Recently, The Hatchet used an entire page in the opinions section to convince you of the need for student representation on GW’s Board of Trustees. In one column, I would like to convince you otherwise. Though I agree with the need for the board to be more transparent about its actions, putting student representatives on the board is not the best way to achieve this goal.
It is true the Board has the final say over University policies. This does not mean they make every important decision regarding student life here at GW. It did not take a vote by the Trustees to stop President Trachtenberg’s trimester plan. It was scrapped when a sizable majority of students were against it.
The Hatchet and other columns claimed the student’s voice was not being heard as a result of our absence on the Board. Yet, in all the ink used, no one gives an example of when the board did not listen to students.
The Board does have access to student opinion, be it talking with students or even reading The Hatchet. Even if there were to be two students on the board, they would merely be two in the face of 35.
The biggest roadblock in putting a student on the Board of Trustees is finding a process that allows for the best candidate to be chosen. The Hatchet suggests the position be an elected one (“Board should open doors to students,” Oct. 18, p. 5). Yet, as The Hatchet’s own news stories and editorials have pointed out, Student Association elections have routinely misses the mark when instilling student confidence in not only of the election process, but in the effectiveness of our SA as a whole.
The Hatchet claims that by keeping this position separate from SA oversight, it would be “de-politicized.” A position on the board of trustees is far more important and prestigious than a spot in our often-dysfunctional SA. As a result, elections for such a post would become more contested, yet less substantive than the races we have now. While scrutiny is good, the potential board members would also be prone to the same political bickering and in-fighting that has plagued the SA.
Few GW students have any clue what the Board does. Can anyone name even five of the 35 people who serve on the board? How about one? An election for this position would boil down to a glorified popularity contest. The SA serves as a good model to project what would happen in trying to elect a student to serve on the Board of Trustees. Last year’s SA election was as much about issues as it was about how many people each candidate had outside the Marvin Center chanting candidates’ name. Were I to be a member of the Board, it would be hard for me to take seriously someone who was elected in this manner.
An alternative way of selecting student representation would for the Board itself to choose who would serve on it. This makes sense; it is how current members of the body are chosen. At the same time, this would defeat the purpose of having student representation on the Board. A student handpicked by the group would have a hard time convincing the student body of his or her independence.
Instead of focusing on putting students on the board, we would be better served as students were our trustees to be more open about what goes on inside these meetings. The only students allowed in these meetings are a Hatchet reporter and the SA President. The minutes of these meetings are also kept secret. Putting two students on the board would do nothing to increase the of the student body to these meetings, if these other rules remained in place.
A sensible solution seems to be for a transcript of the meeting to be posted online. This is done, for example, at the University of Cincinnati. There is no reason why our board needs to be more secretive than the board at U of C.
It is more important for the students to have knowledge of the actions of the board than it would be for the board to hear from two students. As aforementioned, it wasn’t the Board of Trustees who stopped the trimester plan; it was student opposition. By having knowledge of what goes on in these meetings, students will be better able to monitor and modify the actions of those who run our school. By putting two students on the Board of Trustees we will only have more of the same.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.