The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Trustees’ code gives students little input

SMU is one of a handful of universities in the country where astudent sits on the governing board of trustees. SMU officials areproud of that. They cite it as proof that SMU is committed toempowering students in important university decisions.

There are strings attached, however.

The selection process for the student trustee position isshrouded in secrecy. Applicants are questioned on whether they canbe trusted to keep secrets. The board then selects a student withlittle direct input from students. And once the student joins theboard, meetings — and decisions — are made inprivate.

Many students say the secretive process means they have littleinput into the board’s decisions.

“Even if they make decisions that won’t have animpact for a long time, students should still be involved moredirectly,” said Coleman Anglin, a sophomore philosophy andforeign language major. “As it is, it seems they’rejust paying lip service to the idea of studentempowerment.”

Thomas Kincaid, the SMU student body president who recently wasselected to serve as the student trustee in 2004-05, disagreed.

“The fact that there is a student sitting on the Board ofTrustees is a symbol of SMU’s commitment to studentempowerment,” he said. “It shows the extent to whichthe school trusts the students.”

Some students feel that they had little or no say in decidingthe fate of the men’s track and field team.

On Friday, February 20, the board voted to eliminate themen’s track and field team. Though university officials hadbeen considering the move for a year, they never publicized whatthey were doing.

Officials said they told the SMU Student Senate they wereconsidering eliminating the team. But they acknowledged that theydid so in a closed meeting.

“It was a closed session, so it might have beenconfidential,” said Meredith Price, the current studenttrustee. “I’m not sure the information was madeavailable to the students.”

Kincaid said those who needed to know were told about thepossible elimination of the program.

“The students know what’s going on through theirrepresentatives,” he said. “The track team was toldahead of time. We compete for student athletes as well, if we putit out there that we’re cutting a program ahead of time…recruitment and morale would suffer.”

Members of the track team say they did not get the notice untilthe 11th hour.

“We were told on Wednesday, and the decision was madepublic on Friday,” said Abraham Ekal, a sprinter on the trackteam. “If we had been told officials were considering cuttingthe team with more time, we could have at least tried to raisemoney to keep the program.”

The athletic committee presented a report suggesting that theboard cut the track team, and the board agreed. Officials insiststudents were given a say in the decision through theirrepresentatives. But most students said they had any no inkling ofthe bomb the administration was about to drop.

“It seems to me that the decision to eliminate themen’s track team is looked upon negatively by the majority ofthe students,” Anglin said.

The board, not students, selects who will represent the studentbody.

Initially, a committee of administrators, student representativeand incoming student officers select people to be interviewed.

Kincaid declined to elaborate on the interview process, sayingit is “confidential.”

However, officials acknowledged that as part of the selectionprocess, students must answer three essay questions, one of whichprobes an applicant’s willingness to keep a secret.

It says, “Confidentiality is a serious obligation for amember of the Board of Trustees and its standing committees,”and asks for “an example of a situation where [the applicantwas] confronted with the choice to disclose sensitive information,and explain how [he or she] dealt with that situation.”

Some think students should be given more say in who they want asstudent trustee.

“We’re adults and should be treated as such,”said David Pan, an SMU sophomore. “We’re paying a lotof money to go here, and it makes you wonder if they’rereally interested in what students want.”

Once a student has been nominated, the board makes the finaldecision.

However, according to Butch Oxendine, editor-in-chief of StudentLeader, some schools are now allowing students to elect their boardrepresentative.

“The power of an institution is in the board of trustees,so ideally you’d like a student there, one who isn’tnecessarily a student senator,” said Oxendine, whosepublication is the official voice of the American StudentGovernment Association.

SMU officials dismissed the idea.

“I don’t think the student trustee is supposed torepresent students, rather he or she is supposed to bring astudent’s point of view to the table,” said NormanWick, president of the faculty senate and a member of the board oftrustees.

“The board just wants perspective.”

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