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Student Body President, Vice President join Board for two meetings

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, October 13, 2005

Following years of student government campaign promises to place a student on Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees – which inspired both support and skepticism throughout the student body – two students will participate in selected trustee sessions today and Friday, as the student body president and vice president’s role as ex oficio members of the Board’s Student Affairs Committee has expanded this year.

In past years, communications between students and the University’s governing body occurred in the form of reports to the Board’s Student Affairs Committee, issued three times a year by the current student government administration on a topic of its choice. While reports still will be delivered this year at the Student Affairs Committee’s afternoon sessions, student body president Dave Baron and vice president Lizzi Shappell will also attend selected morning sessions of the Executive Committee, comprised of trustees, the Vice President for Student Affairs and the senior staff of the Office of Student Affairs. Baron and Shappell will attend these meetings as ex officio members so that they may participate but cannot vote.

“We can be part of the conversation just as anybody else there. We’ll be sitting alongside the trustees as part of the group,” Baron said. “They are extremely respectful and intelligent people … They wouldn’t have created this whole new structure if they didn’t want a student – a person who’s anywhere from 19 to 22 years old – to put their input in.”

The changes were initiated by Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman in response to student desire for increased communication with the Board, Baron said.

“Increased communication has been a campaign issue for the past few years,” he said. “[Poorman] knows students do want to take an important role in terms of the Board of Trustees.”

The student body president and vice president will not sit in on all of the Executive Committee’s sessions, but will be present at those that involve student life.

“Some of [the issues discussed] are not appropriate for students to be part of, such as staffing issues and budgetary concerns,” Baron said. “Other things are absolutely something that students can be part of and will improve the discussion.”

Students will still present to the Board three times each year, with adjusted guidelines that will allow for a greater variety of student input and narrow the scope of each presentation, Shappell said.

Under the new guidelines, the subject of the fall report to the Board will be determined by the Vice President for Student Affairs and the chairman of the Student Affairs Committee, whose topic choice this fall demonstrated they may also take student government’s suggestions into consideration.

“Community relations was an issue that we went to Father Poorman and said, ‘We think this is a big issue, and you might want to have it in the fall,'” Baron said. “They listened to us.”

The fall report will typically be given by a student group other than student government, except when student government is deemed the most appropriate group to discuss the topic. This year, student government prepared the fall report in conjunction with VOICE, the Center for Social Concerns’ advisory board.

The traditional winter report will be replaced by a State of the Student Union address, in which student government presents a general overview of the status of the student body.

“We will talk about the hot issues that we think are important to campus at that time,” Baron said.

The third annual report will deal with a topic chosen by student government. Student government will give the spring report, unless student government chooses another student group to present in its place.

“[The spring report] is more open to the discretion of the student government,” Shappell said.

These changes in report format are an apt response to student concerns about representation to trustees, Shappell said.

“This is expanding the student voice because we’re giving more students … face-to-face access with the trustees,” she said. “We feel that’s very important that [the trustees] are not seeing the same three people all year, [but] getting a greater variety of students from across the campus.”

Baron suggested the format changes indicate a desire by Board members to hear more student opinion, noting the Minority Affairs Committee of student government will be reporting to the Board’s Committee on Social Values at the request of Frances Shavers, executive assistant to University President Father John Jenkins.

“That’s another instance of an overall attitude to hear more from students,” he said.