If you examine the current structure of the Board of Trustees, it would be easy to assume that one student — for the moment, Peter Khoury — is guaranteed a spot. But in reality, there is no official student trustee position on the board.
The student position on the Board of Trustees is rooted in tradition, first emerging in 1971, but is not written in the Penn State Charter or the board’s bylaws. The position is merely one of the six seats appointed and then approved by the governor of the Pennsylvania.
Realizing the benefit of a required student position, students in the University Park Undergraduate Association are looking into the idea of securing permanent representation. The Governmental Affairs Committee is researching how boards of other similarly sized schools operate and how students are involved. While their findings have concluded that some colleges have no student trustee, some have non-voting students and others have several voting student trustee positions, Penn State should solidify — or maybe even increase — the official student representation on the board.
UPUA should be commended for its efforts to make sure the student voice is heard by the board. While it is great that governors from the past few decades have recognized the importance of students on the governing body, the student trustee position should without a doubt be guaranteed. It is also reassuring to hear that UPUA is cross-referencing other universities to see what works out and where challenges have come up in other models.
As of this point, there are so many proposals on revising the board’s bylaws that the trustees shouldn’t be bound by the current bylaws — we’ve seen that significant change is needed in the board’s structure, and this is definitely one that warrants serious consideration.
If the board wants to be in a position to act in the best interests of the university, it’s hurting itself under its current structure — ideally, the decision makers wouldn’t just be alumni or others who aren’t directly immersed in campus life and would instead include seats for students, faculty and others.
When it comes to making choices to uphold the welfare of the university, it is most important that current students and faculty are directly involved, as they probably have more insight than trustees who are generally more removed from campus.
If this idea has any hope of becoming a reality, though, it’s going to take more than just a few student leaders.
Students: If you’re not happy with the way the university is run, here’s your chance to let the board know you’re behind one effort to fix it.