Augustana’s Board of Trustees prepares for incoming leadership

Gavin Nicoson

Augustana College’s Board of Trustees is preparing for a change in leadership this October as current Chair John Murabito and Vice-Chair Wiley Adams reach the end of their terms. Filling their respective roles will be Mike Gapen and Cheryl True, both Augustana alumni and current board members. Kai Swanson, special assistant to the president, described the board as the shareholders of the college.

“If there was anybody who was the owner of the college, it would be the Board of Trustees, because they hold the charter that the state of Illinois gave to Augustana College to operate as an institution of higher learning,” Swanson said. “Their role is to safeguard that mission to make sure that the college has the resources it needs.”

The nature of their responsibilities means that board members tend to focus on big-picture guidance rather than small-scale issues. Swanson likened this perspective to being in an airplane.

“If you’re looking down from a plane, you can barely see individual cars and how they’re moving, but you can see this broad landscape,” Swanson said. “You can be aware of things that are ahead whether they’re storm clouds or clear, smooth skies.” 

Kirk Anderson, Augustana’s chief financial officer and vice president of administration, said that the board is also tasked with approving large expenditures.

“They approve all construction projects over a million dollars. We present the budget to them every meeting, and, within that budget, there are many different things such as money for bills or salary increases,” Anderson said.

Through a vote within the board, Augustana typically approves a new chair and vice-chair every three years. Anderson said that this term length can vary depending on circumstance.

“If you have President Talentino coming in, is it appropriate to be changing the board chair at the same time? No,” Anderson said. “You might take the previous president and say, ‘Will you stay with us for an extra year?’” 

President Andrea Talentino said that the incoming chair and vice-chair have worked closely with Murabito and Adams to maintain continuity of leadership.

“John Murabito is working with Mike already. He’s talking with him as we make decisions,” Talentino said. “It’s really a matter of the current chair sharing what the key areas of work are and how they go about it.”

Board members come from a variety of backgrounds, including pastoral work, business leadership and medicine. Talentino said that it’s important to recognize the individuality of board leadership.

“The reality is that every board chair is going to put their own stamp on it,” Talentino said. “There’s a fair amount of leeway to kind of shape the role in the way that’s most appropriate for anyone’s personality and focus.”

Mike Gapen is chief U.S. economist at Bank of America, and Cheryl True operates as a board-certified family physician in Davenport, IA. Because board members are not compensated, Anderson said that their leadership represents a strong belief in Augustana’s mission.

“They all have very busy lives and families and things to do,” Anderson said. “They’re taking time out of their day three times a year to travel here and say, ‘I’m going to commit my time to the college,’ and we’re fortunate here at Augustana that they do.”