OPINION: For Auburn, vote yes on Amendment #1

Published: October 31, 2016
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One of the most profound changes we've seen in our lifetime is the growth of technology. What we use today, from the way we communicate to how we buy goods and services, is different, newer and more progressive compared to just a few years ago.

The same is true for some of our universities, notably Auburn. While learning is always the institution's top priority, in many ways the experience students have today doesn't look like what we had as students or even just a decade ago.

Likewise, the business of governing an institution like Auburn has changed. Growing federal mandates, new financial requirements and demand for comprehensive student services, among other things, mean that university leadership must think more broadly and creatively to ensure academic quality. Fortunately, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, we have a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment that responds to this new governance reality by updating and improving the structure of Auburn's Board of Trustees.

Constitutional Amendment #1 will improve Auburn's governing structure in two ways. First, it would stagger the terms of board members, assuring better continuity of governance. Second, it would broaden the board by adding two at-large seats, creating the opportunity for more in the Auburn family with different backgrounds to serve as trustees.

These changes are critical to Auburn's future as an economic engine for our state and as one of the nation's preeminent public universities.

Auburn's leadership structure is similar to that of many universities across the country. The governing board is charged with setting broad policies and maintaining financial stability. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the federally recognized regional accrediting body for higher education institutions stretching from Texas to Florida to Maryland, spells out the board's financial stewardship.

Good stewardship takes on added importance considering the fiscal constraints faced today by Auburn and other universities in the state, offering yet another argument in favor of Amendment #1. Recent data shows that Alabama has cut higher education more than all states except Louisiana since the economic downturn started in 2008.

Significantly reduced support from the state of Alabama means the Auburn board continually faces difficult decisions on balancing reductions in administrative expenses with raising additional revenue. By enhancing the continuity and broadening the membership of Auburn's board, voters who support Amendment #1 will aid us in meeting that ongoing challenge in the best interests of students, faculty and staff and in fulfillment of our mission to the state.

We've each been asked why it's important for Auburn to add new members to its board. Simply put, it points us toward a better reflection of the students and state we serve.

Evidence from corporate and academic leaders and numerous studies also show that organizations drive innovation, enhance work culture and strengthen customer service when they are composed of people with a wide variety of experiences. In this way alone, by bringing additional perspectives into the governance process, Amendment #1 will help Auburn innovate and grow stronger.

In many ways, today's Auburn is already stronger and better than the university our parents' generation experienced. Recently ranked the state's top university by both Forbes and Money, Auburn has the largest number of Alabama students of any university in the state. We urge your vote in favor of Constitutional Amendment #1 on Nov. 8 to help ensure that Auburn continues its leadership in instruction, research and outreach.

Charles McCrary is president pro tempore of the Auburn Board of Trustees. Beau Byrd is president of the Auburn Alumni Association's Board of Directors.