by ANNE SMITH
UMW students are calling for the Board of Visitors and the University Faculty Council to hold public comment sessions at least once a month.
Ainsley Rucker, junior philosophy pre-law major, posted a petition on the UMW Facebook meme page on Feb. 18.
“I posted the petition about a week or so ago on the meme page since that has the biggest audience of UMW students who have continually expressed how they wish they could make some changes about the school,” she said. The petition has a few dozen signatures, and the post had 21 likes and 12 comments from students and alumni alike.
Rucker is excited about the reach her post has had. “The response has been incredible, I’m so very pleased with how many current students and alums have also felt that we need more frequent communication between students, admin, and the Board,” said Rucker.
Rucker’s petition represents the viewpoint that the university’s student body deserves to communicate more with the Board of Visitors and the University Faculty Council.
The Board of Visitors is comprised of 12 members who have been appointed by the Governor, tasked to provide supervision at the university to ensure the welfare of the institution’s public mission while also giving counsel to the school’s president.
The Board also confers on major university decisions like appointing the president, determining salaries of the faculty, establishing student enrollment policies, setting student tuition and much more.
Likewise, the University Faculty Council meets once a month — those sessions, and their minutes, are open to the public. Rucker’s petition calls for a public comment periods advertised to students. These committees convene several times in the year to discuss an array of topics from curriculum to COVID-19 procedures, but as of right now, there is only one public comment session for the Board of Visitors meetings per year.
On the day before the petition was posted, the Board of Visitors held the annual public comment session, discussing the potential increase in tuition and fees between 0 percent and 4 percent for 2021-22. No changes have been implemented yet: the Board of Visitors’ Executive Committee will vote on the 2021-22 tuition and fee rates in a closed meeting on March 12, 2021.
“The public comment session happens once a year, typically a month or more before any vote on tuition and fees for the next year,” said Jeff McClurken, chief of staff and clerk of the Board.
Rucker’s post on Facebook says that the frequency of the public comment sessions is not frequent enough and that there is not enough student input on many issues, like campus security.
Some alumni are also speaking up about the Board’s public comment policy.
Bryant Atkins, a business administration major who graduated in 2019, commented in support of the petition on the Facebook post.
“While its original intent of bringing students into the conversation regarding Tuition and Fees, it is absolutely ridiculous not to involve students, except for the select student leaders sought out by administration or by the student’s own effort, in major university policies that have a direct impact on students,” he said.
Involvement was a point of focus for Rucker’s petition
“Part of the petition was asking people why they would like more frequent periods to come and communicate with the Board, and the largest response by far was that students felt they were not being heard,” she said.
McClurken is aware of the students’ demands.
“I am aware of the petition. I can’t speak for individual Board members, though they did hear at [the public comment session] about the Facebook memes page started and run by UMW students,” he said. “Students also have representation and a formal presentation by the SGA president at all four regular Board meetings each year and at the UFC meetings through the Student Government Association.”
Outside of the annual public comment session, on certain occasions, only student leaders are given a chance to participate in other meetings to discuss major university policies.
Rucker said she was inspired to make the petition in part because Board member and former Virginia Senator Edd Houck has been vocal about the need for more public comments for all students.
“Again, I can’t speak for individual Board members, but the Board implemented its public comment policy in 2019 with a provision that ‘a time for public comment will be set prior to the Board’s vote regarding tuition and fees,’” McClurken said. “The policy included the opportunity to submit comment at any time through my office. The Board is a student-centric group, and they appreciate students’ insights through the various means provided.”
Rucker believes that all students have a right to be heard at UMW, since this is a university that values student participation.
“I want to make it abundantly clear that my desire to bring together the students at Mary Wash to make this change is for one reason and one reason only: we have a right to have a say in the decisions made at our school. My own personal agenda has nothing to do with why I’m pushing for this change. I will absolutely use a better line of communication with admin and the Board, and I encourage all my fellow eagles to do the same.”