Over the summer, NYU’s Board of Trustees voted to keep the board free of both student and faculty representation. The board rejected three University Senate approved resolutions initiated by three separate councils, all demanding student and faculty representation as well as better communication between the board and the NYU community. In place of representation, the board made superficial concessions including a biannual executive meeting between the board and the University Senate and an annual dinner with students.
Despite the board’s acknowledgement that communication between students and the trustees needs improvement, the refusal to cede institutional power to community members reflects an indifference to NYU’s democratic process. Students, as the primary stakeholders at NYU, need to have the opportunity to lead the university they attend and having student trustees, even just one, would finally grant us that right.
The exorbitant price of a college education is an ongoing controversy, particularly at NYU, a school notorious for its high costs. NYU’s Student Labor Action Movement, an activist group advocating for students’ financial needs, has been campaigning for student representation on the Board of Trustees to promote transparency in university spending and budgeting for financial aid. SLAM’s arduous work epitomizes the beating heart of student resistance. The modern student’s desire for advancements not only benefits individual students but also serves to make our institutions more responsible and accountable for their actions.
This isn’t the first time that NYU community leaders are being called out for accountability either. In fall 2016, this publication reported on the supposed efforts (or lack thereof) of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force put in place by current President Andrew Hamilton. Since the task force’s formation earlier that year, there was little to show for the promises that Hamilton had made. Progress reports that were supposed to be made public were never published. The only information available to the public regarding the task force was a vague, oversimplified PowerPoint. Shortly after these issues were pointed out, student representatives stepped forward to clarify these frustrations, and soon after, began searching for a Chief Diversity Officer. Concerns from the community that were given a voice resulted in healthy dialogue and actual, positive change — something that could be seen on the board as well, if students were given the opportunity to do so.
The board, in its response detailing the decision, explains its desire for “each Trustee [to] bring a holistic outlook,” rather than “members who are representative of specific stakeholder groups.” Having student trustees is admittedly far from a perfect model, but the message that the board’s decision sends is one of hardened, anachronistic thought — that tradition takes precedence over trust and progress. Pursuing financial viability through appointing student trustees isn’t an egregious conflict of interest because a board with diversity representative of the population isn’t threatening to the wellbeing of our university. This concept is reminiscent of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill proposal that would allow workers of corporations to elect 40 percent of their board of directors. This measure would shift power from stakeholders to the broader public, so that company decisions become more thoughtful and inclusive. Much like how a corporation is beholden to employees and customers in addition to stakeholders, a university must serve students, faculty and administrators.
The proposed formalized agenda for communication is a necessary step, but it undermines the level of influence that students can have in our university.
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 26 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]