Many Voices, a Common Goal
by Lori L. Ferguson
In 1926, Ellen Browning Scripps founded Scripps College with the aim of educating women for lives of commitment and engagement, a practice the newspaper publisher and philanthropist fully embodied. Today, that commitment to fostering engagement is nowhere more evident than in Scripps’ tradition of allowing its students to serve as voting members on many of the College’s Board of Trustees committees.
To attain these coveted positions, students submit an application to Scripps Associated Students (SAS), indicating their committee of choice and interest in serving. Three student committee members (two voting members and one alternate) are selected at the end of each year to sit on the following Board committees: Buildings and Grounds, Educational Policy, Finance, Student Affairs, and Institutional Advancement. Those chosen attend quarterly Board committee meetings and serve as a voice for fellow students.
Offering students the opportunity to work with the Board of Trustees in any capacity places Scripps in select company, as student Board of Trustees involvement is not particularly widespread in higher education. In 2010, Trusteeship, the magazine of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, reported that public institutions are much more likely than private institutions to extend the privilege of Board membership to students. And while the Scripps Board does not include student trustees, its placement of students on fully half of its standing committees—a practice that has been commonplace for at least a quarter of a century—nevertheless sets the College apart. And conversations with administrators, students, and trustees make it resoundingly clear: no one would have it any other way.
A sense of involvement is intrinsic to the Scripps experience, students explain, with engagement encouraged throughout their four years on campus. “I don’t know if it’s completely accurate, but I’ve heard that there’s one club for every four Scripps students,” says Anna Cechony ’17, founder and assistant to Scripps’ Core Curriculum in Interdisciplinary Humanities mentor program and a student committee member on the Educational Policy Committee. “What I can confirm is that everyone I know is involved in at least one thing, and everyone’s a leader in some way. I work as a nanny for one of my professors, I’m a resident advisor, and I teach swimming, and I don’t think my story is unique. You come to Scripps, and you get involved. Everyone’s focused on helping students—and by extension the school—succeed.”
“I came to Scripps because I believed that I would have influence and be able to make a difference at the highest levels of the administration,” explains Jackie Givelber ’17, who serves as a student committee member for the Board of Trustees Student Affairs Committee. Givelber has been actively involved in the campus community since her sophomore year, when she was selected to join administrators and faculty on the hiring committee for the assistant dean of academic resources. “That experience gave me faith in the importance of student voices within the Scripps community.” Givelber also served as a Board of Trustees student committee member that year, spent a semester abroad, and is now serving another term as a student committee member. “In my mind, it’s a privilege to be able to serve in this way; I feel empowered to contribute to the community because I have access to the trustees and can help students’ voices be heard,” she says. Scripps was her early-decision college choice, Givelber reveals, and it hasn’t disappointed her. “I’m very grateful to have had the experiences I’ve had, and I’m committed to maintaining my investment in the College after graduating—I want other students to have the same opportunities.”
Administrators and trustees are equally grateful for the students’ time and insights. “Having the student perspective on Board committees is invaluable,” says Vice President and Secretary of the Board Denise Nelson Nash ’76. “Student committee members serve as a conduit for student experiences and also help other students understand the Board process and the pace of decision making.” Student committee members must get up to speed on Board processes and priorities very quickly, Nelson Nash continues. Before attending their first Board meeting, they are given an hour-and-a-half to two-hour orientation that amplifies their knowledge of the Board and validates the importance of their presence at the table. “We give students a crash course on Board governance and their role as student committee members in one sitting, and I’m constantly impressed by how quickly they catch on and how seriously they take their duties,” says Nelson Nash.
Trustee Suzanne Ely Muchnic ’62 agrees that having students involved at the Board level is both valuable and productive. “Student committee members play a vital role as liaisons between the student body and the Board and help students feel that their voices have been heard,” she notes. “Students have immediate concerns and want immediate satisfaction, and unfortunately that doesn’t always happen, but if they feel like they’re part of the process, they feel more involved in the enterprise.”
Indeed, some students admit to feeling frustration that, in some instances, their requests seem to be honored slowly or not at all. “As a student committee member, I sometimes became frustrated with the pace of change,” concedes Minjoo Kim ’16. Yet all said that their appreciation for the nuances of leadership grew through their Board work, and they applauded the fact that their four-year campus lifecycle helps to maintain a sense of urgency and responsiveness across the institution. “We’re only here for a short time, and we want to see changes happen,” says Anna Cechony. “That finite timetable gives life and meaning to the issues being discussed and the decisions being made at the Board level.” Kim agrees, adding, “As alumna looking back, I realize how truly important our perspective was. Students know what’s going on at the institution on a granular level— they’re living and breathing the college experience every day—so having us involved in the conversation is crucial to the life of the College.”
Dean of the Faculty Amy Marcus-Newhall sees Board committee service as a learning opportunity for students, who grow to appreciate the complexities and nuances of running an institution of higher education. “The insights that students get into the governing process are important; through their participation, they come to understand the advantages and limitations of the process and realize that many factors affect decision making regarding the life of the institution. They, in turn, play a critical role in helping the student body at large understand better the constraints faculty and administrators sometimes face.”
Vice President Nelson Nash agrees that student committee members gain respect for the complexities trustees face in their role as decision-makers for the College. “They get an insiders’ view of how policy is determined for the College. They bring their own perspective to bear on the process, but they also gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives and priorities of Scripps’ experienced leadership,” she says.
The construction of NEW Hall, Scripps’ 10th residence hall, offers a perfect case in point. As plans for the building began to take shape, a series of brainstorming meetings was held with students to find out what they wanted to see in their new residence hall. “We discovered that the students were very interested in securing LEED certification for the building,” says Trustee Jean Bixby Smith ’59. The SAS Environmental Chair was given an opportunity to present to the Buildings and Grounds Committee on her findings from her peers after numerous student forums on campus. “The Board agreed that sustainability was important, and we told students we would build to that standard,” Smith continues. “But students made it clear that the actual certification was very important to them.” So the Board reconsidered and ultimately opted to pursue LEED Gold status for the structure. “We’re waiting to hear on the ruling now,” says Smith, “But we anticipate that the certification will come through.”
Students also encouraged the Board to incorporate information on the building’s green initiatives into the residence hall’s public spaces, says Smith, so the finished structure will include a plaque about the certification as well as a series of television screens with lucid technologies that will have real, live-time data on water, power, and gas use in the building. Educational boards that provide more specific information on all sustainable initiatives captured around and within the building have also been placed in the main corridor. “Having students involved at the Board level opens up lines of communication that wouldn’t be there otherwise and also creates a sense of transparency in governance that I think is very important,” Smith concludes.
Trustee Bob Sacks P’14 says he certainly found this to be the case when serving with a student on the Presidential Search Committee. “It was important to have a student on our committee, even if we didn’t always agree,” Sacks notes. “Some things that the trustee committee members viewed as essential traits for the president didn’t register with the student committee member, and by the same token, she picked up on things that others wouldn’t have. Students bring a different perspective to the table, and that’s the whole point.”
“I’m certain that my access to high-level administrators and decision makers made a difference,” says Minjoo Kim. Vice President Nelson Nash couldn’t agree more. “We really appreciate the perspective that the students provide,” says Nelson Nash. “They’re our clients, if you will, and the reason that Board members serve. Student committee members provide a window into student needs and offer us a better understanding of how the Board can work collaboratively with them to meet those needs. Student committee members offer a skill set, perspective, and enthusiasm—coupled with knowledge of the Scripps community as it is today— that’s invaluable.”
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