Board of Trustees’ attendance at student meeting declines

Samuel Casey

News Editor

At an Oct. 30 Student Government Association (SGA) meeting, members brought up concerns regarding the number of Trustees present at the previous week’s Student Development meeting, where student organization leaders could speak directly to members of the Board of Trsutees regarding issues facing their groups.

Libbie Main ’20, co-president of Inter-Greek Council (IGC) and a speaker at the meeting, was surprised with the number of Trustees present. “The meeting started off with five Trustees, and one of them left about 30 minutes in,” Main said. “This was (I’m pretty sure) my third meeting, and by far this was the worst attended meeting by Trustees and student organizations.”

Main speculated that part of the problem for both the Trustees and the students could have been the timing of the event.

“I think that one contributing factor was the time of the meeting itself, which was not only changed on multiple occasions, but it was also scheduled during and at the same time as other meetings for the Trustees … It signals to us that the concerns of students are less important than other issues, when the primary function of the school is to serve students,andthe fundamental purpose of the[Trustees] should be the same,” Main explained.

Regarding the decreasing number of Trustees at the Student Development meeting, SGA President Emilee McCubbins’20 said,“I can say with certainty that the number of Trustees we had in the room at this Student Development meeting was about half — if not less—as many Trustees as we had last[spring] semester or the [fall] semester meeting [before that]. We only had five Trustees in the room at this semester’s meeting, two of whom were not technically members of the committee but had been asked to sit in so that we had quorum.”

McCubbins felt like five Trustees was “too few,” especially because SGA was only notified the day before about how many would be in attendence.

There were so few because of concerns with timing — the meeting was going on at the same time as other committee meetings — and because Trustees had retired.I get that things happen,but it would have been nice to have known ahead of time that we would have so few trustees in the room,” McCubbins stated. She reasoned that if more Trustees were in the room, it would make the student speakers more confident that their concerns were being addressed.

SGA Vice President Nick Shereikis ’20 echoed some of these concerns. “It’s a little disheartening to see the decline; though we obviously know very little about their internal machinations and systems, Trustee presence at these meetings is critical,” he said. “It’s how the Board shows students they are heard and respected, and how we spread information as well as galvanize real action on any number of issues.”

Jamie Christensen ’96, the chair of the Student Development Committee, was reached for comment regarding these issues. However, Christensen stated that Chief of Staff and Secretary of the College Angela Johnston “is the best person to answer questions about Trustee assignment to the Student Development Committee.”

Johnston explained tha there are 10 standing committees for the Board of Trustees, one of which is Student Development. Each spring, the Trustees fill out a survey indicating their committee preferences and the Board leadership makes the final decision, with most Trustees serving on three different committees.

Regarding the decreasing number of Trustees present at the Student Development meeting, Johnston noted “there are currently eight open Trustee seats on the Board mainly due to Trustee retirements over the past five years.” Another factor is the addition of a three-hour full-Board meeting on Friday to discuss strategic priorities, which means that often three committee meetings will be scheduled at the same time.

She assured that the concerns raised in the Student Development meeting are not just heard and forgotten; in fact, they are shared to the Board of Trustees later during the weekend.

“Every Trustee on the Board has access to the agenda and materials for each standing committee meeting, not just for the committees on which they serve, including Student Development. Also, on Saturday mornings, the Board closes out its on-campus meetings with a session of the Board,” Johnston explained. “During that session, the chair of each standing committee provides a report to the full Board on the discussions in the respective committee meetings. The Trustee chair of the Student Development Committee always reports to the full-Board about the committee’s meeting with students, including the issues raised and shared concerns of Trustees.”

Giving a hypothetical example, Johnston added, “As for having fewer Trustees present than in the past, lower Trustee attendance at the Finance Committee, for example, does not mean that trustees have a ‘lack of interest in helping’ with the College’s financial stability. What it simply means is that the demands for the time of the Trustees while they are on campus exceeds the time that we have available to schedule.”

Regardless, McCubbins stated there is not much SGA can do about the situation. “We don’t pick the Trustees in the room; we simply host the ones who are told to go,” McCubbins said. “The people who need to be held accountable here are the Trustees to ensure the committee is a fully-formed one … I don’t think it’s an end-all situation — five is certainly better than zero — but it could be improved.”