By Hanna Pioske – [email protected]

After students have left campus, the CSB and SJU Boards of Trustees will each vote on whether to remove their student and faculty representatives. The upcoming votes, on May 22, have been contentious, and student and faculty groups alike have been active in protesting the move.

The proposed bylaw change would strip student and faculty representatives of their voting rights on the executive board as well as the investment and
finance committees. The Boards cite conflicts of interest as a primary concern for removing student and faculty votes. Student and faculty representatives would continue to serve as voting members on the academic affairs, building and grounds, student development and marketing and enrollment committees.

“The faculty and students are the two biggest constituent groups of the university. In order to properly represent them, avenues for communication need to be available,” said Zack Eichten, the 2017-18 St. John’s Student Trustee. “If you take our voice away, how could the Board of Trustees know what’s best for students?”

The 2016-17 St. John’s Student Trustee, Zachary McFarland felt similarly.

“There’s no more apt description than constituents having a seat at the table to offer their insights and experience on the things that the Board of Trustees are discussing. I think that’s invaluable for so many reasons,” McFarland said.

On April 12, the St. John’s Senate passed a resolution that concludes, “The elected students of the St. John’s Senate are firmly opposed to and encourage the members of the St. John’s University Board of Trustees to vote against the proposed bylaw change.”

The resolution also notes that the Association of Governing Boards, which recommended the bylaw change, recommends that a student representative should maintain on the Board if there is a tradition of student and faculty trustees serving these positions.

Student representatives have served on the Boards of Trustees since 1996.

The Joint Faculty Senates voted unanimously on Tuesday, April 25 to approve a letter to the Boards of Trustees opposing the removal of student and faculty representatives from the executive boards of trustees.

The letter titled, “Student and Faculty Trustees are Assets to Our Institutions,” emphasized the history of shared governance at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. They point out that the Rule of St. Benedict prioritizes community decision-making when it says, “As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the abbot shall call the whole community together.”

The faculty letter states, “Unfortunately, the proposed removal of faculty and student trustees will make it more difficult to sustain and build upon our institutions’ successes because the Boards will no longer benefit directly from the perspectives, institutional knowledge and expertise of student and faculty trustees.”

The St. Ben’s Senate has yet to voice any opposition to the removal of their student trustee. When asked for their opinion on the issue, the 2016-17 St. Ben’s Senate Trustee, Isabel Tompkins, released a statement via e-mail.

“The St. Ben’s Senate is currently still in discussions about the proposed Trustee changes, working diligently with members of faculty and staff and the St. John’s Senate,” Tompkins said.

In a previous statement, the chair of the SJU Board of Trustees, Marilou Eldred, and the chair of the CSB Board of Trustees, Terry Dolan, affirmed the importance of student and faculty participation. However, they continue to support the removal of student and faculty representatives from the executive boards.

“This new model will continue the tradition of faculty and student participation, while ensuring that the Boards are carrying out their duty as guardians of these institutions.”

These statements didn’t quell the concerns of faculty, who are overwhelmingly opposed to taking student and faculty representatives off the Boards of Trustees.

“The people who are concerned about this, which I’d say are most of the faculty, are definitely not a vocal minority,” history professor Greg Schroeder said. “This is a very broadly concerning set of changes. I don’t think I’ve ever observed quite so galvanizing a topic for faculty. I think that this particular topic caught many people off guard and shocked many of us.”

Ken Jones, a professor of history, says he’s concerned that without student and faculty representation, the Boards won’t have necessary perspective when making decisions.

“I think it is very important for the Boards to be able to hear a different perspective… I’m afraid they don’t have as much understanding of what goes on on campus as I would like them to have,” Jones said. “And that’s understandable, they’re busy people, but if they don’t have some contact with faculty and students in a formal kind of way where people can really talk, then we lose some of that connection.”

Scott Johnson, a professor of political science, says he feels that the system works fine the way it is and that he doesn’t see a need for the change.

“There wasn’t any problem so if it’s not broke, why are you trying to fix it? Because it seems to me that they’re trying to fix something that was working just fine and picking a fight that didn’t need to be picked and it’s really unfortunate,” Johnson said. “It’s a self-inflicted wound, I think.”

Bob Hesse, the 2016-17 chair of the faculty senate, feels similarly to Johnson and Jones.

“This goes against Catholic Social thought and Benedictine values that these schools proudly proclaim,” Hesse said via email. “The justifications given by the Executive Committees of the Boards and the presidents for the removal are specious at best. Damage has been done with this announcement. Much, much more severe damage will occur if this actually gets approved.”

Hesse is afraid if the vote passes, junior faculty will not want to continue their career at CSB/SJU. He elaborates on the relationships students form with faculty members and how those relationships shape future leaders.

“The presidents have lost my trust, and I think that of a lot faculty members… If we lose the next generation of great faculty we won’t have the next Denis McDonough or Rachel Mullin,” Hesse said.

Both presidents have heard comments and concerns from students and faculty about the impending Trustee Boards votes.

According to President Mary Hinton the Boards of Trustee have identified financial and liability concerns with having a faculty and student vote.

“Everyone recognizes the irreplaceable value of the contributions faculty and students make to thoughtful deliberation in Board meetings,” Hinton said via email. “I truly believe there is a way forward for us to have inclusive shared governance and authentic engagement between faculty, students and the Boards.”

President Michael Hemesath said he has come to support the decision to remove the faculty and student vote from the SJU Board of Trustees.

“I certainly know that many faculty and many SJU senators are not supportive of this change, but it is my sincere hope that if this change passes that both the faculty and students will come together with the administration and the Boards of Trustees to continue our tradition of open and clear communications about the important matters facing the two colleges,” Hemesath said via email.

“Throughout this conversation, one thing has become very clear to me: every single person currently involved in this conversation is doing what they believe to be best for the institutions they serve,” Hinton said.

Hope Mueller and Megan Flynn contributed to this report.