Laura Castro Lindarte: GW, follow other institutions when considering student trustees

Men and women in suits will never know GW as well as the students here do. We know what works and what doesn’t, since we experience GW day in and day out.

Because we live and breathe GW every day, it only makes sense that administrators should hear directly from students. And officials are taking an important step in connecting with students: The chairman of the Board of Trustees announced he would create a task force to consider adding a student representative to the Board of Trustees. Still, the question is not whether GW should have student representation, but how the board can reorganize itself to include a student while ensuring the board’s independence.

Media Credit: Cartoon by Julia Korsyn
Cartoon by Julia Korsyn

GW isn’t the first school to deal with the issue of student representation: Ohio State University added student voices to their board while making sure they can act as an independent unit. The University’s Board of Trustees consists of 18 members, two of whom are student trustees — one is an undergraduate student, and the other is a graduate student. The two students are allowed to vote on committees and can attend executive meetings. Students who want to be trustees apply to be chosen by a selection committee. The student body has no say in who is chosen to be the trustee, which ensures that the trustees are not influenced by students.

GW should follow Ohio State’s example. The University’s Board of Trustees should have at least two student trustees who have different experiences on campus, like an undergraduate and a graduate student, to ensure that all types of the students are represented.

Student Association president Erika Feinman made similar suggestions in their campaign platform last year. To make Feinman’s platform a reality, the board must lay out specific policies that student trustees would have to follow — including how they are chosen.

The Board of Trustees should control what student representatives can vote on so that they don’t create conflicts of interest or vote on something they don’t totally understand. Student trustees should have access to all committee meetings and should be able to discuss delicate matters with the board. Voting on certain referenda could become too difficult for student trustees because they might not have the background information on certain issues that are not connected to students — like salaries or other financial matters.

Although Ohio State’s formula seems to work, employing a slightly different selection system could also work for GW. Cornell University allows their student body to vote on which students will represent them on the board of trustees. If GW proceeded to add students to the board, it would make the most sense to have students apply to the selection committee and then have the student body vote on the selected candidates. A process like this would ensure that both the board and student body would be involved in the process. The Board of Trustees should be selective, but students should have the ability to choose who is best fit to represent their interests.

GW is taking a big, important step by considering adding student representation to its Board of Trustees. It’s showing us that the board cares about students’ opinions and wants us to have a say in what happens within the University. If done right, this could guarantee future students’ involvement in University decision-making.

Laura Castro Lindarte, a junior double-majoring in journalism and political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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