For Universities to Thrive, Students Need a Seat at the Table

At many universities, the board of trustees is the most important decision-making body on campus, overseeing the school’s budget, selecting presidents, and deciding the range of climate action the university pursues. The board at the University of Connecticut is no different, comprising 21 members with nine faculty representatives. Only two trustees are students themselves, with the vast majority of the board never feeling the effects of its decisions.

At UConn, activists have increasingly turned to the board as the object of their advocacy. “We know that the BoT is the group that is most powerful in making university wide decisions, especially those that are financial.” said Musa Hussain, UConn senior and president of the UConn Environmental Justice Front

In March, seven students held a sit-in during a BOT meeting to call for climate action while another group of students showed up to protest UConn’s handling of sexual assault cases. As students shared their concerns, the BOT chair attempted to cut students off and stop them from speaking. 

“Receiving so much pushback for simply trying to vocalize student issues was an incredibly difficult moment.” said Hannah Ravenell, UConn Senior and president of UConn Collaborative Organizing. “The board has the student speaking section more for show than because they actually are interested in student needs…. there was no empathy or concern for our well-being in having to fight to speak.”

According to a range student interviews, the lack of action from the UConn Board of Trustees on a host of issues has been frustrating. They have asked the board to take steps to fight sexual assault, racism, tuition increases, and more—with few results. “I feel that the Board of Trustees inherently does not have the interests of students and university employees in mind…. UConn is a capitalist entity with an ideology of endless, unsustainable growth” said Nell Srinath, UConn junior and president and founder of the student organization UConn UNCHAIN. “The board will always come down on the side of increasing tuition, cutting employee benefits when it can, and making UConn more attractive to private investment.”  

According to Damani Douglas, senior at UConn and one of the two students on the board, the BOT has, in fact, had a fair number of accomplishments. “I feel in my brief time, we have made significant progress on student concerns, especially in electing a university president and securing a climate pledge.” Douglas does however agree that expanded student representation would be beneficial to the university. “All stakeholders should have meaningful representation on the Board.”

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