MSLC fights for student voice


Major concerns exist for University of Minnesota students today: decreasing state appropriations, seemingly endless increases in tuition and fees and a perspective that has seemed to fall on deaf ears. In the interest of strengthening the perspective of students, the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition is working to expand the ability of students to express their perspective at the highest levels of University governance.

Today, the student experience is set in the context of uncertain economic times. As state support for the University decreases, as students become burdened with an increasing share of the University’s operating costs and as recent graduates struggle to find meaningful employment, the representation of the student voice must increase to ensure the strength, clarity and consistency of their perspective.

Investments that thousands of students have made in the University through their tuition and fees make students the majority stakeholder in the University’s budget. As the students’ share of the University’s budget has increased, so too have students become increasingly concerned with the lack of representation in the decision-making process.

The MSLC maintains the position that the prosperity of higher education in Minnesota is an obligation shared not just by the members of the Legislature, but of the state’s academic institutions as well. A request for support at the Capitol is one of relevance and necessity, but that commitment must be comparatively matched on campus as well. As a student, I am disappointed, not only in the lack of support seen for the student voice during the Senate Higher Education committee last week but also in the less than enthusiastic responses of University administrators.

The administration’s stance on this issue is typical of the reaction to external input since the University holds every right to function as a sovereign institution. A consequence of this status is a stigma that the University’s leadership operates from an ivory tower, as is often noted by members of the Legislature. In observing this policy of autonomy and its effects, the input of students should not be received in the same light. A fundamentally different approach is necessary, and a boost in the student representation where students see fit should no longer be met with a defensive posture.

The University’s mission extends beyond that of just its students. It is understood that the position and needs of students will not always meet the comprehensive scope of institutional goals. Even though this is the case, there will always be a shared purpose that is to the benefit of each student and the University. We must recognize that a monolithic position cannot adequately represent the true diversity seen at this institution. The University needs to better embrace this intrinsic ambiguity and become comfortable with the notion that even though the vested interests of students may provide a different viewpoint, it is one of necessary value that deserves greater representation. To maintain a dismissive attitude where input is inconvenient can only serve to alienate students and limit this vital perspective in decision making.

All of this taken together, it is encouraging that President Eric Kaler has expressed his commitment to maintaining a “diverse set of viewpoints.” Indeed, his actions reflect a level of engagement with the student body that is very welcome. The MSLC will continue to advocate in favor of this issue regardless of any immediate setbacks. We see a path of success through the legislature that will be to the benefit of students and the University as a whole whether accomplished this session or next.

As an organization, we have and will continue to build relationships that provide a network of support for students. Having Kaler committed to interacting with students is an incredible advantage in doing so, but having institutional and statutory protections designed to give students voting representation is ultimately a necessity.