Next-in-line student trustee Frye can bind campus together

Lucas Frye, the new student trustee, says he wants your voice to be heard among a chorus of 40,000 University of Illinois students. 

Frye’s predecessor, Mike Cunningham, made similar promises to promote and increase student engagement (both began their terms wanting to build a consortium of registered student organizations), but we haven’t seen it work yet. 

The Daily Illini Editorial Board spoke with Frye on Monday night to learn more specifically what he plans to do now that’s he been elected. Frye’s campaign focused on this RSO forum, in which 20 to 30 student leaders from major organizations — such as the Interfraternity Council or the various cultural houses — would meet to give RSOs on campus a louder voice. Part of this initiative includes creating a mechanism that would allow these RSOs, among other organizations on campus, to present their events calendars, making them widely available to students. 

We think Frye is onto something here: It’s impossible to meet with the thousands of RSOs, which vary in size and popularity, and equitably represent them. But if we’re going to try, he said, let’s start with the major organizations on campus and go from there.

But the mere presence of an RSO forum isn’t enough because students need to be incentivized to take advantage of it. Frye wants to give the Illinois Student Senate more visibility on the illinois.edu homepage, for example, so that students can know the agenda of the largest student lobbying body on campus. Regardless of how visible ISS is throughout campus, we fear students won’t see an incentive to seek out the information even if it were more visible. Or they may not feel compelled to act on the information, say, to figure out how to get a campuswide referendum in the spring election. 

Frye does not have a definitive plan to incentivize students to use these resources, and we continue to see that as a problem. Without a concrete plan ready to go by July 1 when he’s officially sworn in, his largest plans are doomed to fail like those of his predecessors. Still, Frye is setting goals and making decisions while bearing in mind that, as student trustee, he needs to be realistic about what he can do.

Over the course of the next year, we expect that the search committee tasked to hire University President Robert Easter’s replacement is open and transparent, especially given the poor hires we’ve had in the past. We also expect Frye to advocate for an open search committee, even if he isn’t directly involved in the search. He said that he thinks it would be impossible to inform the public of every step in the search, but that there should be some form of public vetting. He’s trying to be realistic about it, even though we disagree. An open search process, especially for a position as significant as University president, could become disorganized, and even hinder the ability of the search committee to fulfill its duties optimally.

We’ve argued that the University needs to keep in check its continually growing out-of-state population because, as a land-grant institution, it has a duty to Illinois students first. It also has a duty to create a campus that reflects a diversity of students and an increasing global presence. And Frye knows that we need to strike a balance between the in-state students this University should serve and the out-of-state students who give the University and students global value. Whether he’s awarded the official vote among the student trustees at the Chicago and Springfield campuses, we will look to see that he works to maintain a productive balance.

Though we don’t know if Frye will hold the official vote on the Board of Trustees, he nonetheless has the will to spark constructive change on our campus. Increasing accessibility and transparency is the first step in uniting such a diverse campus, and Frye could make it happen.