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Editorial: No Corporation without representation

The movement for student representation on the Corporation has recently stirred a wave of discussion around campus. As the University celebrates its 250th birthday and looks forward to the future, the Corporation has been highly scrutinized and, at times, criticized. Its decision last fall not to divest the University’s endowment from major coal companies is just the most recent example. We believe that despite arguments concerning the limited qualifications of a student representative on the board and the great burden representing the entire student body would place on said student, it is nonetheless important and constructive to appoint a student representative to the University’s highest governing body.

The students who have expressed interest in placing student representatives on the Corporation have raised important issues. They object to the unchanging nature of the Corporation that stems from the fact that members select their own replacements. While the University changes, the Corporation does not. Perhaps most notably, students have played a role in putting into place some of the University’s most far-reaching and characteristic policies, such as the New Curriculum and need-blind admission. Giving students a place in the Corporation would ideally increase student power and influence on decisions that affect the entire Brown community.

At the same time, however, we must consider the issues that having student representation on the Corporation would raise. As President Christina Paxson suggested at the State of Brown address, such a role could place too much stress on student representatives while compromising confidentiality. In truth, it would be an enormous responsibility for a single student to represent the entire student body at the level of the Corporation, and the hefty responsibilities of the members of the Corporation could indeed hamper a student’s ability to perform in other areas. However, a student representative could serve for perhaps a two-year term, giving them time to learn the ropes and build relationships. We believe that an elected student would be capable of balancing their normal responsibilities with this role.

Moreover, we must consider that Brown is an economic institution as much as it is an educational institution. Student input is important, and the University does seek that input in a variety of ways, largely through polls and search committees. President Paxson indeed deserves credit for working to ensure that students voices are heard. Still, voices against student representation on the Corporation maintain that the University is not a democracy. We counter that the University is in fact composed of many democratic elements, and that there are few compelling reasons why this should not extend to decision-making at the level of the Corporation. Certainly, many complex investment decisions may not be expected to be well-addressed by students, but this argument would negate not only the value of student representation, but also the value of the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies. This committee’s role is surely valued by the Corporation, and also counts two undergrads and a graduate student among its ranks. Further, increased student involvement in University governance could create greater investment among the student body in the future of the University. Such good will could have significant implications for their giving behavior once they leave College Hill. We believe that the Corporation should add an elected student representative — not only would such a move engender good will among the student body, but it could create a lasting legacy of alum involvement with the University.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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