Opportunity for impact: the role of Student Trustee

Capture One 001577
2015-2016 Student Trustee Jacob Conway. (Photo Courtesy of SMU).

Finance major Jacob Conway was recently chosen as the 2015-2016 student trustee of SMU’s Board of Trustees. Conway joins the 41 other trustee members in voting at their quarterly meetings.

The student trustee’s primary responsibility is to chair a committee of other student representatives, including the student body president, along with serving the board and its committees. This is the main way that students can communicate with trustees.

Some of the issues that Conway would like to take up with his committee are diversity on campus, getting incoming students involved, streamlining campus communication, and making streets on campus more bike friendly.

“One thing I want to work on is reaching out to students when they first arrive at school. What they’ve been exposed to is very limited when they first come here, but I want to encourage diversity when they come to Corral and presenting SMU as a diverse campus,” Conway said.

George Utkov said serving the board and the students of SMU as the 2013-2014 student trustee was an honor. Utkov helped work with the board to raise the Second Century Campaign goal to $1 billion, an experience in which he learned more than he can sufficiently describe. At the 2014 Dining with Decision Makers event, Utkov said he got to publicly thank his mother in the hopes that he had made her proud.

“Without a doubt, serving as student trustee was one of the highlights of my experience at SMU, and I believe that my greatest accomplishment is knowing that I did my best to serve the university that has given me so much,” Utkov said in an email.

Alumni President and ex officio Trustee Leslie Melson is retiring from the board this June, but she believes the student trustee should create opportunities for other students to be a part of university life beyond academics.

“I think the role of the student trustee is to translate the initiatives and convey the relevance to the student body, but more so to convey the opportunity for future initiatives and collaborations on campus,” said Melson.

But Conway will have limitations in his role, as have student trustees in the past. Since SMU is a private university, board meetings are private. He can’t talk about what happens at the meetings.

Melson said she had not considered it odd SMU Board of Trustees’ meetings are closed. In her other role as Highland Park Independent School District Board President, the board meetings are open and loaded with people. She believes board meetings at SMU could become open if more students simply asked.

By law, as a private institution, SMU is not required to provide minutes or agendas for board meetings. On the other hand, HPISD, as a part of the public school system, has to have open meetings since the schools are funded by taxpayer dollars.

“I can see why people view it as, ‘it should be open; we should all have a voice.’ But we have senate. We have different outlets for the information to be made known to the board. SMU is a $2.1 billion corporation; nothing would ever get done if the meetings were open,” Conway said.

“There are many opportunities for students and trustees for interact, and there probably could be more, but I think it would just be a matter of students saying they want to know more,” Melson said.

The student trustee is selected after a few rounds of conversational interviews and a more formal interview with all the student representatives and Executive Director of Student Life Jennifer Jones and Associate VP, Dean of Student Life Joanne Vogel, and the student body president.

“Although the student trustee assumes many different responsibilities, the primary role of the student trustee is to be a liaison between the Board of Trustees and the student body, and vice versa,” Utkov said.

Rahfin Faruk, the 2014-2015 student trustee, said his role was to be an effective communicator between the student body and the university’s governing body.

“The Board of Trustees often takes a long-term, bird’s-eye view. My job as student trustee is to be in the tunnels, to take a worm’s-eye view, if you will, outside of board activities,” Faruk said in an email.

“I’m very proud of SMU students because I think they’ve taken circumstances that have been challenging and made them into opportunities,” Melson said.

She cites “Not on my Campus” as a way that students have brought positive initiatives to problems on campus.

Junior advertising major Jack Suski is excited about what’s to come from the SMU Board of Trustees.

“I look forward to what’s going to happen in the future for SMU in academics and student life, like the renovation of Meadows and the new natatorium,” Suski said.

Utkov said that when he was serving, trustees tackles issues such as the Second Century campaign and the Diversity and Inclusiveness task force for Greek life. Those are issues that should be discussed by trustees in private, he said. It’s the administration’s job to communicate with the public.

“It is important that SMU’s decisions, as a private institution, are handled publicly by the administration to ensure a cohesive message,” Utkov said.

Although the board meetings happen behind closed doors, the board works with each student in mind, Melson said.

“I’ve never felt that trustees weren’t anything but caring leaders that just want to give back to the university,” she said.

This Story Was Updated May 6, 5:00 p.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.