April 3, 2007

Making the Trustees accessible

The winter dubbed the “quarter of our discontent” by me and my friends turned out to be the most active quarter of campus politics I can remember in my three years at the U of C. Despite a bitter cold winter, students were out in full form: protesting the Administration’s stance on divestment, graduate students feeling as though they are missing tomorrow’s sale (in reference to new packages being awarded to students), tough questioning of President Zimmer at the brown bag, and much more. Returning from a quarter in China and leaping face-first into my new position as the undergraduate liaison to the Board of Trustees proved always exciting, albeit at times frustrating.

The role of the liaison is to represent the interests of the undergraduate students to the Board of Trustees’s Committee on Student Life. How can I know what students are feeling? I began my quest. The liaison is technically a Student Government (SG) position, so I began an ongoing conversation with SG. What I found was an Executive Committee dedicated to change and replete with innovative ideas, yet often bogged down by procedures and “campus politics.” It seems to me that if SG is to become the locus of student power and the vehicle of student concerns, some administrative and technocratic roles must be re-distributed and assessed. Students have limited time and amid rules, funding, and piloting new programs, students are left drained of time and energy. There are passionate ideas emanating from the Executive Committee and the College and Graduate Councils; what we need is more undergraduate students concerned and involved.

Is the best government that which governs least? Perhaps there are many students unconcerned about the goings-on of the University who are much more content with Plato and Halo. However, there are students burning with passion, such as the STAND activists and SG members, students pushing for social justice and reform on issues including ending Coke on campus, sustainability, diversity, financial aid, and much more. All of these students have been part of an ongoing conversation with administrators about student engagement. How can we as students be involved in the decision making process? How can our ideas be listened to? I believe the academic success of a school is inextricably linked to students’ involvement on and off campus. If students can reflect upon a positive University of Chicago experience, the school benefits in the short and long terms, both inside and outside the classroom. To me it’s an issue of utmost importance that we find an effective way to gauge student concerns and relay this information from students to the Administration and vice versa.

When I met with the Board’s Student Life Committee I could not believe how many times trustees said, “Well, how do students actually feel?” All I wanted was to bottle up this sentiment and release it in the middle of the quads. People do care. They care all around. Trustees care. The Administration cares. Students from all corners of this University care; in the Shady Dealer, in the Maroon, from the walls of RSO and house meetings comes one message: students care. Somehow there is a disconnect among all these facets. I am trying my best to connect people and ideas, but I need your help. I am planning office hours during which students can sit down and tell me their thoughts. I am also planning a brown bag with a Trustee—another way for students to come in. E-mail me. Call me. Come knocking on my door (at your own risk!). SG elections are this quarter. Run! Get people who share your passions to run! Run yourself! Get your RSO involved. Let’s all begin talking, forming coalitions, using our Student Government to the best of our ability. Push our teachers, our advisers, and our RHs to create the best Uof C possible. If we all pledge to settle for nothing less, our unity will be undeniable.