The Augustana University Board of Trustees is the governing body of the school in charge of both the business and academic affairs. According to the Augustana website, the board is “ultimately responsible for fiscal management and academic programming and ensures the well-being of the faculty, students and staff of the University.”
Currently, the Board of Trustees is composed of 27 members and President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who serves as a non-voting member.
22 of the 28 members are alumni of Augustana and many are presidents, CEOs and directors of various companies. The board also includes at least one “recent alum,” who is currently Cassandra Kranz from the class of 2016.
According to the Augustana University faculty handbook, members serve three-year terms and no member may serve more than four consecutive terms.
The university’s constitution also requires that no less than two-thirds of board members are also members of Lutheran churches and a simple majority be members of the ELCA.
The Board of Trustees meets at least three times a year. Currently, these meetings occur behind closed doors.
Students are not allowed to attend meetings and the minutes of Board of Trustees meetings are not made public. Many schools across the country operate their governing bodies in a similar restrictive manner; closed-door meetings are not uncommon.
While Augustana University is a certified non-profit organization, laws requiring non-profits to conduct open board meetings or provide meetings minutes are largely determined on a state-by-state basis. South Dakota does have open meetings laws, but they mostly apply only to bodies “of the state or its political subdivisions” that exercise “sovereign power derived drom state law” (SDCL 1-25-1). There are also several exemptions in the law that allow for closed door meetings.
Yes, students have a right to be informed
Have you seen “Footloose?”
Students have this problem at the end of the movie. When they put forward a motion to the town council to incite change to the no-dance policy, they are derided and dismissed.
Unfortunately, Augustana students are blocked from the right to know how their education is managed (as opposed to their right to dance).
The Augustana Board of Trustees should be held accountable for their considerable leverage in the school.
Augustana’s website says the board “sets policy and manages the business and academic affairs of the University.” The faculty page makes no mistake: these folks call the shots.
It seems like a given that students would be interested in the almost unchecked control wielded by such a powerful body of decision-makers.
With further research, I discovered that the link to the board handbook on Augie’s website requires a member password to access. More digging revealed that not only are their doors closed, but there are also no public minutes of the meetings.
The conspiracy theorist in me is crying “Illuminati!” but the concerned citizen and rationalist in me are far more convincing.
Why is it that students have absolutely no interaction with the governing body of Augustana?
Secondary outlets are all well and good, but using the term ‘student voices’ rings hollow if those voices are falling on deaf ears. It is demeaning for students to raise concerns about the school under the assumption that faculty show no vested interest in the ideas of the student body.
In short, we should not have to build platforms to get the school to show concern about what we have to say.
Setting morality aside for a moment, it is worth noting the legal ramifications of radio silence.
To be clear, the board is under no legal obligation to post meeting minutes or open their doors. That being said, with closed doors and no meeting minutes, the IRS has no concrete evidence of the goings-on necessary for completing NPO Form 990 (a requirement for organizations claiming tax exemption). In layman’s terms, if I want to confirm what the board does on a regular basis for legal reasons, I am out of luck.
None of this is to imply that the board members are holding meetings on skull-shaped islands and plotting James Bond’s demise. However, you do not have to be a government or pre-law major to note that mixing unilateral control and complete secrecy is cause for concern.
The Augustana Board of Trustees needs to open their doors.
The campus I call ‘home’ is precious to me, and so are the people that inhabit it. It’s corny, but saying otherwise would be a lie. I can argue and joke to cause debate, but nothing will change unless people in positions of power pay attention.
Ian Ward is a freshman English and philosophy major from Sioux Falls, S.D.
No, student input is heard in other ways
It is moments like these that we must not be the Aaron Burrs of history: the entitlement of wanting to be with the Board of Trustees in “the room where it happens” may also be our downfall.
Students’ voices present themselves through several on-campus organizations.
It is proclaimed by the Augustana Student Association (ASA), declared in the Union Board of Governors (UBG), echoed in The Mirror.
This short and oversimplified list exemplifies the volume student voices carry on campus.
Demanding entrance into a room creates a facade that marginalizes students’ ability to catalyze change in more innovative, relevant methods.
The word “relevant” is central to this dialogue. Was this “exclusion” even a thought you considered before picking up your copy of The Mirror?
The lens students use to view this issue may be foggy from a lack of self-awareness; it can be inferred that student attendance would be minimal to none.
Honestly, would you carve out time to listen to monotonous policy regarding business and academics?
Those who would choose to attend may be compelled by questionable motives.
I am an optimist and believe AU gold is in each Viking’s heart; however, I suspect that advocacy even in the purest of hearts has the potential to evolve into lobbying.
The Board of Trustees functions as an objective body to ensure the progression, betterment and sustainability of Augustana.
The board is not only beholden to students. It must also be an objective servant to those who serve us as faculty members, administrators and donors.
Students are undoubtedly the sun in Augie’s universe, but we must not neglect those in our orbit who enrich our experience.
The Board of Trustees’ low-key demeanor and near invisibility allows for impartial operation.
Augustana’s Lutheran roots present a useful analogy: would you want to know God’s extensive and tedious process of maintaining the earth and its inhabitants or simply trust in it and rejoice in the blessings?
Following this analogy, we must also recognize the students’ role within the Trinity: the Son.
It rests on us to use our carpentry to construct our soapbox, identify those in need and manifest miracles simply through our humanness.
In a student body full of high achievers, these tasks ought to be respected instead of feared. All who love Augustana must also come to love the authority of its power.
Courtney Chrystal is a freshman biology and government major from Dakota Dunes, S.D.
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