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The Mass Media

Should All Trustees Vote? Students Give Testimony to Mass. Legislature

Left+to+right%3A+Stasha+Lampert+%28UMass+Boston+Student+Trustee+2010-2011%29%2C+Neil+MacInnes-Barker+%28UMass+Boston+Student+Body+President+2010-2011%29%2C+Alexis+Marvel+%28UMass+Boston+Student+Trustee+2012-2013+and+current+UMass+Boston+Student+Body+President%29%2C+Nolan+OBrien+%28current+UMass+Boston+Student+Trustee%29%2C+and+Alex+Kulenovic+%28UMass+Boston+Student+Trustee+2007-2009+and+current+organizing+director+at+PHENOM%29

Left to right: Stasha Lampert (UMass Boston Student Trustee 2010-2011), Neil MacInnes-Barker (UMass Boston Student Body President 2010-2011), Alexis Marvel (UMass Boston Student Trustee 2012-2013 and current UMass Boston Student Body President), Nolan O’Brien (current UMass Boston Student Trustee), and Alex Kulenovic (UMass Boston Student Trustee 2007-2009 and current organizing director at PHENOM)

House Bill 1088, “An Act Providing Full Student Representation on the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees,” came before the the Mass. Legislature’s Joint Committee at a Public Hearing on July 17.
Introduced by Mass. State Rep. and Boston mayoral candidate Marty Walsh, the bill, which was also introduced in the Massachusetts Senate by Mass. Sen. John Hart, would grant full voting rights on the UMass Board of Trustees every year, to every student trustee at every UMass campus.
Eight people, including former University of Massachusetts Boston Student Trustee and current Student Body President Alexis Marvel, as well as former UMass Boston Student Trustee Alex Kulenovic, gave three minutes of testimony each to the committee.
Marvel, who reached out to Representative Walsh in 2012, described her role as a non-voting trustee to committee members, telling them that she attended all board meetings, spoke to voting trustees, and participated in board events. “Non-voting members are still trustees … in every way except we aren’t allowed to vote.
“This is a minimal change. … This does not increase the size of the board,” she added.
Kulenovic addressed concerns that a bloc of students could exercise undue influence on the board, saying, “Not only is five not a controlling interest, but students are not a hive mind.”
Also present were current UMass Boston Student Trustee Nolan O’Brien, former UMass Boston Student Trustee Stasha Lampert, former UMass Boston Student Body President Neil MacInnes-Barker, and former UMass Lowell Student Trustee James Tarr.
A delegation from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth included two Student Government Association (SGA) members and Colleen Sullivan Avedikian, a full-time lecturer and campus organizer for the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM).
Jacob Miller, a UMass Dartmouth SGA member of several years and an intern in the office of Mass. Sen. Mark Montigny, told the committee that “the board isn’t representative of the constituency it’s voting for, and that constituency is students.” He then handed the committee written testimony from Montigny himself.
Avedikian focused on “ways that student agency is thwarted,” citing UMass Dartmouth’s “free speech zone” as an example. “Students feel disenfranchised; students feel disenchanted,” she said, and full representation for all student trustees could change the way students feel. 
PHENOM’s vice president, University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Max Page, also spoke. Page mentioned “basic democratic fairness,” and told the committee he had come “to make sure you understand the faculty as well support this change.”
The committee will now decide whether to reject the bill or send it to the Massachusetts House for a reading. To see all the steps that the bill must go through before becoming law, click here.
When the UMass Board of Trustees was assembled, two student trustees, one from Amherst and one from Boston, had full voting rights. But when the campuses in Worcester, Dartmouth, and Lowell were established, the new student trustees from those campuses were not given the same rights. Rather, the board instituted a system whereby the five student trustees rotated their two votes each year.
Last year, Worcester and Amherst had the vote, and Marvel, UMass Boston’s elected student trustee, was unable to cast a ballot at any board meetings. 
The Massachusetts Legislature is still considering written testimony regarding the bill at this time. Students can write or call their legislators in support of the bill, or email [email protected].