Board hears case for student trustee

By Jakob Wartman

The Board of Trustees could find itself with a new addition if the current proposal brought forth by MCSG President Ben Johnson ƒ?TM06 to include a student on the Board is brought to fruition. The student trustee would ideally serve as a full voting member, representing the student body in the Board meetings and communicating the general student sentiment to the Board of Trustees.Johnson, a major proponent of a student trustee position during his 2005 campaign, presented his idea to the Board of Trustees at its meeting last week, addressing the Campus Life committee before shortly briefing the entire Board of Trustees.

ƒ?oeIt was a really high level summary,ƒ?? Macalester trustee and former MCSG President Colin Mothupi ƒ?TM00 said.

ƒ?oeWe have started a good conversation,ƒ?? Johnson said. ƒ?oeThe meeting was intended to start a discussion on the idea [of a student trustee] and address communication issues between the student body and the Board.ƒ??

Dean of Students Laurie Hamre said she was surprised by the amount of feedback the trustees gave students on the idea of a student trustee.

ƒ?oeIt was hard to tell how open the trustees were to the idea of a student trustee,ƒ?? Johnson said, noting especially the magnitude of change required to facilitate a new student position on the Board.

The student joining the Board of Trustees would help govern the college, as the Board is charged with hiring and evaluating the president, managing the endowment and approving large-scale plans and programs.

The argument behind allowing a student trustee is twofold: it keeps colleges operating on democratic principles and it keeps the Board of Trustees more closely in touch with the community it governs, Matthew Caires, Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Wyoming and former student trustee at the University of Vermont said in a July/August 2003 article with the national magazine Trusteeship.

While the Board of Trustee only has 30 minutes of each meeting closed to faculty, staff and students, many feel it is during this time that the most important decisions concerning the college are made. With a student trustee, students feel that they would have a representative with influence at all times.

Many students are also concerned about improving the dialogue between the trustees and Macalesterƒ?TMs daily life. Both Johnson and Mothupi said that communication between Board members and students is not always sufficient in showing the process behind the Boardƒ?TMs decisions.

ƒ?oeAs a former member of student government it is great to hear the idea of a student voice around the table,ƒ?? Mothupi said. ƒ?oeIt would truly show the trustees are committed to student life. The assumption is the trustees are a group disconnected from the college that only meet four times a year, which they arenƒ?TMt.ƒ??

ƒ?oe[A] student trustee increases the opportunity for student-initiated institutional change,ƒ?? Caires said. ƒ?oeA student trustee can provide a persuasive voice in the governance process.ƒ??

There are several hurdles that Johnson needs to overcome if he expects to keep pushing his proposal. Some question whether a student trustee is the best answer to facilitating the discussion between the student body and the Board of Trustees.

For instance, Hamre questioned whether one student would be able to represent 1,800 others.

Another question is how much a student will be able to accomplish as only one voice among 34 other trustees who have already established themselves as significant contributors to the college.

The Board of Trustees is charged with looking at the big picture, not only for the current class but also for the ones down the line and those that call Macalester their alma mater. A student might not be able to see in this capacity, Mothupi said.

Many public universities and some private liberal art colleges have adopted student trustees. The idea of a student trustee is nothing new to universities, with many current student trustee positions created during the 1960s and ƒ?TM70s, when students were protesting the United Statesƒ?TM conduct on the Vietnam War and demanding more representation on college boards.

Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Union College (in Schenectady, N.Y.) are three of only some of the nine percent of private colleges that currently have a student trustee. Johnson believes this shows Macalesterƒ?TMs ability to incorporate a student trustee. He also cites the fact that none of Macalesterƒ?TMs peer institutions have a student Board member. Such a position, he said, would add to the collegeƒ?TMs distinctiveness.

ƒ?oeAt Union College the student trustees are voted in by the students [and] participate as full voting members of the Board,ƒ?? Union Collegeƒ?TMs Dean of Students Stephen Leavitt said. ƒ?oeThey are treated as colleagues on the Board. I think having a student trustee speaks to our policy of including students in school. It surprises me that other schools donƒ?TMt take this role.ƒ??

ƒ?oeI applaud the student body for making themselves more visible to the Board of Trustees.ƒ?? Mothupi said. ƒ?oeHopefully this discussion will make the Board of Trustees more visible to the student body.ƒ??

The idea for a student trustee will again be presented at the next Board of Trustees meeting in May, though Johnson plans on maintaining a dialogue with Hamre and the trustees.

ƒ?oeTrustees value their time with students,ƒ?? Hamre said. ƒ?oeTheyƒ?TMd like to continue a discussion about a student trustee.ƒ??