Phoebe Willis stresses neutral position, offers ‘baseline information’ for selecting student Board representative

Original: The Cavalier Daily February 21, 2017

Student Board of Visitors member Phoebe Willis, a Law and Darden graduate student, made a Facebook post Monday night clarifying the appointment process for her position on the Board in light of recent comments made by Student Council presidential candidate Kelsey Kilgore, a third-year Batten student.

In an article published by The Declaration Monday evening, Kilgore said if elected she wants to “switch the method of appointment” so that students would appoint or elect the non-voting student member of the Board. Kilgore also addressed her proposed policy regarding the appointment process in a Facebook Live interview on her campaign Facebook page Feb. 17.

“Sometimes [Board members] appoint someone who they think would best serve a role for them, but if a student was appointed in this position by fellow students who have concern for tuition increases that will affect us all, that would best serve the needs of all students,” Kilgore said in the Facebook Live video.

Although students do not directly elect the student Board member, a student committee is involved in the appointment process.

Kilgore told The Declaration she would go about changing the process by meeting with the student Board member and working with them “to make sure that those concerns are being addressed that students want a student-appointed or -elected member.”

When asked how she would respond if the current student Board member opposed her idea, Kilgore also said “they’d definitely have a valid argument because they got this position appointed by the BOV, but I would tell them my argument and how it should really reflect the whole University’s best interests.” Willis was not named in The Declaration’s article.

Willis said in a Facebook post published late Monday evening that she has never spoken to Kilgore about the appointment process.

“She has never reached out to me to learn about the selection process or my role, so I’m not surprised that her recent comments seem to demonstrate a lack of understanding about the selection process and the position,” Willis wrote in the post.

During the selection process, a student committee chooses candidates after a round of applications and initial interviews. The final interviews and selection itself is done by the Board.

“Candidate applications to be the Student Member are reviewed by a student committee and selected to advance to the initial interview round,” Willis wrote. “That student committee then interviews and selects the 3-4 finalists who are interviewed and ultimately, one is selected by the BOV.”

Willis also said that although there are ways to make the student Board member selection process incorporate more student input, Kilgore’s comments could be misleading.

“Kelsey’s comments dangerously imply that students are not currently involved at all in selecting their student representative on the BOV, which is simply not the case,” Willis wrote.

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Willis said she is not endorsing one candidate over the other, but wanted the student body to be informed on the appointment process.

“Truly and honestly, the spirit of me writing that post was not me saying anything good or bad about either candidate,” Willis said. “I think any conversations of how to better that process, improve that process, or improve any student representative position is a great conversation. I just wanted the baseline information to be out there.”

Student Council presidential candidate Sarah Kenny, a third-year College student, said she feels she does not know enough about the appointment process to make a categorical statement on its effectiveness, but agreed with Willis on finding more ways to integrate students into selection processes for important positions.

“I agree with Phoebe’s point that there’s always more opportunities for student involvement, there’s more opportunities to make something more representative,” Kenny said. “From what I understand, students have a bigger role in the selection of this position than in the selection of a lot of other positions on Grounds and a lot of similar boards where they’ll give another token one or two students a spot, but not a whole committee of them.”

Kenny also said she appreciates Willis’ commitment to staying neutral throughout the election and saw her clarification as a way of being open and transparent with the student body.

Willis ended her Facebook post by saying she loves any opportunity to “increase student autonomy” and “strengthen our culture of student self-governance.”

“I hope that Kelsey and all candidates for leadership roles at U.Va. reach out to me with questions as they formulate their platforms,” Willis wrote. “I also hope candidates and voters educate themselves on the issues before politicizing perspectives that may or may not be squarely footed in the truth.”

Kelsey Kilgore did not respond to request for comment late Monday night. This article will be updated should she choose to respond.