Student leaders stand up; will you?

Shared governance seeks to give students a more powerful, much-needed voice.

Nora Leinen

For Ryan Kennedy, legislative certificate program coordinator at the Minnesota Student Association (MSA), and others involved in student government, it became apparent about a year and a half ago, while Kennedy was Chair of the Student Senate, that students were not being included on important decisions being made at the University of Minnesota. Issues ranging from the biannual budget to the (near) abolishment of the graduate school were decided with little to no input from students. Because of this, MSA has proposed a shared governance policy. This shared governance proposal has the potential to change how student governments relate to the University and includes an increase in the number of student representatives and procedures administration must go through before proposing or implementing schoolwide policy. Because of these impending changes, letâÄôs take a quick crash course in University and student governments, just to remind ourselves. DonâÄôt worry, you wonâÄôt be quizzed. The Board of Regents âÄî letâÄôs call them Papa Bear âÄî evaluates and approves any major policies, long range plans, educational programs and annual budgets. They are the most powerful governing body at the University. Under the Board of Regents we have President Bob Bruininks and administration âÄî Mama Bear âÄî (vice presidents, provosts, etc.) who suggest University policies, budgets, etc. Policies that fall under Board of RegentsâÄô jurisdiction go through that process, and policies that affect only administration are enacted through the University Policy Office. The University Senate, Baby Bear, is the governing body below the president and the administration and is a combination of the Faculty Senate, the Student Senate, the Council of Academic Professionals and Administrators and the Civil Service Senators. The MSA âÄî Goldy Locks âÄî along with the Student Senate makes up the undergraduate student government but, unlike the student and University senates, do not have any binding power with policies or legislation. Is everybody still with me? The shared governance proposal aims to strengthen student power within the University governmental structure by mandating student involvement on all committees âÄî budgetary, policy, educational âÄî that cover issues that may affect student life. Spots on these committees would then allow student voices to express concerns about proposed policies and, if needed, cause certain proposals to be changed before going into implementation. Goldy Locks âÄî or, more specifically, the students she represents (you) âÄî want to be consulted before determining the temperature of the porridge or allocation of student fees. Coming to a consensus about the extent of student power with the administration will be the biggest battle. But Kennedy commented that a meeting he and MSA Legislative Affairs Chairman Paul Buchel, GAPSA President Kristi Kremers and MSA President Paul Strain had Friday with University administrators was positive. Shared governance policies at other public universities have inspired this move. Melissa Hanley, chair of the Shared Governance Committee at the University of Wisconsin, stressed that a good relationship with administration is crucial and that these relations have really benefited how seriously the input of students at the university is taken. Kennedy explained that the fight for shared governance is not necessarily against administration but against mind-sets. âÄúThe lack of inclusion by the administration of students in some of these decision-making processes is not out of an intent to keep students in the dark,âÄù said Kennedy. âÄúItâÄôs that they just donâÄôt know that there are certain decisions that students really want to be involved in.âÄù According to Kennedy, a cultural shift is necessary âÄî a shift from administration believing students are not interested in University issues to the understanding that students are increasingly interested in student policies. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart agreed that shared governance is not going to upend the system. âÄúI donâÄôt see this as a change or departure from our practice in the past,âÄù he said. âÄúBut it has a way to ensure we donâÄôt have lapses âĦ where somebody hasnâÄôt taken that next step to do the consultation [with students].âÄù It is the requirement of student consultation that is currently up for debate. A mandate that requires student involvement could make that involvement permanent and powerful. The wording of the actual resolution is still in limbo, but a few things are certain. There will have to be language that makes students involved on a formulation level, not just as reactionary parties. It is not enough for administration to solely bring policies to students that are almost done or already enacted. Students need to be involved on the most basic level. Without wording that addresses this, problems will persist and students will simply be more informed of their inability to influence. Also, the policy needs to be enacted by the Board of Regents and the administration to provide a check on either partyâÄôs ability to sidestep student concerns without consequence. Without Regent approval, MSA will have to go to the state legislature. MSA is willing to stand up and say that students need to be consulted and involved in issues that affect them, but shared governance will only work with greater support and participation by the student body. As Hanley said of UW policy, âÄúwe view [shared governance] as a responsibility, not just a privilege.âÄù Nora Leinen welcomes comments at [email protected]