A popular game in the last few years has been to declare what the role of the Young Trustee is. One answer has become obligatory: The Young Trustee does not represent undergraduate students—he or she merely provides the perspective of an undergraduate to the Board. Obviously, most of the attempts at play ring hollow, since it is not at all clear what line separates representatives from those who supposedly bring perspective.
Our purpose now is to draw that line. Monday, we discussed a collection of biases that bear down on the Young Trustee selection process. Today, we ask how, given the role of Young Trustee as a perspective provider and the unfortunate reality of bias in any selection process, we can create a selection process that pits the right kinds of biases against each other in service of producing a suitable Young Trustee.
What separates representatives from perspective providers? The short answer is that representatives are interested and perspective providers are detached. The purpose of any Trustee is to develop a comprehensive conception of the general good of the University—a conception that could be appealed to, for instance, in deciding how to allocate scarce resources between construction projects and financial aid spending.
A Trustee should not substitute a comprehensive conception of the general good for a conception of some group’s good—a Young Trustee who only thought of the interests of undergraduate students would be a failure. But he or she would also be a failure if their conception of general good failed to be distinct from every other Trustees’. So, the role of the Young Trustee is to form the conception of the general good of the University that the undergraduate student body would form, and to effectively represent that conception.
What selection process will get us this? Monday’s editorial gestured to the myopia that infects any selection committee convened by the Duke Student Government—a committee like this will overrepresent the perspectives of major campus organizations, who share many members in common. A general election also has problems: It becomes a popularity contest that tends to reproduce existing campus power structures.
But committee structures force collective deliberation and reflection that tends to produce more reasonable judgments than individuals reasoning by themselves. And general elections are our sole means of expressing the will of the larger student body.
Our solution is to keep the two-step process, with committee deliberations narrowing the field of candidates and a general election to select a Young Trustee. We propose that the initial selection committee be convened by the Office of Undergraduate Education. The committee should limit the number of student members associated with three organizations—DSG, DUU and The Chronicle—and ensure that its membership is appropriately diverse. Appropriate diversity would include a select number of willing faculty and staff: If the Young Trustee is supposed to have a conception of the general good, he or she will benefit immensely from interacting with University employees. The ensuing general election will produce a Young Trustee with a better general conception informed by the undergraduate experience.