Columns

Student Power Initiative: Student trustees on the Brown Corporation

By
Guest Columnists
Thursday, October 9, 2014

Two years ago, President Christina Paxson asked the Brown community to consider her characterization of the University as “constructively irreverent.” History corroborates her claim — many a Brown student has eschewed social norms while working within an established framework to change our school for the better. This framework comprises many offices charged with administering to the demands of university life. Chief among them is the Corporation.

The Corporation has often served as the final arbiter in reconciling the concerns of the student population — the body for which Brown arguably exists — with the constant pressure and demands placed upon it for maintaining the institution. But absent in that process has been the valued voice of the student — the ultimate subject and beneficiary of this process of reconciliation.

In the same speech in which Paxson heralded the fruits of the constructively irreverent process that characterizes Brown’s progress, she reminded us that it behooves every member of the community — not just the students who constitute its majority — to appreciate and embrace that disposition. In imbuing an entire community with this value, Paxson reminded us that Brown represents a complementary relationship between respect and dissent.

Given the composition of the Corporation, which is devoid of active student representation, it is no surprise that history demonstrates that the Corporation is not steadfastly appreciative of the irreverent. Instead, this is traditionally the prerogative of the student. Such a result is the logical ramification of excluding student input from Corporation deliberations.

Members of the Brown community should have an input in the Corporation’s decisions about the practices and processes of University governance. Including student trustees on the Corporation would enable its members to deliberate with the confidence of having considered the opinion of the student body.

The significance of student leadership in the creation and implementation of the New Curriculum, as well as the historical and present-day representation of students on a number of University committees, proves that student voices are a valuable aspect of Brown’s history and practice. We believe student representation is essential to producing policies that are responsive, inclusive and generative of the long-term health and success of the University. In fact, Ira Magaziner ’69 P’06 P’07 P’10, the very architect of the open curriculum, said in a Brown Political Review interview in May, “Having a couple of student representatives on the Corporation would help students better understand issues of the University and would help the Corporation relate to students.”

Brown will function as a more responsible and cohesive community if students are involved in the decision-making processes of its governance. The inclusion of students on the Corporation would ensure that members remain engaged and familiar with the daily lives and experiences of undergraduate students, which, in the process, would ultimately leave the student body feeling empowered and respected.

The Corporation only stands to benefit from the inclusion of student voices. Student input would surely aid the Corporation’s discussion and consideration of important issues — for example, the selection of faculty members and administrators and the establishment of tuition and fees. Expanding Corporation participation to students would ensure that this process were a holistic one fostering cohesion among a diversity of community interests.

Recently, we have witnessed students struggling with feeling underrepresented in Corporation decision-making to the point of feeling excluded from University governance. As a result, students are less likely to engage with important decisions that affect their lives. And the spirit of unity on campus suffers. A primary solution to this sense of alienation is the creation of a student trustee position. Ultimately, the existence of such a position would signal to students that their experiences are considered, their views are heard and their role in the current and future trajectory of the University is respected.

Students have an opportunity to have their voices heard this week, at least in a small way. The Undergraduate Council of Students fall poll, which closes tomorrow, asks a specific question about the importance of student representation on the Corporation. The poll allows you, current Brown students, to express to the Corporation your desire to be included in their decisions in a meaningful and impactful way. We urge you to exercise the power of participation given to you by this poll to advocate for further participation, so that you might become a true agent in the future of the University.

 

Kevin Carty ’15, Alex Drechsler ’15, Noah Fitzgerel ’17, Justice Gaines ’16, Tammy Jiang ’16, Miriam Rollock ’15 and Maggie Tennis ’14.5, a Herald opinions editor, are the founding members of the Student Power Initiative.

  • ’15

    Having a student to remind trustees that lower tuition is better than higher tuition won’t make a difference — except to the authors’ resumes.

    And as I recall, the New Curriculum succeed not on the title of its proposer but on its merits.

  • GS

    It’s worth mentioning the policy already in place for this type of thing:

    http://brown.edu/about/administration/corporation/corporation-committees/committee-campus-life

    This mentions guest membership of students on the committee, with the exception:

    “The student government presidents shall not vote and shall not attend any executive sessions of the Campus Life Committee.”

  • Consent of the Governed

    The lack of student power on campus stems from the inability of student government to coordinate the student body and represent the will of its constituents. Go to any UCS meeting and its about the (pet) projects that members want to do. Little to nothing is done to actively discover what the campus population wants and develop a clear mandate. Often, UCS is looking to appease or appeal to powerful stakeholders in the administration or corporation, which distracts UCS from becoming ever able to represent their peer students’ interests. Why does this happen? Look to the structural organization of UCS. General body members (the majority of UCS) are not elected officials. They get a hundred (if that) signatures during meal times and then vote on other member’s pet projects. The barrier in is very low and once in they are not responsible to anyone.

    I also blame the BDH in their complicity in a weak, unreflected UCS. Where is the coverage of the issues? We see weekly summaries of the decisions after they happened, which is too late. Those decisions have consequences that are never made clear to the Brown student body and the alternatives are never examined in view of the campus forum outside of that small, weekly meeting. Is the BDH reticent to criticize UCS? I must believe so, otherwise, why the kid gloves?

    UCS often wonders why more of campus doesn’t care about UCS. The answer is rather simple. UCS could operate theoretically operate without most of campus and if their constituents are not needed, then “representatives” do not concern themselves with their constituents, breeding apathy. If we are to say that students need to be represented at the Corporation level, then they should first be represented by their own UCS. Otherwise, why would a self-appointed representative student at a table of experienced, powerful, and wealthy elders be anything better but a rubber stamp?

  • Calz Vocca

    It does not matter how Christina Paxson “characterizes” Brown University. She is incompetent and ineffective in her job, and should leave.