Students often complain about a lack of transparency in the administration, but one of the greatest powers behind decisions of the university is even more unknown. Behind all of the changes taking place on a daily basis, the board of directors is at the helm of the latest initiatives at the university. Chris Pigott (COL ’12), student representative to the board of directors, current Georgetown University Student Association senator and former assistant speaker of GUSA, sat down with THE HOYA to discuss how the board is addressing these issues on campus.
Why did you join the board of directors, and what do you think is your role on the board?
I first decided to apply to join the board because I actually hadn’t heard about the position. After being involved in GUSA for a year and a half, I didn’t even know there was a student who sat on the board of directors.
I serve as a liaison, relaying student opinions and issues to the board. I think that my position should be more open and available to students. There are a lot of things that the board should know and things that the students can inform them about. The members of the board have been chosen as the most loyal Hoyas. They’re not just the biggest donors, but the people who had the best experiences while here. We want to replicate that experience for other students.
What are the duties of the board of directors?
The administration has more to do with the day-to-day upkeep of the university. The board of directors only meets four times a year, for only a couple of days, but they deal with serious issues. They deal a lot with the overhead. They hire the president, and send [University] President [Jack J.] DeGioia his paycheck.
In addition, one of the issues the board is really looking at right now is expanding the Public Policy Institute and possibly converting it into a college of the university [and] at some point as its own graduate school. They’re involved in that financially, in trying to attract a donor who would give his name to the school. They also like to keep track of the program, and they like to serve as a check to the authority of the
administration. The deans of all the schools have to make presentations to the board every meeting to discuss what has occurred in their colleges and what they hope to accomplish in the future.
How has the board of directors reacted to the recent security issues on campus?
There are certain issues that the board does not have any concern with or authority over. However, they do really want to know about those things. A big example of this is security. At the September meeting, the board was very concerned with how students felt, if they felt like there was a large enough presence of DPS officers. The meeting actually occurred before the string of burglaries in September, and the next meeting is going to occur in February. Even though they won’t have a major involvement in campus safety besides funding initiatives on safety, they are still very concerned with it.
What are some of the more visible powers of the board of directors?
There is a lot that the board does that’s tangible to students. The board, for instance, has to endorse any increase of the Student Activity Fee. Since increasing the fee is a large part of GUSA’s Student Activities Fee and Endowment reform, the board would have to officially endorse the increase before it could go into effect administratively. The money can’t move until the board signs off. Even if the referendum passes, no money will move until the beginning of the next school year, so we have until next fall to get everything passed. I presented the problem to them in September, and they were very receptive to the idea.
Is your position part of GUSA?
As the student representative to the board of directors, I am technically under the control of the Office of Student Affairs. I report to Todd Olson and meet with him before every board meeting to discuss whatever issues we want to share with the board. The position is appointed by GUSA, but does not fall under the control of GUSA.
What did the university address at the September meeting, besides safety and the Student Activity Fee?
The board was very interested with the development of the Public Policy Institute. They were looking forward to speaking with the new dean, Edward Montgomery. Also, the presentation of the Dean of the McDonough School of Business, Dean George Daly, was very important, as it was his last presentation to the board.
How transparent is the board of directors, and how is the organization trying to make itself more transparent?
I think that’s why there’s a student representative, to increase transparency. The board is not the most transparent organization in the university, but for good reason. The board doesn’t announce the timing of its meetings, or release any widely available minutes from their meeting. I’m OK with that, because they’re not trying to do anything overly controversial. They’re hosting presentations. In addition, there would be a lot of problems with making the timing of the meetings widely known. These are famous people on the board, such as Alonzo Mourning, who might be uncomfortable going to meetings that were publicly known.
What is the most visible effect of the board on the university currently?
Since I was appointed to the position four or five months ago, I haven’t seen the immediate effect of their actions. However, a lot of what we see around has come about because of the board. It was the decision of the board 20 or 30 years ago to push for the university to become one of the most elite universities in the nation. They’ve helped that development, both through finances and through effort and determination. I know that all the members of the board love Georgetown. They want to see the university flourish, and rise above its peer institutions. I think a lot of the overhead issues can’t be seen tangibly, but the strength and integrity of the university have been derived by the efforts of the board. The School of Foreign Service would not be the best graduate school in its field without the help of the board. They also have a major role in the expansion of the university. They help achieve the long-term goals of the university, not the 2010 Campus Plan, but 50 years down the road.
– Interview by Stephen Levy