Even though Lehigh’s board of trustees influences university policy and image, board members and the impact of their decisions are often elusive to students.
Zach Vinik, ’20, the president of Student Senate, sits in on board meetings as a student representative.
“We are able to let them know what the majority of undergraduates believe would be the best decisions,” Vinik said. “Even though they might go a different way, we still have the ability to reach out to them and let them know our thoughts.”
Senate is not the only university entity that confers with the board on specific issues. Erik Walker, chief of staff to President John Simon, said there’s a large amount of collaboration between the senior administration and the board of trustees.
“The board has ten standing committees and six standing subcommittees,” Walker said. “Each committee has a chair who is a trustee, but there’s also a Lehigh liaison in the form of a senior administrator there, too.”
Walker said without the collaboration of both the board and administrators, Path to Prominence would not be in motion the way it is today.
“The only way to make Lehigh and the future of it a better place is to have the strong shared governance that we have,” Walker said.
Walker said the administration does its best to inform the board of issues affecting the campus and its students. However, some students don’t always feel their voice is reflected in the board’s decisions.
Kelly O’Brien, ’21 said the decision to not repeal Donald Trump’s honorary degree reflected the board’s values rather than the student’s values.
“I feel like Lehigh talks so much about diversity, and that’s not being reflected (by) the board of trustees,” O’Brien said. “Most of the board is made up of middle-aged white men. If every trustee is coming from a similar background, then there will be no change in conversation in the room.”
However, Vinik said the board tries its best to make sure student representatives are involved at most board meetings where issues involving the student body are discussed.
He said most of the board’s committees are open to student discussion.
“Typically the committees that are closed don’t involve students directly,” Vinik said. “They’re either very long-term or looking at issues that we as students typically aren’t looking at.”
He said the board focuses on university issues that will affect the next five to 10 years, while administrators focus on issues that occur within the current year.
O’Brien still believes administrators and board members themselves should make students more aware of how the board operates and impacts the Lehigh community.
“They should be keeping the students updated on the issues they’re covering,” she said. “Even though a lot of their decisions don’t affect (students) now, it’s important for the students to be aware and have a voice on these issues.”
Evan Chansky, ’20, Senate’s vice president, said as a student representative he acts as a bridge between the student voice and the ideas of the board.
“When (students) see the construction going on at the old Kappa Delta house or the renovations to Chandler-Ullmann, they turn to me for an explanation as to what exactly is going on,” Chansky said.
Chansky said regardless of the long-term nature of the board’s projects, it’s essential that students are passionate about the issues that could impact the future of the Lehigh community.
“It’s a really critical time to have a voice in the room when we’re talking about things like new residence halls and creating an entirely new college, and we get to have a say in that,” Chansky said. “Even though none of us will be here when the current big projects are implemented, they’re really going to affect the university for a long time.”