Board opens to students

Elaine Helm

In a move that Associated Student Government leaders are calling “a step in the right direction,” a member of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees told former ASG President Jordan Heinz this week that students might be allowed to participate in an annual presentation to the board.

Trustee Phil Harris, chairman of the board’s student affairs committee, suggested to Heinz that a student should join Harris in presenting the annual report on student affairs.

“We are willing to discuss things that make students feel like they are better represented,” Harris said. “Every year the chairman of the student affairs committee gives a report about the year, and one thing the ASG officers might want to look at is if a student would want to participate in it.”

Heinz has made lobbying for a student to sit on the board his top priority since the university announced its decision to fill one-fifth of the Lagoon. He said he was optimistic the idea could open the board to more student involvement in the future.

“Sometime in the future students will be full voting members of the Board of Trustees,” said Heinz, an Education senior. “It’s a question of when, not if.”

University President Henry Bienen disagrees. He has reiterated over and over again that though putting a student on the board wouldn’t be disastrous, students would be better served sitting on advisory committees that give input to administrators and board committees.

“Students pass through here,” he said in an April 25 interview. “They’re important members of the constituency, but they’re here for a limited amount of time. They have a limited amount of information and energy to decide on the long run future of the university.”

Current ASG President Rachel Lopez said full representation on the board would give students a better idea about the decision-making process at NU and help trustees understand the issues most important to students.

“If trustees are so distant from us, they can’t understand our concerns,” said Lopez, a Weinberg junior.

Harris’ suggestion of greater input in the presentation will not directly lead to student representation on the board, he said, as Heinz and Lopez hope. Harris said he told ASG leaders that the trustees don’t think student representation on the board is necessary. Having a representative on the board or having a student give the yearly presentation would not have a “substantive impact” in changing NU’s decision-making process, he said.

Harris gave Heinz other suggestions on how students will be able to better effect change without gaining actual representation on the board, including increasing interaction with the board’s committees.

Most of the board’s work is accomplished in these various committees, said William Banis, NU’s vice president for student affairs, and most student-related matters are discussed in the board’s student affairs committee.

Banis said he thinks students would have more input if they took concerns about issues such as construction and the lack of green space to administrators, who spend more of their time dealing with the decisions, rather than complaining to the entire board.

“The further up you go in terms of hierarchy, the less detailed information people will have,” Banis said. “Some students seem to have the idea that the administration is this monolithic being from outer space that landed here and is invading Northwestern. … But NU is a highly differentiated institution. A lot of decentralized decision making goes on.”

The Daily’s Dan Murtaugh and Mindy Hagen contributed to this report.