information that they do have;
  • June 6th, 1996 - Richard Greene fires 16 Staff/Faculty, eliminating two of three union organizers at the college. Greene does all of this under the guise of trying to correct a financial crisis at Goddard, and uses the College Executive Committee as cover - even though members of the Committee openly challenge his decision;
  • June 12th, 1996 - the Director of Development is fired;
  • June 15th, 1996 - the Financial office staff person resigns in protest.

It became clear, when the principle actors of the Goddard hierarchy - the President and the Board of Trustees - decided to take matters into their own hands and unilaterally determine the fate of the college, the Goddard community would have no recourse. As long as no structural means to hold the President and the Board accountable were left to the community, its only option would be to try to protect the progressive institution through public protests, union activities, hunger strikes, petitions, resignations, and potential job actions.

The protests, which received national coverage and garnered support from such prominent figures as Howard Zinn, Grace Paley, Noam Chomsky, Pete Seeger, and David Dellinger, eventually succeeded in ousting Goddard’s 7th President, Richard E. Greene, and reinstating the majority of the staff that were fired on June 6th, 1996.

This victory had a price, however. Jane O'Meara Sanders, wife and chief of staff for Vermont's Independent Congressman Bernie Sanders, and president of the Board at the time, was perhaps Greene's strongest ally. She vehemently supported Greene over faculty and community votes of no-confidence, downplayed the numerous community protests, publically approved of Greene's action plan, which called for the firing of 16 staff, and continued later to defend these indefensible actions. Sanders parlayed her powerful voluntary position as Board President during Greene's tenure into a high-paying position that was newly created at the June 1996 Board meeting - the position of college Provost. A Board committee, under the leadership of Sanders, was to work with the President to outline the job duties and begin an internal search process to fill the position. After the sudden resignation of Greene, at a special Board meeting in August of 1996, Sanders offered her own name for the job, and the Board approved - although the committee had not yet fully defined the role, nor devised a process for selecting candidates. Furthmore, it was now the expectation that the Provost would take over all of the responsibilities of the President until a replacement could be found via a national search (more on 'Provost'). Declining at first to apply for the job of President of the college, Sanders later changed her mind. Even though Sanders did become a finalist, and as Provost was, in effect, the incumbent - and had one leg up on the other candidates as a result of having had the opportunity to meet all of the prospective candidates in her role as Provost, there was enough pressure from the Goddard community that the search committee did not recommend her for the job.

Despite all that occured during the period leading up to Greene's departure - the protests, resignations, and daily struggles of the faculty, staff, and students - no fundamental changes were made to the position of the Presidency or the Board of Trustees. Under such circumstance, it would of course only be a matter of time before Goddard's 8th President, Barbara Mossberg, would begin to act in a way that was at odds with the democratic principles on which the Goddard community has always striven to operate. And this is precisely what happened in subsequent years [2] [3], despite earlier hopeful reports [4] [5] about a book that she was writing on "the relationship between chaos theory, education and leadership".

One thing, however, is now clear: as long as the President and Board of Trustees of Goddard remain at the top of an institutional power-hierarchy, with the capacity to make unilateral changes at the college, the institution will never succeed in fulfilling its mission. In 1933, educator and past Goddard community ally, William H. Kilpatrick spoke prophetically about this operational dilemma:

One further failing which we shall hope our more social education will help to remedy is the all too common tendency among administrators to disparage democracy. Success in managing easily selects those who like to control and may strengthen the tendency. The current business model is of course anti-democratic, as is perhaps bound to happen wherever the output is not conceived in terms of resulting personalities. In fact, almost the whole of our management tradition, including in spite of lip-service our political democracy, has never yet given serious trial to the principle of sharing decisions. We need not be surprised if school administration has too much followed the available models. But new times demand new ways. 6

It is time for Goddard to face the limitations of a traditional management structure and awaken to its own mission, a mission that was forged and fueled by the aspirations of so many individuals who have been members of the Goddard community over the course of the past sixty years -- to live in an experimental democratic learning community that might become a beacon of hope for participatory democracy in an age of authoritarian rule.

[See 'Restoring the Democracy We Never Had' for a history of how it came to be that a progressive college which has, since its inception in 1938, valued participatory democracy as a valuable and necessary foundation for 'progressive' education, should have come to permit a corporate-style Board of Trustees and Administration to gradually usurp power from the community and operate in increasingly authoritarian fashion.]


1. Ann Giles Benson and Frank Adams, To Know For Real: Royce S. Pitkin and Goddard College,(Adamant, Vermont: 1987, Adamant Press) page 19.
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2. Ibid., page 132.
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3. In addition, Pitkin also stated in his 'Sixteenth Annual Report of the President of Goddard College' (6/30/54): ‘The democratic idea at Goddard has been interpreted to mean that responsibility for the welfare of the community, in this situation the College, should be shared by both young and old, by staff and students. Working on this basis there has been no sharp line marking off responsibilities of students from those of staff, there has been community government rather than student government.’ [Forest K. Davis, Things Were Different in Royce’s Day (Adamant, Vermont: 1996, Admant Press), page 165.]
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4. The Board composition in the mid-1990’s consisted of a total of 25 members. Twenty were identified as 'at-large' members who were typically recommended to the board by the President or other Board members to serve for five-year terms. The remaining 5 members consisted of: 1) a Faculty representative (3 year term), 2) a Staff representative (3 year term), 3) an on-campus Student representative (1 year term), 4) an off-campus Student representative (1 year term), and 5) the elected President of the Alumni Association who as part of the job is to serve as the ‘offical’ alumni representative to the board (1 year term).

Until the 1996 elections for student representatives the Board had the right to disqualify the student representatives and force the Goddard community to come up with alternative candidates. The by-laws that permitted this were later changed to ensure that the board could not veto any elected community representative.
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5. The interview-admissions process that was discarded allowed for the prospective student to interact with the admissions committee (composed of students, staff,and faculty) to find out if he or she fit and was likely to actively participate in and contribute to the Goddard community. This process was seen as especially important to the admissions process because Goddard, being a small progressive learning community, wanted to ensure that students were prepared for the tasks of living and learning in such a community.
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6. William H. Kilpatrick, edt. The Educational Frontier. The Century Co, New York. (1933) p. 285
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