By Lizzie Mitchell
The Humboldt State University Board of Directors makes decisions for the students, without any say from the students.
“There’s no student input,” Bloom said. “No publicity of the board, no transparency and we’re not accountable for the decisions. So that’s what we tried to address in the student engagement proposal. But it’s just a tiny step towards that.”
More than $20 million in student fees rests in the hands of the HSU UC board.
Bloom said that a lack of clarity and student involvement in the board’s decisions reveals unethical and possible law-breaking violations. Bloom, along with environmental planning major Jerry Dinzes introduced a student engagement proposal to the board in order to change this.
The proposal asks for space for public comment on the board’s agenda, more descriptions of items that the board plans to discuss in its meetings and an overall greater student presence in its planning processes.
Dinzes said he is familiar with planning processes and wants the board to ask for student input before, instead of after, making decisions.
“[The board] just doesn’t feel the need to reach out to students as much,” Dinzes said. “I think from their viewpoint it makes things easier, but that’s not what makes a good planning process. You need to bring people in before spending their money.”
With a student body around 8,000, each HSU student pays $100 every semester to the University Center, which creates about $800,000 in funds. The center governs places like the Student Recreation Center, Center Arts and the bookstore.
The board meets once a month. Last Thursday, the 16-member board, headed by University Center Executive Director Dave Nakamura met to discuss and vote on this student engagement proposal, along with changes to the board agenda. A few students also attended the meeting and spoke up during public comment to voice concerns.
The Depot renovation budget sparked the most comment. Students questioned the board’s decision and asked for clarity about why the budget passed with minimal student input. It is a large budget and some students do not think that the depot needs renovating at all.
Taylor Cannon, a 30-year-old HSU graduate sociology major, participated in the public comment about the Depot, and also had doubts about any change to the board’s decision-making process.
“I feel satisfied that there was open comment,” Cannon said. “But I don’t see processes changing. Also there needs to be more students.”
Victor Arredando, a 26-year-old sociology major, said that despite speaking up during the meeting, he still doubts there will be any future changes with the boards’ decisions about budget.
“[The board] needs to be more transparent,” Arredando said. “I’m definitely going to be around more. I want to know what they do with our money.”
Dinzes said the board is taking steps forward by allowing public comment, but there were too many exchanges between board members and the public on April 11.
“Typically when you do public comment you don’t go back and forth with people,” Dinzes said. “Instead you listen to people and then make decisions based off what they say. But [the board] also isn’t used to public comment.”
Students will get the chance to participate more in future decisions, as long as they are aware of board meetings. A major part of Bloom and Dinzes’ proposal includes advocating for better publicity from the board and more descriptive meeting agendas.
Bloom said even though public comment successfully happened on April 11, it is important for the board to officially encode the participation of the public into the agendas.
“Even though it was a great victory,” Bloom said, “without amending the bylaws to incorporate it, it’s all going to disappear in four years when students graduate. We will have no institutional memory of it.”
Bloom said it takes a long time to amend bylaws, and hopes the executive committee considers the proposal and does not let it disappear. He said his participation on the board included a lot of frustration this past year.
Bloom said at the first big meeting the board had this year he had trouble even asking questions and receiving fair answers about different agenda items and decisions. He said that Peg Blake, HSU vice president of student affairs enforces everything Nakamura does and answers most of Blooms’ questions about the boards’ actions.
“It’s just [Blake] affirming administration and business-as-usual practices,” Bloom said.
Changes to the board meeting agenda include descriptions under each action item, changing the open forum to general board discussion and adding space for public comment to each item. Bloom and Dinzes hope that these changes will help the board work toward a more ethical governing process that includes students.
“I heard a lot of bad stuff about how no one never knows who [the board members] are,” Bloom said. “People told me I had to fight for transparency on [the board] and I was like ‘whatever,’ but when I got on there I was like ‘holy cow I do,’ and part of that is just making sure people know they exist.”