Opposition from GW’s top two officials will effectively kill Student Association senators’ efforts to put a student on the Board of Trustees. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Manatt said they do not support a bill that will be voted on in the Senate next week.
If the bill passes, a question asking students whether a student should sit on the board will be placed on the March SA ballot. Even if students support the referendum, the University will have to approve the recommendation. Manatt said any student member of the board would be biased and serve a specific constituency. The 35-person board, which is comprised of alumni, benefactors and professionals, is the University’s highest decision-making body and meets four times a year.
“It’s all just a hypothetical question,” Manatt said. “I’m very pro-student, but at the present moment because of all the conflicts of interest, the window is not open to look at the issue.” The proposed referendum would have little effect on the board’s decisions and would also go against the group’s bylaws, which prevent student membership, Manatt added.
Trachtenberg said students already serve a role on the board by serving on the Student Life and Academic Affairs committees. “I don’t see where students have the experience, be it in management, academia or just life experience that would add value to the board,” Trachtenberg said. “Where students do add considerable value is in the committees, and students are represented on the pertinent committees.”
Morgan Corr (CCAS-U) is introducing the legislation, which is expected to pass at next week’s Senate meeting.
“This would bring a student voice and a level of openness to the Board of Trustees,” Corr said.
Other senators have come out in support of the referendum, saying the board does not reflect the will of students.
“I’d like to think that their actions are in the best interests of the students but that’s hard to say when there is no student representation on the board,” Peter Feldman (U-At Large) said.
Trachtenberg defended the board, saying it usually appoints a recent graduate to serve on it.
“The board doesn’t have deans, it doesn’t have vice presidents, it doesn’t have faculty and it doesn’t have students – there is a reason for this,” Trachtenberg said.
Other senators are taking the positions of some top GW officials into account, arguing the Senate should not focus on the proposal.
“I think it’s a great idea and I think it is something the SA should be advocating for,” Ryan Kilpatrick (ESIA-U) said. “But I don’t believe this is something we should be putting all of our energy into because frankly, it probably won’t happen.”
The only way for students to be a trustee would be for a board member to move to amend the bylaws of the Board of Trustees, Manatt said. He added that the last time that happened was in the late 1970s.
SA President Omar Woodard, who is the only student allowed to speak at Board of Trustees meetings, said he supports the idea of students being on the board.
“Whether (students) are a driving force or a leader on the Board of Trustees is not what we’re concerned about: it’s the image and the ability for students to have a say on the surface on the Board of Trustees,” Woodard said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction in talking about it.”