Jacob Garber: Fight is futile for student Board of Trustees member

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Student Association senators are supposed to act on the best interests of GW students. But the way many of them voted last week was simply naive.

To bolster the student voice and bring transparency to the administration, the SA voted to explore how to bring a student representative onto the Board of Trustees. The move would be counterproductive, unnecessary and unjustified.

It may seem, on the surface, that a voting representative would bring students closer to administrative decisions. In his support of the bill, Sen. Ryan Counihan, SoB-U, said, “There needs to be student input at those higher levels to make sure when the board makes decisions, that students are heard.” But the reality is that student input already exists, and the Board of Trustees is not the place for students to have direct influence as voting members.

Even if the board allows a student member, the representative will have little to no impact. There are 38 trustees on the board, many of whom have tenures lasting years. A student representative would be recycled yearly, with a new, inexperienced one likely starting over every fall.

This inconsistency isn’t what we need in the University’s highest governing body. A student presence would be an insignificant minority, having virtually no effect on decisions.

Besides, the board is made up of mainly of business leaders and wealthy alumni – those who have the experience of running and understanding an operation of GW-scale immensity. We need more specialty and experience on the board, not less. Aside from University President Knapp, even faculty and administrators don’t have a direct say in the board’s decisions, such as approving tuition rates and the amount of financial aid that will go to students.

As it is now, the Board already hears a direct student voice. SA president Julia Susuni delivers a report at every meeting, and she and two other SA representatives sit on board committees. And, as Susuni told The Hatchet last week, the experience has been positive, and board members actively listen to and solicit feedback from her.

But this is where the relationship should end. A vote gives a responsibility to students that they cannot fulfill.

The SA has a limited amount of time to make an impact on the University, and student leaders should focus on goals they know they can reasonably achieve, such as bringing Student Health Service and the University Counseling Center to campus, for which University President Steven Knapp announced his support earlier this week. Historically, pushing for a voting student member of the board has been an exercise in futility.

The last time the Student Association tried to appoint a student to the board was in 2004, and the proposition was shot down by the past university president and board of trustees chairman. Former Board chair Charles Mannatt said students have an obvious conflict of interest in being on the board, and that they lack experience. This remains true today.

Yes, there should absolutely be more transparency between the board and students. It makes sense, for example, to post board minutes online and video stream meetings – an easy act of transparency GW has not yet been put in place. But appointing a student member to the board is not the way to make students heard at the highest level.

And as representatives of the student body, it is naive for SA senators to direct their efforts toward an unreachable goal.

The writer, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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