For Joe Sweeney, it’s simply a labor of love.
Instead of running for re-election, the UNH Student Body President will look to hold a position on the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees for the upcoming year. Describing it as a “natural evolution,” Sweeney believed it was the next inevitable move in his efforts to make a lasting difference in the student body, as well as the entire state education system.
The USNH Board of Trustees elects two student members to serve on the 27-person committee. Comprised of representatives from UNH-Durham, Keene State College, Plymouth State University and Granite State College, the board essentially dictates the larger education-based decisions statewide. This includes duties such as putting together budgets, prospective building projects and maintaining the network between the state and universities.
It is Sweeney’s hope that his passion for UNH-Durham will spread to the entire state education system by holding a position on the board.
“Moving onto the board of trustees is basically about promoting what education produces for the state of New Hampshire,” Sweeney said. “We are the most prominent public institution in our state. I’m really excited [about] being able to connect students with all of the resources we have across the state. The whole state is our educational playground.”
After his nine months as student body president, Sweeney realized where the disconnects were in the university system. The gap between higher administration and the student body left Sweeney hungry to alter the divide.
“I feel there is too much of a gap between the average student and the top of the university and it’s caused by many reasons,” Sweeney said. “Administration is doing great things, students are going great things. It’s just not connected.”
Sweeney, a junior, saw the position on the board of trustees as his opportunity to be the liaison between the bureaucratic decisions and university students.
Described as a “top-down model,” Sweeney references the board as where the power in the system comes from. It was created with the Chancellor’s system to provide more educational guidance.
Looking at the hierarchical detachment, Sweeney wants to ensure students that their efforts and movements for educational change will reach the top of the power chain.
“People think of UNH as an old archaic thing, but we are very innovative,” Sweeney said. “I want our students to think that they can make a change that will be felt five, 15 years down the road. It’s not just an educational thing. We’re building lives here.”
As far as the differences between the board position and his current position as president, Sweeney sees pros and cons.
“I’ll have a lot less contact with students while serving on the board of trustees,” he said. “The board is not a broadcast position. It’s not the person people know about. They don’t send the emails, they’re not prominent on social media. I’ll be working with the trustees, the hierarchies of the different institutions, not just UNH-Durham. I’ll be looking out for entire state school system.”
Sweeney has always strived for maximum interaction with the student body. Sweeney surprised students in an October 2014 email when he encouraged people to reach him at his personal cell phone number, and proceeded to post his number for the entire student body. Sweeney also credits that tactic as being this year’s senate’s greatest accomplishment.
“I think the biggest thing was connecting the student body with the office,” Sweeney said. “We’ve had so many hot button issues that warranted a response. But I feel that if something big comes up, people aren’t afraid to text me or call me and see what’s going on. We’ve opened up the office.”
Sweeney also highlighted the work that has been accomplished so far this year.
“My counsel chairs have done amazing work,” he said. “The judicial counsel updated sexual assault polices this year in early September. They’re currently working hard on the Student Legal Services contract. We were able to talk to the administration differently than in the past. We still have a lot of projects left.”
Sweeney emphasized that while he does pursue this new position, he will work hard as student body president until he is forced to leave his office at the end of the semester.
“I’ll be working for the student body all the way till April 30,” he said.
As far as the process for running for board of trustees, Sweeney must get 300 signatures to be on the ballot. At the present moment, Sweeney is running unopposed. That being said, he wants to see another name option to check on the ballot.
“I want there to be another candidate. I hope someone reads this article and decides they want to run,” he said. “I don’t want this race to be unopposed. I would welcome it.”
Sweeney, who also represents Salem in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, does not see the board position as an advancement of his political career. Instead, he sees it as pursuing a deep-rooted passion in helping people.
“I feel that I give off this aura that I have these big ambitions but everything to me is just a labor of love,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney attributes his passion for people and community to the fortunate circumstances he’s been placed in.
“I ran for student senate from Hunter Hall because I loved Hunter,” he said. “Being in the Phi Mu Delta fraternity really developed my love for this campus and for camaraderie. I love my hometown so much so I ran for state rep. Now that I’ve been at UNH, I’m passionate about the entire state system, which makes the board of trustees the clear next move.”
One thing is for certain: Joe Sweeney has New Hampshire written all over him.
The voting will take place March 2-5. Undergraduate students can vote on Wildcat link.