That’s the title of a thoughtful essay that appeared last week in the Boston College (BC) student newspaper, The Heights. Student Sean Sudol’s topic is student leadership. He begins with an expression of pride in one of his professor’s comments that to find leadership on a college campus you should look to student organizations, but quickly realizes that the BC administration’s view is quite different. “We don’t have student organizations that tell the University what to do,” said the director of student involvement.
“Here, we see the paradox that develops for our faculty, who work directly and daily with students and truly appreciate their potential,” Sudol continues. “They also work alongside our administration, which is so far removed from students that it becomes impossible to voice one’s opinion to the top, when administrators don’t want to listen to students anyway.”
At BC there are “institutional channels for students to be heard” but “there is a difference between hearing and listening.” At BC the governance structure effectively “removes student input from its policy coordination. No matter the position or the strength of the student support, there are no effective means for students to make the changes that they desire.” But it doesn’t stop there. For, continues Sudol, it isn’t only students who have no influence:
Many times, the reason given for this divide between administration and students is the fact that student turnover is quick. In just four, short years, there is a complete turnover of undergraduates. With students and their positions changing so quickly, one could argue the policies at the University would always be in flux. This point is challenged, however, by the difficulties that our professors have faced in establishing a faculty senate to represent their interests, as well as those of their students.
What is a faculty senate? It is a shared governance body at a college or university made up of student and faculty representatives that is dedicated to protecting academic freedom on campus and addressing the issues of faculty and students alike. The BC Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, committed to strengthening faculty governance, believes in the value of a faculty senate at BC for its ability to represent both faculty and students, as well as provide a space to effectively voice their interests.
If administration isn’t taking initiatives from students, it would seem that faculty could serve as an ideal partner in leadership structures, as they provide institutional memory and experience, ideal qualities for the long-term, and functioning means of governing the University while also being representative of the classroom experience, without which the University would not serve its function.
The BC administration, Sudol concludes, “has made its stance blunt. It does not listen to students, and it is clear that they do not want to listen to faculty either. So whom are the administrators listening to?”
That’s a great question and it should be asked of many college and university administrations. But we faculty members know that our students often ask great questions. We need to join with them when, as in this case, they do.