“Bylaws of Cornell University: ARTICLE II, THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES “1. Powers: Subject to the Charter of the University and the laws of the State, the Board of Trustees shall have supreme control over the University, including every college, school, and academic department, division and center thereof.”
Damn. There is nothing like reading that one sentence to give a Cornell trustee a massively inflated view of himself, an irrational superiority complex and alarming delusions of grandeur. Despite any redeeming qualities I may have, I must admit that anyone willing to campaign for the votes of 20,000 plus Cornell students to be elected to the Board of Trustees, as I did two years ago, is necessarily pretentious and ostentatious enough to get a high off reading that he or she will have “supreme control” over Cornell. That phrase is LSD for the aspiring student leader. My sense of power and self-importance was not diminished by an email of congratulations from President David Skorton upon my election, in which he addressed me as “Boss.”
It is true that the trustees have a great deal of power and influence over shaping the future of this institution. Yet, to cite that overly applied cliché from the movie Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. It has continually distressed me that more students are not aware of the work of the trustees or what it means to be a trustee when such a meaningful opportunity to shape our University is made available to students. Only 8 percent of private colleges and universities in the U.S. have current students serving as trustees. Beyond the ability of a student trustee to contribute more to Cornell as a whole institution than any other role available to a student, serving as a trustee is the ultimate professional development opportunity on steroids. For someone aspiring to spend his or her life in academia or the corporate world, I can tell you from experience that being a trustee teaches you more valuable lessons than your M.S. research ever will.
The power, opportunity and responsibility that I have relished for two years are now up for grabs once again. My term ends on June 30, but in April, all 20,000 plus Cornell students will have the chance to elect the next student trustee. ALL STUDENTS VOTE, but the person elected this year needs to be a graduate or professional student. If you are even remotely interested in representing this University and shaping the future of Cornell for decades to come, or perhaps just knowing what it is like to be David Skorton’s boss and to wield “supreme control,” please contact me. I will even buy you a cup of coffee as we chat about the office of trustee; that way if you find the work of a trustee to be tedious and boring (or you simply find me to be tedious and boring), at least you will have gotten something from our meeting.
Being a trustee is no easy task. While not serving as a student advocate per se, you do serve as a student representative in the sense that it is your responsibility to reach out to and understand the perspectives of the student body at Cornell. I have undertaken several efforts to improve two-way communication between the trustees and the student body over my two years in the position; some have succeeded, some have failed, but the process continues. Connecting with and understanding the huge range of diverse students at Cornell will be a constant task and frustration of any student trustee, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Cornell and his or her peers.
Being a student trustee can also mean regularly sitting through nine hours of meetings only to make a few well-placed comments. This may seem painfully wearisome, but once you realize the importance of making the right comment at the right time to shape the long-term future of Cornell, you cannot conceive of your time as ill spent. Really, the only requirement to be a trustee is to hold a deep and unfailing love for this institution. Anyone with such love would find the strength, resolve and commitment to be an excellent trustee.
So … perhaps it’s not all about “supreme control” (sorry, Dr. Freud). Perhaps being a trustee is more about your service to the University controlling you. Nevertheless, if working to improve Cornell alongside the most intelligent, driven and dedicated people you will ever meet is something that sounds appealing to you, you will welcome the opportunity to subject yourself to such control.
Darrick Nighthawk Evensen is a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and the graduate student-elected trustee. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.