Student campaign for more trustees ends with committee compromise

Susan Herbst attends a board of trustees meeting on Dec. 7, 2016 for their monthly meeting in the ballroom to discuss current affairs of the university. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government agreed to end years of active campaigning for more student trustees on the university’s board in exchange for more voting members on two board committees. The university’s board unanimously approved the compromise Wednesday morning.

USG will be able to appoint two more undergraduates as voting members on the Student Life Committee, and the single undergraduate trustee on the board will become a permanent voting member of the Financial Affairs committee. The student trustee has always had the option to serve on Financial Affairs (though many chose other committees) but now their place on that committee is written into UConn’s bylaws.

Student leaders have campaigned at the state legislature for years to add more student trustees to UConn’s 21-member governing body, responsible for setting the university’s budget as well as voting on major contracts and amendments to the university’s bylaws.

UConn does not support adding more student trustees, according to Michael Kirk, Deputy Chief of Staff to UConn’s President. Kirk wrote in an email last Thursday that the two student trustees (one undergraduate, one graduate) are capable of speaking for the student body, that most trustees have experience running expansive large organizations and that UConn’s board is already one of the largest in the nation.

In 2015, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill for more student trustees with only one dissenting vote, but Gov. Dannel Malloy vetoed it. With Malloy still in office, USG President Dan Byrd said it was unlikely any new trustee bill would succeed. Byrd and USG External Affairs Chair Haley Hinton negotiated the compromise with UConn’s Governmental Relations office.

“I chose and Haley (Hinton) chose and USG as a whole chose that we’d rather get something over nothing, and we got three more votes on Board of Trustee committees where much of the work is done,” Byrd said. “To me that’s a win when the other option is probably getting nothing.”

The negotiations and what USG gave up were not mentioned explicitly at the board meeting or in its agenda, but UConn’s Senior Director of Governmental Relations Joann Lombardo confirmed early Wednesday that there was an understanding that USG would not campaign.

“Based on the agreement reached between USG and the university, there was mutual understanding that USG would not be actively supporting any legislative efforts at the General Assembly on this issue,” Lombardo wrote in an email.

USG agreed not to campaign (by testifying at the CGA for example) in future years unless the board expands to 25 or more members, at which time USG would revisit the deal, Byrd said. The entire amendment is voided if more any student trustees are added to the board.

Byrd emphasized that USG would not testify against bills for more student trustees or ask any legislators to stop pushing for the bill.

UConn President Susan Herbst praised the new proposal in an article by UConn Today, university administration’s official publication:

“Providing even greater student representation at the committee level should further ensure our student voices are heard by the board – particularly on matters of the most critical importance to the student body at large,” Herbst said.

Current undergraduate trustee Adam Kuegler and undergraduate trustee-elect Christine Savino each separately called the proposal to add more students to committees “a step in the right direction” for increasing student involvement.

Former student trustee Michael Daniels, who was on the board from 2013 to 2015, said that he believed adding students to the committees would not make a strong difference.

“I am concerned that the proposal may have been intended to make it appear the students have been given a greater role in governing the university without actually giving them a more meaningful role,” Daniels said.

Daniels said the best measures to increase student engagement on the board would be to allow the undergraduate trustee to serve for a two-year term (even if they graduate) and for the board to reach out to students through surveys and in-class time to explain the board’s work. He clarified that he wasn’t opposed to Byrd’s compromise or to adding more trustees but said that were better alternatives.

Daniels (who currently works as economic development coordinator for East Hartford) pointed out that the Financial Affairs committee generally meets right before the entire board so all trustees (including the undergraduate) would generally already be present at the committee.

Trustee Kuegler said he’s been to all of the Financial Affairs meetings and that the committee has been receptive to his comments and questions, even though he’s not a voting member. He said he was unsure if any committee decisions would have been different if he had a vote.

Byrd emphasized that getting a vote on the Financial Affairs meeting also allows a student to second motions, which would allow them to push for a measure by another trustee that might not receive other wide support.

Daniels also doubted that having more votes in Student Life would lead to major benefits for students.

“Student Life, at least in my experience, took the form of a meeting between the committee and the vice-president of student affairs… Similarly I don’t think having two additional student representatives on that committee would have any large impact,” Daniels said.

There has not been a vote in Student Life that wasn’t unanimous during the past year, Kuegler said. But both Kuegler and Byrd said that more student voices would allow the committee to hear a more diverse range of concerns, which they said was more important than having more votes.

“The more students we put in positions to build relationships and be trusted sources for student voice, the more diverse effective the decision making will be,” Kuegler said.

Trustee-elect Savino said that this proposal could be an avenue to more representation in the future.

“If we prove increased representation is a positive thing—that it increases diversity and adds broader representation from the regional campuses… then I think that will give the CGA solid evidence for putting more students on the full board. I see this as a trial run,” Savino said.


Christopher McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.mcdermott@uconn.edu.