During their weekly meeting on the last Tuesday in January, the Student Association at St. Michael’s College passed a revised resolution aiming to place a student representative onto the 29-member Board of Trustees. The resolution is the next step in the SA’s continuing effort to form a more structured line of communication between the Board and the student government.
“It’s a step towards transparency,” said President Sophie Adams, ’18, of the resolution. “It’s also a step towards involving the Board in the day to day life of the College.”
Eight and a half percent of polled independent colleges and universities reported voting student representation on their board, according to the website of Association of Governing The numbers for public institutions are significantly higher.
“I’m indifferent,” said President John J. Neuhauser when asked about the possible inclusion of a student non-voting board member. He added that the president and vice president of the student association, Sophie Adams and Dan Ramos, communicate“directly to the top to board members. They have as good of access as I have. “
The SA amended its original resolution — presented to the Board on December 20 — because of a conflict over language which read “Whereas, the lack of student input, despite the existence of a resolution requesting student involvement and participation on the Board of Trustees, has persisted and lead to significant changes made in campus life that have negatively affected the entire student body without consultation.”
“Frankly, I was floored. There was no resolution that had been put before the Board of Trustees,” said Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Mary Kate McKenna, ’80. The resolution in question allegedly passed through the Student Senate during the 2013-2014 school year according to Adams, but was never presented to the Board of Trustees. It can be found archived with other passed resolutions in the SA office, but had no date or name attached.
Besides the acknowledgement of this undated resolution, there are still a lot of logistic complications that may arise as the SA labors to instate non-voting student representation on the Board of Trustees. The process of becoming a Board Member is arduous. McKenna noted, adding that the average trustee would be on the list for consideration three to five years before being nominated. In addition, McKenna pointed out that, “continuity is a huge problem.” Explaining that board members deal with a lot of research and documentation. McKenna suggested that reading a student representative into all the decisions discussed within meetings would be a complicated process.
“Confidentiality is a huge issue,” added President Neuhauser, “It [a Board meeting] is a confidential proceeding. There are a lot of things the representative wouldn’t be able to talk about.”
Adams, recognizing other concerns stated, “A trustee has a certain amount of expertise and experience. Bringing in a younger person, a student, who obviously doesn’t have that level of expertise would change the dynamic of the Board.”
“It’s not a stopper. It’s not ideal. It’s just a reality,” stressed McKenna in regards to the challenges.
Beyond the tangible representation of having a student voice influence the board, there is also a level of symbolic importance to it as well. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who think the SA just doesn’t do a lot. Having respect given to the SA by the Board would increase the level of respect in the general student body,”Adams said.“The resolution — for the SA — is not only an effort for student representation at the highest level of College governance, but also a step towards being viewed as a more legitimate force for change within the College community,”
While McKenna acknowledged her accessibility to the heads of the SA, she pointed out that there is room for improvement. “I understand their frustration,” said McKenna. “The piece after the fact is what’s missing, and we’re working to do that. They need to know, ‘Yes we’ve heard you. Yes we took what you said underconsideration, and this is how we’re beginning to respond to that.’”
Although there are a number of hurdles to clear before student representation within the Board of Trustees can become a reality, Adams believes, “a structured student representative on the Board in the next semester is very realistic. We [the SA] have put in countless hours researching how different universities have representative and voting trustees. We think that for our college, we’ve come up with a solution that is really feasible.” As they move forward in the process, members of the SA’s Executive Board will make a presentation of the revised resolution and their formal proposal to the Board of Trustees during the Board’s March meeting.