Many students feel disconnected from their university governance structure, in particular from the Board of Regents (BoR).
According to DivestMTA member Alex Lepianka, the university structure is difficult to understand.
“To really understand how those different parts come together into this cohesive whole takes an incredible amount of thought and research,” he said.
BoR Student Representative Willa McCaffrey-Noviss said that the Board deals with the long-term wellbeing of the university.
“In that way, it’s not accessible to students, because students have the short term in mind – they are only here for a few years,” she said. Other members of the Board generally spend much more than four years at Mt. A.
Comparing students to fruit flies and administrators and faculty to tortoises, classics professor and faculty BoR member Bruce Robertson also talked about the issue of turnover. He said that students want to see things done quickly, but that “quickly” means something different to the rest of the Board. Robertson pointed out that students serve one- or two-year terms on committees, while projects have a long timeline.
The primary channels through which students can interact with the Board are the MASU and the administration. Past MASU President Dylan Wooley-Berry said that this is a problem.
“We as students have a very managed interaction with the Board, dually, through the administration and the students’ union,” he said. “[This] can and probably does hinder some students from interacting with the Board at one level or another.”
Students also said that certain subgroups of the student population were represented more than others.
Lepianka, who is also the vice-president finance and operations for the MASU, noted that “in order to get to the point where you are applying for and receiving spots on committees, it requires a considerable amount of work learning how to fit in that role.” Some students cannot access these roles as easily as others.
“In committee meetings, I’m pretty assertive and I’m a male,” Wooley-Berry said. “I’m very cognizant of the fact that I meet the idea of someone who is supposed to have knowledge and someone who is supposed to communicate that knowledge.”
Robertson said that Mt. A should seek to diversify its representation. He noted, however, that this would involve moving away from having most board members be Mt. A alumni, the majority of whom are white.
There are currently no people of colour on the board.
While interviewees all said that there were barriers to student participation, they felt this was due to systemic factors such as the governance structure or a culture of neoliberalism rather than individual board members or administrators.
According to Robertson, “many of us have a deep malaise about capitalism. If the larger world’s financial system is corrupting, it’s easy to project that antipathy onto the Board.” He added that just as students should not be characterized as video game-playing, apathetic millennials, it is “unfair to characterize the administration as neoliberal fat cats.”
McCaffrey-Noviss said that most regents have successful careers and diverse backgrounds in terms of their employment. “The reason they have students on the Board is to keep those perspectives updated,” she said.
Lepianka said students’ and the Board’s reasoning about what is good for the university come from a different place. While regents are motivated by ambition and pride for Mt. A, student activists are motivated by a “critical ambition.”
“[Student activists] are more critical and considerate of adapting structures and dismantling them, whereas [regents] look to improve [the structure] from within,’’ he said.
Lepianka added that the university is a very efficient organization, which makes it difficult to talk about anything other than risk or return.
Students and faculty board members do not always have access to the entirety of board meetings.
According to McCaffrey-Noviss, the Board went in-camera at the meeting in May, which usually means that non-board members are asked to leave the room. However, all four student and faculty board members, including McCaffrey-Noviss, were at that time told to exit.
McCaffrey-Noviss requested a reason, but was not provided with one. “I haven’t been able to get a straight answer,” she said.