By Phoebe Suy | Staff Writer
For some students, Baylor’s Board of Regents is an aloof governing body that meets once in a while to decide things for everyone else. While this is mostly true — the regents meets quarterly to make important decisions — the regents are not as detached, and in fact are taking steps to understand students, according to student regents Houston senior Hannah Vecseri and Keller junior Will Cassara.
For the last five years, at least one student representative has served on Baylor’s Board of Regents. Throughout the 2017-2018 school year, Vecseri and Cassara have worked to share the perspective of the student body with the board. Of the 44 regents, Vecseri and Cassara are the only two capable of sharing the reality of what life like for Baylor students.
“This is a position where your job is literally to talk to students and get to know them and hear their thoughts and concerns, and help the board access those students’ thoughts and concerns so they can take it into account whenever they’re making these very long-term decisions about our institution,” Vecseri said.
As a student regent, Vecseri said she believes it’s important to keep decision-making “centered on the people this institution is serving, which is students.”
Bridging the Gap
In order to effectively operate as a bridge between the board and students, Vecseri and Cassara said they intentionally involve themselves and seek to connect with students from various organizations across campus.
As a University Scholars major, Vecseri said she is involved in three disciplines –political science, great texts and finance – that provide her with the opportunity to interact with a variety of people across campus. Additionally, Vecseri said she was involved in 11 organizations last semester.
Vecseri said she loves meeting people and set a goal her first semester at Baylor to meet seven new people a week, a goal she consistently beat.
As a former community leader and former president of the Martin Residence Hall leadership team, Cassara said he has received a lot of insight into what his residents and other students are thinking.
In addition to their academic and social spheres, Vecseri and Cassara said they make it a point to attend student-run events like the international student mixer and the black student union event. Vecseri said events like these give them an opportunity to connect with students they wouldn’t otherwise meet.
Cassara and Vecseri said they hosted an event last week called “Dinner with Decision Makers.” Vecseri said the dinner was an opportunity for students to connect with three regents as well as President Dr. Linda Livingstone, interim Provost Dr. Michael McLendon and dean for student development Dr. Elizabeth Palacios. As the three-course dinner progressed, the decision-makers rotated tables to ensure they had an opportunity to speak with each group. Cassara said there were around 30 people in attendance.
Vecseri said a diverse group of students attended the dinner, including graduate students, law students and students from George W. Truett Theological Seminary and the Louise Herrington School of Nursing.
“It was an amazing opportunity just for the relational part. You know, ‘Here’s my Baylor experience, here’s why I ended up at Baylor, here’s where I’m from, how I got to Waco, what am I studying, what do I want to do post-graduation,’” Cassara said. “[The event] was just an amazing opportunity to help build that relational feeling between the students and these decision makers who are making high-stakes decisions for the next five to 10 years.”
In addition to attending and facilitating events to foster understanding between students and the board of regents, Cassara said they in close contact with student body president Amye Dickerson as well as vice president for student life Dr. Kevin Jackson.
“We both came in [to the position] and were thinking, ‘Man, after everything that’s happened, this [dinner] would be such a great opportunity to give students who just don’t know who their board is to have an opportunity to gain access to that and get to learn,” Vecseri said. “Our goal is really to help students understand the people behind the roles and get to know their character, because if you know someone’s character, it just makes it a lot easier to understand where they’re coming from and trust them.”
For students who may not have the opportunity to have dinner with a regent, for example, Vecseri said that is what their position as student regents is for. Vecseri said she encourages students to reach out to Cassara or her. They love to meet with students, she said, and are ready to have conversations.
“If you have something specifically that you’d like to talk to an administrator or regent about, we’re happy to take that concern forward,” Vecseri said. “Seventeen thousand students can’t individually talk to these members, but those that want to and have the initiative and have something to say and have something they want to be heard, that’s what we’re here for and we’re more than happy to serve and facilitate in that way.”
Some concerns discussed at the dinner included Baylor’s accreditation status, Pepper Hamilton’s 105 recommendations and diversity.
Cassara said he believed many of the concerns students had were connected with Title IX and the implications that come with that, such as accreditation. Cassara said he believes many of the concerns “have been mitigated” or are “moving forward [with] an action plan on how we’re going to address these different areas.”
“I think a lot of those areas are being addressed by the board and by the president and that we’ll continue to see those initiatives carried out,” Cassara said.
Vecseri said she came into the position with “a lot more skepticism than was really warranted,” but after interacting with board members, she said she’s been impressed and inspired by their dedication to Baylor and their commitment to doing things the right way. Vecseri said seeing the board operate has provided her with peace and comfort about the concerns she had as a student.
“Just being in there and seeing them so insistent on doing everything — crossing their t’s, dotting their i’s, making sure everything is done the right way no matter what the consequences are,” Vecseri said. “They’ve been very adamant about that and that’s just been inspiring and definitely helped build my trust in everything that they’re doing.”
In Cassara’s experience, he said communicating students’ perspectives and thoughts to regents hasn’t been particularly difficult. The regents don’t shy away from the fact that they haven’t been to Baylor in several years, Cassara said, and they are “more than eager” to listen to what the student regents have to say. Because of this, Cassara said he has never felt the need to shy away from sharing something.
Vecseri said she speaks up a lot in meetings and asks a lot of questions. In fact, she said board members have commented to her about it, saying they appreciate her feedback to the discussion.
“I’ve been encouraged actually to ask hard questions and really challenge things because that helps us really check ourselves and make sure we’re headed in the right direction,” Vecseri said.
Vecseri said if she hears something awful, she will step in and say ‘Hey, here’s how we’re thinking about that,’ but she said she couldn’t recall a time when she felt she needed to do that.
According to Vecseri, regents frequently ask them what students are thinking because they recognize they don’t know and are seeking their perspective for understanding.
Cassara said he has been inspired by the passion the regents have for Baylor.
“I think all of the regents have high aspirations for our institution,” Cassara said. “They had a transformative experience here and most of them were very successful post-college because of it. So they want to see that future generations have that same experience.”
Vecseri said she was surprised by how relatable board members were. Some are CEOs and others run large companies, but Vecseri said she was amazed at how easy it is to work with them, especially as a student.
Cassara serves on the student life and regulatory affairs committees. Vecseri serves on the academic affairs and student life committees.
Applications for Student Regents are now open and due to the Office of the Vice President for Student Life by 5 p.m. Jan. 17, 2018.