The college on Feb. 23 published the first-ever publicly available summary of a Board of Trustees’ meetings. This will become a regular practice, President Michael Elliott explained in an introduction to the summary.
The summaries, which will be archived on the board’s website moving forward, represent an unexpected move toward transparency for the historically opaque body, though some say it fails to adequately address concerns regarding student engagement and representation.
Tension between the student body and the board has been a longstanding issue on campus, though it has been augmented in recent years as criticism of the board’s lack of accountability to the students on campus has heightened, specifically in relation to recent decisions with outsized impact on daily life at the college, such as their decision to keep the ACPD armed in the spring of 2022.
Reflecting on the impetus for the change in policy, Elliott told The Student that the move to provide the summaries is in part a response to feedback he received from the campus community over the course of the Fall 2022 semester. “I heard a desire on the part of many members of the community — students, staff, faculty — to learn more about what topics are being discussed in meetings of the Board,” Elliott said. “With the Trustees, we decided to release and archive these summaries as a way of sharing information about these meetings.”
Elliott noted that the decision is not an original one — a variety of peer institutions, including Williams College, archive such summaries. He nonetheless emphasized its utility for keeping campus informed, stressing the board’s interest in improving communication with the college community.
Yet, some feel that, although the publishing of meeting summaries is a step in the right direction toward transparency and communication, the decision fails to properly address long-standing issues regarding the lack of student representation on the board. Shane Dillon ’26, an Association of Amherst (AAS) Students senator on the Public Relations Committee who has spearheaded the implementation of a separate committee dedicated to student-trustee relations, noted that the decision stems from a compromise between the AAS and the Board of Trustees regarding student representation.
According to Dillon, the possibility of meeting summaries being published had been brought up in communication between the AAS and the board in large part due to the trustees’ resistance to having a representative of the student body fill an official role on the board. Various universities across the country, including several nearby colleges such as UMass Amherst, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Rhode Island also currently have members of the student body serving as full voting members on their respective boards.
In response to this initial reluctance, Dillon began efforts to formulate a committee that would allow students, senators, and at-large members of the student body to communicate feedback concerning campus life directly to a member of the Board of Trustees after each of their five yearly meetings. Part of the initial conceptualization of the committee’s official duties had been the responsibility to publish updates for the campus community from the board.
Despite the board having already begun to publish its own meeting summaries, Dillon added that he would continue to push for the implementation of the Student-Trustee Committee and ultimately for active student representation, stating that although the decision ultimately represents a praiseworthy move toward transparency, the board continues to lack input from the student body. “They still need to grasp the student experience and they ultimately will not be able to do that without a student representative,” he said. “They need to actively find ways to be more involved with campus life seeing that they only meet a few times a year and the student body rarely ever sees them.”
For his part, Elliott voiced his support for the committee moving forward. “I understand that the AAS is working on a proposal for a committee that would meet with members of the board on a regular basis, and I think that's an excellent idea.”
Correction, March 1, 2023: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the college was the only member of the Five College Consortium to not have students officially working on its Board of Trustees. While UMass Amherst and Hampshire do have student positions on their board, Smith and Mount Holyoke do not.