Western is included in 64% of universities nationwide that has a student member on its Board of Trustees
By Ryan Morris
With student representation in mind, Board of Trustees Chair John Meyer invited Associated Students Senate Pro Tempore Sargun Handa to present her case for a recurring invitation to Board of Trustees meetings. Handa said she plans to bring her demands to the board on Dec. 11 as an agenda item.
“We have invited the entire Executive Board, which includes Sargun, to attend our meeting,” Meyer said. “We’ve dedicated half an hour or so to talk with them about the governance structure and functions, as well as their individual goals and agendas.”
Sixty-four percent of colleges and universities have a student representative on its Board of Trustees or Board of Regents, according to research by the American Student Government Association provided by Executive Director Butch Oxendine. The same research shows only 15.76% of those institutions have two student representatives, including Western.
Western has a student trustee, Hunter Stuehm, and the AS president, Abdul Malik Ford, who speak at its Board of Trustees meetings. Stuehm has a vote on the board, while Ford is there with speaking privileges only, Meyer confirmed.
Mickael Candelaria, the AS president at Central Washington University, said he does not have speaking privileges at board meetings. Instead, he works with the student trustee and watches the meetings virtually.
Candelaria explained Central’s AS provides a quarterly report for its Board of Trustees, and emails with board members to stay up to date on mutual concerns.
Central’s Senate Speaker Madeline Koval said this system works, but student representation is a powerful resource. Candelaria said he wished Central had AS representation similar to Western.
“I would love to have dedicated speaking time in front of the Board of Trustees at least once a quarter,” Candelaria said. “It’s pretty cool that Western gets to have Malik speak on behalf of AS.”
Oxendine said Western’s opportunities for student voices and votes impressed him.
“[According to our research] not even half of the schools in America have a voting member,” he said.
Washington State University students have a voting representative on their Board of Regents as well, said Sean Doster, Washington State University AS vice president. Doster explained Washington State University has a Board of Regents rather than a Board of Trustees. The Board of Regents make fiscal decisions and is responsible for supervising and managing the university, similar to the Board of Trustees’ work at Western and Central.
Doster said AS leaders never serve as representatives on the Board of Regents — instead the student regent visits AS meetings. Doster said the Board of Regents and administration are always willing to include student voices, but it doesn’t always seem to make a difference.
“We haven’t had any problems making students’ voices heard,” Doster explained. “Whether or not it’s listened to all the time is a different question, but we’re usually in the room when decisions are being made.”
The majority of student representatives are student trustees and AS presidents, according to research by the American Student Government Association.
Handa said leaving the student senate out of the Board of Trustees meetings is harmful to Western’s students.
“Just because that’s the way things have been doesn’t mean it's right,” Handa said. “There should be senate representation [across the nation] and the fact that there isn’t is disappointing, but I hope for the future we’ll have it.”
Handa, Ford and Meyer met on Nov. 3 to discuss Handa’s request for a seat at the table and to better understand each other, Handa confirmed. Handa said she went into this meeting with no expectations, but with the hope to understand Meyer’s point of view.
Meyer said he wanted to understand Handa’s reasoning for the request but could not speak on behalf of the board. Both Handa and Meyer expressed hope for working together in the future, along with Ford, to serve Western students.
“I think we all have the same interests: the wellbeing of the students and Western Washington University,” Meyer said. “We want to do whatever can be done to make student experience and education as top-notch as it can be.”
Doster said he empathizes with Handa. University administrations often think talking to the AS president is enough, but this doesn’t always provide a full picture of students' needs, Dester said.
Handa said she and Ford have different jobs serving Western students. Handa described her job as including academics, technology and fiscal responsibilities. Many decisions the board encounters, such as the Black Student Organizations’ demands, include academic judgments, Handa said.
Koval explained having a senate representative would bring a unique voice to the Board of Trustees, one that interacts with students from all colleges on campus. Central supports Handa in her quest for a recurring invitation, Candelaria said.
Central’s AS passed a letter of support for Handa and sent it to Western. Candelaria explained the invitation is not only about having a senator’s voice on the board, but also a woman of color’s voice. He said Central included this in their letter, which Handa will use in her presentation at the Dec. 11 board meeting.
“We’re asking for the Board of Trustees to start including Black and Indigenous women of color, especially in high student leadership positions, to be included in their meetings,” Candelaria said.
Oxendine said he has never seen a senate pro tempore serve on the Board of Trustees, but he suspects that isn’t the root of the issue.
“Just because there’s no precedent for something doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy idea,” Oxendine said. “I’ve never heard of a [senate pro tempore] having a seat. As an outsider looking in, I’m thinking [Handa] is feeling that the student government’s perspectives are not being relayed. That’s a bigger issue.”