This interview is the first in a series of interviews GSS is conducting with UMass Board of Trustee student members, Jen Healy (Amherst), and Brian Quattrochi (Worcester). GSS is in the preliminary stages of initiating a campaign to have more graduate student trustees on the B.O.T. (presently there is only one, Brian), and wanted to get the perspectives of several current student members. Additionally, GSS is examining the place, history, and usefulness of the Wellman Document, and has asked both Jen and Brian to comment on it, as well as Chuck DiMare, director of Student Legal Services. We are exploring the specificity and limitations of the document’s language, and its “teeth” in guaranteeing student voices are reflected in the administration’s choices affecting us. One of our concerns is that, for Wellman to function as intended, new administrators and relevant staff must have regular trainings on their responsibilities to students guaranteed by the document. Our recent history betrays a decided lack of awareness or education by the administration in what is required in meeting their legal obligation to include students in decisions impacting us (think unilateral changes to UHS). Furthermore, it is important that students in governance positions (officers, staff, and senators) understand the Wellman document too. Ideally their understanding of the document instills the need for participatory governance (which is spelled out in the Wellman Document), and additionally, it not only articulates the responsibilities of administrators, but also responsibilities of students to hold administrators accountable. In short, the document is not one-way, but rather involves students and administrators acting in the best interest of the University. So stay tuned for these and other discussions in the subsequent interviews in this series. As always, GSS encourages your input and involvement in these issues.
Matt Ferrari and Robin Anderson sat down with Brian Quattrochi on October 24th to discuss his place on the B.O.T., how he became involved, the question of student representation, and other topics as well.
Q: What’s the nature of your work on the B.O.T.? How did you get there, and how is it going so far?
A: I was involved in a number of student government positions of the Worcester campus, independently, just out of curiosity. I became interested in the position of student trustee because a friend of mine had been student trustee before, and she indicated to me that running for the position of student trustee would be something that would enable me to tackle issues that I was interested in on the professional level. A number of my friends, certainly myself, are all going into careers in science, that’s a field where nationally there’s an issue with gender equity, in particular people who want to have families and support kids. I thought getting involved in the student trustee position would give me contact with administrators and faculty to start having some of these conversations on a higher level.
Q: How has that worked out?
A: What I’ve learned in being a student trustee is that the board of trustees is much more concerned with the fiduciary responsibilities of taking care of the state’s money, making sure that the institution is serving the needs of the state, than it is in micromanaging the kinds of things that I thought were going to fall to board business. Much of the things that come down to hiring policy or tenure, these things are ultimately approved by the board, but the board has a great respect for the delegation of responsibilities to chancellors, and provosts, and various administration personnel to handle the job at that level. For me, talking about, on my campus, what are the policies in place for promoting female faculty to tenure track positions and positions of leadership, that comes to the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. So what I’ve found is that although the board has ultimate approval of practically everything, it’s not within their purview to oversee everything that goes on at all the campuses.
Q: What do you think about the student representation on the board of trustees? Do you think it’s adequate, do you think that there could be more? For example, having voting members from all campuses, would that really change anything? Are there any potential conflicts of interest in doing that?
A: One of the first things that occurred after joining the BOT was that Alexis Marvel, who is a student trustee for the Boston campus, approached me and the other student trustees, and she wanted to discuss presenting a bill to amend the general chapter laws regarding student trustee membership on the BOT. Each campus has a student trustee that is a full board member, so you have a voice, but as you know only 2 out of five students have a vote, and that vote rotates on a yearly basis. Alexis wants to change the law so that all five students have a vote every year. We all got together, and everyone was pretty much on the same page, we all agreed, philosophically it makes sense. One of the things that makes us think there is precedent to do this is that the laws date back to a time when the university consisted of only two campuses; so two trustees, two student votes. We’re still discussing it, and the board is looking into it, but one of the things we’ve found is that, by looking at other B.O.T.’s at other institutions, the level of student membership that the UMass BOT has far exceeds the average. Five out of twenty-two members are students, which is a very high percentage of the total board membership, and even just having two out of five is a greater voting percentage than most institutions grant. So that was nice to see, in doing our research, that UMass is already doing an excellent job hearing and valuing the student voice on board matters. We’re still looking into it, and it hasn’t come up on the official agenda yet, but one thing to consider is that the board does represent a very wide range of input, people appointed to be on the board and have their expertise on hand. What I have found being the student trustee for just a few months is that these people really know what they’re doing, they have the time and the ability to make good decisions, they’re lawyers and policymakers, and their expertise if very valuable.
Q: What is the student trustee position in that mix?
A: The student trustee position is twofold. One is to make sure that the student voice is present, because fundamentally we are an institution that exists for the students. But also the student trustee position is a learning experience, to see how the university is run, to see how those decisions are made, and I think that should not be under-emphasized. That is, we are the junior members coming in, and we do have a unique and valuable perspective, but across the breadth of everything that the board does, financially and with responsibility to the state, there is a great deal of expertise there to be valued.
Q: So do you support the initiative to have all the students be voting members?
A: My name’s on the bill, I support it philosophically, I think it’s a great idea, but I understand that the board, as a diverse and expert panel of members, has a very significant fiduciary responsibility to the state. If you were to turn to the state and say, ok, now five students –five members out of twenty-two voting board members are now students—that’s approaching twenty-five percent of the board. In understand that at the state level there is going to be concern that –not that students are going to suddenly have their way, it’s not that way at all– but that there is a significant financial responsibility that the board has to make decisions regarding the spending of state money.
Q: It sounds like you think that’s threatened or undermined by giving students more voting rights? Is that what you’re implying?
A: I’m trying to say that this is a very important job, and the student trustee position is a great way for the board to stay in touch with the student voice, and for students to learn how the board operates, but UMass is an incredible and powerful machine, and it is an engine of good for the state, and the state relies on it economically. So I think you can’t ignore that in running something this large, you need to have the best people available, and that’s what the governor is responsible for doing. So I think that, strictly from a managerial perspective, you know if you were the CEO of a company, would you have your most junior members representing a quarter of the decision making power? I’m not saying that the viewpoints, the experiences, and the knowledge that those junior members bring aren’t important, that’s not what I’m saying. Because that’s critically important – that’s why the student trustees are there. And I have to say that they are incredibly attentive to what the student trustees say, and there’s nothing but the greatest respect and collegiality between senior board members and the student trustees.
Q: Have you heard any vocal opposition to this bill?
A: I haven’t heard any opposition. Many members of the board have said that it makes sense, and we’re looking into it, the conversation is ongoing.
Q: Given what you’ve said, it seems like there might be some hesitation from the other campuses about not only getting those five members voting privilege, but adding additional graduate students as members of the board. So what are your thoughts on having graduate students from all of the campuses on the board, and at least providing some of them with voting privileges?
A: I think having graduate students on the board is a fantastic idea. I think that graduate students are underrepresented on the board. There are a variety of factors that contribute to that though. Graduate students are incredibly busy, and certainly focused on a different phase of their career, and they have very different concerns. But it’s not on their radar, I think, for many of them, to be involved in the university at that level. And I think that if you (UMass-Amherst) had a graduate student trustee position, it could be a very positive force in making sure that the grad student viewpoint is heard on the B.O.T. Graduate students have different concerns (than undergrads); we’re thinking about career development, some of us are thinking about starting families, etc. So the point is, I hadn’t considered whether some of the other campuses would be interested in having a dedicated graduate student trustee position. I think that’s an interesting idea, definitely something that could be brought to the board. I don’t think it would be difficult at all to introduce them as non-voting members. I think that the issue of voting, just by its nature, is a little bit more complicated. Because when you’re thinking of relative representation, well then maybe the faculty would want to have votes. But I think that it’s a fantastic idea, and previous to that I was thinking well let’s at least have the UM Worcester trustee be a node for communication among the five campuses. And that’s part of the reason why I want to create a more stable network of communication where we can at least relay the concerns we’re interested in through the Worcester student trustee to the B.O.T. to ensure that the graduate student voice is being heard and represented.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview next week.