There is a polarizing movement at The George Washington University to have a student representative on the Board of Trustees. For the most part, the divide is between concerned students and aloof administrators. The current University policy is to allow the Student Association president limited speaking time at a closed-door (not open to the public or student body) meeting. A writer from The Hatchet is also allowed access, but neither student present is allowed to vote on policy decisions of any kind. This status quo is insufficient for the administration to adequately respond to student needs. In this past spring Student Association election referendum, more than 70 percent of students answered “yes” when asked if there should be a voting student trustee.
The University Students on Board movement demands a voting student trustee position on the Board of Trustees, and that board meetings be open to the student body. The limited time allotted to our non-voting elected representative, the SA president, is not enough. It is not a comprehensive portrayal of the problems that students are experiencing. A separate voting student trustee would be able to prioritize his or her representation to the board above all else. S/he would have an office to deal with student concerns. Unlike the current position, a separate student trustee would be unburdened of running the Student Association and free of potential obligations toward the administration that any person in the position of Student Association president may feel.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Charles Manatt have both spoken out against a student trustee. “At the present moment because of all the conflicts of interest, the window is not open to look at the issue,” Chairman Manatt commented to The Hatchet. University Students on Board believes that there should be no conflicts of interest between administrators, educators and students. If there is a conflict of interest, it can only be solved by better communication between administrators, educators and students.
This idea is not far-fetched or unreasonable. Cornell University and Howard University have student trustees. “Trustees are only as effective as the information they are oriented on,” Senior University Vice President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees Artis Hampshire-Cowan said in the Howard Hilltop, the school’s student paper. “Throughout the year, trustees continue learning … In my 11-year tenure, generally the student trustees have been very thoughtful and have contributed immensely to the board and its decisions.”
We all have concerns about student rights, department funding, faculty issues, tuition, food and amenity costs, student life, classrooms, funding and building decisions, and University policies that are unaddressed by the board. There is no single resource through which to express our grievances to the University. Each and every student has something to say to our administration, and a voting student trustee is the way to make our voices heard.
Students are investors in the University just as much as the trustee benefactors who currently comprise the majority of the board membership. Many of us are taking out personal loans or earning our scholarships through academic achievement to further our education. Help to open the window that Chairman Manatt erroneously believed is closed for discussion. Join us in calling for the Board of Trustees to revise its bylaws and allow dedicated, caring students a fairer representation in our greatest investment: our education.
-The writer, a junior majoring in philosophy, is the co-chair of University Students on Board. The group’s first meeting is Monday, Sept. 26, at 9 p.m. in the Marvin Center Continental Ballroom.
This article appeared in the September 26, 2005 issue of the Hatchet.