Now that we’ve faced the question of who should represent the students, we should consider what we expect of our Student Government (SG) representatives. Our elected student leaders should have much more input into the substantive conversations affecting quality of education, university development and finances.
Look at the major announcements of SG this semester to see where its priorities fall. There are amenities like the Safe Ride program or an outdoor fitness court, event programming like Canes Night Live and new plans for more communication between SG and the rest of campus.
These are fine enough, but when was the last time SG led the discussion on the basics of college: tuition, academic programs and research?
I don’t doubt the importance of SG working on its communication skills. I would just rather have a Student Government with something to say.
To be fair, this year’s competing tickets put forth interesting platform ideas. The tuition lock-in plan could definitely help prospective students and underclassmen prepare financially, and textbook tax cuts would help mitigate the huge problem of book costs.
But part of the problem is structural; there simply isn’t enough student representation, knowledge or passion within the legislative groups that actually control university finances and academic affairs.
The Faculty Senate approves most academic plans, and most campus development plans go through the Board of Trustees. The problem then, is a need for student representation and advocacy in these groups.
Take, for example, the Faculty Senate’s recent decision to phase out of the (admittedly terrible) General Honors Program. On Feb. 6, SG President Bhumi Patel published an open letter decrying the lack of student input and calling for more SG involvement in academic development planning. The problem? The decision was made in November, based partially on a student survey from December 2012, and dating back to a faculty report in 2011.
If our Student Government couldn’t make its voice heard on the issue for three years, one must consider that it wasn’t talking very loudly.
Beyond SG, there should be more democratic student seats in Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees, as is true at other prestigious schools. Students currently hold five out of 53 seats on the Faculty Senate, with undergraduates comprising just two. At the University of Pennsylvania, in contrast, students hold 31 seats versus 58 faculty and administration members.
According to Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs, the student member of the Board of Trustees is nominated by the administration and approved by the rest of the board. Given the importance of the trustees, the nomination process is similar across colleges. Cornell University, however, holds elections for the trustee, so why can’t we?
Imagine a campus where there is a direct line between the student body and the Board of Trustees. Senators could vote for the trustee, or it could become an official role of the elected SG vice president. In a larger perspective, imagine a school where students saw themselves making a difference in the long-term direction of their school.
That would mean more to me than all the colored T-shirts and palm cards in the world.
Patrick Quinlan is a sophomore majoring in international studies and political science.