The University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government agreed not to campaign actively for more student trustees on the university’s board in exchange for more undergraduate voting members on the Financial Affairs and Student Life board committees.
“I chose and Haley (USG External Affairs chair 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,” USG president Dan Byrd said. “To me that’s a win, when the other option is probably getting nothing.”
Under this new agreement with the university, the single undergraduate student trustee would be a permanent member of the board’s Financial Affairs committee and USG will be able to appoint two more undergraduates as voting members to the Student Life committee.
The Financial Affairs committee handles all the university’s major financial decisions, including approving the budget and setting tuition and fees. The Student Life committee handles issues such as on-campus living, hiring of high-ranking student services employees and student transportation.
In exchange, USG agreed to not actively advocate for a current proposal in the Connecticut General Assembly that would add more student trustees or for any future bills that would do the same, at least until more representatives are added to the board, Byrd said.
The brokered deal was not mentioned explicitly in any public documents, but Byrd said that it was the agreement they had reached.
“I feel like that would be an awkward thing to put in bylaws,” Byrd said. “I don’t know if the university has ever put in an agreement that USG can’t do something… But it’s not my intention to break the agreement and it’s not (president-elect Irma Valverde’s) intention to break the agreement.”
Undergraduates will retain the extra votes in committees unless another student is added to the board. Byrd and USG agreed not to campaign for more representation unless the board grows to 25 members, Byrd said.
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. In 2015, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill for more student trustees with only one dissenting vote, but Gov. Dannel Malloy vetoed it.
UConn does not support adding more student trustees to the board, according to Michael Kirk, deputy chief of staff to UConn’s president. Kirk wrote in an email last Thursday that the two undergraduate and graduate trustees 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.
UConn President Susan Herbst praised the new proposal in an article by UConn Today.
“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.
Student leaders on the board and in USG have argued that more student representatives will provide a more diverse and comprehensive view of the issues that matter most to students.
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.
Byrd said the deal was likely the best that students could get because the state legislature is unlikely to go through the cumbersome process of overriding another veto.
“It’s still very unlikely that we would be able to get two more students on the Board of Trustees, at least while Dannel Malloy is governor,” Byrd said.
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.
The Financial Affairs committee meets generally right before the entire board so all trustees (including the undergraduate) would already be present at its meetings.
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 he added that more diversity in the committee would make for better decisions.
“Student Life is a place where more diversity could be offered to the conversation and that would be helpful,” Kuegler said.
Byrd argued that Student Life could in the future see contested votes and that the deal would be valuable then.
“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,” trustee-elect Savino said.
The Board of Trustees will vote on this proposal and others at its meeting Wednesday morning in NextGen Residence Hall Room 112, beginning at 9:00 a.m.
Christopher McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.