LETTER: Presidential search committee lacks student representation

Photo courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The presidential search advisory committee is listed on the Board of Regents docket (page 90) as of Sept. 14. According to the docket, “The committee was assembled following an open nominations process that yielded almost 400 names.”

UMD is represented by two names on the list, professor Rajiv Vaidyanathan and marketing and public relations director Lynne Williams. Two students are listed on the PSAC, Catalina Anampa Castro and Harrison Frisk, both from the Twin Cities campus.

On Sept. 10, student association presidents and representatives from all of the University of Minnesota campuses sent a letter to the Board of Regents discussing the lack of student representation on the PSAC. The letter was also sent to The Bark and is listed below.


Dear Regents of the University of Minnesota,

We as Student Government Presidents and Student Representatives to the Board of Regents are writing to express our concern with the current composition of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC). We were initially enthusiastic to learn about the creation of a committee, the nomination process, and the listening sessions on all five campuses, but we are disappointed that only two students were chosen to sit on the PSAC. This came after the promise of a search process inclusive of the student voice. Students are at the core of many University policies, and we are directly impacted by decisions made by the University president. The current composition of the search committee leaves us concerned that student interests will not be fully heard, and we ask that consideration be made to include more student voices from all five campuses to the committee.

The Board of Regents specifically stated that the top priority in appointing a new president of the University was to “[p]lan and execute a thoughtful and inclusive transition of presidential leadership”1. The student voice is a vital element of an inclusive leadership transition. While we understand and agree that the committee should contain administrative, academic, and business leaders from the Minnesota community, student representation on this committee is also crucial for selecting a president who will serve the entire community, including students. Two students on a committee of 22 falls short of that inclusive goal.

This disproportionate representation is concerning for three major reasons: it minimizes a unique and valuable stakeholder perspective, wholly leaves out students from the Rochester, Crookston, Morris and Duluth campuses, and ultimately sends a message to students, the community, and the future presidential candidates that student input is not important at the University.

First, students are uniquely situated to provide a ground-level perspective on the impact of educational policies on the student experience—impacts that the new president will oversee. These ground-level realities drive prospective student interest and shape our views of the University as future alumni. While one of the students selected is an undergraduate student and one is a graduate student, professional students—our future doctors, lawyers, business leaders, veterinarians, and more—have been left out. The student population at the University is also one of the most diverse in the country, and while it would be impossible to represent every unique student fully on the PSAC, allotting only two positions for student input is a severe underrepresentation of our University community. The perspectives of only two students on the PSAC will be quickly overshadowed by the 20 other committee members. This does a disservice both to students and the robustness of the PSAC.

Second, the two students selected both attend the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus, which entirely neglects student representation from the Rochester, Duluth, Morris, and Crookston campuses, leaving more than 20% of the student body left out of the actual decision-making process (Appendix A). These students bring a perspective and experience that is distinct from that of a Twin Cities student. While we recognize the inclusion of the Rochester, Duluth, Morris, and Crookston campuses through listening sessions and staff and faculty appointees, we do believe that there ultimately must be student representation from the Rochester, Duluth, Morris and Crookston campuses as PSAC members.

Finally, without robust student representation on the search committee, not only are we unable to ensure candidates are student-minded, but the University also sets a tone that student input is only marginally valuable. Candidates will hear this early tone, and we risk it being incorporated into how the future president views and works with the University community and, in particular, students. Students have been integral in key University reforms and initiatives over the years, but we need a good working relationship with a responsive president to advance these efforts and help generate a competitive, skilled workforce for our state and regional economy. Students also hear this tone, and it can give us less faith in the search process. Less faith in the process results in less faith in the outcome. This tone is particularly troubling given the significant contributions students make to the University system. Student tuition represents the University's single largest revenue source, standing at 23.4% ($879.3 million) of all revenues in fiscal year 2017, as shown in Appendix B. Students perform research, teach courses, and organize and participate in community-building activities; we therefore impact all parts of our intitution’s three-part mission. We have the opportunity to set the tone, both at the University and nationwide, for how students are valued in University decision-making.

We as Student Body Presidents and the Student Representatives to the Board of Regents urge the Board to consider our concerns and take the necessary actions to improve total student representation and to include the voices of students attending the Rochester, Duluth, Morris, and Crookston campuses on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee.  To properly include the student voice in the selection of a new President of the University, this action includes expanding the number of seats of the PSAC to include at least two more students, one of whom is a professional student, from the Rochester, Duluth, Morris, and/or Crookston campuses.

Sincerely,

Alanna Pawlowski, PSG President

Andrew Brichacek, MCSA President

Benjamin Koisti, CSA President

Emily Hayes, RSA President

Mike Kenyanya, UMDSA President

Simran Mishra, MSA President

Sean Chen, COGS President

Alexandra Ulland, Vice Chair, Student Representative - Duluth

Austin Kraft, Student Representative - Twin Cities

Jael Kerandi, Student Representative - Twin Cities

James Pathoulas, Student Representative - PSG

Marta Dean, Chair, Student Representative - Crookston

Mason Schlief, Student Representative- Rochester

Mckenzie Dice, Student Representative- Morris

NewsSamantha Church