Jacob Garber: Adding Asian members to Board of Trustees more important than checking off diversity boxes

When the Board of Trustees announced last month that it would soon induct four new Asian members into its ranks, it may have sounded like a tokenistic and awkward approach to inclusion that was largely overlooked by the GW community.

But for the University’s international ambitions, it’s an important move.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Jacob Garber

The addition draws attention to the Board’s stark lack of diversity – a problem that should have been remedied long ago. The University has been cultivating ties with China for several years, touting GW’s place as an international institution, yet only two of the 37 members of its highest governing body are foreign. And both of them are from Great Britain.

With an almost entirely Euro-American Board of Trustees, our interests in China appear to be less a meaningful relationship and more GW’s attempt to implant itself in the country without representation on the University level. Diversifying the board will help solve this problem.

With GW’s sizeable Asian student population and goals to potentially open a campus in Beijing, Asian representation on the board is only logical. About 40 percent of GW’s 2,500 international students come from China and South Korea, and GW hopes to double the number of international students over the next decade.

The four new Board members can, perhaps, help some international students by offering insight into their financial or cultural needs that would be overlooked by a less diverse board.

And as the board sets tuition prices and approves University policies, its members can be in better touch with the make-up of the student body at large, and make decisions with GW’s status as an international institution in mind.

(This is not to say that the Board of Trustees is fully representative of students, as the board remains an unnecessarily closed-off organization, doing all substantive work behind closed doors.)

GW is closely institutionally tied to China by shared research ventures, degree programs and fundraising enterprises. With the addition of the four new Asian members, which will likely be Chinese, the University is helping repair its partnership in the country.

The relationship took a hard hit in August when GW School of Business Dean Doug Guthrie – the leader of GW’s operations in China – was abruptly fired for overspending. The University lost its China expert with significant business ties in the country.

The Board needs to fix these Chinese connections to have any hope of making a strong academic imprint on the country.

In an era where graduates are increasingly finding jobs overseas and at a school where programs like Americorps and the Peace Corps are immensely popular, it is concerning that our institution could have a weakened relationship with one of the world’s emerging economic superpowers.

So as GW continues to grow in China, the importance of a true relationship – one with real representation – will only become more important. The addition of these new members is a step in the right direction.

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

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