University students have fundamental misconceptions about the Board of Trustees’ role in University governance, Board Chairman Andrew Alper (A.B. ’80, M.B.A. ’81) said in an interview Tuesday.
“People assume we pull all the strings,” Alper said. “But flat out: We don’t get involved in day-to-day management.”
Alper was responding to last month’s resignation of Joe Bonni as graduate liaison to the Board. Bonni’s resignation rekindled arguments for increased student representation and voting rights on the Board.
“Increasing student influence is a necessary first step to earn a voting position for the student liaisons, to increase student access to Board committees, and to have a greater role in setting the meeting agenda,” undergraduate liaison and third-year Greg Nance wrote in a Maroon letter to the editor last week.
Alper said many of those arguments assume the Board exerts direct control over University policy. Trustees often report that their quarterly luncheons with students are dominated with issues they have no control over, like campus parking or CAPS.
Students will never have voting rights on the Board, Alper said, because it would violate the Board’s commitment to objective discussions. “We need trustees who are disinterested with respect to any one issue,” Alper said. “And issues students care about almost by definition create an interested party....They can’t have a vote at the table.”
Liaisons only sit on one of 12 trustee committees—Student and Campus Life—but Alper said issues from other committees, like Campus Planning, are often brought to liaisons to get student input. “Hearing students is very important to this board,” Alper said, adding that trustees also get student feedback from quarterly lunches and Vice President for Campus Life Kim Goff-Crews.
While the Board approves the administration’s budget and weighs in on projects like the China center and the Milton Friedman Institute, it mainly considers decades-long investment strategies and merely advises the president on specific initiatives.
“We care about eminence, but not how we get there,” Alper said. “The Board can’t front-run the faculty...We can’t do that and never will.”
Student Government President and fourth-year Jarrod Wolf agreed that most students don’t understand the Board’s role. “We don’t want to marginalize students, but a vote, in the grand scheme of student power, is not significant versus working more intimately with vice presidents and deans,” Wolf said. He added that SG should do a better job of informing students of the Board’s powers.
Wolf took issue, however, with Alper’s unequivocal stance against student votes on the Board, since the Board had added a liaison in recent years. “Nothing is ever set in stone,” Wolf said. “We really won’t know what conditions at the University will be like in 30 years. It seems conceivable his position might change.”