A vision for more student power

JP Leider

UEditorís note: This article is the second in a three-part series that looks at issues affecting student government. The methodology for the survey in Mondayís article is available at www.mndaily.com.

1niversity policy officially allows campus student governments, like the Minnesota Student Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, the power of persuasion, but little more.

Although student leaders are involved at many levels of University governance, there is a push under way that would officially require more student involvement in University decision making.

The end product of the desired transformation of University governance would resemble that of the University of Wisconsin system.

Because of Wisconsin law, students in the University of Wisconsin system are allowed seats and voting rights on dozens of committees and deal with policies concerning student life, services and interests.

The provision has been a point of discussion for several student-leaders at the University.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students may serve on more than 100 committees, Hannah Longrie said. She is a Madison student and chairwoman of the Shared Governance Committee, which is part of that universityís student government.

Even though it might be difficult to staff the various committees, itís a ìgreat tool for getting students represented at the university,î she said.

ìIt gives us the potential to have quite a bit of control over a lot of policies at the university,î she said.

But the system is not perfect, she said.

Even though the student government is more effective because of the statute, she said, the administration still has the final say.

GAPSA President Karen Buhr said being recognized in policy could be good and bad.

She said the University administration has worked well with GAPSA this year and has expressed their desire for student government to ìbe at the table.î

Whether she would support something resembling shared governance would depend on the level of involvement, she said.

ìThere would be times when it would be a really good thing, but there would be times it wouldnít be,î she said. ìIf youíre talking about us having to go to three committee meetings a day, it wouldnít be effective; thatís going to be a headache and it would make the job miserable.î

Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for Student Affairs, said the University administration tries to replicate the idea of Wisconsinís shared governance provision.

ìWe donít need state law to tell us to do whatís smart,î he said.

In addition, he said, a provision allowing for shared governance could be a disservice to students, because the University then would have only minimum requirements it would have to fulfill.

Biology sophomore Simon Lueth said he would be more interested in student-government under a system resembling shared governance.

ìIf (student-government) had more power than opinion, Iíd be willing to get involved and pay attention to them,î he said.

Last year, MSA issued a position statement calling for the creation of a University policy that would establish a shared governance model similar to the University of Wisconsin system.

But, until recently, the push for shared governance has been on the backburner.

MSA is pursuing different avenues for creating a shared governance system, MSA President Emily Serafy Cox said.

ìRequiring student involvement in the decisions made at the University is a phenomenal idea since (students) are the entire reason the University exists,î she said.

In coming months, MSA will work with the Board of Regents, University Senate and possibly the state Legislature to create the policy, she said.

Serafy Cox said she hopes a shared governance system would engage more students at the University.

ìRight now we have some opportunities for people to be involved in decision making with the administration, but itís on such a limited scale that sometimes people donít really think about that as a way to get involved,î she said.

Who speaks for whom?

Should students take issue with the University, they have many places to go.

Students can contact their college board or council, MSA or GAPSA, the Student Senate or a nongovernment student-group if they want an issue advocated on their behalf.

But while the number of outlets for student opinion to the University creates more avenues for communication, it also can diffuse the student voice.

The challenge for some offices at the University lies in where to go for the student voice, said Amelious Whyte, chief of staff to the vice provost for Student Affairs.

ìItís not easily transparent about who speaks for whom or, if you want to consult and involve students, how you do that,î he said.

Should faculty or staff members have an issue they want addressed, University Senate is the place to go.

But the process is more complicated for students, said June Nobbe, director of Student Development and Leadership Programs.

ìStudent governance structure is complex partly because they do represent different constituencies,î she said.

Student-governmental organizations know the structure needs to be streamlined, Nobbe said, but it is challenging to come up with an alternative structure.

Also, Nobbe said, a streamlined structure might not be the best option, given the large and diverse nature of the University.

Rinehart said the University administration recognizes the issues facing student governmental structure.

ìStarting from a blank slate, thatís not how youíd put it together. But undoing a lot of history is difficult,î he said. ìThere has been a sense that although (the structure) is not great, itís not all that broken. But we all agree that it could be more coherent.î