Williams has a very enviable tradition of allowing and even encouraging student participation with administration. This tradition has led to impressive gains at this college, making it the ultimate college experience in the world (not that this writer is biased at all).
Students sit as partners on normally faculty-only committees. Students control funding for a great deal of the discretional spending on campus. Students propose initiatives and run special event after special event on campus. Students are a powerful part of this campus.
There is not one part of the administration that does not agree that students should have a part in decision-making. However, the levels of participation vary depending which part of the administration one considers.
The Board of Trustees is a good example. The most powerful body on campus, they are also logically the furthest from campus. They meet with student “leaders” twice a year for a two-hour dinner to stay in touch with student concerns. They love this school – even ending presidential search committee meetings with time to watch the men’s basketball team. These are successful businessmen and businesswoman who nobly offer their time to help direct their alma mater. It’s a tough job, and everyone should appreciate the commitment.
However, the Board still falls far behind the rest of the college in amount of student contact. Fortunately, on Nishant Nayyar’s initiative, this discrepancy will soon be forced to the surface.
This is not the first time Williams’ students have attempted to add student members to the Board. In 1968 (did you expect it to happen any other time?), the Gargoyles attempted to add two student members and two recent alumni to the Board of Trustees. The Board agreed to add recent alumni and the agitation for change seems to have taken a 30-year hiatus.
That addition was only a partial step towards full participation and a transparent board. Nayyar has created a group of students to resume the agitation for more young voices on the Board of Trustees. Currently, the youngest Board member is a graduate from the class 1979; he left school before nearly half of the student body entered the world. Nayyar’s basic goal is “for real student government to have a voice on an organization that ultimately conducts and forms all major policies at Williams.”
The question that immediately pops into mind about this proposal is why now? Why change it? The Board of Trustees works effectively in student interests, so why now? What caused this sudden interest in students? The answer, “why not?” As Bill Bradley loved to say, the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is out. In addition, other schools have made similar proposals, including Dartmouth, Brandeis and Cornell.
There are many arguments for both sides of this debate. Unfortunately, these arguments have not been debated in public, and few even consider the lack of student input to the Board of Trustees as a problem on campus. This, thankfully, is soon to change. It is not time for me to fully insert my foot into my mouth about this debate, but it is time for the debate to be held (if only so that my foot can stick itself in my mouth in a couple months).
Regardless of one’s initial view of this issue, it is crucial that Williams (whether or not student trustees end up on the Board) have its traditional, open debate complete with disagreement and eventual compromise. I expect nothing less from this institution and its system.