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UPUA Calls For Permanent Elected Student Trustee

The first UPUA Wednesday is still about a week away, but your student government representatives in UPUA and GSA sent more than 100 letters to Pennsylvania state senators this week asking the legislators to support a bill currently under consideration. The particular bill, in part, establishes permanent student representation on Penn State’s Board of Trustees.

Having a student on the Board of Trustees has been a tradition since the 1970s, although the position is not required or codified under the Penn State Charter or the board’s bylaws. Graduate student Peter Khoury, who assumed his role in Nov. 2011, will serve until his term ends July 1, 2014.

The student trustee is one of six positions appointed by the governor and then approved by the state senate. A committee of student leaders first reviews applications and then sends final candidates to the office of the governor.

“Because the student trustee position is currently a gubernatorial appointee, we support this bill because it ensures a student voice in major university decisions,” Brenden Dooley, UPUA vice president, said.

In addition to showing support for the bill, the student representatives asked the legislators through their letter campaign to make a modification to the piece of legislation. They would like the student trustee to be an elected position, rather than a gubernatorial appointee.

“Since the student trustee represents the students, we feel strongly that he or she should be elected by his or her constituents to improve accountability and representation,” Katelyn Mullen, UPUA president, said.

The letters were mailed Aug. 22 to every state senator’s office.

A copy of the letter is below:

Dear Senator,

Your continued fight for increased transparency at Penn State University has not gone unnoticed.

We are specifically writing to you to support Section 1, Paragraph 4 of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 410, as it establishes permanent student representation on the University’s Board of Trustees. We hope that you will help this legislation become law and that the work of you and your colleagues remains steadfast until proper reform is achieved for the students of this great Commonwealth.

While we support the bill and its spirit, we unequivocally believe that the role of students in the University community must go beyond the transactional nature of higher education. Specifically, we believe that the students’ role in governance must go beyond the solidification of one permanent student trustee position appointed by the governor.

As you are aware, there are nine elected seats which represent Penn State alumni. With 616,000 living alumni, each of these trustees realistically represents 68,000 alumni. However, despite enrollment numbers approaching 100,000 university-wide, there is only one student trustee on the Board — and most students don’t even know who that trustee is or how the position is selected. We believe that by increasing the number of student stakeholders in choosing their representation, we can stimulate an increased awareness in university governance and create a better informed student body.

It is our belief that the student body of this university should be involved in the selection of its own representative. It is the students who will reap the immediate benefits and face the consequences of Board decisions, and we firmly believe that the student trustee should be selected by a committee of his or her peers.

We urge you to consider the following process to ensure the establishment of proper student representation:

  1. Students shall complete the application that is currently used for the Student Trustee appointment process.
  2. Candidates shall go before a committee comprised of ten Penn State students, which shall include the current Student Trustee and the three student body presidents.
  3. The committee shall appoint a student to go before the Board for confirmation.

 We hope you will consider this idea and are willing to discuss our proposition. We know that reform of a 158-year-old Board is no easy task and will take a considerable amount of time and resources, but with your help, we can achieve a more transparent and accountable Penn State. Indeed, the Commonwealth demands it.

We look forward to working with you and your colleagues.

Cordially yours,

The students of the Pennsylvania State University, University Park

cc: Katelyn Mullen, President, University Park Undergraduate Association

Scott Rager, President, Graduate Student Association

About the Author

Jessica Tully

Jessica Tully is a first-year law student at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law. She graduated in May 2014 with degrees in journalism and political science.

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