Mar. 29, 2012Vol. 42, Issue 5

CSU Student Trustee Jillian Ruddell

A Seat at the Board

When a CSU university president leaves the post, senior Jillian Ruddell helps hire the successor. When the California State Student Association holds its monthly board meetings, Ruddell is there. When Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom needed a guide during his February stop in Chico, Ruddell stepped in.

These are all part of the responsibilities that come with her spot on the California State University Board of Trustees, a rare opportunity for a CSU student.

The 25-member CSU Board of Trustees is in charge of establishing the rules, regulations, and policies for the California State University system. It makes decisions about everything from curriculum development to facilities planning to budget and administrative policy. The board meets every other month in Long Beach and includes five ex officio members—the state governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the assembly, state superintendent of public instruction, and the CSU chancellor—16 trustees appointed by the governor, an alumni trustee, a faculty trustee, and two student trustees. 

The two student trustees serve staggered two-year terms: the first year as a non-voting member learning the ropes, the second as a full voting member. Ruddell, a Multicultural and Gender Studies major, was appointed to the board in July 2011.

Ruddell’s vote will count the same as that of any other trustee when she becomes a voting member this year, but the balance of the board means that the voice of the student population can be easily overridden. “There will be one of me, and 23 of them,” she says. 

“But it’s not the vote the matters most,” Ruddell adds. “It’s the communication, the chance to market the needs of students.” She is grateful that she has a year to learn and to practice before taking on decision-making responsibilities. “So much goes into the running of the CSU,” she says, “and being a younger person in that room is very intimidating. It takes a while to get used to it.”

As she gets used to the process, one she described as complex and dynamic, Ruddell finds that she is developing a more nuanced understanding of CSU issues. “As a student, I had only experienced the impact of state cuts to higher education inside the classroom and on campus,” she says. “My involvement with the Board of Trustees has provided me with a deeper perspective into the difficult decision-making process that must take place when our system is faced with such challenges. I have gained a better understanding of the CSU system in its entirety, along with a deep-seated respect for our leadership.”

When asked how she balances academic excellence, advocacy, and her role as a trustee, Ruddell credits a stable relationship with her partner and a love of the work. “I’m so passionate about what I’m doing,” she says.

Ruddell was the youngest director of the AS Women’s Center; co-founded the Chico State Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Leadership Conference; and has served as co-president of the PRIDE/Safezone club and as a committee member for Conversations on Diversity. She received a stipend from the University Honors Program to develop a proposal to establish the Gender and Sexuality Equity Center on campus and received the 2010 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustee’s Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Ruddell has been involved in social justice and advocacy work since high school, so being the target of protest is a very “surreal” experience, she says. The trustees faced particularly angry protests when they voted behind closed doors in November to raise tuition by 9 percent. “In the past, I have always been on the front lines, picket in hand, fighting for various equity issues. I always felt that I was standing up for what was right during those protests and looking back, I had similar feelings while sitting on the ‘other side’ [as a trustee].

“The Board of Trustees is responsible for governing an institution that holds empowerment and progress at its very foundation. I am proud to be even a small part of a system that changes the lives of so many. In a sense, sitting on the Board has become a new form of activism in my life.”

—Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications