Tom Esposito, who was LLI President from July 2016 to July 2020, also served as First Vice President the prior year and as Treasurer for the four years before that. In all, his nine-year tenure on Council stretched from mid-year 2011 until mid-year 2020 — almost half of LLI’s lifetime as an organization. We had a chance to ask him for his perspective on how LLI had grown and changed over the years. After all, almost half of our membership has joined in the last three years.
Creating a Member-Driven Operating Structure
“A key element for me was participating in the long-term planning process.” Beginning in 2015, a group of five LLIers, headed up by Donna Warner and including Tom, Ann Sunners, Jill Lundquist, Linda Bouchey, and Chuck Mishaan, met for two years to think about what LLI should look like three years out. “We made a number of significant recommendations,” Tom said. “We saw there was a large pool of potential members in our geography, but we had always limited our membership because we worried about classroom facilities and parking availability. We recommended increasing the membership gradually—10% the first year—to assess the impact of more members.” Since then, LLI’s membership cap has gone from 265 members to 330.
Some recommendations were aimed at creating a structure that better fit an all-volunteer organization with member input. The membership surveys were begun. The workflow for each committee was documented. “Sometimes when someone took over as a committee chairperson, they got surprises about what their responsibilities were. We wanted our member volunteers to have a roadmap.” The Planning and Evaluation Committee (the mysterious P&E) was created to discuss and vet new ideas so the Council could be more focused on decision making. And the bylaws were revised to streamline the Council size.
Our Relationship with Bard
It’s hard to imagine, given LLI’s close relationship with Bard and the college’s generous provision of everything from classroom space and parking to technology, legal advice and financial transaction support, that this was not always the case. LLI felt so fortunate to have the use of the Bard campus that our prevailing attitude was “don’t bother Bard, we don’t want to be a burden,” as Tom reflected.
Then we had our annual meeting where Bard College President Leon Botstein spoke. Tom recalls President Botstein saying, “We love you and want you to grow. LLI is helping Bard students see that learning is a lifelong experience.” Tom continued: “This changed our perspective, and we began to reach out more to the faculty and staff and received a warm welcome everywhere. When we have a tough question, like whether we can record our classes, we reach out to them and adopt Bard’s policies.”
Now and in the Future
“When we first realized we were going to have to move our classes online, we received some serious pushback from presenters. Now, some of these same presenters are converts, liking the process. “Looking to the future,” Tom continued, “when we are back in the classroom, we can have hybrid classes [some people there physically, some on Zoom]. Some of our members have always had trouble with the physical distances of the Bard campus.”
And Tom hopes for a return to our in-person social activities. “Some of the most popular things we do are social—that was apparent from the buzz of the hospitality room when we were on campus. We had some wonderful social events planned—a guided tour of the Fisher Center, a tour of the Hessel Art Museum—that had to be canceled because of COVID.” At some point, these can be rescheduled.