NIGRO: A University in transition

Students have an opportunity to help define our third century

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Brendan Nigro will serve as the student member of the Board of Visitors for the 2018-19 term. 

Sarah Lindamood | Cavalier Daily

Today marks the first day of my term as student member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. I already know many of you but for those I don’t, here is a little bit about me. My name is Brendan Nigro, I use he/him pronouns and I am a fourth-year undergraduate from Rhode Island. My passions include American history — I give historical tours at Monticello and the University — and U.Va. basketball. In just five short days, I will be charged with the momentous task of representing the wide array of student perspectives to the Board of Visitors at our June meeting.

As the student member, I am charged by Virginia Code to serve as an advisory, non-voting member of the Board for the 2018-19 term. The Board is the highest governing body at the University, responsible for carrying out its long-term planning. The Board approves tuition proposals for all schools, has final say on design review and building guidelines for new capital projects, sets the future direction of our Health System and determines uses of the Strategic Investment Fund to further the mission of the University. 

With all of the decisions made by the Board, I believe the best results occur when student opinions inform decisions. My job as student member is to offer a variety of student perspectives on everything from tuition to student life in order to make the Board aware of the needs of our student body — the essential constituency the University sets out to serve.

It is an exciting time to be involved with the Board and more generally, with advocating for change at the University. As our institution enters its third century, we find the University in a period of transition. In the near future, there will be a new president, provost, chief operating officer and police chief at the University, along with the annual turnover in our student population with thousands graduating and thousands more matriculating. The present moment offers our community the ability to redefine our values and charter a path towards defined progress. I believe that all of our students can be a part of that change.

As a history major though, I like to look back before looking forward. Throughout the University’s history, it has often espoused lofty ideals, and yet failed to realize them. At the same time Thomas Jefferson envisioned an “institution based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind,” the University imposed a physical limitation on the minds of the enslaved people building the University. At the same time the University reveled in its connection to Mr. Jefferson’s founding of the Republic, it saw 515 of its 600 enrolled students leave to fight for the Confederacy, a cause that fought against that same Republic’s union. And at the same time the University claimed to serve the Commonwealth of Virginia, it restricted the ability of half of the Commonwealth’s citizenry to enroll until a 1969 court case forced the College to co-educate. And there are certainly more recent examples that one can consider. All of this is to say that students should think about what values they seek for their University and how we can continue to strive towards full realization of those ideals. If there is ever a time to ask these questions, it’s now, as new leaders take the reins of the University.

At last count, there are 24,826 students in our undergraduate and graduate schools, along with the College at Wise — and I’m only one of them. I know that my perspective and experiences are limited. There is no possible way for me to have all the answers on the student experience at the University and how to improve it, but with the collective wisdom of my 24,825 peers and those who follow, we just might have those answers.

In the coming year, I hope to meet many more students around Grounds and hear from them on matters relating to the Board and otherwise. I will be writing opinion columns in The Cavalier Daily to update you all on the happenings of the Board and hosting office hours to be available for students to voice concerns or ideas for the Board to consider. And if you’d simply like to learn more about the Board of Visitors or my role within it, know that I am always just an email or Facebook message away!

Brendan Nigro is a fourth-year College student and the student member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. 

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