By Mariah Schlossman, For The Miami Student
The Board of Trustees at Miami University is unknown to many — who they are, what they do and how they do it is a complete mystery to the majority of students on Miami’s campus.
Sophomore Emily Sullivan said she feels very disconnected to the purposes of the trustees because she knows nothing about it, besides that they exist.
“I know the Board of Trustees exists at Miami, but if you asked me anything else about them, I would have no clue what to tell you,” Sullivan said.
The board meets five times a year for two days each time to discuss everything on the agenda, where all campus departments present an official report to the board.
And while it may seem like they are far removed from the student body due to a lack of physical presence on campus, the Board of Trustees that actually stays closely involved with the university year-round.
“The agenda is produced with a lot of work before the meeting,” Board Chair Sharon Mitchell said. “If the university has challenges, budgets that need examining or problems that the Miami community has expressed they need to work through, we will focus on those.”
The trustees focus a lot on tuition and other aspects of the university that will enhance the experience of the Miami community.
“The administration manages the day-to-day operations of the university,” Graham Bowling, student representative to the trustees, said. “But the Board of Trustees gives them the direction they need to make those decisions.”
Mitchell explained the governor of Ohio appoints the Miami trustees. The university may also have input, and usually those suggested are Miami alum who have shown their commitment to the university in the past.
Bowling and Student Representative Mary Adeline Lewis both said the trustees focus very much on the future of Miami and always have the university’s best interest in mind. Whether that means implementing new policies or making individual donations with every decision they make, the trustees are always looking out for Miami and the members of its community, they said.
In fact, the Board of Trustees implemented the Good Samaritan Policy, which allows students to contact campus police for anyone with an alcohol or drug related-issue, without facing potential legal consequences.
“It may be surprising to many that the Board of Trustees implemented this policy considering the nature of it,” Lewis said, “but they really are just trying to looking out for the students.”
There are a number of ways that the trustees, especially the eight residing in Ohio, stay connected to the university.
“The trustees helped a lot with the Miami 20/20 plan (the overarching set of goals that the university is taking on between now and 20/20), which allowed for us to interact a lot with the Miami community and especially the faculty who we had an excellent interactive set of dialogue with,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also discussed other ways the trustees stay in touch with the Miami community, such as meeting with the student trustees and student government leaders, sitting in on some classes, attending a wide variety of university led events, collaborating heavily with the Miami University Foundation and simply maintaining a good line of communication with those inside the university.
Lewis and Bowling both said the trustees’ age differences from the students at Miami aren’t what make them removed. Rather, it is that they are not here every day to see what is happening, what the students are and aren’t satisfied with and what needs change.
The role of the student representatives is to bridge the gap between students and trustees.
“Our position is to take the comments and input other students give us and present it to the trustees so they know what decisions should be made to satisfy the desires of the Miami community,” Lewis said.
Former trustee Mike Armstrong, who his board seat June 2014, has played a major role on Miami’s campus.
The Armstrong Student Center (ASC) was named after Armstrong and his wife Anne, both Miami alumni, in honor of their donation of $15 million to the university.
Another former trustee, Harry Wilks, donated six million dollars to the university to head the Wilks Leadership Institute. Wilks’ donation also lent aid to the creation of the Harry T. Wilks Theatre, located in ASC.
“The trustees also serve as great resources to the university,” Mitchell said. “They may be asked to give keynote talks on their experiences to certain colleges within the university, serve as advisors to many of the academic departments or to simply give speeches to students.”
The trustees heavily collaborate with the state of Ohio as an association of trustees to discuss issues in higher education and work out challenges with insight from other governing bodies.
“They’re doing incredible things for the university and truly helping Miami evolve,” Lewis said.