Earlier this month, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Laura Lee, and the leadership of Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) sat down to discuss the issue of BSG oversight in the process by which Judicial Board (J-Board) members are selected. Though the deans and the BSG officers failed to see eye-to-on some of the finer points, everyone in the room agreed on one thing: A little change might go a long way.

"In that meeting, all five us said the process could be better, long term," said BSG President DeRay Mckesson '07.

To that end, Foster proposed the formation of a committee that would re-evaluate the J-Board selection process with a focus on increasing the role of the student government. The committee would comprise two non-J-Board students, the J-Board chair and vice chair, a faculty J-Board member, and Lee, who oversees the J-Board.

The group discussed a number of ideas, including the a public vetting system, where the names of the J-Board nominees would be released to the public and members of the community could approach the deans with any concerns before the students officially become members of the board, Mckesson said.

Foster said that the committee will make plans to convene as soon as BSG nominates its representatives.

In the meantime, comments by members of the student government at their most recent meeting and an op-ed piece concerning J-Board transparency submitted to the Orient by Class of 2008 Representative Clark Gascoigne have sparked tension between the two bodies, leading many to ponder: Should there be more oversight in the J-Board selection process?

Conflicting documents

The debate over whether BSG should have oversight in the J-Board selection process is rooted in a fundamental disagreement between the governing documents of the respective bodies.

The "Judicial Authority" section of the Student Handbook gives the J-Board the exclusive authority to select new student members (faculty members of the J-Board are appointed by the Faculty Committee on Governance). It relegates the student government to a watcher's role, declaring that "the student government president may observe the interview process and report to the student government on the newly selected members."

It does not require new members of the J-Board to be confirmed by BSG.

By contrast, the BSG Constitution, ratified by the body in 2001, grants the body oversight of the J-Board selection procedures.

"The names of the nominees are submitted for approval by the Student Government," the document asserts. "Approval of nominated members and alternates is by majority vote of the Student Government."

The BSG constitution is printed in the Student Handbook as an appendix.

"Those of us in student government felt that total self-selection was wholly inappropriate," Edward Mackenzie '03, a former member of BSG and drafter of the constitution, told the Orient this week. "We wanted authority to approve of nominees before their taking their seats as insurance against abuse of the self-selection process and to guarantee that the J-Board reflected a fair cross-section of the student body."

"We approved these provisions in good faith, fully expecting both the existing J-Board and the administration to respect the wishes of the students as expressed through their representatives," MacKenzie wrote in an e-mail. "We thought the provisions were eminently fair."

The BSG Constitution also includes a protocol by which the student government may dismiss members of the J-Board, another power not granted to it by the Student Handbook.

"As every other officer under the umbrella of BSG is subject to removal through one mechanism or another, we also included a provision to cover the contingency of J-Board members engaging in sufficiently serious wrongdoing to warrant removal," Mackenzie said.

Although the constitution is not binding to any body except the student government, Mckesson said that under former Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley, BSG had been allowed to summon new members of the J-Board for confirmation.

Foster, who took over for Bradley this year, has chosen not to give the BSG constitution such credence. He said that his office made efforts to meet with BSG officers earlier in the year to discuss the issue, but the representatives failed to schedule a meeting until recently.

"I am actually interested in considering some changes to the selection process, but this year's process needed to honor the code," he wrote in an e-mail to the Orient this week.

"The Bowdoin Student Government doesn't have the authority to determine how student conduct issues are addressed," he said.

Mackenzie described the BSG confirmation vote as a "de facto compromise we worked out with the J-Board."

"While our preference was for the constitutional provisions, we determined this was the best we could do for the time being," he explained. "It was better than nothing, and it was our hope that, with time, the J-Board and the college administration would come to realize that our requests were reasonable and should be fully implemented."

Vice President for Student Government Affairs Dustin Brooks '08 suggested that the current dispute over BSG's role in the selection process could be due to the unsustainability of this "de facto" agreement.

"The framers of the BSG constitution didn't do an overwhelmingly complete job in terms of thinking out possible contingencies," he said. "The change of the person in the dean's office, without any written record of any arrangement, has left us in a place where what may or may not have been an unspoken policy no longer exists."

Not a new concern

Late last March, BSG convened to discuss the students whom the J-Board had selected as its newest members. According to the minutes from that meeting, Mckesson announced that the student government was to vote on whether or not to approve the candidates, whom the J-Board had chosen after a series of rigorous individual and group interviews several weeks before.

This sparked a debate among the representatives. While some members of the body attempted to interview the candidates, others said that asking them questions was unnecessary?that the student government should trust the J-Board to select its own members. Mckesson, who had been present at the J-Board interviews, assured the other representatives that he felt that the J-Board had thoroughly vetted the candidates, and that BSG should endorse them.

Despite Mckesson's confidence, some representatives remained uncomfortable with the idea of confirming the J-Board candidates without first scrutinizing them. Still, the body wound up approving the slate by a vote of 17-2, with four members abstaining.

The question of oversight

The fact that the Student Handbook supersedes the BSG constitution confirms that, under the current policy, the student government does not have the authority to reject students that the J-Board nominates to its ranks. Whether the BSG should have oversight of the J-Board selection process?and to what extent?remains a contentious question.

In his op-ed, Gascoigne, the Class of 2008 representative, criticized the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs for "disregard[ing] the aspect of the process where BSG has any oversight at all and decid[ing] to simply have the J-Board self-select its future members without any oversight whatsoever."

"The J-Board selection procedure has gone from bad to worse, and this completely closed process is bad for the legitimacy of the J-Board and is threatening to the quality of the decisions that will be made," he wrote.

Other members of the community do not think that urgent reform of the J-Board selection process is necessary.

"I don't think people not on the J-Board should select new J-Board members," said J-Board Chair Sarah Schoen '07, "but I think that if there is a real, legitimate concern of the student body about the process or about any J-board members, they have a right to express those concerns through appropriate channels."

President Barry Mills offered similar thoughts. He pointed to the fact that the Student Handbook policy includes the BSG president in the interview process as evidence that the people who crafted the policy intended for the student government to have some say in the selection of the J-Board. Mills said that implicit in this inclusion is the notion that if BSG objected to a student whom the board chose, it could voice its grievances to the dean's office.

"BSG has certainly in the past found ways to get the attention of the administration," he said.

Mills also observed that the governance of the College is "fundamentally different" from the governance of the United States, where the legislative and judicial branches check and balance one another, because the J-Board derives all its power from the College.

"The J-Board is not really a vehicle of the students," he said. "It's a vehicle of the College."

Brooks, the vice president of BSG affairs, said that he does not think that the student government should be able to veto J-Board candidates, calling such a system "unwieldy." Instead, he said that a system that includes one or several BSG representatives participating in the J-Board's existing interview process would be "adequate."

"I don't see the BSG body having a role in either promoting or denying candidates in the future," he said, "although I do see the BSG as an institution having a voice in the process."

Junior Will Hales, who has been on the J-Board since spring of his first year at Bowdoin, said that the experience of board members makes them most qualified to evaluate the capabilities of applicants to the J-Board.

"Members of the J-Board go through a whole lot of training," he said. "We know what qualities one must exhibit."

"In terms of Judicial Board selection, experience really is one of the most critical qualifications," said J-Board Vice Chair Mike Igoe '07. "We've gone through training, we've seen this process before?there really are a lot of aspects to it that require pretty careful consideration."

"Historically, the BSG has varied widely in its interest in the J-Board process," said Lee, the dean who oversees the J-Board, "and it is not something that can be left up to such chance."

Though Mckesson, the BSG president, said he thinks the current selection process works, he thinks that there are "perception issues" with the J-Board among students.

"They're the only body that can make formal recommendations to the dean, you know, kicking you out, suspending you, and that's a lot of power, and I know that students have expressed concerns about the transparency of the selection process," he said.

"I think our constitution is a constitution for a reason, and I think we should live by it," he said. "And if it needs to change, we'll change it accordingly."

As Foster prepares to convene the committee that will explore potential changes in the J-Board selection process, he encouraged students, faculty, and staff who feel strongly about the issue to offer their input.

"If any community member has specific concerns, I'd be happy to meet and discuss them," he said.