After two straight years of the administration’s preferred tuition increases, despite consultation with a hesitant Provost’s Advisory Committee for Students (PACS), it is time students rethink the direction of shared governance on the UW campus, and shift their focus toward state legislation.
Shared governance, or the supposed sharing of information and consultation before decision-making by administrators toward students, is inherently flawed due to its voluntary nature. The UW controls most of the realistically obtainable information. Because PACS and the Universal Student U-PASS Advisory Board are provided information willingly from the administration, that data is necessarily the information the administrators wants students to see. What’s more? The “advisory” nature of these committees further binds the hands of students, often turning the administration’s practice of “shared governance” into mere “governance with consultation.”
But all is not lost for students aiming to increase their influence on university decisions, they just need to entirely flip their tactics.
First and foremost, student leaders need to solve the information problem. When the information is gathered, compiled, analyzed, and presented by administrators, it is difficult for students to make policy recommendations based on objective and unbiased data.
Public records requests could be used to help remedy this problem, but the turnaround is usually too sluggish for active conversations with the administration and legislators, and it is politically impractical due to the transparency of the requests. Likewise, accurately requesting information and knowing what to look for demands a certain level of expertise few students possess.
The most effective way for students to move forward on actually achieving useful shared governance is by creating institutions outside the UW altogether, likely through legislative action. Although getting the support of a majority of legislators won’t be easy, it will likely lead to more tangible results than the current shared governance model which is necessarily flawed in its voluntary nature.
One example of tangible, achievable shared governance comes from a bill I helped craft when I worked for the ASUW last year. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm), would have created student auditing committees to better locate efficiencies at the state’s four-year universities. Students would be given information and authority by the State Auditor’s Office to find improvements in the governance of the university, or to track where tuition dollars were actually going. While it never passed the House this past session, it has the potential to garner interest this session.
Although last year’s legislation likely will not (and should not) be followed to the letter, by moving the information gathering and processing out of the hands of the administration and into the hands of the State Auditor’s Office, it will make the university more accountable and will increase the likelihood of finding efficiencies in the budget.
Students should not be worried about the consequences of moving away from the university’s voluntary shared governance model; regents won’t ruin the student experience or raise tuition for all students because student leadership is being more demanding. It just might make it a little harder for the leaders to list administrators as references once they start applying for jobs in the future. If students really want to shift the paradigm and take a step forward (or at least try to take a step forward), they need to stop fooling themselves into thinking the current model of shared governance is truly increasing the student voice on campus.
Reach columnist Bill Dow at email@example.com.
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