Vote for liaison amendment

By Ryan Nelson

When we, the students, go to the polls next week, we will be asked to vote on an amendment to the Student Government Constitution that will change my position, the Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees and will have a profound impact on how students are represented before the highest levels of the University administration. This article will explain why it is important that you vote yes on this constitutional amendment.

Late last quarter, the Student Government Assembly, with a lone dissenting vote, ratified this amendment, which will result in the Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees being chosen through a competitive application process instead of by election. For the first five years of the Liaison’s existence, electing the Liaison provided that person with the legitimacy that we needed in order to gain the respect of the entire University community.

One of the primary goals of the liaison, as outlined in the Student Government Bylaws, is to work toward the creation of a permanent or ex-officio student member of the Board of Trustees. This is something that my predecessors and I have taken very seriously. I am proud to report that this year, with the arrival of our new Vice President and Dean of Students Margo Marshak, the creation of a new Trustee Committee on Student Life, and the continued support of President Don Randel, we are much closer to participating on a formal, official basis with the board and its committees than ever before.

Many students are surprised to learn that as Student Liaison, I am not even invited to the board meetings, nor am I handed a copy of the agenda in advance or sent a copy of the Board’s minutes. This year, however, I have developed a strong relationship with various members of the Board and other University officials who have gone out of their way to keep me informed about Board affairs and activities. We have developed a level of trust in each other unparalleled in the history of the liaison position. This trust has resulted in unprecedented student access and input in the decisions of the highest levels of the University administration.

Recognizing the Board’s sincere desire to have more formal relations with and involvement of the Student Liaison, it is time we as students recognize that the liaison position is a success, but it’s time to grow up and adapt the position to our current needs. The board has created a new Trustee Committee on Student Life, and individuals affiliated with this committee have indicated a sincere desire to involve students, specifically the Student Liaison, in some official capacity with this committee. Recognizing this, I proposed to the leaders of this committee to review the Liaison position and determine how we can best adapt it with an eye toward fulfilling this new role.

We must accept that members of the Board of Trustees are themselves not elected—they are selected by their own peers. They undergo a strict selection process and must accept certain confidentiality requirements as conditions of their membership on the Board. While the constitutional amendment does not go this far, it allows for a committee of students and student leaders to subject our Liaison to the same rigorous screening. While elections help give someone a popular mandate, they do not properly help voters evaluate who would best interact with 50- and 60-year-old Trustees who meet the Liaison at dinners and cocktail parties. Ask yourself: how much do you know about this year’s candidates? Thus far, none of the candidates has done any substantive campaigning on campus. Last year, neither I nor my opponent even campaigned for the position. The year before, no one gained the requisite signatures necessary to get on the ballot. The election process simply doesn’t work, and students will benefit from a committee of students who will actively solicit applications from students in all divisions of the University, interview them, and make an informed decision. While I prefer elections myself, and certainly was the beneficiary of winning one last spring, we must realize that the current system is flawed and this application process will result in more qualified, consistent, and competent representation.

By no means does this mean that our Liaison will be unresponsive to the students. To the contrary, as part of the application process candidates will be evaluated based on their knowledge of the University, their maturity, their understanding of and ability to articulate the needs and concerns of students on campus, and their perceived effectiveness before the Board. Remember, since 1968 we have had a student Ombudsperson who has been selected in much the same way, and the students lose nothing by having an appointed rather than elected advocate.

It has been a pleasure to serve you as Liaison this year. I’ve worked hard to make the Liaison position one that is respected by the administration and students. As I depart the University, I leave knowing that this proposal will improve how students are represented in the future, and I strongly urge you to vote yes next week.