Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Students to join selected board committees as non-voters

No seats on Trusteeship or Compensation

The AU board of trustees announced last week that students could join some of its committees as non-voting members, but not the influential Trusteeship and Compensation committees, which decide who can join the board and how much money executives will make. Student leaders said the move is a good first step, but it doesn't go far enough.

"These committees aren't a huge deal," said Student Government President Kyle Taylor. "It's a big step that we've gotten representation on these committees but they're important in the context of the whole board meeting."

Taylor and other student leaders presented a 25-page plan to trustees last November that called for three full-fledged student board members, as well as three faculty members. The report cited more than a dozen colleges, including Cornell University and the University of California system, that give students a spot on the board. Student members, the report said, would enhance transparency in the aftermath of former President Benjamin Ladner's ouster.

Critics of the current system said the board awarded Ladner excessive compensation and a contract that gave him too much leeway in how he spent university money. Ladner resigned last October, following a months-long investigation into his finances.

Pamela Deese, chair of the board's Governance committee, and committee member Jeff Sine did not return requests for comment as to why students were not allowed on two of the committees or whether the board will eventually allow student trustees.

But committee member John Schol, Bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, said "it's not been finalized where students will be and won't be."

Schol is chair of the board's Academic Affairs committee, on which three students already serve.

"I think the student feedback is very useful and very important," he said. "It helps me understand what students are thinking and what are their needs."

Students may not have a role on the all committees, such as the Trusteeship committee, he said.

"The reality is that it's the trustees that need to make decisions about who's going to be on the board of trustees," he said.

Overall, Taylor said, the effort to restructure AU's governance "has been slower than we anticipated." Greater student involvement, he said, might help speed up the process.

"While we understand that these people [the trustees] are volunteers, we also understand that we need to expedite that process." The students, he said, "are willing to commit the time that it takes."

Peter Brusoe, chair of the Graduate Leadership Council, said the committee assignments could give students a chance to demonstrate they're capable of handling trusteeship.

"We must make sure we put our best foot forward on this, especially if we ever hope to gain voting seats on the Board of Trustees," he wrote in an e-mail.

Students already serve on some committees of another university decision-making body, the Faculty Senate, where committee chairs say their feedback is generally valuable.

The senate, a group of nearly two-dozen faculty members who decide or make recommendations on issues that affect AU professors, allow student representatives on four of its six standing committees.

Cathy Schaeff, chair of the Joint Committee on Curriculum and Academic Programs, said student feedback is usually helpful, but sometimes the same students don't show up consistently.

"We've had some absolutely spectacular student representatives, but we've had other people who seem terrific but they don't attend, so it's variable."

Students who attend the senate meetings are appointed by the SG vice president, Taylor said. The SG tries to develop a group of appointees so that someone will usually be available to attend committee meetings, because the same student cannot always make every meeting. The committees meet at different times throughout the semester, so one meeting might fit in a student's class schedule, and another meeting might not.

Adam Rosenblatt, a senior in the School of Public Affairs and the School of Communication, said he felt his opinions made a difference when he served on the senate's Information Services committee last year.

Rosenblatt has learned from his experience with the senate that if students are to achieve credibility on the trustees' committees, they should avoid taking a stance and instead try to report objectively, he said.

"On any issue, there's more than one side that students are taking," he said. "They should be saying students stand for this, and they also stand for this."

Nominating new trustees

The board also announced last week interim procedures for selecting new trustees, who will be evaluated by university officials and the Trusteeship committee before their names are brought before the whole board for discussion.

All potential trustees must be approved by the United Methodist Church, a policy in place since AU's charter was amended in 1953 to give the church more control over the historically Methodist school, The Eagle previously reported.

Mark Schaefer, AU's Methodist chaplain, said the church has approved the board's trustee selections "on a rubber stamp basis."

The board's Web site,, lists criteria for nominees, including "influence at the local, national or international level" and "ethnic, gender, professional and geographical diversity."

The list explains that university bylaws ban AU employees, except the president, from joining the board, but it does not point out that the bylaws also prohibit "anyone enrolled fulltime in the University" from becoming a member.

Splitting Spots

Student leaders from the Student Government, Graduate Leadership Council and the Washington College of Law's Student Bar Association agreed to split up the newly acquired committee spots between their respective constituencies.

Peter Brusoe, chair of the GLC, chose Nicole Byrd to serve on the International Affairs committee and Aaron Tobler for the Campaign Steering and Development committee last night.

The Athletics committee position will always be filled by an undergraduate, and undergrads will switch each year with graduates on the Campaign Steering and Development committee. Law students and grads will alternate on the International Affairs and Audit committees.

All three constituencies already had spots on the Finance and Investment, Campus Life and Academic Affairs committees.

The student governments will decide on whom they'll send to committee meetings. Student leaders may attend committee meetings themselves, appoint representatives for the spots, or hold an election for the representative.

SG President Kyle Taylor said he will serve as the undergrad committee representative until the end of his term, allowing the next president to determine how to fill the positions.

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