Student leaders to weigh push for Board of Trustees representation

A bill that will hit the Student Association Senate floor Monday could pave the way for a lobbying push for the Board of Trustees’ first student representative.

Sen. Ryan Counihan, SoB-U, said he wants to press the University’s highest governing body to adopt students as voting members to improve transparency and communication between GW’s top leadership and its students.

“It’s clear that the student voice hasn’t been heard in the conversations behind closed doors,” Counihan, who is co-sponsoring the bill, said. “There needs to be student input at those higher levels to make sure when the Board makes decisions that students are heard.”

If passed, the bill would task a five-student committee to spend the next three months deciding what benefits a student on the Board could bring to GW. The committee would research similar colleges and craft a memo that would become the foundation of the SA’s pitch to the Board, Counihan said.

Counihan added the SA may decide to put the idea to a student vote next semester to help convince the Board to let students have a role in settling top issues, such as the University’s $1 billion budget or how administrators should handle the two recent admissions scandals.

Counihan criticized the Board’s reactions to GW’s recent retreat from a need-blind admissions policy and last year’s U.S. News & World Report unranking, saying members did not act with student interests in mind, even though their decisions impacted the value of students’ degrees.

He called it “frustrating” that the top student advocate, SA President Julia Susuni, is allowed just a few minutes at each Board meeting to lay out her top goals, while she and two other SA cabinet members sit in on committees – without a vote.

Nelson Carbonell, chair of the Board, said “the Board would welcome any input” from the SA.

Carbonell said he wanted to involve more students with the Board when his term started this summer, and plans to get more students connected with trustees through dinners or events before the Board’s February meeting.

Almost a decade ago, the SA led a push for a student representative, but then-University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and former Board chairman Charles Manatt shot down their proposal.

While students sitting on university boards are common in public college systems, just 8.5 percent of private colleges included at least one student as a voting member on its highest governing body, according to a 2010 study from the Association of Governing Boards. American and Howard universities both have a voting student member on their boards.

About 12.5 percent included at least one non-voting student member, that study showed.

Susuni lauded the steps the Board has already taken this year to connect with students. She said she has personally met with the Board chair more than previous SA presidents did.

Susuni, who reports to the Board’s student affairs committee but does not get a vote, said trustees value her opinion and that her perspective helps them understand “what students are thinking when they walk around campus.”

“My experience has been positive. They generally ask for my feedback for student affairs and other issues. It’s a different perspective from their own,” Susuni said. “We’ll see if it passes. But I’m all for more transparency and more conversations between students and administrators and the Board.”

The bill will set a deadline of Feb. 1, just before the Board’s February meeting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.