Letter: Institutionalizing Input

The University’s process of receiving input is inherently biased.

By Letter to the Editor

As the Editorial Board rightly pointed out in last Tuesday’s issue of the Maroon (“Every Step of the Way,” Oct. 8), including student input in the process of changing campus and student life is necessary for the University to best serve its students. However, the process by which that input is solicited is just as important as the input itself.

Currently, committees are convened, appointed, and consulted at the will of University administrators. Often, students either apply or are asked by administrators to serve in positions that advise various parts of Campus and Student Life. But it is important to remember that these admin and staff are not objective actors, and relying on them to fill committees of students that advise their efforts compromises the integrity of the process. The goals administrators have for these advisory boards are often reactive in nature; that is to say, they are used to quell immediate concerns rather than focus on more long-term and values-based issues that are in the interest of the students serving on them.

Take, for example, the Vice President’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, of which I am a member. You may remember that it was formed at the end of the last academic year, in response to a series of incidents involving racism, classism, and homophobia on campus. Appointed by Karen Warren Coleman, VP for Campus and Student Life, it was supposed to be “[relied] heavily [upon] to advise and help to shape key diversity initiatives, review existing programs, and provide student perspectives.” Despite plans for conference calls during the summer and its continued use during this academic year, I have yet to hear anything about its future and have yet to receive a list of its members and their contact information, even when I asked for it. During our first (and only) meeting in May, ideas for a new poster campaign were presented to us while more proactive input from students was rebuffed.

The proposed changes to Hallowed Grounds are being handled by the Committee on Activity and Advising Centers. However, this committee was selected by ORCSA—the very office which proposed those changes in the first place. Furthermore, some students were solicited by ORCSA to sit on the committee. This compromises the integrity of the committee as both an independent body and a good faith effort to engage with the student body. Meeting minutes are not publicly available, and meetings are not open to the public.

Just this week, I was invited to a discussion with Assistant VP for Student Life Eleanor Daugherty regarding dissent and protest on campus. The e-mail stated, “Students are being invited to this meeting because you have either demonstrated interest in the topic of free expression or serve in a broad leadership role.”

But students shouldn’t have to rely on a special invitation from administrators in order to have their voice heard through one of the few mechanisms of giving that input.

At issue is that the modes of input shouldn’t be controlled by administrators, who, even with good intentions, serve what they see as the institutional interest. From the proposed changes in Hallowed Grounds to the restructuring of the University Community Service Center (UCSC), this “institutional interest” has sometimes differed from the interests of the students on whose behalf decisions are being made. For this reason, in instances where student input is necessary, it follows that it should be solicited from a body that directly represents students: Student Government (SG). As the institution which is most directly accountable to the students, SG is the fairest arbiter when convening and appointing committees. Being independent from the short-term focus of the administration, advisory committees operated through SG would have the long-term focus that current bodies lack. During SG elections, students decide who will represent them, and for administrators to circumvent that process by controlling committees undermines the effectiveness of SG as a democratic institution. During spring elections, students voted by an overwhelming majority to support a slate that campaigned on a platform of representing all students in decision-making processes.

For this reason, as SG Community and Government Liaison, I urge administrators to engage with SG as we work to create more effective advisory boards that represent the interests of all students, starting with the UCSC. I find the fact that no students were meaningfully consulted prior to the restructuring of the office deeply troubling, and symptomatic of a process which excludes students from the making of decisions that most directly affect them.

First-years, particularly those of you who are interested in serving in SG, take note. Over the next four years, you’ll have the opportunity to shape your institution’s legacy, and expanding student involvement in its decision-making processes is crucial if it is to best serve its students.

—Tyler Kissinger, class of 2016