This effort is misguided.

Spencer representative Jonathan Misk ’07 plans to submit a proposal to both the Council and the administration recommending student representation on the Board of Trustees. “Our only goal is to improve communication where it is most needed,” he said. “Such student interaction with Board members would both allow the students to be more informed of issues the Board is discussing and allow the Board to be more in touch with real-time student sentiment on those issues.”

The College will never go for this plan in the short term. The Trustees are busy, important people with much to do during their limited meeting time. When they are talking business, they want to do so openly but in confidence. They don’t want to deal with a student (a new one each year!), explaining to her the background on topics that they have covered for years, worrying if she might not treat the proceedings as private.

Moreover, the Trustees already meet with plenty of students and are, reasonably, well-versed on student opinion, both via the Record and from direct contact. Morty, being a very smart president, forwards substantive, well-written comments that students send him directly to all the trustees. One trustee commented to me ruefully that his inbox overflowed from all the student commentary on neighborhood housing that he received from Morty.

But, although this won’t happen quickly, what steps might Misk and others takes to lay the groundwork for it to happen someday? Good question! Other schools, after all, do have student representation on the board, so all things are possible.

1) Fight to increase the transparency of Trustee meetings. When are they? When is the next one? What is on the agenda? When do the Trustees arrive? Who will they be meeting with? And so on. There is no (good) reason why Williams might be much more open and transparent in how it is governed. Yet no one (besides me!) fights for this. Why isn’t the agenda and other distributed materials made public, perhaps after the meeting? The College could certainly redact any sensitive information (having to do with super-secret plans or confidential personnel issues) before distributing the information.

2) Fight to de-mystify the trustees. Although the College does provide nice little biographies, other details are sketchy. For starters, what are their terms of office? How are they selected? I provide some (correct?) information here, but there is no reason for secrecy. (I still don’t understand how, for example, Malcolm W. Smith ’87 could lose the election for alumni trustee and still end up on the board. Anyone who the board is considering for an appointed position should not be nominated for alumni trustee.)

3) Participate in the election process. There is a trustee election going on right now. Misk should interview the three candidates, find out their views on important topics and transmit those views (along with his commentary) to the College community. EphBlog (with our thousands of readers) would be happy to host. Why not a podcast? No doubt Misk would do a better job of this than I have in the past.

4) Instead of aiming for a student seat on the board, Misk should try for the much more achievable goal of a student seat on the Executive Committee (EC) of the Society of Alumni (SoA). I don’t think that we need a student trustee but I do think that a student (even three students) belong on the EC.

Note that you do not need to graduate to be an alumnus. Anyone who has attended Williams, even for just a year, is a member. So, there is no reason in principle why students shouldn’t belong. Also, five trustees are ex-officio members of the EC, so student participation would give Misk some of the trustee interaction he seeks. The fact that EC terms are for three years also works out well. Imagine that each class at Williams elects one of its members to join the EC at the end of first year. That student would serve for 3 years, just like any other member. There would always be 3 students on the EC, enough to have a real voice but not too many to gum up the works. And, if this experiment worked out, there would be much less opposition for a student place on the board in 5 or 10 years.

This is the sort of good-governance, small-improvement campaign that EphBlog could get behind. Misk is welcome to join us as an author to help rally the alumni community and keep us posted on his progress.

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