For the Future of University Community Governance, Aim for the Board

By John Arnold

With its recent articles, The Maroon has done an excellent job of demonstrating that the various recent controversies on campus are fundamentally about the fact that the authority in the University is not, in the end, accountable to the people who constitute it. These circumstances need to change.

I propose that students and faculty unite to pursue guaranteed representation on the Board of Trustees. Legally speaking, the Board is the highest power within the University; it appoints, and can dismiss, the president, but itself has no legal obligation to anyone. Currently, the Board is entirely self-perpetuating: Almost all of its members are donors from the world of business. It is important to have business experience on a board, but, here as elsewhere, a variety of perspectives leads to a better understanding of problems and solutions. The Board lacks this variety and therefore can easily view all problems as business problems that need business solutions. And since all authority flows down from the Board, this influences all aspects of University administration.

As an alternative, the Board could have a certain number of seats reserved for members elected by the student body, the faculty, and non-faculty staff. Indeed, the Board currently has student representatives to the Board, but these representatives are not themselves on the Board, and hence have no formal power. This needn’t be the case; there are many universities where fully empowered and enfranchised student and faculty representatives sit on their board, and the bylaws of the UChicago Board could be easily amended to allow for such representation.

As an undergraduate, I served as a student-trustee for Shimer College (itself historically related to the University of Chicago), which also had faculty-trustees. In this role, donor-trustees would tell me—and I saw myself—that my fellow student-trustees and I constructively contributed to discussions in a way that could not have been captured by polls, reports, or town halls. And I saw faculty-trustees playing even more of a helpful role, demonstrating care and attention to all sorts of dynamics on campus that deserved to inform board decision-making. Because of this experience, I have a firm belief that having student- and faculty-trustees is not only more just for the community, but also leads to better governance.

Pursuing this course of action would be an occasion for solidarity between undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. The University of Chicago is nothing without the people who make it up, and it’s time for all of us to unite—undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff—together demanding that we legally own the community we constitute.


John Arnold is a first-year masters student at the Divinity School.