Every year, as student lobbyists go into meetings with legislators and speak with administrators, one particular principle is always harped on at length in an effort to increase “the student voice,” and that is so-called “shared governance.”
Originating not with students but faculty, shared governance is an abstract concept. Faculty governance has been written in state law since 1897, charging faculty members with the UW president as their lead with “the immediate government of the institution.” It’s why the Faculty Senate, established in 1938, has been in action to this day and it’s why, although many faculty have felt slighted in recent years, the administration and faculty tend to work toward mutually-agreeable policies that benefit the institution.
Students, too, have spots on university committees, and have for quite some time. But as tuition has doubled and students’ wallets have become lighter and lighter, student advocates have consistently used the increase in shared governance as a quasi-compromise.
In reality, and in my experience participating in shared-governance-style meetings with UW advocates and administrators, there is a fundamental flaw with shared governance: the information being provided.
So, new student committees — such as the Provost Advisory Committee for Students (PACS) — began to spring up around the school, holding weekly meetings about budget items and giving input to the highest administrative officials. These committees have had some successes, such as striking down an ill-developed international student fee proposal last year, and some abject failures, such as PACS’ comically political 15 percent tuition increase last spring (the administration had long proposed, even before PACS’ recommendation, the 16 percent increase that passed the regents).
Now, ASUW President Evan Smith is attempting to expand student shared governance by creating college council advisory boards for PACS, which would essentially act as local-level committees to deal with specialized departmental and college issues. It’s better than nothing, for sure, but is it the right direction?
Because shared governance is primarily a voluntary principle, and the UW administration has opted to seem more transparent and provide opportunities to students, the administration is responsible for providing the information. As a result, not out of the administration’s ill-will but rather its pragmatism, that information is what they want you to see.
An example of this took place in last April’s PACS meeting intended to review the newly proposed budget. When skeptical of a particular expense, a student would inquire to Provost Ana Mari Cauce, and she’d provide a rationale for why it was necessary. Higher tuition rate? Needed to improve the student experience. More auxiliary funds? Needed to improve chemical waste disposal. It’s an endless cycle: If you want information, you get it from the administration. If you want more information, you ask again.
The same occurred when I sat as Chair of the Universal Student U-PASS Advisory Board this past year, which oversees the student U-PASS program. We received all of our information directly from Transportation Services, which was often necessarily processed from its original raw form by the time we got it for student consumption, and we were often very limited in our ability to even make recommendations.
And this isn’t the fault of the administration. All my dealings with administrators have been well-intended and cooperative. It’s the nature of this form of shared governance. Administrators will always have the ability to control the information, and that makes me skeptical of expanded shared governance in the form of college councils.
If student leaders were satisfied with PACS’ 15 percent tuition increase proposal, then maybe college councils are a great idea to improving the student voice. But I’m not convinced this paradigm of so-called “shared governance” will ever work, and you shouldn’t be either.
Reach opinion writer Bill Dow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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