University News

Undergrads back student rep. on Corporation

As student groups push for student representation on Corp., just 5 percent of students disagree

By
Staff Writer
Monday, November 10, 2014
This article is part of the series Fall 2014 Student Poll

Roughly 60 percent of undergraduates believe a voting student trustee should be added to the Corporation, and about 22 percent support a non-voting student representative, according to a recent Herald poll conducted Oct. 22-23. Only 5 percent of respondents think there should be no student representation on the University’s highest governing body,  and 13 percent of respondents have no opinion on the issue.

Maahika Srinivasan ’15, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, described growing student support for undergraduate representation on the Corporation as “phenomenal.”

“This campus has a long history of student activism, and it’s kind of awesome to see people care and get involved,” she said.

“Since we’re paying tuition … we should have a voice in how the University operates,” said Sarah Parker ’15. “We’ve made a substantial investment in coming here, so it’s important we’re actually heard.”

The poll results come after a push by a number of student groups, including the Student Power Initiative, to increase student representation on campus. UCS hosted a forum last month featuring a panel of Corporation members who addressed problems associated with student membership on the body, The Herald reported last month. Several panelists expressed concern about adding a student to the Corporation due to the body’s confidential nature.

“I think it would be beneficial for students to be on the Board of Trustees in two ways,” said Graham Rotenberg ’17, a Herald opinions columnist. “First, it would provide some clarity to an important part of Brown decision-making, and second, it would provide the Board of Trustees a greater perspective of an actual student experience that could be consistent, direct and regarded as equal” to the views of alum members.

While Srinivasan acknowledged that students perceive Corporation proceedings as opaque, she made a distinction between student representation and increased transparency.

Potential student representatives “should be held to the same levels of confidentiality as the Board,” Srinivasan said. “The important issue is integrating student viewpoints into conversations at the Corporation level,” she said, though she added that structural details would require further consideration.

But the UCS Fall Poll, which asked undergraduates to rank the issues most important to them, found a lower level of commitment to student representation on the Corporation, The Herald previously reported. Respondents indicated that improving financial aid, reforming University policies and procedures for sexual assault and misconduct and expanding mental health services were all higher priorities than student representation on the Corporation.

While adding a student to the Corporation could force the body to address issues important to undergraduates, it would be “a more circuitous route” than tackling these issues immediately, Srinivasan said.

Alison Cohen ’09, young alumni trustee on the Corporation, expressed reservation about direct student representation in an email to The Herald.

“It is great that students are interested in engaging with the Corporation,” she wrote. “There are several possible venues for sharing student perspectives with the Corporation members that includes but is not limited to having a student voting trustee.”

Cohen added that she supports maintaining the position of young alumni trustee on the Corporation. The position was created in 2009 to provide a way for alums with more up-to-date perceptions of the undergraduate experience to share concerns that the general membership might not understand. While traditionally two young alumni trustees serve together, the University has recently filled only one of the spots.

In her role as young alumna trustee, Cohen seeks “to engage in conversations with people across campus while on campus for each of the meetings, as well as between each meeting remotely, to personally have a better sense of the breadth of perspectives present at Brown,” she wrote.

But some have criticized the murky protocol for choosing who serves.

“We need an articulated mechanism for appointing young alumni trustees,” Srinivasan said. “This is really the first step in the right direction. This could potentially involve picking seniors to serve in the next year.”

Srinivasan said The Herald poll could help push the Corporation to act, even if the body does not immediately create a fully fledged voting member.

“We should have members on all committees of the Corporation even without the vote, because there’s a tremendous value in having student input in the discussion,” she said. “This has happened in waves in Brown’s community, but I think there’s so much that could happen over the next few months.”

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  • ’17

    As one of those individuals in the 5%, my concern mostly lies in the reality that students cannot be reasonably expected to govern themselves. The governing structure, as it stands, is undoubtedly patronizing, and I think that’s a good thing. There should be certain instances where students can have opportunities to interact with members of the corporation, and to (politely) voice their concerns, but it is clear as can be that there are simply too many students on this campus with political opinions that can be best described as “crazy” for student representation in to be practical in this context. After all, Hitler, Mussolini, Ahmadinejad, and for that matter, George Bush and Ronald Reagan, were all elected, and I (along with others, I am sure) fear that our University could be subject to a similar fate, albeit on a significantly smaller scale, should we open up this kind of opportunity – especially to those with an activist strain, who have already demonstrated a consistent opposition to the basic principles of the University.