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Student Voice

Student Voice

As we begin to talk more widely about university futures, I hope we’ll figure out a way to get serious student input. I say this not to pander (most students have at best the faintest idea that a Provost exists, much less does anything). I really think we’ll do a better job if we get student ideas and particularly know what their priorities are, as we discuss services and finances.

But student voice does not automatically happen. Those of us who’ve been around for a while remember the flurry of interest in student representation after the 1960s (the interest was often feigned, but whatever). But the results were meager. Students lost interest and stopped showing up, faculty and administration were undoubtedly just as pleased to revert to something like the status quo.

Getting students more involved now faces several barriers. First, of course, students have many demands on their time, and their ranks change frequently. Serious representation may have to acknowledge time constraints, and it certainly has to deal with turnover.

My impression is, also, that getting representative students is also a challenge. We have some great student leaders, but their numbers are small, they tend to come from a very few academic majors (political science disproportionately represented), and they are certainly largely residential rather than commuter. We need help in broadening the base, or we’ll be listening to the wrong voices.

Then there’s the question of what interests students. We’ve had outstanding student contributors to such complex endeavors as planning the new general education system (a few years back) and, recently, searching for a new president. But lots of students, even the eager participants, tend to linger unduly on student life issues, rather than the broader spectrum of university activities. This is quite understandable, in terms of immediate concerns, but ultimately too constrained.

So: let’s think about how to get meaningful involvement. Let’s consider best practices elsewhere (including overseas; the American retreat after the 1960s was not part of a global pattern). And let’s start by challenging students themselves: how would you like to handle the challenges of planning participation?