On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees announced the long-awaited decision of the Presidential Search Committee and appointed Radenka Maric as the 17th president of the university by unanimous vote of 21 Board of Trustee members. Maric has served as the interim president since 2021, as well as vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship.
During the Wednesday meeting, most Board of Trustee members praised Maric following the vote, claiming she had made strides towards entrepreneurship, research excellence and “diversity and inclusion,” albeit citing no evidence for such claims. The Daily Campus Editorial Board shares student criticisms brought forth by testimonials during the meeting’s public comment regarding the Administration’s neglect of the findings of the President’s Working Group on Sustainability, which found UConn must decarbonize by 2040. Such findings have been consistently ignored throughout the interim presidency of Maric the past year, during which the Cogen fossil fuel plant was updated for further decades of use in lieu of renewable energy.
Likewise, throughout the interim presidency, students have raised awareness on multiple pending issues the university has failed to address. In the weeks preceding the announcement, students cited specific concerns regarding speculated budget cuts to cultural centers and lackluster sustainability policies and feel strongly that the unanimous praise of Radenka Maric disregarded such testimonies and concerns. The public statements offered by board members in support of Maric’s appointment made no indication that the interim administration she headed neglected students’ sustained protests and demands for more accountability and prevention measures for sexual violence at UConn.
UConn implies that the two student trustee positions belonging to elected members of the undergraduate and graduate student populations represent the beliefs, values and needs of the student body to the Board of Trustees. Yet, the strong and unanimous support offered by each student trustee after Wednesday’s appointment — with no mention of the historic student concerns about Maric as a candidate — shows the institutional failure of the only two outlets for students to directly impact university government here in one of its most critical policy decisions. The student trustees, Graduate Employee Union president, Undergraduate Student Government president and Graduate Student Senate representatives serve mere advisory roles in the presidential search committee, and there is no further student involvement in candidate selection.
A general lack of transparency persisted throughout the presidential selection process. Other than the occasional email to the student body, little was shared about the selection process that occurred over the past year. The UConn Labor Coalition, consisting of five employee unions across UConn and UConn Health, issued a letter to the Board of Trustees citing concerns about selection transparency on Sep. 21. At the time, 36 hours before finalist candidates were interviewed, the faculty and staff Coalition had not yet been informed of the list nor met candidates.
This, however, brings up a more systemic issue — Board of Trustees is not democratic. Any substantial criticism brought forth by the student body is shared during the public participation portion of each meeting and is often met with faint validation by the Board, if any reaction is offered at all. The meetings themselves are largely inaccessible, with limited seating, 9 a.m. start times and intimidatingly lengthy agendas that force attendees to skip meaningful classes. When combined with hyper-professional rhetoric and procedures that are — for lack of a better word — boring, it becomes apparent that the board does not exist to foster an accessible and inclusive environment for viewership. These barriers contribute to a lack of public participation and attendance.
The appointment of Radenka Maric further illustrates the lack of regard the Board of Trustees has in the outcries of students. Regards as the “perfect candidate” and unanimous support from members of the board serve as a reminder that student concerns remain mostly unheard. Any form of political assembly which is not inclusive to criticism cannot be referred to in any sort of democratic way, and the Board of Trustees’ blatant lack of, at the very least, concern pertaining to issues surrounding the president — not to mention their lack of acknowledging such concerns — is troublesome.
As The Daily Campus Editorial Board has previously written, it is vital for UConn students and community members to pay attention to the Board of Trustees. Their decisions span beyond tuition costs and the naming of sports facilities; investments in the military complex, non-sustainable policies and other harmful votes have all been passed in the past year alone. Power goes beyond the president, and many student criticisms of Radenka Maric’s appointment indicate broader institutional problems which one president cannot escape. The manner in which the appointment process took place is reflective of the Board of Trustees’ negligence of student concerns. The Board of Trustees must exponentially improve its accessibility to the public and set forth active steps to increase student, faculty and community influence on our most important public policies.