Trustee promises fairness

By Melissa Blake

Despite the last two student trustees typically voting “yes” during Board of Trustees meetings, these votes are not made to please the administration, student trustee-elect Andrew Nelms said.

Nelms said the position is fighting for and representing the best interests of NIU students.

“I think the student trustees have been effective in representing the students on the BOT,” Nelms said. “Pleasing the administration is not a concern of the student trustee.”

The eight-member board, which Illinois law requires to contain one student, has the final say on a variety of student issues, including graduation requirements and tuition and fee increases, Nelms said.

Former student trustee Kevin Miller said there is not an individual record of how student trustees have voted in the past. The easiest way to see how trustees voted is to read the minutes from each meeting, he said.

Past meeting minutes do not contain records of how each trustee voted; they only contain who gave the first and second motion for approval, according to past minutes.

Current student trustee Eric Johnson could not remember a time when he voted “no” at a meeting.

“All the votes have been unanimous,” he said. “[I would not] vote on anything that would adversely affect the students of NIU.”

Johnson said he would vote against anything he thought “would hurt the students.”

Illinois law prohibits the student trustee from voting on matters of faculty tenure, faculty promotions or any issues where there is a conflict of interest for the student trustee, said Miller, who served during the 2003-04 school year.

In the past, student trustees have voted on issues such as the Campus Recreation Center construction, the Stevenson Hall renovation and the Monsanto Complex acquisition, Miller said.

Miller insists that his “yes” vote for a 3-percent student fee increase at the March 18, 2004 BOT meeting was in the students’ best interests. Student fees support many of the services and buildings on campus, such as the Holmes Student Center, the Students’ Legal Assistance Office and Huskie Stadium, he said.

“Without the increase, these buildings and services would have become less effective for the many students who depend on them,” Miller said.

Because of the long process that is undertaken before issues are brought to the board, there has been consensus among BOT members, NIU President John Peters said.

Student trustees are full partners on the BOT, unlike at other universities, where student trustees are there but ignored, Peters said. Of the five student trustees who have served under Peters, all have given their opinions on issues.

“I have not known any student trustee that did not speak their mind,” Peters said. “Our student trustees are more involved with governance of the university than any place I’ve been.”

There is a long, lengthy process that goes into forming a consensus, said BOT member Robert Boey. During this discussion process, individual trustees articulate their own opinion, he said. The student trustee is never excluded from any meeting, open or closed, Boey said.

Just because the BOT reaches a unanimous decision does not mean that student trustees do not ask hard questions, Peters said.

“Many policies and priorities are shaped by student trustees,” Peters said. “They are the voice of the students and they’re listened to.”