A Letter from the AAS

In the coming years, the Amherst College board of trustees will be voting on a number of issues at the heart of student life. While the board strives to incorporate the views of the student body into their decisions, this is not always possible when the most recent alumni trustee graduated 20 years ago, in 1996. Even with coordination with the administration and the occasional student meeting, the board of trustees’ understanding of Amherst is not reflective of the full reality of our ever-changing institution. It is consequently not well enough equipped to build a comprehensive perspective of what would best serve the college’s past, present and future community members.

To this end, the Association of Amherst Students proposes that the board instate two seats for recent graduate alumni trustees. These trustees would be graduates of the college who have earned their degree within a maximum of five years from the time of their election. We believe that the perspectives of these recent graduates would benefit the board’s understanding of the needs, concerns and interests of the current generation of Amherst students.  

Amherst College has had a dynamic climate over the past few decades. The student body here today is incredibly diverse, in every sense of the word. The board of trustees does not reflect this diversity. That the body that votes on every aspect of the functioning of the college, from curricular decisions to capital investment and infrastructure decisions, does not have a first-hand understanding of the needs of the current members of the campus community is troublesome. One only has to look to the strategic plan’s former proposal to implement “neighborhood”-style living to see how far removed the board was from the needs of today’s students. The board’s passing of our proposal to include seats for recent graduates would demonstrate its commitment to adapting to an ever-changing student body and alumni population.

We believe this change in the board’s composition needs to be implemented as soon as possible. We aim to have the board vote on our proposal by their commencement meeting this year. In pursuit of this, a group of AAS senators, working with AAS President Tomi Williams ’16, has been compiling research for the past year about similar policies at peer institutions. They have found that having recent alumni representation on trustee boards is not uncommon, with Princeton University, Wellesley College, Duke University and George Washington University each having some form of what the AAS is proposing. This group of students has further met with Chairman Cullen Murphy ’74 and Andrew Nussbaum ’85, the chairman of the committee of student life, to discuss and fine-tune a proposal that was then presented to President Biddy Martin and the Committee on Trusteeship.

In the months leading up to the board’s Commencement meeting, the AAS is excited to reach out to students, alumni and individual board members to communicate just how positive a potential this proposal carries. For the college to make beneficial long-term decisions in the approaching period of curricular, financial and cultural change, there needs to be greater communication with and representation for the students who live and learn at Amherst today. This is no longer a men’s college, nor is it the Amherst of fraternities and or that of loans for low-income students. Our current trustees remember, and so sometimes make decisions for, an Amherst that no longer exists. We simply aim to change this.