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The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Undergraduate Assembly are advocating for student representation on the Board of Trustees.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Undergraduate Assembly separately passed revised resolutions advocating for student representation to Penn's Board of Trustees.

This follows a failed joint resolution from January, when GAPSA passed the draft but the UA was unable to reach a majority. Now, both groups have reached their own agreements that are set to be sent to the Board of Trustees. 

On Feb. 20, GAPSA sent a joint letter with G12+ school governments — the student leadership from each of Penn's graduate schools — and a revised resolution for student representation on the Board of Trustees to Vice President and University Secretary Medha Narvekar. This is set to be sent out to the Board of Trustees’ chairperson Scott Bok ahead of the Board of Trustees' upcoming meeting on March 2. 

On Feb. 26, the UA passed their own revised resolution for student representation and will be sending a similar letter to Bok, according to College junior and UA representative Charlie Schumer. Both assemblies are awaiting to hear whether their resolutions will be considered.

The Board of Trustees is a decision-making body that directly decides the University's operations. Trustees' responsibilities include the selection of the University president, tuition, fees, purchase agreements, administration appointments, and acquisition and development of land. There are currently 54 trustee members with 14 spots allocated to Penn alumni. No spots are currently allocated to students.

The agenda for the Board of Trustees meeting on March 2 does not mention discussion of either resolution at the time of publication. The Board of Trustees did not respond to a request for comment.

The previous attempt for the joint resolution was coauthored with representatives of the UA, but only GAPSA was able to approve it with a majority. Both groups have subsequently revised their resolutions and passed them separately.

On Feb. 11, the graduate school student governments held their G12+ summit where each of the presidents signed a joint letter with GAPSA in favor of student representation, according to third-year dual degree master's student and GAPSA President Robert Watson. 

Following the summit, Watson said GAPSA passed a revised resolution on Feb. 15, adding two amendments to the original resolution: GAPSA removed the UA’s name in response to their prior tabling of the resolution on Jan. 22, and they extended the student representative’s term from one to two years.

“Although students have had ‘observer status’ on some of Penn’s ‘Trustee Committees,' these committees frequently do not allow for the full participation of students, and do not have final decision-making authority on many of the issues that directly pertain to students," GAPSA said in the letter sent on Feb. 20. "Only with voting representation on the Board will student voices be fully considered in University decision making."

Watson said that GAPSA’s advancement with the resolution came after their meeting with the Office of the University Secretary, where they discussed Article 9.5 of the States of the Trustees — which currently says that GAPSA and the UA have power to make recommendations directly to the Board of Trustees but falls short in appointing undergraduate or graduate students to the Board of Trustees.

Following UA’s prior decision to indefinitely table the resolution on Jan. 22,  Schumer and Wharton sophomore and UA representative Keshav Ramesh — the two undergraduate authors of the initial joint resolution with GAPSA — met with administrators to discuss the resolution further. 

Schumer said these administrators include Associate Vice Provost for Education and Academic Planning Gary Purpura, Executive Director of Office of Student Affairs Katie Bonner, Faculty Senate Tri-Chairs Vivian Gadsen, Tulia Falleti, and William Braham, and Associate Vice President to University Secretary Lizann Rode. 

During their Feb. 26 meeting, the UA successfully passed their revised resolution to have student representation on the Board of Trustees. The resolution now proposes a two year term for student representatives.

“The Board of Trustees is the biggest and most important body at the University in terms of decision making, yet we don’t have a lot of information about them," Schumer said. "Having student representation would bring those lines of communication and make their processes clearer."

Looking forward, second-year dual degree master's student and Penn Carey Law Student Government President Michael Krone said that GAPSA hopes the new resolution will add student perspective to the decision-making process.

“Even though the trustees are really well-meaning alumni who give up a lot of their time to help steer the institution in the right direction, sometimes their perspective can be a little bit different," Krone said. "A lot of the challenges that we face as current students differ from what the trustees faced when they were here."