by, Anna Woods & Gabriella DePinho, Editor-in-Chief & Senior Writer
The Manhattan College Senate passed a resolution to have the college’s president recommend the Board of Trustees revise its bylaws to establish three new permanent seats on the Board of Trustees with full voting rights to be filled by a student, a staff member and a faculty member. This resolution authored by two faculty members was presented in an attempt to address ongoing issues of shared governance, communication and transparency. It passed on Tuesday, April 20 with 13 senators voting for it, 3 voting against it and 1 abstaining.
As of right now, students, faculty and staff do have some representation on some Board of Trustees subcommittees but are there in advisory roles and do not have voting power. This resolution would bring student, faculty and staff representation beyond that subcommittee advisory, by making the new seats with voting powers on the actual Board of Trustees, not different subcommittees. However, just because it passed, it does not mean that Brennan O’Donnell, the college’s president, will follow the Senate’s recommendation and advise the Board of Trustees to make that change to its bylaws.
Faculty senators Meg Toth, an English professor, and Heidi Furey, an assistant professor of philosophy, co-authored the resolution, but worked long and hard to ensure that constituents represented by all the senators felt seen and heard.
“We finished the first version of the resolution just before last month’s meeting, and at that point we had been working on it for a few weeks,” Toth said in an email to The Quadrangle. “Once we had a draft, we circulated it to the Senate for feedback. Some questions were raised regarding the wording at the last meeting, which in retrospect was a good thing. It gave us more time to solicit feedback from the senators, and it gave the senators more time to communicate with their constituents… I knew going into this week’s meeting that we had an exceptionally strong resolution, one that grew out of communication within and across all three constituents the resolution affects (faculty, staff, and students).”
Senator and junior student Eunice Nazar worked with the Student Government Association, while senator and administrative assistant Syrita Newman worked with the Staff Council to gather their respective constituents’ concerns and thoughts on the resolution.
Toth feels it is important, for multiple reasons, to see this resolution accepted by college leadership.
“We view this resolution as a step toward diversifying perspectives on the Board of Trustees; that is, the Board makes a number of significant decisions that affect the whole community, so it makes sense to have the various parties affected by those decisions (students, faculty, and staff) involved in the conversation,” she said. “We also firmly believe that this kind of representation will promote better communication and transparency. Data shows that having faculty and student representation on the Board of Trustees leads to more inclusive decision-making and more effective communication.”
Like the co-authors of the resolution, sophomore Izzy Frazza, a senator and the Senate’s secretary, feels that current representation on the Board of Trustees is not enough.
“Currently, only administration, and alumni have voting powers,” she said. “At this point, it is more of a symbolic representation that the college, through the senate, has recognized a need for more shared governance practices within the community.”
The resolution comes as an actionable item in response to growing frustration among the community about a lack of shared governance, transparency and communication from senior administration, despite promises of it. This is listed as part of the rationale of the resolution, which also notes that these issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The rationale of the resolution also calls attention to the diminishing number of Christian Brothers on campus and how, in the past, “faculty, staff, and students have been able to rely on the Christian Brothers, many of whom played an active role in the Manhattan College community, to convey their needs and concerns to the Board.” Now, the Board of Trustees is lacking and “needs concrete connection” to those same constituencies.
Toth particularly feels very strongly about the lack of shared governance, and even spoke out about it before at a fall senate meeting. More than ever, Toth feels the need to acknowledge the lack of inclusive decision making.
“The pandemic has revealed several problems on our campus, ones that pre-existed the pandemic but have been
exacerbated by it,” she wrote to The Quadrangle. “Foremost among these problems is the lack of genuine shared governance on our campus. Oftentimes the higher administration will say they are engaging in shared governance, when in reality they are making the decisions and then informing relevant governing bodies. Informing is not shared governance. Neither is consultation with various bodies that then goes unheard or disregarded.”
With enough support for the resolution to pass, it is evident that several other leaders within the campus community support the need for a change in how the college approaches governing decisions. Frazza is in complete support of the resolution.
“As a student, it’s really frustrating to be able to voice our concerns to the college community, have administration listen, and then see that nothing changes,” Frazza said. “Right now, students, faculty, and staff have seats at the table in the Board of Trustees meetings, but they cannot vote. It’s important that we are recognized as the valuable members of the Jasper community that we are, and we are able to not only speak our minds, but act in our best interests too, through voting.”
While suppor t for the resolution was fairly strong in the senate and within the constituencies, there is no guarantee that senior administrators will follow the resolution’s recommendation.
Frazza knows the terms may get rejected, but is hopeful that administration will care about sending a positive message to the wider community.
“If the President goes forward in requesting that the
Board of Trustees give voting powers to these representatives, he will show the college that he not only wants to hear the voices of community members from all representative groups, but that he also wants to allow us to have a say,” she said.
However, some senators already have reason to believe the resolution will be rejected.
“Given some of the statements that higher administration made at this week’s Senate meeting, I am doubtful that the resolution will be acted upon,” Toth said. “They essentially indicated that the resolution ultimately will be rejected. I find it extremely disheartening that they view it as a foregone conclusion instead of thinking through ways to strategize together to make it happen. After all, resolutions passed by the Senate reflect the desires of the entire campus community, so for the administration to dismiss one out of hand sends a clear (and disturbing) message.”
Toth is working to set up a meeting with O’Donnell so they can discuss ways to insure that the terms of the resolution are adopted, but she is not hopeful that the senior administration will work with the senators on this. Toth largely feels disheartened by this implied and anticipated rejection of the resolution, as it reinforces some changed feelings she has had since she first joined the college community.
“I’ve said it before: Manhattan College is not the place I started working at in 2008,” she said. “The fabric of our community has eroded, and I no longer trust the administration.”