GSG, USG condemn Board for lack of student representatives

USG President Debbie Lee and Vice President Blake Ackerman said University leaders must earn back student trust. (Daily Trojan file photo)

Following the first public Presidential Search Advisory Committee Forum on Thursday, the Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Government released a joint statement to the USC community criticizing the lack of student representation in the presidential search process.

Even before C. L. Max Nikias agreed to step down as president, USG and GSG wrote that they continuously made an effort to reach out to the Board of Trustees to incorporate student representation within decision-making bodies. The student groups had specifically requested two student seats — one for undergraduate and another for graduate — on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee.

The statement argues that students must be included in the search because they will be greatly affected by the decision. Students have a vested interest in the leadership as they are the University’s “reason for existence,” the statement read.

“Excluding students on the committee is not only a disservice to the very individuals the University failed to protect, but also a failure to provide students an opportunity to advocate for presidential candidates who will strive to protect students to the best of their ability,” wrote USG and GSG.

The statement details USG and GSG’s multiple attempts to have student representation on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, a process they said had begun in May.

According to the statement, after USG and GSG reached out multiple times to schedule meetings with Board of Trustees Chairman Rick Caruso and Interim President Wanda Austin, they were invited to Caruso’s home in Brentwood for a meeting on Sept. 4 and met with Caruso again on Sept. 10 to further advocate for student representation.

According to the statement, Caruso said that despite all of the recent scandals the University has faced, students should take a “measured leap of faith” to trust the Board in regards to the decisions being made, which the Daily Trojan could not independently confirm.

USG President Debbie Lee said  that students cannot place their faith or trust in an administration that has repeatedly failed them.

“I think before asking students to take a ‘leap of faith’ or to continue trusting in administration, you [have] got to give us reasons to do so,” Lee said. “I don’t think there have been tangible reasons to do so for awhile.”

In an email obtained by the Daily Trojan, Caruso responded to Lee about the statement before it was released to the public. Caruso wrote that he and Lee are in agreement that student voices are a “critical component” of the presidential search process.

“Your voices are not being ignored,” Caruso wrote. “[On] the contrary, for the first time in the Board’s recent history, I started an open-door policy to meet with student government leaders on a regular basis and to make sure that any student can contact me via email with questions, suggestions, or concerns.”

Caruso said that the Board is seeking student government counsel on the Special Committee on Governance’s board reform efforts, in addition to establishing a special student leaders’ subcommittee that would meet with the Search Advisory Committee.

In the statement, GSG and USG wrote that students would still have no part in the “substantive discussion that establish the criteria” or have the ability to review and interview candidates.

USG and GSG wrote that based on the information they have gathered, students will not have the opportunity to meet with candidates throughout the search process.

“Without any firsthand student interaction, this incoming president might be left with the lasting impression that engagement with students is neither a priority, nor a necessity,” the statement read.