Student representative on GW’s Board would be outlier nationally

If the Student Association succeeds in its recently announced push for representation on GW’s Board of Trustees, it will be the first among GW’s 14 peer schools to earn voting power for students.

An SA committee will spend the next three months studying what student voting members could bring to the University’s highest governing body, looking deeply at the governing structure of similar schools across the country. That research will likely become the basis of the student leaders’ pitch to the Board at its February meeting.

The student leaders have pointed to American University, which includes a student voice, though not a vote, on its Board of Trustees.

American’s student representative, graduate student Randall Warnas, said he doesn’t feel that the right to vote is needed because he does not have the deep understanding on the Board’s complicated discussion.

“I come with a perspective. I don’t come with a background knowledge to approve or disapprove of things. It makes sense to not have that voting right,” he said.

Just 8.5 percent of private colleges included at least one voting student member on their boards, according to a 2010 study from the Association of Governing Boards.

While three SA members, including the SA president, sit on Board committees at GW, they do not have a vote and are not permitted to attend the Board’s closed executive session.

American voted to include a student on closed-doors decisions in 2006, after former university president Benjamin Ladner was found to have spent more than a half-million dollars on limousine rides, meals for a family party and landscaping.

The student behind GW’s effort, Sen. Ryan Counihan, SoB-U, has taken a similar approach, pointing to two admissions scandals in the last year. He said the Board needs to increase transparency by opening its membership to students.

“It’s frustrating that these conversations take place on campus, when the SA president just has a few minutes to talk to the Board three times a year but the board takes the final opinion. There’s not enough student impact,” Counihan said.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said students’ voices are already incorporated into the Board of Trustees meetings through SA President Julia Susuni’s five-minute report.

The Board is also planning on bringing student leaders to connect with trustees at its February meeting. Konwerski added that since many former students sit on the Board, they “have incredible insights and perspectives which have helped shape the direction that GW has taken and continue to influence where GW is headed,” Konwerski said.

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