I’ve been thinking a fair amount this week about Monday’s revelation that the Cooper Union administration reneged on one of the core commitments to emerge from this summer’s admin building occupation — the promise to place an elected student on the college’s Board of Trustees.
As I said in my previous post, the Cooper trustees and administration have an obligation to honor their prior agreement. If they fail to do so, however, the students of Cooper Union have leverage they can bring to bear to make a democratic result more likely.
First, the full results of the consultative “election” that will produce the three final candidates for student trustee should be released. The Cooper community has a right to know which candidate was the students’ choice for trustee and by what margin, so that they can judge whether the trustees’ selection reflects the will of the student body. Since the student trustee balloting will be conducted by the Joint Student Council, the students’ representatives have the power to ensure that this information is made public.
Second, student candidates for trustee should consider pledging to withdraw from consideration after the balloting if they do not win the plurality support of the student body, and students attending the candidate forum should consider asking them whether they intend to do so. If all candidates publicly pledged prior to the election to withdraw if they did not receive the most votes in support of the student who did, the trustee selection committee could be left with only one name — the name of the students’ preferred candidate — from which to choose.
These interventions wouldn’t be foolproof, of course, and they would do nothing to remedy other defects in the current proposal, such as the planned exclusion of the student trustee from executive sessions and the ineligibility of junior-year students for the position. But they could make it far more likely that the first student trustee would be the candidate of the students’ choosing, while drawing welcome attention to the administration’s violation of the summer agreement.