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Chronicle Messages   

Claiming Ownership at Berry College
Winter 2000-2001
PDF Version

Have you ever wondered who owns Berry College? Many people claim ownership, albeit in a metaphorical sense. Because of our loyalty, many of us -- students, alumni, faculty, and staff -- feel a sense of ownership of the college. Legal ownership is another matter. In this column, I would like to reflect upon the work of those who function as our owners, our trustees, and then pay tribute to H. G. Pattillo who served on our board for three decades.

Our articles of incorporation empower a board of trustees to manage Berry and its assets. This board functions as owner insofar as it agrees to run the college in a way consistent with our mission and incorporating documents. Because board members are entrusted with the proper management of the institution, they are called "trustees." Trustees work as volunteers and are motivated entirely by their commitment to the mission of the college.

Boards set policies consistent with the educational mission and appoint a president to see that these policies are carried out. Colleges need a strong and engaged board, a president with appropriate authority, a dedicated college staff, and a faculty that participates actively in academic and educational governance. If one element of the equation is badly out of kilter, the entire institution suffers. Equilibrium is usually lost when one group tries to do the work of another. That said, the governing board has full legal authority and ownership of the enterprise.

Berry's 18-member board includes five Berry graduates, three women, and a minority member. Most trustees live in Georgia, but others hail from five states altogether. Board members are civic and business leaders, and almost all of them are at the top of organizational charts at major companies and corporations. A list of board members over the years is a virtual Who's Who in Georgia and beyond.

For my first two years on the job, the board chair to whom I reported was H. G. Pattillo, whose firm has been for half a century one of the most successful commercial construction companies in the region. Pat Pattillo was on the search committee that brought me to Berry and was at every step thereafter a confidant, guide, tutor, colleague, boss, and friend. As of his retirement on June 30, 2000, he had completed 30 years as a member of our board and five years as its chair. Because of his modesty, I waited until after his retirement to write about him.

Many years ago, Pat served as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and in that capacity came to know William McChesney Martin, who was then chairman of the Federal Reserve system in Washington. Mr. Martin was also chair of the board at Berry (from 1955 until 1973) and recruited Pat for board membership in 1970. Pat was a natural for the Berry board: over the years, he served on the boards of Georgia Power, The Southern Company, SunTrust Banks, and 14 other companies. His interest in education had led him to serve as a member of the board of regents for the University System of Georgia, a trustee at Agnes Scott College, and a member of boards of visitors at both Duke and Emory.

Chairing a college board is a complex and time-consuming task. Board chairs link corporate practice and leadership to the world of ideas, the world of business to that of higher education. Colleges are in fact corporations with budgets and a bureaucracy. They also are non-profit institutions dedicated to the moral and intellectual growth of young people. The crucial bottom line for a college is the impact it has upon its students. All trustees must work to link the business and intellectual elements that make up a college, but the board chair has that as a special responsibility.

Moreover, it is the board chair's duty to see that all goes well during a transition in presidential leadership. Pat and I met often and spoke even more frequently during my first year at Berry. A man of enormous energy and strong opinions, he voiced a clear agenda for excellence at Berry College. I always knew where he stood. And he always knew where I stood, a fact that underlies my tribute to him. We agreed nearly always, but when we did not, he would end the discussion by saying, "Well, you are the president." An animated conversation with Pat Pattillo is not one for the faint of heart, but he inevitably stood back and challenged me to lead.

The story of Pat Pattillo is also illustrative of a group of other remarkable individuals who have owned up to their convictions about education and have served Berry well as good stewards and trustees. Our board members hold in trust our mission to transform the minds, hearts, and lives of young people. Berry trustees represent the most loyal and deeply-engaged of all of our college constituencies. Without their special investment as owners and their protection of our ideals, our work could not proceed.

I am now privileged to serve under board chair William B. Johnson, whose company W. B. Johnson Properties, Inc. of Atlanta has long been a major force both nationally and internationally. Bill Johnson's leadership begins during a transition in board membership because of retirements: eight new trustees have joined the board during the past 18 months. A new generation of civic and cultural leaders is stepping forward to meet its responsibilities for the future of our state, region, and country. By their actions and example, all Berry trustees have claimed ownership of our shared enterprise. Working with people such as Pat Pattillo, Bill Johnson, and our other trustees has been for me a graduate education in successful leadership practices. I feel extremely confident about the future of Berry because of this board, its leadership, and its commitment to the Berry mission.

Dr. Scott Colley
Berry College President
 

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