The University of Maine Board of Trustees consists of 16 members — all are individuals appointed by Governor Janet Mills, one is a current UMaine graduate student — but none of the voting members are active undergraduates who know what’s happening on college campuses. A movement to add 10 students, one for each campus and grad school, to the Board of Trustees has spread like wildfire among passionate UMaine students. This is a desperately needed fix to a critical student rights issue.
This call to action is in the form of a bill proposed by Senator Mike Tipping, which has garnered bipartisan support and is being received by the Maine Government’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs on Monday, April 24.
LD 1656, also known as “An Act to Allow Student Representation Within the Governance of the University of Maine System”, does exactly that – allows desperately needed voting undergraduates on the Board of Trustees.
As it stands, each campus has a representative student who sits in on Board meetings and reports back to their respective school – but they are given no seat at the table, no voting power, no voice. Having voting students at the table is a direct pipeline to having better decisions made for students.
If student representatives were on the Board of Trustees, transparency between students and administration could be greatly improved, helping to repair the trust between UMaine students and the executive members of the UMaine community.
If passed as is, LD 1656 will empower students to be respected and heard. It’s common to see students get frustrated at administrative decisions and then be ultimately powerless to change them. If voting student representatives were added to the Board, they could work with trustees to make decisions everyone can be happy with.
This is not targeting the Board of Trustees, the UMaine System or anyone else. This bill is a strong request to be respected and included by administrators who make decisions directly involving us, and letting them hear a diverse group of UMaine students who understand the opinions of their peers and can speak for them adequately.
Some students passionate about letting their voices be heard have written and submitted testimony to be received during the hearing. Though the matter is one of policy, it is not political in nature – it is simply about including student representation.
The resolution for the bill passed through the UMaine Student Government on Tuesday, April 18, confirming its student support.
Meredyth Waters is a second-year political science student who is closely involved in College Dems, UMaine Climate Action, UMaine People’s Alliance and more on campus. She has been a strong advocate for this bill, and sat down with Maine Campus Media to explain why.
“The best experience for how to run this university is the lived experience of going here every single day,” Waters stated. “I wake up every morning around 8:30 a.m. I go outside. I see the entire campus.”
She added that, despite most trustees being alumni, they don’t often visit campuses except for Board meetings.
Michael Delorge and Keegan Tripp are both members of the UMaine Student Government, and are respectively the 2023-2024 Student Body President and Student Body Vice President. First and foremost, they are involved and passionate students. They gave comments to Maine Campus Media about their own opinions. Their opinions do not reflect those of UMSG or its constituents.
Michael Delorge, third-year biology and political science student, has a lot of experience in policy and advocacy. He is president of UMaine’s Partners for World Health club, John M. Nickerson Scholar and a Margaret Chase Smith Policy Scholar.
“I think that you know if we comprise the majority of the University of Maine System’s revenue each year through our tuition dollars, we should have a voice on The Board of Trustees, which is the overarching body that makes all the decisions that impact our daily lives as students. The BOT has ultimate power over any policy that any specific campus chooses to make, so legislating that is important,” said Delorge.
The UMaine Board of Trustees have a difficult job, without question, but so do students that deserve to be heard.
“I have the utmost respect for the Board of Trustees members that we currently have in the UMaine system,” stated Delorge. “They have a very important job, and a very demanding job, and I hope that they would be receptive to opening their arms to students to create the university system that everybody wants to see.”
First-year political science, legal studies and leadership student Keegan Tripp supports the bill because he supports uplifting student voices.
”Students should always be at the table when it comes to a system [which] exists solely for those students,” said Tripp. “We’re not only the biggest stakeholder in terms of funding, but we’re also the biggest stakeholder in terms of our education.”
When students are denied a voice in the decisions that affect their education and often livelihood, the gap between administrators and university widens, benefitting nobody and making students feel unvalued, underrepresented and like they can’t trust those who are supposed to have their best interests at heart.
Students who want to get involved in this bill can reach out to @avoiceforstudents on Instagram, an account run by LD 1656 supporters, and get involved in letting their voices be heard.
“We’re paying for our education, we should have a say in things that dictate that,” said Tripp.