January 23, 2012

Increasing Student-Trustee Communication

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Cornell University is unique among its academic peers in that the student body directly elects two students to serve as full members of the University’s governing Board of Trustees. No other major university in the United States has such a policy, and that is one of the reasons why this university is a leader in higher education.The student-elected trustees — one graduate student and one undergraduate student –— are elected in alternating years (graduates in even-numbered years and undergraduates in odd-numbered years) and each serves a two-year term. They perform an important role for the University because they are, in many ways, the most vital conduit between the Board of Trustees and the student body. And they use their perspective on the Board, as do all other trustees, to deliberate on issues and vote as fiduciaries for what they believe is in the best interest of the University. I have had the opportunity and pleasure to work with eight student-elected trustees during my tenure on the Board, and I can tell you that each one has represented the interests of the student body and the University with vigor, honor, dignity and intelligence.You, the student body, have elected two very able trustees who are currently serving with distinction: Darrick Nighthawk Evensen, the graduate member, is a Ph.D. student in natural resources whose term is up at the end of this academic year. Alex Bores ’13, the undergraduate member, is a student in the ILR school, and his term will end at the close of the 2012-13 academic year. In August of this past year, Alex came before the Board and expressed the opinion that there needed to be enhanced interaction between the student body and the Board. He suggested a number of remedies, and his suggestions prompted his fellow trustees to focus more z on the issue of increasing both formal and informal communication with the student body. As a result, the following plan was presented to, and approved by, the full Board on Friday:• The Board will invite the elected leaders of the Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Students Assembly to attend Board meetings as regular participants, in much the same way as the University’s Deans and senior administrators now participate. The assembly leaders also will be invited to serve on the Board’s Student Life Committee, its Committee on Academic Affairs and other relevant committees.• The leadership of the Board, including the chairs of the Student Life Committee and the Committee on Academic Affairs, will meet with leaders of the student body semi-annually on an informal basis, as we already do with members of the faculty and the administration. These meetings will likely coincide with the October and March Board meetings, both held in Ithaca.• The Board will schedule a dinner at our next meeting in Ithaca, in March, during which Board members will dine together with members of the student body and have the opportunity to hear directly from them.• All Trustees will continue to be encouraged, as they always have been, to be available to hear from students and communicate with them on an individual basis. • We also are recommending that the agreement to have alternating-year student elections for the Board be extended, or made permanent, by the student assemblies.The Board of Trustees is responsible for the successful operation of the University and its long-term stability and success. It is an awesome responsibility that involves weighing many competing factors. One thing, however, is constant, and that is the centrality of the University’s students to our mission. That is why we are dedicated to finding the best ways to make sure our students’ voices are being heard. And students can be assured that they have been, are and will continue to be well-served by their elected representatives.

Andrew Tisch ’71 is a Cornell Trustee and Chair of the Task Force on Student-Elected Trustees. Feedback may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Andrew Tisch