This past week, the Georgetown University Student Association learned of changes affecting student representation on the Georgetown University board of directors.
Administrators informed the student representatives on the board’s Main Campus Affairs Committee that they would no longer be allowed to regularly attend committee meetings and would instead be working primarily with the Student Life Working Group, a subcommittee of the MCAC.
The board has chosen to refocus the MCAC on academic affairs and redirect student affairs discussions to the Student Life Working Group. While we value the opportunity to continue these discussions in a more focused setting, this restructuring nevertheless diminishes the student voice and prevents the MCAC from grasping the overall landscape of undergraduate life at Georgetown.
Student representatives utilize their position on the MCAC to advocate on behalf of the undergraduate student body. Recent presentations to the MCAC have centered on topics such as sexual assault and student safety, the renovation of Kehoe Field, free speech and expression and on-campus disability access, to name a few.
Limiting discussion to strictly academic matters in the MCAC might prevent such issues from ever surfacing in larger, strategic discussions with the rest of the board.
For many members, these meetings may be the only chance they have to interact with current students. And because the MCAC convenes just three times per year, it becomes imperative that each of its members — not just a subset — has a chance to hear from students.
Distancing board members from students impedes collaboration and compromises student advocacy efforts. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that students aren’t the only ones who stand to lose.
Undergraduates first gained access to the board of directors in the early 1970s out of necessity, not administrative courtesy.
After President Robert Henle, S.J., unceremoniously fired Vice President for Educational Affairs Edmund Ryan, S.J., on Holy Thursday in the spring of 1972, Ryan’s extensive base of student and faculty supporters immediately erupted in protest.
The controversy drew nearly 1,000 demonstrators to Dahlgren Quad on behalf of Fr. Ryan, throwing the campus into turmoil and significantly undermining the university establishment in the process.
Recognizing the need for an intervention, the board of directors moved to consider the issue at their next meeting.
Although it voted against reinstating Ryan, the board nevertheless realized that changes would have to be made.
In due time a board committee tasked with investigating administrative effectiveness concluded that expanded representation might cure the university’s ills.
Moving forward, representatives from both the student government and the faculty senate would report to the board of directors, building a direct link between the board and the university’s primary constituents.
Over the last 40 years, the style and substance of this role has undergone many iterations. During that time, we have seen many of our peer student governments gain full voting membership on their respective boards of directors or trustees.
All the while, we have been grateful for the opportunity to present to one of our board’s main committees as a way to advocate on behalf of our fellow students.
However, we know that our impact only goes as far as our contact. Relegating the student voice to one single working group from one single committee will deprive board members of the firsthand account that student representatives bring to the table.
Students have historically played a vital role in the formation of the university’s strategic priorities, and this is a perspective we cannot afford to lose.
Trevor Tezel is the president of theGeorgetown University Student Association and a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Shane Thomas and Abbey McNaughton are student representatives to the Georgetown University board of directors and a senior and a junior, respectively, in the College.