Board Seats Give Students Inside Track on University Policy

Posted: March 22, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: March 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm

By Rashad Mulla

Graduate student David Lieu and undergraduate junior Gleason Rowe sit at opposite ends of the college spectrum.

Lieu is studying for a master’s degree in chemistry, lives off campus and works in Professor Gregory Foster’s environmental chemistry research lab on campus.

Rowe is double-majoring in global affairs and Spanish, lives on campus and just finished a two-and-a-half-year stint working for the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services.

David Lieu. Creative Services photo

Although their current paths are quite different, this year, they have one important experience in common.

Lieu and Rowe are both in their second semesters as student representatives on the Mason Board of Visitors (BOV). The 16 board members, appointed by the governor of Virginia, have the final say in policy-making at Mason. While Lieu and Rowe do not have voting power on the board, they sit in on all meetings and may express any concerns they have that affect students.

“We don’t go to the meetings with an agenda,” Lieu says. “We’re there to represent students’ opinions and have a say in the decisions that the board is making. They don’t wish to make any decisions without student input.”

Despite the student representatives’ lack of voting power, University Chief of Staff Tom Hennessey says they have an important say in decision making. For example, when the board was debating a mid-year tuition increase, the students contributed an influential perspective to the discussion, Hennessey says.

“To their credit, they gave a very quick, concise and cogent response to that question,” Hennessey says. “They said this is going to hit some people really hard. I can’t say for a fact that [their response] was the deciding factor, but I do know that it had an effect.”

Gleason Rowe. Creative Services photo

The Board of Visitors met twice in the fall and once this semester, on Jan. 27. Another meeting is scheduled this month. Despite the magnitude of the decisions made at these meetings, Rowe says the forums are sparsely attended by students, even though they are open to the public. In an attempt to build student awareness of the meetings, Rowe writes summaries for the following week’s edition of Broadside, the student newspaper. In the Feb. 1 issue, Rowe discussed the university’s expansion, budget cuts and tuition increases in his piece.

“I’ve really been hoping, with my pieces, to get our name as BOV reps out there,” Rowe says. “Ideally, in the future, there would be town hall-type meetings where student government and [BOV] representatives would meet to discuss student concerns.”

The two student representatives also sit on different committees on the board. Lieu sits on the Finance and Land Use Committee, which deals with issues such as the budget and construction projects. Meanwhile, Rowe sits on the Academic Programs, Diversity and University Community Committee, which considers new academic majors and minors, University Life initiatives and faculty tenure.

In the past, student representatives have alternated between committees, but the two students decided to each focus on one and build their experience dealing with one set of issues.

“We decided for the sake of actually having a voice to stay on our designated committees,” Rowe says.

Both Lieu and Rowe say they’ve learned a lot during their tenures as representatives. What began as a sometimes intimidating experience, Lieu says, morphed into a position that provided an inside view of how the school works.

“I never thought about it from this perspective,” he says. “The decisions are never as simple as ‘President Merten raised tuition so that we can construct these new buildings,’ which is what I always hear students saying. But funds for most if not all of these projects have already been allocated. Planning and budgeting for these projects are done years in advance.”

Rowe plans to study upper-level Spanish in Spain during his first semester of senior year. He will return to Mason for one semester before graduating. Lieu will continue his studies for a master’s degree, while working part-time as a chemist for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu