New referendum aims to grant voting power to Board of Trustees’ student representative

An unprecedented change to the Board position may be imminent

New referendum aims to grant voting power to Board of Trustees’ student representative

A new referendum in the American University Undergraduate Senate calls for voting powers for the University’s Board of Trustees’ student representative.

Senator-at-Large Salvatore Cottone introduced Referendum 18-002, which passed the Undergraduate Senate unanimously on Sept. 16 and is on the ballot in the current fall Student Government election. 

In 2006, after pressure from the student body, the University established three non-voting trustee positions, two of which are held by faculty members. Currently, these representatives do not hold voting power. 

“If we want a really good, thriving campus democracy, we need to have a voice for students,” Cottone said. 

Cottone said that the student representative position has a “complicated history.” He argued that the reason there has been a limit on voting powers is because “administrators do not think [students] have the experience, knowledge or maturity yet.” 

Elizabeth Deal, assistant vice president for community and internal communication said that the University is “committed to helping foster a dialogue between the Board of Trustees and students as this matter proceeds.” Of the referendum specifically, Deal said that administration is “actively engaging with students on the referendum process.” 

If passed, the referendum will go to the Board of Trustees for consideration. Should it choose to implement it, this would mark the first time that a member from the student body will be able to vote in decisions that directly impact their peers such as the University’s budget, electing the president and major donations. While the referendum recognizes that the University’s administration holds the highest power, the Undergraduate Senate seeks to collaborate and pursue “other avenues” to work towards building student representation, with the referendum being the first step. 

“The referendum’s aim is to start conversations about what it looks like to have meaningful campus representation for students,” Cottone said. The referendum introduces a possibility for AU students “to have a student government that is very effective.” 

The referendum also makes note of other universities’ policies regarding student representation on their respective Boards of Trustees. According to a 2016 study from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, around 9.4 percent of private institutions have student representatives with voting powers. The referendum references Cornell University, which allows its students to vote directly for their representative on the Board of Trustees. The student representative on American University’s Board is selected through an application process conducted by the Board itself.

Voting for the fall 2023 Student Government election opened Oct. 3 and closes Oct. 5 at 12 p.m. Election results are expected to be announced Oct. 5 at 9 p.m. 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that two of the non-voting positions are held by staff members, and that results are expected on Oct.6. The article has been updated to reflect that these positions are held by faculty members, and that results are expected on Oct. 5. A previous version also implied that if passed, the referendum would go into place. The article has been updated to reflect that if the referendum passes, the question goes to the Board of Trustees . 

This article was edited by Tyler Davis, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Daniel Carson.

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