Last semester, a group of students, along with the help of a local state senator, had a mission — create, through legislation, a Board of Trustees (the governing body of UMS) that was more representative of the student body. Currently, the Board of Trustees is made up of 16 individuals, all appointed by the governor, and one member who is a current student at the University of Maine. However, 57% of the Board of Trustees’ budget is made up of student tuition. The original form of the proposed bill would have added nine additional members to the Board of Trustees and mandate that one member is a current student from each of the UMS schools, including the graduate schools.
All of those student members are elected by the students. To attempt to pass this bill without the veto of Janet Mills, the bill was reduced to two elected student representatives. While passionate students spoke in front of the education committee in support of this bill, UMaine administration also showed up to lobby against the interest of students.
All progress, even small, is good progress; however, the outcome of the legislation makes the impact. Tristin Friend is a UMaine Student Government Senator and was heavily involved with the board of trustees as a proxy representative — he is not speaking on behalf of any group.
“There was a strong disconnect between the trustees and the students before LD 1656 passed, which unfortunately remains. I foresee this staying the same,” says Friend.
It’s an easy conclusion to come to. The Board of Trustees historically acts outside of the student interest. That was clear as they lobbied against the passing of LD 1656. The board is demographically distinct from students, as the majority of the board is older and some of the members do not even reside in the state of Maine.
Friend helps paint a picture of the challenges these new board members will face.
“The new student BoT members will face significant hurdles coming their way…These two students will have to serve alongside a reluctant Board of Trustees and be unbiased. At the same time, these new electees must also reassure their constituents that the students are being heard,” Friend says.
The logistics of the election also presents a challenge. An entire university system, from Portland to Fort Kent, needs to have one election for two positions where both students can’t be from the same school. As someone from UMaine’s Orono campus, I do not think I could properly represent a student at one of the smaller, more rural universities. While all UMS students are suffering from budget cuts, the size and location of those schools make for an entirely different student experience. With that being said, as students, we understand one another more than anyone else the Governor appoints to the Board of Trustees.
The elections for the new board members do not yet have a date, though they are expected to commence before the end of 2023. That way we can have elected students serving on the board by 2024. As previously mentioned, there are challenges coordinating across all UMaine campuses – something only a student-supported Board of Trustees could help with.
Here’s the call to action: attend a Board of Trustees meeting and give a public comment. Email your Board members. Let’s be so loud that ignoring the student body becomes the hardest part of their job.