Student trustee push to be gradual

By David Cox

Last year’s Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) efforts to include a student on the Board of Trustees will continue this year, MCSG President Jess Hasken ’07 said in an interview Wednesday. Hasken said that she will discuss the issue with trustees as they arrive on campus for the year’s first Trustee meeting and the new athletic and recreation center’s groundbreaking ceremonies, both of which commenced Thursday.

But whereas a full voting student representative on the Board was sought last year, Hasken said she intends to pursue a more gradual approach.
“I think the ultimate goal is for more direct communication between students and trustees,” she said. “This can take place before the committee meetings, in the committee meetings themselves, and in both open and closed sessions.”

There are currently students on almost every Trustee Committee, with the exception of the Investment Committee and Committee on Trustees which evaluates and nominates trustees. Student representatives to these committees are allowed to give input on behalf of the student body and vote in the committees. Votes in the committees move an agenda item to be voted on by the full Board. Deliberations about full votes are typically made in a closed plenary session, with the votes themselves conducted in an open business meeting.

Hasken said a student presence at the plenary session would be a “first step” toward greater student involvement.
“One of the solutions, but not the entire solution, is for the short term to get a student observer in the plenary session. …These are not backroom decisions—they’re more of an exchange of information,” she said. “While I don’t necessarily think one student can represent the views of 1900 students, each trustee brings a perspective, and I think a student can bring something to the plenary discussion.”

Hasken said an eventual student trustee, perhaps ten years down the road, would enhance the level of cohesion between the student body and the Board of Trustees by making the student committee representatives’ input more valuable.

“I think it would offer greater coordination among students on various committees,” Hasken said. “It would allow them to be more informed and engaged in their own committee.”

Current MCSG Vice President Sheena Paul ’07, who served on the Campus Life Committee last year, agreed that a student trustee would empower the current student representatives.

“I think there would be a much greater feeling of investment,” Paul said.

If Macalester were to add a student trustee, it would join a small group of private colleges and universities that have such representatives, such as Cornell University, Union College, and Notre Dame University. Many schools added student representatives in the 1960’s and 70’s, when student activism was at its height. Student trustees are more common at public universities.

Trustee Peter Fenn ’70, who served as the Chairman of the Campus Life Committee last fall, did not say whether he was for or against a student trustee. He said one issue to consider before adding the position, however, was whether a student would be able to serve long enough to actively contribute.

“One concern is the turnover rate of students,” Fenn said. “Would a student be able to acclimate to [the board]?”

Fenn added that a student trustee could provide a possible conflict of interest, and that there may be better ways to go about engaging the student body.

“There are legal issues involved. There would be a conflict of interest with some of the decisions being made such as tuition increases.” Fenn said. “In my view you shouldn’t have it just to have it, you should have it because it works. Should you have a faculty member? Maybe one isn’t enough, maybe you should have more. What’s the best way to make sure people feel they’re empowered? That’s the fundamental question. How do we make sure students feel involved to the fullest extent?”

Trustee Jerry Crawford ’71, while remaining impartial on the issue, said that if a student trustee position were implemented, it could set the precedent for introducing more trustees who represent specific populations.

“I think the reality is that they have few ‘constituency’ trustees, and that would include students. But it would also include faculty, staff, or other ‘special group’ representatives,” Crawford said in an e-mail. “Likewise it is important for those of us who are trustees not to view ourselves as representing a particular constituency within the College, be it a college major, a special activity and so on.”

Though Fenn said that the board had been having productive discussions with Johnson on this issue, he was unsure of how the Board of Trustees reacted to the idea.

“I have no idea. We haven’t discussed it enough. Folks want to see exactly how it would work and see if there are other ways so it would be even more inclusive,” Fenn said. “We’re going to continue with the discussions.”