March 28, 2019
Where Was the Board?
That is the question Non Profit Quarterly (NPQ) asks about the Board of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) after it's co-founder, Morris Dees was fired earlier this month and then last week, the President, Richard Coen resigned along with the center's legal director and associate legal director amidst controversy around the organization's 'workplace culture.'
Bob Moser, a former journalist with the non-profit SPLC who now writes for The NewYorker, says this in his March 21, 2019 article:
We were working with a group of dedicated and talented people, fighting all kinds of good fights, making life miserable for the bad guys. And yet, all the time, dark shadows hung over everything: the racial and gender disparities, the whispers about sexual harassment, the abuses that stemmed from the top-down management, and the guilt you couldn’t help feeling about the legions of donors who believed that their money was being used, faithfully and well, to do the Lord’s work in the heart of Dixie. We were part of the con, and we knew it.
So where was the Board in overseeing the health of the organization's workplace culture? Maybe their strong financial standing of $400 million in assets and more than $100 million in annual contributions gave the Board a false sense of security in their overall governance responsibilities suggests NPQ author, Martin Levine.
With the reputation of this highly respected organization now at risk, this situation is a glaring reminder to us as Board Chairs of independent schools, that we have a responsibility to oversee the health of our school's culture. That must include regular, planned formal inquiry of faculty, staff, students, parents, and donors. We must insure that the workplace environment is free of harassment and staff feel valued, that students feel safe from bullying, that donors feel appreciated for their contributions and the school is being a good steward of those dollars. It reminds us that regardless of how 'well' our school might be doing, we cannot become complacent in our duties of oversight in all areas of responsibility as the future well-being and reputation of our school is at stake.
Here are links to the articles in Nonprofit Quarterly and The New Yorker