May 6, 2016

Shifts in Liaison Access to Board of Trustees

The Undergraduate and Graduate Liaisons to the Board of Trustees no longer will sit in on Board meetings, but will be responsible for facilitating new interactions between students and trustees after a series of changes to the position.

According to a statement sent to The Maroon from the News Office, next year the liaisons will be expected to set the agendas for what will be known as the Student Perspectives Series, a quarterly series created by the Board in which students will have an opportunity to meet several trustees. This is in accordance with a March 2016 memo from the University’s Campus and Student Life department and the Office of the Secretary, Darren Reisberg.

“To ensure that the two student liaisons can continue to engage with trustees under this new structure, the Board will be launching a Student Perspectives Series. In this new format, the two liaisons and other students will meet in connection with each Board meeting with a small group of trustees. The series, created with feedback from current and past student liaisons, is an opportunity for liaisons to engage in wide-ranging dialogue with trustees on issues of importance to students and within the jurisdiction of the Board,” the statement read.

The liaisons are also expected to meet with trustees in private meetings in order to plan for the Student Perspectives Series quarterly meetings, according to current Undergraduate Liaison and second-year Shae Omonijo.

Quarterly luncheons hosted by the liaisons that allow for 20 to 30 students to meet and discuss issues with one trustee will continue into next year.

“The changes have been discussed with the current student liaisons and student government leaders, who expressed initial support. Conversations with student leadership will continue to help further define and enhance the arrangement,” the News Office statement read.

According to the current Student Government bylaws, in addition to hosting quarterly events through which students and Board members can interact, the undergraduate and graduate liaisons are supposed to maintain contact with the Board, keep students aware of the Board’s actions, and convey student concerns to the Board. The positions are presently held by Omonijo and Katie Perri, a second-year M.B.A. student at Booth.

Currently, the liaisons generally attend the Board’s Campus and Student Life Committee’s meetings once per quarter although no subcommittee is explicitly defined in Student Government bylaws. That committee of the board is being dissolved. As a part of the meeting, the liaisons had been given time to make a brief presentation and could answer questions from the trustees. The liaisons have no voting power on the Committee or the Board.

SG passed a resolution on April 11 that expressed interest in maintaining a similar relationship with a subcommittee similar to the former Campus and Student Life committee next year.

Perri cited attendance at Board meetings as an important component of the liaison position.

“Board Meetings give liaisons a unique insight into trustee perspectives around campus life issues both at UChicago and other universities; as well as administrator response to sometimes difficult questions from the trustees,” Perri said. “While Campus and Student Life committee meetings are only a small insight into the overall Board of Trustees, it is the only opportunity for students to see trustee-administrator discussions regarding specific campus issues.”

According to Omonijo, this change is not of particular concern.

“The reason I’m not really worried is because the liaison doesn’t exactly have voting power on the Board, and I think when you look at the role that students played in these committees—it can be limited at times because the trustees have a preset agenda in which they need to discuss certain issues,” Omonijo said. “So, it’s better to have a student-focused meeting with six to eight trustees who are very passionate about hearing the student perspective.”

Third-year and current Vice President for Student Affairs Kenzo Esquivel won the position of the Undergraduate Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees this past week. Megan Beck, a first-year at the Booth School of Business, was elected as the Graduate Student Liaison.

Beck is excited about the new opportunities the Student Perspectives Series affords students and trustees to cooperate together in order to enhance student life.

“Overall, I am very excited about the Student Perspectives Series as it is an unprecedented opportunity to work directly with the trustees on issues that matter most to UChicago students,” Beck wrote in an e-mail. “I envision the Student Perspectives Series as a mechanism to bring together a diverse group of students and trustees with a shared passion for improving the student experience and promoting a positive learning environment at the University.”

Esquivel, on the other hand, expressed concern over the loss of the ability to attend Board meetings.

“While I think that the change in some ways is a step in the right direction in terms of giving students a direct avenue for interacting and speaking with the Board, I also don’t think that it is good to move students out of all other conversations that the Board has,” Esquivel wrote in an e-mail. “Isolating the liaison to simply attend the Student Perspectives Series pulls the liaison out of more substantive conversations that the Board has.”

However, Esquivel remains excited about the opportunities presented by the Student Perspectives Series: “That said, I think the opportunity for interaction for the general student body with the Board will increase fairly substantially with the new structure, which is something I’m very excited about.”

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