Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Trust in trustees?

Who is this mysterious board of trustees that makes important decisions that affect the lives of so many students, faculty and staff? Can we trust them to serve in our best interests?

I first thought about these issues 10 years ago as a graduate student at Ohio State. It never occurred to me before then to think about trustees' roles in governing a university.

While I was working on a master's degree in journalism, I wrote for Ohio State's student newspaper, the Lantern. The first story I wrote was about the appointment of a new trustee.

At Ohio State, trustees are appointed by the governor. My story for the Lantern was the lead story in the paper (probably not so much because of my reporting or widespread student interest in trustee activities, but more because it was a slow news week). Shortly after my piece ran, a woman wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the governor for appointing another white male to the board. I contacted the woman and wrote a follow-up piece that also ended up on the front page.

The experience was invaluable. I learned so much about the newsgathering process from covering that one story, and also about the interplay of politics and power at a major university.

Sometimes student journalists underestimate the access they have to people in power. Back then, when I first set out to contact the governor's office for a comment on the trustee appointment, no one would help me. Finally, I called one last time, reminding the staffer that it was an election year and that the Lantern has a circulation of 50,000. Someone called me back within five minutes!

Now, I'm finding myself thinking again about university trustees and their role in decision-making.

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