University News

Corporation members discuss obstacles in adding student representative

Questions of the Corporation’s role in U. governance surface at UCS open forum

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 addressed the potential difficulties of adding a student representative to the Corporation at an open forum hosted by the Undergraduate Council of Students Wednesday night. 

In addition to Tisch, other Corporation members present at the meeting included young alumni trustee Alison Cohen ’09, Chair of the Corporation’s Committee of Campus Life Dorsey James ’83, member of the Corporation’s Fundraising and Campus Life Committees Joan Wernig Sorensen ’72 P’06 P’06 and Brown Alumni Association President and member of the Corporation’s Facilities Planning Committee Nancy Hyde P’17 P’17.

Tisch began the discussion by stressing the balance of power between the Corporation and senior administrators.

“I always think of the Corporation as always taking the long view into the future and also like a ship having a very deep keel,” Tisch said. “We do not manage the University,” he added, referencing the “presidential model of the University,” with a large governing body and involved president and provost.

“The single greatest power that resides in the Corporation is the power to choose a president and assess a president,” Tisch said. “It’s been the case in the past two presidential searches; we had a very strong sense of shared government.”

Following the guest speakers’ introductory remarks, the forum opened up for questions from the audience.

“We’ve been talking a lot about a student representative on the Corporation and what that could look like, and student voices being heard. … How do you think that could work?” asked Justice Gaines ’16, a UCS general body member and a member of the Student Power Initiative, a student group working to add a student member to the Corporation.

“Student participation has been constant” in University governance, Hyde said in response. “It’s working well in the (Corporation) committees, where the student input is received.”

Over the course of the discussion, many of the presenters emerged as skeptical about the benefits of adding a student representative to the Corporation.

Most of the University’s peer institutions, “with a very small number of exceptions,” do not have student representatives on their highest governing bodies because students engage in other ways, Tisch said. Corporation members are expected to approach issues “from different perspectives,” rather than represent different factions or groups within the University, he added.

“It seems to me to be asking a lot of an individual … to be representative of a whole student body,” Hyde said.

“When I’m there, I’m not representing the 90,000 alumni,” she said. “I worry about the responsibility that we’d put on those one or two individuals.”

Corporation members cited the issue of confidentiality as another major argument against having a student representative on the Corporation.

“My personal opinion is that it would probably be extremely difficult, because there are many things that we talk about that are pretty confidential,” James said.

“I think there’s a different way to skin the cat, a different way to have that conversation that would be more meaningful.”

The body holds discussions that involve “great confidentiality in terms of the issues that the University might be facing,” Tisch said. “I think there would have been moments when having a student in the room, if only because of the feeling it might put a student on the spot, would be uncomfortable,” he added. “To have a member of the student body might inhibit much more meaningful conversation.”

Alex Drechsler ’15, a member of the Student Power Initiative and former Herald opinions columnist, asked about how these issues of confidentiality were different when applied to students.

The Corporation deals in governance rather than management, meaning that it makes decisions about high-level University policies and issues instead of smaller items, James said in response.

“It’s the committee level where it’s happening; that’s where all the big decisions really get vetted. They get to the Corporation level, and it’s … yes or no.”

John Brewer ’17, a UCS general body member, asked the Corporation representatives what they thought “the relationship between the Corporation and the student body should look like.”

“We’re constantly dealing with the issues of campus,” James said. “We’re constantly looking for some sort of feedback,” as well as looking for “what vehicle does that effectively.”

Cohen said her role as young alumni trustee is relevant to the issue of the relationship between the Corporation and the student body. As a 2009 graduate, she feels “close enough to the student experience, but removed enough to see the relationship between the student experience and difference interest groups,” she said. Strengthening that relationship, she added, is “something UCS can do with creating opportunities and reaching out to the Corporation.”


A previous version of this article and accompanying photo caption misstated Thomas Tisch’s ’76 title. He is chancellor of the University, not of the Corporation. The Herald regrets the error.


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  1. Joey DiZoglio says:

    “Student participation has been constant” in University governance, Hyde said in response. “It’s working well in the (Corporation) committees, where the student input is received.” — The committee recommendations can always be ignored. I learned this all in US History; without a vote, we students have no voice.

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