Sunday, April 25, 2010

How Patrick Parker Gets His Way

I would like to begin by thanking Patrick Parker for finally making the text of the 2007 agreement between Shimer College and the Aequus Foundation available to the community, shortly before the recent excitement. Granted, it was a few weeks late, but it's the thought that counts!

Trustee Patrick Parker played a key role in engineering both Thomas Lindsay's hiring in 2008 and the adoption of Lindsay's slipshod mission statement in 2010. We in the external community now have enough information about how these events unfolded to draw some general conclusions about how Patrick Parker gets his way.

Of course, in drawing these conclusions, there are only two data points to work from. Thus, it is likely that some parts of this pattern are illusory. But the similarities between these two events are striking. Here is how it seems to work:

1. Patrick Parker identifies some legitimate concern to which he just happens to have a privileged connection.

In 2008, this was the concern that the "anonymous donor" (Barre Seid) might reconsider his donations if a substandard president were chosen. It's not clear whether Barre Seid even knew that his identity was being invoked in this way. However, since Parker was the only conduit of information between Seid and the Board, nobody was in a position to contradict him.

In 2010, Parker's legitimate concern was that a contract existed between Shimer and Aequus that required certain changes to the mission statement. Although we do not know exactly what was said in the Board meeting, Parker certainly managed to convey the impression that both President Bill Rice and the Dean of the College had been signatories to this contract. We now know that this contract was a vague and probably unenforceable agreement to which a Development Office assistant had signed as the "authorized officer" of Shimer . However, since Parker didn't have a copy of the agreement handy (and neither did anyone else, as he hadn't happened to mention it until just before the meeting), no substantive questions about the agreement could be asked or answered.

2. Parker exploits the uncertainty of this concern so that he can present some specific action linked to his personal agenda as the only workable solution.

Did it make sense that a donor concerned about executive qualifications would prefer a candidate (Tom Lindsay) who had not been properly vetted and had never run a college before? Of course not. But since only Parker could know what the "anonymous donor's" exact concerns were, nobody was in a position to question how Parker presented them. Did it make sense that an agreement never mentioned before would require the sudden adoption of a poorly-written mission statement that placed extraordinary emphasis on a couple weeks' worth of Soc 2 readings? Of course not -- but once again, since only Parker knew what was in the contract, nobody was in a position to question its relevance.

3. The vote is held, reasonable people do the only reasonable thing based on the available information...

... and Parker gets exactly what he wants.

Patrick Parker is clearly a talented boardroom manipulator. We could all learn a lot from him. It is a great tribute to the sharp and observant intellects on the Shimer Board that, despite such skillful manipulation, the vast majority of swayable Trustees voted against the Lindsay mission statement in February. An even greater tribute, of course, is the outcome of the recent meeting in which Tom Lindsay was, at long last, relieved of his duties.

1 comment :

Jonathan said...

You may not have known this, but he also threatened to blackball Shimer in fundraising circles if we didn't pass the mission statement. It's mind-boggling to me that anything he said after that was taken at all seriously.

He also exploited his connection to Seid during a fall meeting of the Assembly, saying that if Shimer didn't do what he and the anonymous donor wanted, they would stop donating. Unlike his "legitimate" concerns, that one was somewhat illegitimate, since even then we weren't financially dependent on Seid and Parker.