If the Young Trustee matters to you, then it should matter substantially more which eleven undergraduates secure appointments to the standing committees of the Duke Board of Trustees.

The Young Trustee is a member of the full Board of Trustees, as well as one of five standing committees—Undergraduate Education, Institutional Advancement, Facilities, Academic Affairs or Business and Finance. Standing committees are where much of the Board’s consequential work occurs—a standing committee meeting, in most cases, is the room where it happens.

You may not know that for every one young trustee, eleven undergraduates are seated on standing committees of the Board. Three seats are chosen through a rigorous selection process open to the student body, but eight of the eleven are automatically appointed from the DSG Executive Board, and for a number of reasons, that model doesn’t make much sense.

Last spring alongside then DSG President-elect Tara Bansal, I proposed a reform of the DSG University by-laws to open all undergraduate seats on the Board of Trustees to applications from the undergraduate student body.

One of those automatic appointments was—and still is—mine. And while serving on the Institutional Advancement committee of the Board of Trustees is both the greatest privilege and largest responsibility I hold at Duke, it is a position I should have had to earn.

An undergraduate representative’s job is to offer a deep understanding of how the Board’s decisions will affect students—to provide feedback and insight otherwise inaccessible to current Trustees. In the room, that feedback is often essential. These positions exist for a reason, and it matters which voices are in the room. And although DSG executive board members have, in my judgment, done a good job, there is a lot to be gained from removing automatic appointments.

That reform bill—which held reform reasonable enough that it persuaded Executive Board members to vote to forfeit their own seats—narrowly failed to pass DSG Senate. Part of that was a failure to communicate to students that this reform matters, and I want to explain why.

First, with very few exceptions, DSG VPs simply do not need to sit on the Board. The information VPs receive from the Board is not merely confidential (and thus virtually un-actionable through traditionally public DSG advocacy channels), but is often completely irrelevant to the VP. DSG’s work rarely touches on Board-level issues of university policy. And when it does, need-to-know information is available through administrators to inform the work of the DSG Executive Board.

But even if that information was necessary, the purpose of the appointment is not for the Board to empower student government, but for the perspective of student government to influence the decision making of the Board.

Second, the VP granted the automatic appointment is not necessarily the student with the most subject area expertise. In fact, the purview of the VP does not always align with the purview of the standing committee: for example, the VP of Equity and Outreach historically sits on the Business and Finance standing committee.

Moreover, the skills that make a strong trustee are not the same skills required to win a DSG election—or to run a successful YT campaign for that matter. In my experience, an effective Board member is someone who listens to understand, who pairs open mindedness with extensive preparation. And while YT candidates are vetted during a rigorous pre-election selection process, automatic appointments are not.

This year, two of the three open slots were awarded to individuals also serving on this year’s DSG Executive Board in positions without automatic appointments. If the most qualified applicant for an open seat is also a member of DSG, it has become clear that they will be selected anyway.

Third, and perhaps above all else, the Board benefits from diverse voices. Of the eleven people chosen to represent six thousand undergraduates, ten have had the same defining extracurricular experience. While I have spent literally hundreds of hours debating university policy with the DSG Executive Board, we all heard the same debate. In some cases, more than one DSG representative sits on the same standing committee—wasting an opportunity for the Board to uplift the voice of someone from another corner of Duke.

This reform does more than create a more open Board. When we make space for students across the University, undergraduates engage more deeply in the hugely consequential choices Duke confronts—choices about Duke Kunshan, curriculum change, construction planning. A student body whose entire voice is empowered on the Board is a student body more likely to take interest in Duke’s pressing issues, to discuss them in classrooms and dining halls, and to invest in the direction of our University. And the best debate about those issues is one that extends beyond the DSG boardroom walls.

Reforming the Board does more than fulfill DSG’s basic commitment to transparency and representativeness, or even create a more effective Board of Trustees. Opening the Board matters because it would uplift the voices of students often unheard—and achieve a better Duke in the process.

Tanner Lockhead is a Trinity senior, and Vice President of Durham & Regional Affairs on DSG. His column, “not straight talk,” runs on alternate Mondays.