Unexplained Wishes of a Few Go Against Campus Community
The Board of Trustees system in place in South Carolina works to benefit each state institution of higher education. Instead of one large Board of Regents overseeing the entire state higher educational system, each school has a board that is solely dedicated to advancing and governing their specific institution. These boards can get acquainted with the individual needs and specificities of each school, and can champion that school and its mission throughout the country. Of the many promising initiatives Governor Haley has announced, her stance to not implement an overarching Board of Regents is one of the most exciting for higher education.
This also means that the decisions boards make speak for the institution it serves; they loudly and publically solidify the values and priorities of their institution. It was for this reason that South Carolina had much reason to rejoice when the College of Charleston Board of Trustees passed a strategic plan in 2008 aimed at making the College even more student centered by committing itself to actively seeking the input of its students. This stood to benefit South Carolina by institutionalizing the presence of a student-centered university distinct from the education offered at larger research based institutions. The liberal arts, small campus atmosphere and personalized experience of the College makes it the most desirable school in the state, and it was about to get better.
With these goals in mind, the Student Government asked the CofC Board to recognize the South Carolina Law that allows the SGA President to sit as a non-voting trustee during the board’s public deliberations. Having access to a student who is deeply involved with the campus would allow the board to better understand specific budgetary needs, potential recruitment techniques, class and program effectiveness, and have an overall better understanding of their College. The board also had the opportunity to institutionalize the student-centered community they described in the strategic plan, protecting against future boards or administrations that did not favor such input. The board had nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Many trustees were adamantly in support of the addition, realizing the benefit and incredible opportunity this presented. They saw that 11 of the top 13 American public schools (according to US News) had a student trustee, and they saw the incredible feedback those schools gave to our College about their student trustees. Support was shown from the entire ranks of the boards, including the Immediate Past Board Chair and the Current Vice Chair. The Current Chair of the Board of Trustees even took the time to meet with me to discuss the proposal.
It was the unexplained desires of a few, however, that stood in the way of a majority of supportive trustees. Needing a 2/3rds vote to achieve the necessary change, the students and supporters were blocked by six unexplained “no” votes. Those members not only stood in opposition of roughly 40% of the CofC student body who signed a petition in support, but also to the campus community. The members in opposition sat in silence as speeches flooded the room during public debate about the importance and necessity of the change. They offered no reason for their vote, and gave no explanation to the campus and state community they were voting against.
As our state embarks upon a new chapter of transparency in government, these dissident members owed it to the CofC Community, to the entire state and to their fellow members to explain their vote. They needed to explain why they did not seek the opinion of their students, the consumers of a system that is working to educate the next leaders of this state. South Carolina deserved to know why they were voting against something that was so common at top schools and that provided self described invaluable opportunities to those institutions. Most importantly, however, they owed an explanation to the students they serve, that supported the change, and that actually got involved in something they felt was bigger than themselves and that could benefit thousands of future students.
President of the Student Body
College of Charleston