On Tuesday, the USC Board of Trustees announced that it would implement changes to its governance structure. The announced alterations include shrinking the size of the board, committing to diversity and implementing term limits.
According to a statement issued to Annenberg Media by undergraduate and graduate student governments, building a strong relationship between the Board and students has been a priority for the past few years. The inclusion of student voices is, however, markedly omitted from the reforms outlined by the Board.
USG and GSG Presidents expressed their disappointment in an email response to Annenberg Media following the Board’s announcement.
“There is an incredible amount of governing space that continues to lack the perspective of the students,” USG President Trenton Stone and GSG President Skye Parral said in the press release. “It is in the interests of the Board to include the students’ perspectives to help make well-informed, inclusive decisions that better the whole of the University.”
In an email in response to student exclusion from the presidential search committee, former GSG Student President Jocelyn Yip wrote, “the Board has denied us a seat at the table, even though students have been most impacted by the recent scandals.”
Additionally, a petition calling for the addition of student representation to the presidential search committee created by USC student Christopher McMorran reached nearly 400 signatures.
The Board of Trustees Chair Rick Caruso responded by saying no one intentionally excluded students.
“There are many, many constituents that USC has, all of which are very important,” Caruso said to Annenberg Media. “Unfortunately, we can’t have an unlimited group of people on the board.”
While USC hasn’t included students in executive decision making, there are some universities that do. Cornell University seats two elected students on its Board of Trustees, one undergraduate, and one for a graduate or professional student. It is the only Ivy League to have any students on its Board. UMass Amherst and Howard University are also among the few schools that seat students on their boards.
Dr. Raquel Rall, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of California, Riverside, who has a forthcoming publication on Higher Education Governing Boards, explains why institutions may be resistant to having students on their boards.
“It is thought that students might not be able to be impartial in decision-making for things such as tuition increases, and housing that might come on the board’s docket,” she says. Though Rall says student trustees aren’t the only way to take into account the needs of students, she explains it is “an essential practice if we want to continue to give voice to diverse perspectives.”
While USC’s student government acknowledges the board changes are a step forward, they also hope more progress will be made.
In the statement, Stone and Parral wrote, “We believe this is ultimately an intermediary step in setting a stronger organizational foundation that can and will prioritize including students on the Board of Trustees.”