February 23, 2010

Proxy error

Board of Trustees’ no-proxy policy highlights challenges student liaisons face

The University’s Board of Trustees makes decisions that profoundly affect student life. That’s why two elected members of Student Government (SG) representing graduate and undergraduate students serve as liaisons to the board. With the resignation of this year’s graduate student liaison, Joe Bonni, an important group will be left without an elected representative at this quarter’s meeting. This state of affairs has arisen because neither trustee nor liaison proxies are allowed to attend board meetings. While this policy was designed in part to foster a closer relationship between board members and student representatives, in this case, it has had the opposite effect. The board should allow liaison proxies in certain circumstances so this already marginalized position is not further undermined.

Even without the current predicament, links between SG liaisons and trustees are not robust. Liaisons only attend meetings of the Trustee Committee on Student and Campus Life—one of 12—which typically meets just three times a year. Moreover, while the liaisons are encouraged to voice their opinions at the meetings, the topics of discussion are determined beforehand by trustees and Vice President Kim Goff-Crews’s office. The representative has no vote, no say in the meeting agenda, no opportunity to raise new issues if needed, and no access to the other 11 Board committees.

The policy towards proxies logically enforces trustee commitment to the Board, who might otherwise constantly appoint proxies and not attend meetings for years. For a student representative with an arguably limited term, the proxy issue works counter to students’ abilities to maintain representation with the trustees. The liaisons’ challenging job of representing students before the trustees, in the case at issue, is only made more difficult by the no-proxy policy. Bonni, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology, will miss the March 4 meeting of the committee due to research commitments abroad. Because no proxies are allowed, he has chosen to resign from his position so that a new liaison can attend. SG officers have decided to forego a general election and have appointed a representative.

The no-proxy policy is intended to encourage a closer bond between trustees and student liaisons. But if proxies were admitted, Bonni would have been able to resume his duties in the spring, and a graduate student representative would still have attended all committee meetings. Given these facts, it seems that allowing liaisons to send proxies in some cases would help to better achieve the goals of adequate student representation and strengthening relationships between trustees and students.

Given the tenuous relationship between student reps and trustees, it is of the utmost importance that the attendance policies of board meetings, however well-intentioned, actually serve the purpose for which they were designed. That means that in special circumstances, liaison proxies should be admitted. Further, strict adherence to the proxy rule reinforces the built-in challenges for student representation on the Board.

— The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Editor-in-Chief elect, Viewpoints Editors, and three Editorial Board members.