For most students, the Board of Trustees is a mystery.
As the University’s highest governing body, the board plays a pivotal role in guiding this institution and the hundreds of millions of dollars that determine its future. The 38 individual members, ranging from alumni to business people, lawyers and consultants, set tuition and determine how those dollars are spent such as on massive construction projects and the financial aid pool.
But for many students, the fact that the board met Friday for one of a handful of yearly meetings went largely unnoticed.
At the University of Virginia, the Board of Visitors faced a media firestorm and widespread scrutiny from faculty, students and alumni in June, after abruptly demanding that Teresa Sullivan, the school’s president, step down.
Sullivan was reinstated 18 days later, and in September, the school began broadcasting its board meetings on a live feed to make them more accessible to the community.
By adopting UVA’s policy to stream its Board of Trustees meetings online, the University could demonstrate a larger commitment to transparency – and show the public how and why the board reaches its decisions, not just the outcome.
Student access to the meetings is limited, and given the level of influence the board has over their everyday lives, this is disheartening.
At this time of transition for GW, with the newly released strategic plan and construction on nearly every block of the Foggy Bottom campus, the community has the right to hear from top decision-makers as they call the shots.
Part of the recent rebranding campaign looked to make the University web-friendly to better reach a wider audience. Streaming trustee meetings online would create an environment where more people have access to not only the University’s plans for the future, but also to the process by which it is determined.
And in the next decade, finances will play an even more critical role, as the board and administrators carry out the 10-year strategic plan and launch an intensive fundraising campaign. With such significant monetary decisions, transparency regarding investments and spending becomes even more pressing.
Board meetings must be as transparent as possible so that Colonials feel engaged and invested in high-level decisions and the process and rationale by which they are made.
That said, it would be naive to expect trustees to discuss all the private mechanics of their business in a forum that is broadcast online. But the parameters for the board’s executive session – during which only trustees are permitted in the meeting room to discuss and vote on specific agenda items like capital projects – should be clearly defined.
Most major cities, including D.C., record and stream live video of city council meetings to offer the public a window into the process of determining how their tax dollars are used. As customers of this University, students and community members are also entitled to a deeper understanding of how tuition dollars are allocated.