Tension Between the Medical Faculty and the Board of Trustees

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Medical faculty proposal, 1840.

Geneva Medical College occuppied a strange and undefined space, separated both administratively and physically from the rest of the Geneva College. The medical faculty elected their own unique dean and registrar, and no professor could be hired nor fired without a majority vote of the current members, giving the group a large amount of autonomy over their internal affairs. At the same time, the medical faculty served “at the pleasure of the board” and were dependent on the trustees’ management and funds. This pseudo-autonomous but dependent relationship created a strained relationship between the medical faculty and the trustees as the medical college settled into the fabric of Geneva College.

Over time, this tension fluctuated, but it was most intense between 1840 and 1841. After only five years of existence the medical faculty submitted a proposal to the board of trustees in which they asserted that they were “a coordinate not subordinate department of the college” and they requested that the board use their “university powers” to grant greater autonomy to the medical college. The proposal was penned by Dr. Thomas Spencer who felt the needs of a medical college warranted unique freedom compared to other departments. In other communications Dr. Spencer went as far as to suggest a complete emancipation of the medical department from the board in order to create a separate independent college. In response, the board commissioned an investigation into the relationship between the two bodies.

When the results were presented to the board in 1841, the first point stated that the medical faculty was “not a distinct incorporation” and the second stated that since they were not a distinct body the medical college was therefore “not a coordinate body with the Board of Trustees” but rather a subordinate body. This report definitively concluded that the medical faculty was created by and through the authority of the board and therefore, despite the unique position of the medical faculty, they were still subject to the Board of Trustees of Geneva College. Ultimately this report cemented the role of the Geneva Medical College within Geneva College but it also gave the medical faculty greater representation as the report also proposed creating “a standing committee of the medical department” which allowed a direct liaison between the board and the medical faculty. 

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Early draft of report on the relationship between the board and the medical faculty, 1841.

The Establishment of Geneva Medical College
Tension Between the Medical Faculty and the Board of Trustees