Restoring the Democracy
We Never Had *

Andrew Dinkelaker, July 2001

In a previous article I focused on the story of President Greene's collaboration with the Board of Trustees to dismantle many of Goddard's democratic structures. As important as the telling of that story might be it is not enough. Attention must also be drawn to how a progressive institution like Goddard College with its long history of democracy was susceptible to this sort of attack. As I shall demonstrate, Goddard from its very inception, didn't clearly confront the contradiction that arose as a result of operating, on the one hand, with a traditional 'management structure' comprised of a Board of Trustees and President, and practicing a progressive educational philosophy on the other. It wasn't until Greene's Presidency in the mid-1990's that the Goddard Community explicitly identified this contradiction. With identification of the problem came proposals from the Goddard Community to change these administrative structures in order to remove the obstacle that was preventing Goddard from achieving its full potential as a democratically managed college.

In this article I want to track the history of that contradiction, from 1938 to the present.

When the State of Vermont conferred to Royce 'Tim' Pitkin Goddard's charter on March 17, 1938 it was clear that this day, although it was the culmination of a lot of hard work, was only the beginning of the experiment in democratic education at Goddard. Pitkin, speaking to the involvement of students in this process, states:

One student, in 1937, spoke of their responsibility 'as the virtual founders of a new institution.' The class established its own bulletin to present their views of the college and what it would become. This was one of my own aims -- that students take responsibility for management of the college. 1

In the notes of a talk entitled An Educational Plan Designed for our Times, that Pitkin had given just two days before the charter was issued, he made it clear that there was to be 'participation of students in the formation of policies, in the management of the college, and in the performance of work essential to its maintenance and operation'. 2

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He identified Goddard as an institutional alternative to authoritarian education. Mainstream colleges, with their strict hierarchy of decision-making and policy formation by trustees, presidents and faculties, were, according to Pitkin, incapable of educating individuals for living democratically. Instead, Goddard was to operate on democratic principles:

We didn't have a hierarchical form of government for decision-making. Generally, my policy was to let an issue come to its own resolution, rather than step in as the authority. No society can exist without controls, but in the long run, those controls are determined by what the people will accept. The need is to create situations in which students exercise control over group behavior, allowing for individual freedom and responsibility. The issue is one of individual rights and collective needs, and learning how one fits in with the other. 3

In 1938 a group of students came together to draw up a proposal on community government, according to Goddard alumni Kai Malloy in his thesis 'Can Democracy Survive at Goddard College?':

After a month of organizational work the unofficial committee drew up a proposal for community government, created a constitution for the Goddard College community, and brought it to the Community Meeting that had already been established on a weekly basis. Then, on October 17, 1938, after much debate, deliberation, and discussion the Constitution of The Goddard College Community was adopted by the college…. One of the most striking features of the document is that it is remarkably democratic and inclusive of all members of the college community…. The foundation of the Goddard community government is the Community Assembly (also known as the Community Meeting). The Community Assembly consisted of every member of the community including students, staff, and faculty, and all members had an equal vote. The Community Assembly was the ultimate decision making body of the college as well as the ultimate authority in legislative functions of the community government. The Community Assembly met on a weekly basis and it was here that all proposals made by other committees were debated, discussed, and decided upon. 4

Even though the Goddard community, in creating the constitution and the community assembly, maintained a conscientious focus on how decisions ought to be made there remained one major flaw, according to Malloy. The plan 'failed to remove the conventional college structure' comprised of a Board of Trustees and administration. 5 The administrative hierarchy was left intact; nobody, at that time, saw it as a threat.

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The members of the college understood that the success of Goddard, at that point, depended primarily upon the daily efforts of faculty, staff, students and Pitkin in organizing the work, and not on a Board of Trustees -- who met intermittently, did not live at the college, and were outsiders to the everyday operations of the college. The Board of Trustees, as envisioned by Pitkin, was simply to play the important but limited role of securing legitimacy for the incorporation of Goddard College by the State of Vermont. He took care in recruiting trustees with a sense of vision, prestige in the Vermont community, and a capacity to drum up financial support for the college. The Board of Trustees was the nominal, perhaps legal, but not real head of the organization. It never occurred to anyone that the Board would try to overrule the decisions made by Pitkin in concert with the Goddard community.

Forest Davis in his book Things Were Different in Royce's Day devoted a chapter to what he called 'The Roycean Dialectic', to describe Tim's personal approach and involvement in various groups at Goddard. In the following quote he describes Pitkin's approach to chairing faculty meetings:

When the discussion became intense, as it was likely to do from time to time, Tim might hitch forward in his chair to meet the onslaught of opinion, making discussional thrusts at every turn, challenging, probing, glancing around the room to keep track of faculty interests and potential expressions. He was forthrightly involved in every phase of the discussion, actively leading it, occasionally running ahead to keep up but mostly meeting the expressions head-on, turning them over in response, shaking them out, reaching for further questions. At intervals he might essay a tentative summary, as of a proposed policy. The result might go either way, forward into a trial formulation or back into the crucible. There might be several topics to consider; if so, he had the sequence in mind; if there was only one topic of the day, he kept attention on it so there was no wandering afield. His great art in these affairs was to keep the discussion going until a common thread emerged to be woven into a group position. Usually this happened; it was how institutional policy was worked out. Now and then issues required time in successive meetings to set a policy in motion on which there was general agreement. 6

Pitkin appeared to be a democratically minded facilitator, although he was also known to sometimes act in a patriarchal manner, according to some Goddard alumni. Though discrepancies in accounts of Pitkin's behavior are a part of the collective memory of Goddard's alumni, one thing remains undisputed -- the college was founded with the clear intention of being democratically organized. [See President's Reports 1 and 2]

In addition, Pitkin was very clear about maintaining the unique character of Goddard, even in its efforts to become recognized, and/or formally accredited, by other institutions, such as the New England Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges (NEASC). As a member of NEASC in good standing, Goddard would be eligible to receive more federal funding. Goddard College, however, did not become a member of NEASC until 1959, twenty one years after it was founded. In part the delay was due to the fact that Pitkin saw that there was a price to be paid, organizationally, for joining. He states:

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I wrote a report to the trustees in which I said that it seemed to me if Goddard were ever going to be accredited, either the college would have to give up its principles or the association would have to change its policies. Of course, we had no intention of changing our principles. 7

Pitkin was acutely aware of the conditions that NEASC would impose on Goddard College as a requirement for membership. Not until after several attempts and many meetings with the NEASC commission, including campus tours, did they become 'educated' about what Goddard was trying to do and inclined to accept Goddard into the Association. Pitkin commented that this effort on the part of Goddard made it easier for other colleges who had similar progressive organizational roots to gain entrance into the Association.

Disparaging remarks that Pitkin made, in this context, about the increasing trend of 'authoritarian colleges which issue rules formulated by trustees, presidents and faculties'8 begins to shed light on what he thought the function of the Trustees to be. Their role, he clearly saw, must have very little to do with decision-making. Ironically, Goddard official governance documents at the time did not reflect Pitkin's thinking on these matters. Davis comments:

When he [Pitkin] was the chief executive of a college with a board of trustees his idea was that the trustees should, if they accepted responsibility for an institution, either give financial support or, if they did not themselves have funds to give, help arrange for other persons to contribute who were in a position to do so. ...He did not expect donors to tell him what was to be done with funds, unless the donation had previously been requested by him for a specific purpose. 9

Pitkin had the unique opportunity to determine what the role of the Board of Trustees would be at Goddard. With the status that he held as Goddard's founder and first president he could soften tendencies that some board members would have had in creating ill-advised institutional policies. By referring, with authority, to how and why Goddard was founded, he could sculpt policy. Who on the board could claim to have more experience or authority on the subject of Goddard than its founder? The end result of this arrangement was that the Board of Trustees would, without fail, look to Pitkin for insight and direction. As a charismatic leader he, in addition, did not need to use the Board of Trustees to control the faculty, as was to become the case with many of his successors. If and when conflicts did arise between the interests of the Board of Trustees, on the one hand, and the student body, on the other, Pitkin would act as a skillful mediator in order to resolve the issues at hand. 10

Although it was in the office and person of the President that ultimate power resided in the college's first twenty years of existence, it was also the case that during that time an informal practice was firmly established whereby Community Governance dealt with policies and issues that affected students while the Student Dean, President, and Board of Trustees handled broader institutional issues. This custom was, in fact, at odds with the original intentions of Goddard's Constitution. But instead of bringing Goddard into alignment with the Constitution, the faculty and Pitkin set out, in 1959, twenty one years after the college's founding, to rewrite the original Community Constitution by-laws to reflect the established practice.

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As a result, how community government was to be formally understood at Goddard was subtly but drastically changed. Whereas, under the 1938 by-laws the Community Meeting was seen as 'the ultimate authority in all community matters' it was to become, in the 1959 rewrite, 'the ultimate authority in all matters that are within the jurisdiction of the community government as defined by the faculty.' 11 This action effectively established the formal college administrative structure as the only game in town in terms of an operational governance model.

As a result, when Pitkin retired in 1969, there was nothing formally in place that would keep Goddard's democratic ethos alive -- outside of protests from individual members of the community. The little that was in place structurally had the seeds of an enormous contradiction. Thus, although the early years were promising, there remained several important governance issues that were left unresolved when Pitkin retired. This would contribute significantly to the problems the Goddard community would later have with its own administration. Pitkin, who relied on his charismatic leadership qualities to keep the Board in check, and on his own non-authoritarian tendencies to ensure that the authority of the office of the presidency were not abused, failed to formally limit the powers of the Board of Trustees and the Presidency by making explicit the role they would play in the context of a democratic community governance structure.

In the absence of Pitkin's enlightened guidance, the Board of Trustees would rely primarily on the existing traditional management structures and board by-laws to govern the college. The power that they always had as the ultimate legal authority over the college, dormant for decades, was finally and permanently activated when the Board of Trustees initiated the search process for hiring Pitkin's successor. The board conceived of Pitkin's successor as the individual who would act on their behalf in setting policy and administering the college's finances. Accordingly, the President would be responsible to the Board and the Board alone.

With the shift in power that accompanied Pitkin's resignation, constituent representation on the Board of Trustees became a prominent issue, and a heated one at that:

The only time students genuinely expressed interest in coming on the board of trustees was back in the 40's. John Hall and Reed Rexford agitated strongly for the idea, so the community voted to send them to the board meetings. The board didn't appoint them as members, but that wasn't necessary for they could say anything they liked... It wasn't until my last year, 1969, that some faculty members suggested that we ought to have students on the board. Students agreed, and I rewrote the by-laws to provide for student representation. (Pitkin) 12

It was as if the community's push for getting students on the board of trustees in 1969 was an unconscious attempt by the Goddard community to adjust to the fact that the founder of the college was going to retire and thereby leave a leadership vacuum. Significantly, the exercise of the Board's authority in selecting the next president was met with immediate resistance from both students and some faculty. Proposals were made to the board to open up the presidential selection process in such a way as to end official secrecy of candidates, guarantee that students and faculty have a chance to meet all prospective candidates, and require a process whereby the majority of the Goddard community must approve of the selected candidate prior to confirmation of the nominee chosen by the trustees.

The trustees, in the end, voted unanimously to have former Vermont Tax Commissioner Gerald Witherspoon become Goddard's second president. [1] Though he was an experienced legislative and policy adviser to Vermont Governor Hoff he did not have a progressive educational background or experience in democratically managed organizations.

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As President, Witherspoon surrounded himself with like-minded individuals. He hired a number of ex-business and political leaders as top managers in his administration and with the backing of this group pushed a plan to develop low or no-residency programs to bring in revenue without accumulating substantial cost. 13 By putting the focus on low or no-residency programs Witherspoon inadvertently undermined the ability of Goddard as an institution to involve students in the management and operations of the college. For how could it be possible for students who are only around for approximately two weeks out of an academic year to be involved in the governance of the college? Although Witherspoon never specifically addressed this issue, in particular, he seemed responsive -- within certain well-defined limits -- to the governance and policy concerns of students living on campus.

In 1969, only months after being tapped the successor to Tim Pitkin, Witherspoon proposed launching an ambitious 'self-government plan' for the Goddard community. This was done after consulting with staff, faculty, and students about their strong desire to be involved in the planning and management of the college. But the local media reported:

The new self-government will operate through the community as a whole, with council meetings open to all who wish to attend. If consensus cannot be reached, position papers will be written and the issue resolved by college-wide referendum. However, the trustees, could if they wished, overrule a decision [emphasis mine].

Witherspoon regards the plan 'a fulfillment of a promise, in a sense. It began when students were given a voice in the search for a new president.'

This ambitious plan notwithstanding, Witherspoon made it clear that no matter how democratic this 'self-government' may be it was the Board of Trustees who held the ultimate authority for making decisions about the college.

At the time of Witherspoon's proposal Goddard College was rapidly expanding. It had an enrollment of over one thousand students spread over two distinct campuses, Greatwood and Northwood, with the larger portion of students residing at Northwood. The number of potential participants in this governance structure was a new challenge for Goddard as it wasn't until relatively recently -- the fall of 1963 -- that Goddard had expanded beyond a total of 250 students. It is important to note that for Pitkin, 250 was the ideal size for Goddard "beyond which the advantages gained by greater numbers would be at the expense of our conception of the way a college should function." 14 In his final years as president, Pitkin responded to the dramatic increase in enrollment with a new strategy for growth: a second, autonomous campus, with its own name (Northwood), staff, faculty and student body would be created, replicating the existing campus, and sharing resources with it. Both would go under the name 'Goddard College'. He sought in this way to retain the advantages of small learning communities while permitting the college to grow as a whole. This expansion also produced unanticipated stresses on Goddard's ability to be a democratically managed college, however. Witherspoon addressed this issue by replicating at Goddard governmental processes and procedures with which he was most familiar -- those associated with Vermont state politics.

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In addition, Witherspoon invited the new governing council to review the college budget. This was a departure from past practices. Here Pitkin states how he, Pitkin, dealt with budget issues:

Originally, I thought that it would be good for everybody to know everything about the finances. But after two or three years of that, I decided it was not a good idea. If worrying were to be done, it had better be done by only a few. If we let the faculty know we weren't at all certain they were going to be paid, they would be edgy until payday... Confining financial worries to a few worked much better. It violated my own beliefs to operate this way, but after two or three years that became our procedure. 15

Although this may have worked for Pitkin, a more or less enlightened leader capable of self-restraint, future presidents would use the practice of withholding budget information to increase their power. President Greene, for example, manufactured a budget crisis built in part on secret information and used the alleged crisis to purge the college of dissident staff and further consolidate the power of the presidency.

The step that Witherspoon took in opening up the budget for all to see was admirable. It had the effect of educating the Goddard community about the financial situation and the priorities associated with funding and expenditures. In fact, this action set precedence and future Goddard community members would thereafter demand that subsequent Presidents practice open financial management of the college.

By 1971, only two years into his presidency, Witherspoon faced pressure from the Goddard community to resign. The main issue was a proposed increase in tuition, which he put forward as a solution to Goddard's worsening financial condition. Instead of going directly to the community to secure approval for his tuition proposal Witherspoon turned to the Community Governance Council, which he had established as a representative body two years earlier. Attempts like this, to legitimize circumventing the direct participation of the community in significant decisions, caused community members to become disillusioned with the administration. Distrust, withdrawal, and apathy set in among the students.

A year later, on October 8, 1972, it was reported by the Burlington Free Press that individuals in the administration believed that things were beginning to fall apart:

The college assumes to operate on a community-based concept, whereby students, faculty and staff participate in mass group meetings and decide all manner of questions relating to the college's policies.

This might work if attendance at these meetings was in any way representative of the college -- but seldom do more than a dozen of the college's faculty attend, and the meetings usually draw less than one-third of Goddard's roughly 1,500 students.

Seldom are minutes taken during these meetings; motions, proposals and resolutions are often not stated in writing. So record of actions taken involves a heavy reliance upon the memories of Goddard's administrators.

How Goddard continues to function under these circumstances is a source of amazement to some people: Robert Belenky, a respected member of the college's adult degree program faculty, says he's tried to write it down, but can't.

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In early 1973 Witherspoon came out with an administrative reorganization proposal that surprised many in the Goddard community because they were not involved in its development. The proposal was designed to increase Goddard's administration and was publicly characterized as following the more 'classic' lines of collegiate structure. From the moment Witherspoon made this proposal until his resignation in 1974 the Goddard community engaged in a series of protests [See articles 1 and 2] against his fiscal policies, the run-away bureaucracy he was creating, and the administration's lack of consideration of the students and faculty's role in the decision-making process.

The years that followed (1975 to 1981) are typically characterized as ones which saw Goddard collapsing under the pressures of increased competition from other colleges, eager to copy Goddard's programs, and a national trend of rising costs in higher education and decreased enrollments. Leadership at the top was in constant rotation over the next six years. Jack Andrews, the first interim president in this period, held that position for less than a year. He was replaced by Richard Graham, a Harvard educator, who was selected to be Goddard's third president. Graham lasted for just over a year. He announced his resignation in 1976, stating that he felt that his vision of what the college ought to be was not widely shared in the community.

Following Graham's resignation Interim President John Hall fired approximately 24 college faculty members as part of a 'retrenchment plan' that he embarked on to strengthen Goddard's financial situation. In response, the employee Union, which represented both the staff and faculty since the spring of 1976, filed a complaint against the college for failure to bargain over economic matters and for ignoring proposals to reduce the size of the administration before cutting faculty. The Union continued to pursue every avenue available to them, via grievances and labor board charges, to seek relief from the administration's failure to consult with the Union prior to the retrenchment, as called for in the contract. The presidential search committee ultimately rejected Hall's bid for the presidency but the Goddard Board of Trustees overrode this objection and chose John Hall as Goddard's fourth President in 1977. Those in opposition to Hall, as reported in the media, believed that Goddard was sacrificing its ideals in order to become a more successful business venture.

By this point in time, members of the community had become accustomed to the possibility that the board could, in the course of a presidential search, use its power to override a community decision. What had been unthinkable in Pitkin's time -- a board acting in defiance of the will of the community -- now scarcely raised an eyebrow. Although, for the time being, the board would choose to act in blatant disregard of the comunity's wishes only in presidential selection matters, their growing belief that the board had the right to usurp control from the community did not bode well for the future.

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Goddard's worsening financial situation reached a climax in the fall of 1980. The administration and the Board of Trustees at that time believed that the college was at the point where it was no longer n financially viable, and seriously considered closing the college. The faculty and staff responded by proposing a 3-week salary give-back in order to keep the college fiscally solvent and convinced the Board to allow the college to remain open. Students and alumni provided support, inspiration, and energy for the faculty and staff and were instrumental in putting pressure on the Board of Trustees, although this was not reported in the media. The Board accepted the proposal despite protests from President Hall, who along with the director of financial aid, resigned in frustration -- believing that this was not the answer to Goddard's financial problems.

Victor Loefflath-Ehly was appointed to the post of interim President in October of 1980. Ehly's first action as President was to report to the local papers why the Board of Trustees decided not to close Goddard College. Listed were three reasons:

  1. A curriculum reorganization, which they hoped would help to alleviate financial pressure.
  2. A new fund-raising effort, that would appeal to persons outside of the college community for fiscal support. The college traditionally had run almost exclusively on tuition and fees and had virtually no endowment.
  3. A need, in higher education, for institutions like Goddard -- ones that emphasize independent study and student-designed courses. Schools like this were nationally in decline.

Malloy reports that by 1981 Goddard was fully 'involved in a federally funded reorganization of its academic, administrative, and financial structures, into a single institution with a single faculty and a lean administration'. 16

Ironically, despite the fact that the Goddard College community overwhelmingly believed in its uniqueness, there were serious discussions at the administrative and board levels about having Goddard merge with Vermont's oldest military school, Norwich University. The merger never happened, however, partly because of protests from the Goddard community. The majority of the board instead approved the sale of several of Goddard's programs to Norwich. Pitkin, a trustee at the time, resigned in protest, believing that the decision would only make things worse for Goddard. In addition, as part of the reorganization plan, Goddard sold a large portion of its land and buildings in order to get out from under a difficult financial situation.

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Jack Lindquist, who was originally hired as the chief consultant to oversee Goddard's reorganization and was subsequently appointed its Dean, became Goddard's fifth President in 1981. Lindquist was an experienced progressive educator and theorist who wrote numerous articles on organizational theory and the challenges of practicing progressive education. In fact, Pitkin, knowing of Lindquist, approached him back in 1975 to see if he would apply for the position after Witherspoon's departure. Lindquist did apply for the job at that time. But soon thereafter, feeling that he was not yet quite ready for the job, he told the search committee -- in his interview for the job -- all of the reasons why he would not be a good match.

Pitkin must have recognized in Lindquist a like-minded individual. And when Lindquist finally took the job six years later, when it became available again and was offered to him, he must have felt a similar kinship to Pitkin's approach, for he made it clear that he wanted Goddard to return to it's roots.

Our current plan is to move back to 250 to 300 students and stay there, Lindquist said. We feel it's a much more effective institution at that number, and better educationally. [see article]

Because of the drastic restructuring that took place at this time, Goddard's enrollment dropped to just over 100 students. It had reached its peak in the 70's, when annual enrollment typically hovered around 1,800. Goddard's second campus, Northwood, was closed. It could be argued that with this dramatic restructuring the capacity to structure Goddard's governance along directly democratic lines again became a real possibility. President Lindquist realized that in order to do this he must address what he saw as disturbing developments within the Goddard organization. Malloy writes,

During Pitkin's presidency the decisions of the Board of Trustees had fairly little impact on the structure of the college, the curriculum, or community governance; however, during the 1970's a shift occurred... the Board's decision making power had become significantly stronger... Lindquist understood this historical problem clearly and was wary of the possibility that the Board would, over time, gain power and with the assistance of the administration might come to control the direction of the college as a whole. ...Lindquist attempted to accomplish what Pitkin had overlooked. Lindquist expanded the previous system of community governance and participatory democracy to all aspects of the college including the Board of Trustees and administration in an attempt to govern the whole college in such a manner. ...[Lindquist] expanded the purview of community meetings for inclusive control of all college governance. 17

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Lindquist held the position for nearly 10 years, in what has become the longest term for a Pitkin successor to date. He was able to successfully navigate Goddard from the brink of collapse and provide opportunities to initiate new programs such as the one which provided financial aid and housing for single parents with children. However, despite these successes, Lindquist's plan to expand community governance was opposed. A few individuals within the Goddard community, when faced with community meetings, found it to be extremely time consuming and inefficient. Others were indifferent in their desire to participate. Administrators and board members, taking advantage of these attitudes, began to jockey for a position from which they could press for a return to traditional management practices in which the administration had the sole power to make decisive and 'time-efficient' unilateral decisions. This all came to a head by the late 80's when Goddard was presented with a new set of problems -- lawsuits [See 1 and 2], student unrest culminating in an occupation of the administration building, and new potential financial difficulties. In the end, after a faculty vote of no-confidence, Lindquist announced his plans to resign in 1990. It can be said, in hindsight, that Lindquist's term in office was a 10-year hiatus in the trend that began at Goddard after Pitkin's resignation in 1969 -- toward concentration of power in the Board of Trustees and top administrators. Malloy writes,

... when Lindquist left in 1990, a number of administrators and Board members implemented policies that nearly unraveled all of the work towards democracy that Lindquist had done during the previous ten years.

The first step in the process was to re-implement the position of Dean and immediately thereafter hire Jackson Kytle as president of the college. Kytle with the assistance of his newly appointed Dean, Dean Elias, set up a new Task Force to amend the system of governance, develop proposals, and set up a more conventional committee structured system of governance. While these newly formed committees were developed to be under the direct authority of the community meetings they became less and less accountable to this governing body and bilateral decision making between the administration and the Board of Trustees soon became prevalent. 18

In fact, Kytle's appointment as Goddard's 6th president was shrouded in controversy, as the trustees did not agree with the search committee's choice and a large portion of the student body was at odds with Kytle's "conservative style." In an interview with the local paper nearly 13 months after taking the job, Kytle stated:

Goddard College is neither a 'student-run college' nor a 'Utopian democracy.' ...I am trying to strengthen the role of the president ...

Much of the governance work done at Goddard during Kytle's term (1990-1994) was focused on addressing concerns made by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The association began to closely watch Goddard in 1990 when it had difficulties meeting its payroll and soon after cut faculty salaries by 5% in order to address the shortfall. An evaluation team was sent to Goddard in October of 1992. They wrote a report outlining a number of concerns. Governance was one:

Attention needs to be paid, expeditiously, to the establishment of a governance structure that is appropriate to Goddard's history and tradition and yet allows for clear and effective communication and decision-making by appropriate bodies and/or individuals. The visiting team believes Goddard is weakened by continuing conflicts over recognized authority and decision-making roles. Goddard needs to develop a governance system that has credibility with all its constituencies and is consistent with its mission, philosophy and values.

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In the spring of 1993 NEASC deferred action on the recommendation that Goddard be placed on probation. This was done in order for Goddard to have an opportunity to 'show cause' as to why the association should not act. President Kytle and the Board of Trustees created several committees in order to respond to the governance issues the association identified. The primary committee was the Task Force on Governance, which included elected students, faculty, and staff as well as trustees. Pro-democracy trustees developed a proposal entitled "Designing an Experiment in Democratic Social Change" outlining the creation and goals of the above committee.

The Task Force on Governance became the main organizing body for collecting materials and data for the purpose of describing Goddard's governance structure, which at this point was little more than an eclectic assortment of groups and committees. The fact that three governance structure proposals had recently been rejected contributed to the Task Force's difficulty with accurately defining who was in charge of what. Reports were submitted to the Task Force from various members of the community, who generally fell into two groups: 1) those that were in favor of strengthening the tradition of community governance [See Documents A and B] and 2) those that pushed for strengthening the position of the presidency and Goddard's organizational hierarchy [See Documents C and D].

In 1993, the Task Force completed its work, entitled Governance Document. In its first section, 'Ideals and Principles', the document outlines the goals of democratic self-governance. 'Striving for Democracy' was at the top of the list of eight values under the subsection 'Governing Principles'. These principles were taken as fundamental to Goddard's mission and governance structure.

However, it is in the second section, 'Governance Today', that actual descriptions of the various standing committees and lines of authority within the Goddard organization are to be found. The first paragraph of this section details the role of the administration:

The Board of Trustees delegates to the President responsibility for the overall administration and advancement of the college. The President has the authority to make or delegate operational decisions regarding college management. Major decisions such as setting tuition and fees, new academic programs, and major changes in personnel policies that bear upon the financial well-being of the college come forward through the President as recommendations to the Trustees for their review and decision. [page 4]

A couple of pages later, the Governance Document clearly identifies the Board of Trustees as being the ultimate authority at Goddard, and gives the body the 'sole power to govern its own conduct':

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The Board of Trustees is responsible for the well-being and growth of Goddard College, and has sole legal authority to establish and to oversee the policies for the sensible, democratic management of the college... Beyond this fundamental warrant to fiduciary responsibility granted the Goddard College Corporation through Articles of Association by the State of Vermont, the Trustees themselves may determine how to organize the Board, how to share their powers and with whom, and to establish or to change the procedures by which they conduct business, including how often to meet.

Trustees have full authority to contract for the services of a person to serve as President, or to terminate such a contract; for periodic evaluations of the president, annual budgets, strategic plans, and audited financial statements; to employ counsel; to enact or to amend bylaws which govern their own conduct [emphasis mine]. [page 6]

Though the section on 'Ideals and Practices' focuses on identifying the principles of democracy the section on 'Governance Today' clearly outlines a traditional corporate organizational hierarchy:

The principles are laid out, and they are inspiring -- but immediately a major, and as it has worked out an insurmountable, obstacle is named. All authority flows downward; each level of the administration delegates authority, or fails to delegate authority, to the next level and to committees. The entire system rests on the good faith and good will of the President, who has "the authority to make or delegate operational decisions." 19

An attempt was made by those on the Governance Task Force to temper Goddard's corporate structure by introducing the concept of 'consent' decision making for all levels of governance. Frank Adams, then Goddard Board Trustee and Chair of the Governance Task Force, provides a definition of consent decision making and its benefits in the governance process:

The use of ballots or voice votes to make operational, or policy, or strategic planning decisions allows a majority to overrule minority objections. Individuals or numerical minorities may have a valid point, but are more often than not, the worth of their objections only become evident when the majority's decision is implemented. Consent guarentees that any person can be heard, and can change a decision provided she or he offers facts to make the case. The committee or group is bound to deal with those objections.

'By placing this emphasis on the value of every individual,' Van Vlissingen says, 'the consent method instantly establishes a sense of individual self worth, which is an open invitiation for hidden talent to emerge.'

By insisting that individuals state the reasoning and the facts which support their objections, consent decision making is, in itself, educative, both for individuals and groups. This alone should be an argument for adopting the method in a college or school. But there are additional benefits - consent can result in wiser decisions and quickly unmasks any hidden agendas.

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As well meaning as the principle of consent decision making was it did not 'guarentee that any person can be heard, and can change a decision provided she or he offers the facts to make the case.' In practice, time and time again, decision making especially on the Board of Trustees, quickly deteriorated into the win-lose votes of majority rule despite reasoned arguments made by constituent trustees, in concert with the Goddard community, against actions or policies favored by the president and a majority of the board. Consent decision making did little to rectify the increasing concentration of power into the hands of the presidency and the Board of Trustees.

This was the first time, however, in Goddard's history that a complete governance system was explicitly laid out, for all to see. The Governance Document clearly described the positions and roles that the Board of Trustees, President, staff, faculty, and students were to play in Goddard's governance. Now it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that the board of trustees and president had ultimate power, if they so chose to wield it.

Even though the Governance Document did ultimately, in theory, support Kytle's efforts to strengthen the position of the presidency, he was not able to use this leverage to resolve the day-to-day struggles he had with a majority of the faculty and student body, who disagreed with him over governance issues and management style. In the summer of 1993, after receiving intense pressure from the Goddard community, Kytle informed the local media that he was not going to seek a renewal of his contract as Goddard's president in 1994.

Kytle's conservative management style and traditional business approach was a sign of things to come. In 1994, after an exhaustive year-long presidential search process, Richard Greene was named Goddard's 7th president. The presidential search committee -- comprised of students, staff, faculty, and trustees, and chaired by Trustee Jane O'Meara Sanders -- voted unanimously to nominate Greene as President. Later on, it would be the representative nature of the search committee that Sanders would appeal to in her attempt to defend Richard Greene when the community, in protest of his autocratic decisions and conservative policies, demanded his resignation.

Although I have written more extensively about Richard Greene and his administration in another article on this website, a short summary of his administration is in order here. When Greene took over as president in 1994, college revenues were up and the budget had been in the black for the past several years. It didn't take but two years for Greene to reverse this trend, thereby placing the college in a financially precarious position. The faculty, sensitive to this change in direction early on, made numerous efforts in 1995 to collaborate with Greene in order to improve the situation. Greene, however, was not receptive and had embarked on a different course of action -- one that was at odds with the faculty and the Goddard community. The actions that Greene took resulted in the resignation of the Academic Dean, Steve Shapiro, in the fall of 1995. Greene responded to the resignation by writing a memo to the Board of Trustees, intimating that he thought Shapiro unfit for the position.

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During the Board of Trustees meeting in late October of 1995, Richard Schramm, a campus faculty member, presented to the Board of Trustees a proposal on restructuring the Board along more directly democratic lines. The Board did not take the proposal seriously.

With more autocratic actions being initiated by Greene the faculty wrote to the Board of Trustees in January of 1996 to request help in fostering democratic collaboration between Greene and the faculty, as called for in the governance documents. The Board did not provide any assistance to the faculty in this respect, and the president was given the green light to continue along in the manner objected to by the faculty.

It was the resignation of Peter Burns, Director of Admissions, in April of 1996, that was the watershed event that opened the floodgates of community protests against Greene. The faculty officially responded to the resignation within a week's time by overwhelmingly voting no-confidence in Greene and demanding his resignation.

On May 6, 1996, the board of trustees responded by issuing a statement in support of Greene. They sought, with the following edict, to quell any further debate over Goddard's governance:

Goddard is, has always been, and will continue to be a college with a policy-making board of trustees, a president, and an administrative structure to implement that policy. That is non-negotiable.

As we have seen, this characterization of the powers and roles of the Board, the President, and the adminstrative structure, is not, as a matter of historical fact, true. It can be argued, as has been suggested in this paper, that decision-making was never originally intended to be placed in the hands of small body of individuals who hold themselves unaccountable to the will of the community at large. Not only does the ideological position taken by the majority of the Board on this occasion indeed fly in the face of Goddard's historical stance on governance, according to which governance is to be conducted democratically, by those who are directly involved in its affairs, the more active and aggressive Board role articulated in the 1996 statement stands in stark contrast to the passive and subsidiary (fundraising) role that had in fact been established during the Pitkin administration. It also appears to ignore NEASC's then current concern -- that the Goddard community had 'in the past, experienced inappropriate Board intervention in the day-to-day operation of the College.'

The greatest surprise, however, was to come a couple of weeks later, from Goddard faculty in a letter they posted to the Board:

While individual faculty members, like individual Board members, may have their own views on governance, we as a faculty did not request in our no confidence statement or anywhere else that Goddard move away from 'a policy making Board of trustees, a president, and an administrative structure to implement that policy.' What we have sought through our diligent participation in the Governance Task Force is a more democratic, participative governance structure in line with the principles currently in the governance document endorsed by the Board in 1994. We suggest the Board discuss with the Board members on that task force whether the faculty representatives ever made a single proposal of any sort to move away from the Board, president, and administrative structure you describe in your response to our statement.

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Though individual faculty members, like Richard Schramm, correctly identified the hierarchical administrative structure as the main problem, the faculty as a whole held a more conservative view. In their letter, as a result, they opted to focus exclusively on Greene's abuses, asking the Board to hold him accountable, but only to the recently adopted (1994) governance documents. But the 1994 governance documents, in themselves unnecessarily 'corporate' and non-democratic in nature, departed significantly from earlier visions of governance at Goddard -- as I've shown above.

In the letter in question the faculty indeed thought it necessary to, in effect, apologize for what they saw as the excesses of those who had suggested constructive alternative governance structures:

One of the reasons that some in the community have raised the possibility of a differently constituted Board and a different sort of presidency is that it has become clear that if the president chooses to violate the governance plan, there is no recourse. In your unquestioning support of the president's violations of our governance system, the Board has joined with him in undercutting this document. If the Board is unwilling to hold the president to the terms of the governance agreement, then it means nothing.

This event -- the faculty letter -- is a defining moment in the struggle to realize Goddard's potential as a democratically managed college. At this critical juncture, when there was momentum and widespread community support for organizational change [See A, B, C, D, and E], the faculty failed to keep the pressure squarely on the Board of Trustees. Instead, it opted to take a more conservative stance by, in effect, siding with the Board regarding the appropriateness of organizational hierarchy, disagreeing with them only over whether Greene should continue as Goddard's president. An opportunity for crucial change was missed as the faculty, in a significant moment of weakness, reverted back to the strategy that made life livable under Pitkin -- and opted for the presence of a benevolent and enlightened leader under whose guidance the board's all-inclusive power could remain unchallenged because it would never have to be made manifest.

When Greene resigned in August of 1996 Jane Sanders parlayed her role as Chair of the Board of Trustees into a position from which she could easily step into the job of Interim President. As acting president, Sanders was the leading candidate for president of Goddard; she was, in effect, the incumbent. As chief of staff for her husband Bernie Sanders, Vermont's Independent Congressman, Jane had "progressive" connections within Vermont state politics, and had appeared alongside President Clinton in a widely distributed photo. Sanders was also a Goddard alum.

The problem for Sanders, however, in her bid to become the next president of Goddard, was her anti-democratic track record as Chair of the Board. She strongly disagreed with those in the Goddard community who argued for a different governance structure and against strengthening the office of the presidency. Sanders had the habit of acting in an autocratic manner that would have eventually offended the sensibilities of the Goddard community in much the same way as Greene had done.

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Though Sanders became a finalist for the presidency, the job was eventually offered to Barbara Mossberg, the candidate who most successfully appeared to fit the profile of 'enlightened benevolent ruler'. Mossberg was not an alum, but this proved to be a plus -- people had not had previous direct experience with her, in the context of democratic governance; she had not had an opportunity to establish a negative track record in this area, as had Sanders. In addition, Mossberg wrote eloquently about the relationship of chaos theory to organizational management, in a way that echoed some of the values traditionally found in progressive education [See A]. Many in the community took this as a sign that she was likely to fill the role of president in a way consistent with the ideal that had been established by Pitkin, a strong but benevolent leader with an enlightened management perspective. As time progressed, however, Mossberg ended up acting in a manner that community members began to see as more similar to Greene than Pitkin, and with the same results -- community protests, a faculty vote of no-confidence, and her resignation in 2001.

There will always be the temptation for administrators and trustees -- no matter how 'enlightened' or 'benevolent' they may be -- to act unilaterially when it is perceived as legitimate and/or legal to do so. As long as the governance policies, practices and structures that are in place at Goddard identify administrative and board roles in which there are concentrations of decision-making power, and encourage -- or even merely permit -- individuals who fill these positions to act in unilateral or autocratic ways, at odds with the will of the community, the Goddard community will fail to get the genuine 'democratic' governance for which it has so desperately longed for nearly 65 years.

What Goddard needs is not another enlightened 'leader', not another 'president', and surely not a 'board of trustees' acting as sole decision-making authorities, unaccountable to the Goddard community at large. Until the Goddard community comes to realize that the critical element in genuine democratic governance is not the enlightened and/or benevolent quality of its 'leader', but concensus-seeking structures and policies, put in place to ensure that decisions emerge from the community express the actual 'will' of the community -- until such a time, Goddard will be forced to suffer the regular re-enactment of the socio-political scenario that it has for decades now been caught up in: the search for a savior, the perfect 'leader', who inevitably turns out, regrettably, to have clay feet.

If only the Goddard community were to take seriously the words of Thomas Paine, and wisely seek to apply them to the construction of a governance structure that makes sense, a consensus-based governance structure that is deeply and truly democratic:

Experience, in all ages, and in all countries, has demonstrated that it is impossible to control Nature in her distribution of mental powers. She gives them as she pleases. Whatever is the rule by which she, apparently to us, scatters them among mankind, that rule remains a secret to man. It would be as ridiculous to attempt to fix the hereditaryship of human beauty, as of wisdom.

Whatever wisdom constituently is, it is like a seedless plant; it may be reared when it appears, but it cannot be voluntarily produced. There is always a sufficiency somewhere in the general mass of society for all purposes; but with respect to the parts of society, it is continually changing its place. It rises in one to-day, in another to-morrow, and has most probably visited in rotation every family of the earth, and again withdrawn.

As this is the order of nature, the order of government must necessarily follow it, or government will, as we see it does, degenerate into ignorance.

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* - I've borrowed the term 'restoring the democracy we never had' from someone in the community-based movement to restore democracy at Pacifica.

It is particularly apt, not only for describing the situation at Pacifica, but for characterizing the situation at Goddard and in other progressive institutions, in which grass-roots democracy has been the guiding idea. The phrase makes us think. How can one 'restore' what never 'was'? And what could it possibly mean to say, in particular, that what we want is the restoration of a democracy that never fully existed?

For a period of over 60 years, members of the Goddard College community have struggled to articulate a vision that was, on the one hand, clearly felt -- but, on the other hand, rather poorly defined in words. And rather roughly implemented in practice. Competing approaches (in particular, the mainstream notion of a corporately organized educational institution) threaten to erode the vision of 'progressive' education, education operating within the setting of a self-governing community. That vision must now be restored; it must be made explicit, and detailed, and communicated to younger generations.

We must recognize that those who came before us, in attempting to articulate the vision and make it real in situations in which political resistance and fiscal obstacles are often successful in muddying the issues, were not always in the best position to clearly see potential threats as they occured, or deal effectively with them.

So in addition to restoring the vision that was, in fact, always there -- strong and true, and bravely upheld by individuals willing to risk everything in order to make the vision real -- we must devise new methodologies and new organizational structures, ones that meet challenges that the failure of old structures, strategies, and methodolgies clearly bring into relief. We have the advantage of hindsight, and must not be afraid of tweaking old visions in a way that makes them responsive to new situations.

Nor must we be afraid of admitting that, realistically, this will ALWAYS be neccessary in a genuine grass-roots democracy. Democracy requires us to envision how things could have turned out, had we all been in a better position to see what was necessary; and it requires us to call, now and again, for the restoration of what might have been! back to text

1. Ann Giles Benson and Frank Adams, To Know For Real, Royce S. Pitkin & Goddard College. Adamant Press, Adamant, VT. (1987) p. 19
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2. Benson and Adams (1987) p. 21
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3. Benson and Adams (1987) p. 40
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4. Kai Malloy, Can Democracy Survive at Goddard College? A Study of Participatory Democracy in Ancient Greece, New England, Progressive Education, and at Goddard College. Unpublished Thesis (1999) p.125
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5. Malloy (1999) p. 141
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6. Forest K. Davis, Things Were Different in Royce's Day -- Royce S. Pitkin as Progressive Educator: A Perspective From Goddard College, 1950-1967. Adamant Press, Adamant, VT. (1996) pp. 43-4
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7. Benson and Adams (1987) p. 97
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8. Benson and Adams (1987) p. 132
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9. Davis (1996) p. 70
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10. Malloy (1999) p. 142
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11. Malloy (1999) p. 157
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12. Benson and Adams (1987) p. 117
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13. Malloy (1999) p. 160
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14. Benson and Adams (1987) p. 218
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15. Benson and Adams (1987) p. 111
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16. Malloy (1999) p. 175
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17. Malloy (1999) pp. 177-8
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18. Malloy (1999) pp. 178
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19. Anonymous Document written during President Mossberg's Administration
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