March 10, 2009

Trust issues

No one has ever cited the University’s Board of Trustees as a model of transparency. The Board convenes behind closed doors, and even the dates of its meetings are not released. In light of this, recent efforts by Student Government to bring students and trustees together at brown bag lunches are commendable.

But this is only a first step. Now, with the election of Andrew Alper (A.B.’80, M.B.A.’81) as its new chairman, the Board should seize the opportunity to redefine its relationships with the student body by making a conscious, formal commitment to solicit student input on campus issues.

Student representation on the Board is currently limited to two liaisons, one graduate student and one undergraduate, who have no voting rights and sit in only on meetings of the Student and Campus Life committee, one of twelve committees. Consequently, students’ input on the Board—and Trustees’ knowledge of students’ viewpoints—is tiny in proportion to the institution’s power and its impact on student life.

The Board oversees all areas of University development, including new facilities, investments, community planning, and fundraising. It is therefore essential that the line of communication between students and the Board be open in both directions. When making wide-reaching decisions in areas such as housing and dining, trustees would do well to consult with the students their decisions will impact. Moreover, increased exposure to the Board is essential to students being good citizens of the University.

That said, giving student liaisons voting rights—a possibility raised last year by the Social Justice Coalition—is the wrong approach. The Board makes fiduciary decisions based on long-term visions for the school, and these judgments should ultimately be left in the hands of business leaders with years of experience.

However, that doesn’t mean students have nothing to say on these matters. Going forward, meetings of all the committees, particularly Campus Planning and Facilities, and Community and Civic Affairs, should be opened to attendance by student liaisons—who should not just be there to listen, but to share feedback and opinions, as well. Trustees should make even further efforts to hold discussions and open forums to listen to student concerns. Most importantly, decisions directly affecting students should not be made without at least consulting the liaisons, as well as other students when possible.

As Alper takes over, he will face a broad range of challenges. He can best face the obstacles his term will present by consulting the students who make the University what it is.

The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Editor-in-Chief–elect, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.