Protesters outside Board of Trustees meeting ask, ‘Where is your accountability Western?’
Signs with the phrase “Where is your accountability Western?” covered windows and doors as a silent protest to the university’s response towards student activist group the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation, illustrating the frustration some students feel over their inability to affect university policy.
The issue of shared governance at Western was at the heart of a special meeting between the Associated Students board of directors, board of trustees and the faculty senate president on Thursday, March 3, in Old Main 340. The groups gathered to discuss student and administrative roles in government on campus.
The meeting comes just days after the Assembly for Power and Liberation sent a petition to administration demanding the College of Power and Liberation be created, along with five other major demands. The college would be focused on meeting the needs of marginalized students, according to the petition.
The group presented the petition at a meeting on Friday, Feb. 26. The student assembly hoped to discuss their needs with the administration, according to a previous Western Front article.
Before the meeting started, a member of the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation handed out a shortened version of the group’s demands from the university to all of the meeting participants.
Major themes of the meeting included looking at how students can impact policy agenda at Western, the roles of both the AS board of directors and the board of trustees, along with ways Western is considering policy change in the future.
Board of trustees chair Karen Lee started off the meeting making it clear that the purpose of gathering was to discuss, rather than make decisions.
The meeting was open to the public, which allowed students and administration outside of the AS and the board of trustees to sit in on the meeting, but not participate in the discussion.
How students can impact the agenda
Faculty Senate President Molly Ware presented a short explanation of how students can have an impact on the university’s agenda, with a mention of the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation’s recent petition.
“For example, I was thinking about initiatives where you might be interested in funding something. I’m thinking in particular the document that was forwarded from the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation,” Ware said. “So, I was wondering, how would that get into the process? And a couple of things came to mind.”
Some of the ways Ware suggested included bringing forward resolutions through the AS representatives, connecting with senate leadership and sending funding initiatives through the university Planning and Resources Council.
The Student Assembly for Power and Liberation was reached for comment but have yet to respond.
Why the AS is having trouble with making change
AS VP for Business & Operations Hannah Brock called attention to the structure of the AS and how it is currently viewed as ineffective.
“We have a model where we’re overworked as the board of directors because we’re expected to communicate with students. Not necessarily being the voice of students, but trying our best to hear from students, as well as overseeing the offices and programs,” Brock said. “We have dual roles and that is what we are really trying to address our structural review right now.”
The AS is unlike most other student governments, which usually function as a three branch model, Brock said. To become more effective on campus, the AS board of directors is currently working to create a potential system model where there would be a student senate to work with the board.
AS VP for Academic Affairs Zachary Dove works in association with the Faculty Senate’s 18 committees to bridge a connection between students and administration. Dove is also expected to fulfill all of his other responsibilities in the AS, which has caused him to feel overwhelmed in his position.
“It really takes away my ability to meet with students and [to learn] what student concerns are because I’m on all of those committees,” Dove said. “I’ll be submitting a report at the end of my term to our special review committee to talk about how we can lighten my role and disperse those responsibilities. Eighteen committees and one person is not manageable.”
The AS Board used to work with a student senate, but the senate was dissolved in 2013 after the board of directors voted to rid of the group. Both the trustees and senators found the group to be lacking in power and not representative of students, according to a Western Front article from 2013.
Seth Brickey, the student trustee, reflected on the workload of the AS board of directors and called on the trustees to support students.
“Hearing our conversation recently, it was wrong to assume that seven full-time students managing programs could also be expected to manage governance, as well as connect with their constituents,” Brickey said. “Realizing that, we are so willing and so eager to work with the AS to ensure that we provide the support that we can and to ensure that students on this campus are empowered both as individuals and collectively as a student population.”
Where to go from here
Another large focus during the meeting was how the university will be moving forward from its current governing structure.
During this period, AS President Belina Seare reflected on the roles of the AS Board and how the upcoming elections have shown that
students running are focusing on similar topics to those discussed in last year’s elections. Major topics of the previous year included broadening the idea of diversity and improving representation of all students, according to some of the board of director profiles.
Seare also focused on how the AS board tries to empower students, but is unable because of the way the AS is currently formatted.
“If we keep acting within these models [of the AS], if we think the same way that has been done and students are still saying the same things that they’ve been saying, then we need to do something differently,” Seare said. “Whether or not that’s drastically, whether that makes people comfortable or uncomfortable, the reality of it is, right now many students are disproportionately affected by the lack of access to the AS and the lack of a representative model.”
Who has the last say
President Bruce Shepard focused on the issue of Western’s governmental structure, calling attention to the fact that the board of trustees are above himself and other administration.
“On campus, people don’t always really understand what governance means for a board of trustees,” Shepard said. “They’re the ones of whom the faculty and students authority for shared governance flows… The trustees are the ones who ultimately have authority for almost everything that happens at this university.”
Shepard’s point about the trustees having the most power comes after both the Ethnic Student Center and the student assembly made specific demands directed towards him as a president, despite him not having the power to implement the proposals.
Organizing another meeting between the AS board of directors and board of trustees was discussed, but currently there is no official meeting set.