One candidate promises a seat at the table; the other wants to flip it over. The debate for this year’s election for graduate liaison to the Board of Trustees, which took place over Zoom on Monday, featured two candidates with starkly different platforms.
The graduate liaison to the Board of Trustees, a position currently held by Booth M.B.A. student Steven Wendeborn, mainly interacts with the dean of students in the University, currently Michele Rasmussen, and the secretary to the Board of Trustees. Traditionally, the graduate liaison conveys feedback from the Graduate Council (GC) to the Board of Trustees during a set of quarterly meetings called the Student Perspectives Series. The liaison also serves as the third co-chair of the GC.
Candidate Grace Schlesinger, a first-year M.B.A. student at the Booth School of Business, presented herself as a consensus builder who would seek to build a strong relationship with the Board of Trustees and “advocate on behalf of graduate students to ensure their needs are met by the Board’s decisions.” A 2013 graduate of Colby College, Schlesinger has since worked as a Teach for America corps member, a management consultant at Accenture, and a product specialist at Facebook.
During the debate, she talked about her experiences working in the private sector, stressing that she hopes to leverage those experiences to “build relationships that can turn into partnerships based on trust, clear communication, and transparency” in order to “enact change with the Board of Trustees” that would benefit graduate students.
The other candidate, Alex Levi, believes that the Board of Trustees should be abolished. Levi is a fourth-year in the College who will start his M.A. program in computational social science in fall 2021. He currently serves as the vice president for administration on the Student Government’s executive slate. According to Levi’s candidate statement, he “will not liaise with the Board of Trustees unless they agree to undergo a year-long review of UChicago’s leadership structure and guiding principles as an entity of knowledge-making. This process would ultimately lead to the disbandment of the Board of Trustees as we know it.” Levi offered, as an alternative vision, “a community-driven process that represents faculty, students, and the Southside community.”
During the debate, Levi said that the community needed to “relearn the power relationship between students and the administration” and that he would “take a very critical stance.”
Schlesinger said that “a liaison to the Board of Trustees refusing to meet with the Board [wouldn’t] work,” since they would not be able to convey the needs of graduate students.
Asked to elaborate on why the Board of Trustees should be disbanded, Levi claimed that it had made the decision to raise tuition prices. Kimberly Liu, GC copresident and moderator of the debate, interjected to say that the decision to raise tuition was not made by the Board of Trustees.
In his closing statement, Levi acknowledged that his proposals seemed highly unorthodox, but “radical and imaginative solutions are what is needed right now to avoid a crisis.” Schlesinger ended on a more conventional note, promising to work with the Board to “advocate on behalf of graduate students.”
The voting for this year’s Student Government Elections started on Wednesday and would remain open until 4 p.m. this Friday.