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Students React To The Affiliate Trustee Roles Being Removed From The Board of Trustees

Photo of former trustees courtesy of Howard Newsroom

Howard University students have expressed outrage upon learning the university’s board of trustees voted to eliminate the student and alumni trustee roles in June.

“Frustrated and unsupported and in complete confusion as to why the Board feels they should be given blind trust,” said senior political science major, Erica England. When she learned about Howard University’s decision to phase out the student trustee role on June 14, she was crushed.

An email from Dr. Laurence C. Morse, the Board Chairman said, “We want to ensure that the Howard community’s input and engagement becomes more integrated into how we function. We want to design a structure that enables us to better connect, listen to you and understand your concerns.”

Contrarily, a survey conducted by the Howard University Student Association (HUSA) found that 97 percent of students answered “yes” in response to whether the Board of Trustees should have student and faculty representation. Furthermore, HUSA found that 94.7 percent of respondents to their “Stakeholder Survey” voted “strongly against” phasing out the affiliate trustee roles, according to HUSA President Kylie Burke.

The purpose of the Board of Trustees is to establish policies and programs which help develop strategic objectives for the university.  According to a 2010 study conducted by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), 70 percent of public institutions have student trustees compared to only 20 percent of private universities, like Howard. 

Another significant difference in the Board of Trustees for public and private universities is who holds the Board accountable. Boards of public institutions answer to state authorities, while boards of private institutions answer to stakeholders, who are typically students.

“Students are the main and the biggest stakeholders in the university. How do you benefit, as a university, by disconnecting them from the main lines of information or the main lines of, you know, even having connection to the decision-makers of what happens at this university,” said spring 2021 graduate and former HUSA senator for the School of Communications Brandon Bush. 

“The one person who has the ability to demonstrate or to communicate to the Board of Trustees what’s happening with students and how students feel and are also able to connect with and build coalitions with HUSA Exec. and HUSA Senate is the student trustee,”  he continued.

Dr. Morse mentioned that the Howard University Board structure has not changed since the 1970s. The changes made then–provoked by students–are being undone by this recent decision.

“Student protests on campus during 1969-1970 resulted in several student-centric policy decisions at Howard, this included adding stakeholder representatives with voting power to participate on the Board,” said Burke. Since then, the student trustee role has been significant at Howard University. 

One impactful contribution made by a former student trustee is the Lavender Report. Victoria Kirby Elliott York was the first openly LGBTQIA person to serve on the Board, and they created the Lavender Report to document the history and life of LGBTQIA students at Howard University. Today, HUSA Senate collects data from the Lavender Survey on LGBTQIA students’ experiences to produce the HUSA Senate Lavender Report.

Another impactful contribution made by former affiliate trustees is the increased Student Activities Fee. Every year, students’ bills include a $60 to $125 payment of student activities fees. This contribution funds Bison Week, Taste of Howard, Spring Fest and Bison Ball and  provides funding for recognized student organizations.

In an email on July 22 Dr. Morse shared that “the board will grant faculty senate, alumni association and student association presidents voting privileges at the committee level.” 

England believes the Board’s announcement was an appeasement. She said, “We want affiliate trustee positions restored in full, not just at the committee level.”

The next town hall is set to occur in late August. Details about exact date, time and whether or not it will be virtual or in person have yet to be disclosed.