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ASWU Meeting Oct. 20: Board of Trustees and Religious Affiliation

Gia Patel

Staff Writer

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On October 20, 2022, The Associate Students of Willamette University (ASWU), Willamette University’s student government organization, hosted their fifth meeting of this academic school year. President Steve Thorsett introduced Board of Trustees Chair Kevin Smith (‘79). The meeting dived into depth about the roles and responsibilities of the Board of Trustees, along with annual funding and the university’s religious affiliation.

Smith emphasized that the board is the governing body and fiduciaries of Willamette University, ensuring mission fulfillment. Along with these responsibilities, The Board of Trustees are President Thorsett’s direct boss, even though the 35 fiduciaries, excluding Thorsett, are unpaid volunteers. In addition, the board is responsible for hiring and deciding the president of the university, along with reviewing and approving changes in academic offerings, approving tenure for faculty, approving the annual budget and conferring degrees. The annual budget is 2.8 million dollars per academic year, one-third of that coming from board members.

Members serve staggered 3-year terms that are renewable up to fifteen years. Once their time is up, they may serve as a life member, which is non-voting. It is important to note that the board requires that there must be three United Methodist church representatives, including a Bishop, who is a non-voting member, a clergy member, and a lay member, who are voting fiduciaries. When asked why Willamette University was still affiliated with the Methodist Church, even though the university itself is deemed as “non-religious,” Smith said, “The original bylaws of the University said that the University should always be associated with the Methodist Church.” He went on to mention that the board has undergone changes where it isn’t directly related to the Methodist Church any longer, but there is some historical significance to having some members of the board be a part of the church and there truly isn’t a need to fully disaffiliate with them. Essentially, the board has no prospect of disaffiliation anytime soon.

As the meeting progressed, Hollis Mantle (‘25), a judicial officer for ASWU, emphasized the importance of proper spending within the university, considering the university has such a large annual budget. Specifically, she asked, “Why haven't we allocated more money to making Willamette more ADA compliant?” Mantle continued, saying, “This is an issue that is affecting the lives of the students right now and I don't understand why we haven't put more funding towards our facilities and creating long term plans in order to do so. It is frustrating that we are still dealing with this.” However, Mantle received an answer similar to “it will be discussed.” If students have any additional concerns or questions they want to address with The Board of Trustees, they can contact them via ASWU President, Oak Phoenix (‘23).

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