In my last Political Leadership class, my professor gave us all a moment to be proud, expressing how you should look to heads of student organizations if you want to find leadership on a college campus. In a senior seminar on political leadership, we thought that was surely true, as we discussed our experiences with managing bureaucratic rules, mobilizing students on campus, and addressing issues that are important to the Boston College community. I felt a brief moment of pride for the accomplishments that I have brought to our campus in my three years here, and excitement for what BC students working together could accomplish. The very next day, it was with distress that I read an official quote in The Heights from director of the Office of Student Involvement Gustavo Burkett. On the registered status of Climate Justice at BC, he stated, “We don’t have student organizations that tell the University what to do.” Now, I do not mean to attribute this position to Mr. Burkett. He spoke about the general policies of the University, as decided by administrators much more powerful than he.
Here, we see the paradox that develops for our faculty, who work directly and daily with students and truly appreciate their potential. 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.
Now, of course, Mr. Burkett did not say that it was the policy of the administration not to listen to students. He suggested that there be institutional channels for students to be heard. It needs to be pointed out that there is a difference between hearing and listening. Even through these institutional channels (which, by the way, do not exist at the top of the administration where institutional power is concentrated), Mr. Burkett stated that it is not the policy of the administration to take student directives. Listening to students, however, involves taking student directives when the time is right and the student voice is strong.
Now, the debate over the positions of CJBC and the support it has garnered notwithstanding, Mr. Burkett communicated the general University governance structure, which 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. This is exactly what the administration intends.
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. Many people on campus share in the belief that faculty and student input, as part of a system of shared governance, has value for the University. Yet, BC remains a rare exception with respect to faculty governance, even among fellow Research I institutions, by holding onto a system of committees that are purely advisory, while resisting initiatives to implement a functioning system of shared governance.
From these statements and actions, the administration 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?
Featured Image by Brian Kang / Heights Graphic