Student trustee plays with big dogs

Erene Thomas says she never feels out of place on the California State University Board of Trustees, even though most of its 20 members are older than her parents. She calls Chancellor Charles Reed “Charlie” and chats easily with trustees.

She spent three days at Chico State University this week, meeting with students, staff and faculty members.

Thomas is one of two students on the board, which oversees the 23 CSU campuses. She’s the only student with a vote, because she’s in her second year on the job.

Thomas, a 20-year-old computer information systems major from Cal Poly Pomona, was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis in November 2001. A leader in multicultural organizations, Thomas was born in Egypt and moved to Southern California when she was 8 years old. When she heard a student trustee position was open, she liked the idea of being able to “advocate for the students.” It’s proven to be a full-time job, even as she carries 19 units per quarter.

She was very involved in the search for Humboldt State University’s new president, which makes her confident the trustees are doing the right thing in holding off on hiring a replacement for Chico State’s Manuel Esteban until those for Sacramento and Pomona are done. “We don’t want you guys to get the short end of the stick,” she said, referring to the likelihood that candidates would apply for both the Sacramento and Chico jobs.

Thomas said she’d lobby to get Associated Students President Jimmy Reed on the presidential search committee. She wants to be on it, too.

Thomas has a lot of power: “The biggest misconception is, because we’re students, we’re not heard, and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Her two big issues are remediation—why students aren’t prepared when they get to college and how that holds up graduation rates and creates impaction—and shared governance, which is when faculty, staff and students work closely with campus administration.

She said that, while nothing has been formalized and the board tries to pass a budget based on no fee increases, the state deficit should offer a hint that students should “expect something” in the way of a hike. “Leave that little cushion there,” she advised students and university auxiliaries like the A.S.

Her term ends in June 2003. "My goal is to visit every single campus," she said, and Chico is No. 12, so she’s about halfway there.