In an effort to increase student representation in key campus committees, the ASUC Office of Academic Affairs announced its “Student Voices @ Every Table” campaign Feb. 10.
Many critical decisions on campus happen in spaces where students do not have representation, said Josh Lewis, chief of staff for the Office of Academic Affairs and a student member on the Academic Senate’s Committee on Courses of Instruction.
“At a foundational level we’re really interested in ensuring that student representation is guaranteed at every level of decision making at the university,” Lewis said.
One of the campaign’s targets is the Academic Senate, which is made up of 28 different committees and governs much of the academic life of students. According to Lewis, the Divisional Council holds much of the centralized power in the Academic Senate, but students have no representation on the committee. Additionally, students are not allowed to sit in, vote or discuss in meetings, Lewis added.
Decisions that have greatly benefited students, such as the pass/no pass policy implemented last fall, are often made in bodies with no student representation, Lewis said.
Future policy decisions on campus reopening, student health and safety protocols, decisions about greater academic leniency and more will continue to be made in spaces without student voting power if things do not change, Lewis added.
“When people talk about behind closed doors, this is it,” said Rocky Gerosa, student committee member on the Academic Senate’s Undergraduate Council and supporter of the “Student Voices @ Every Table” campaign. “It’s on these councils that the behind closed doors conversations are happening that dictate and govern where things are going to head.”
While the fight for greater student representation is not a new phenomenon, Gerosa said this is the first direct initiative to come out of the Office of Academic Affairs during his time on campus. On the committee Gerosa serves on, only three of the 18 voting members are students. He believes a minimum of four student representatives should serve on each Academic Senate committee, which generally range in size from 10 to 20 or more members.
“There is no way that in any way two students can represent the voices of 40,000,” Gerosa said. “It’s so hard to try and encapsulate all facets of the student experience, especially during something like COVID.”
By expanding student representation in these spaces, Lewis said he hopes enacted policies will have the best interests of students at heart, as opposed to the business or research interest of the university.
Additionally, the campaign aims to expand student representation into the administrative committees, tasked with addressing all facets of campus life. Its most ambitious goal is to become the students’ representation on the Chancellor’s Executive Leadership Council, which directly advises the chancellor.
Campus is committed to working with students and listening to the various ideas, concerns and needs that may arise, said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Stephen Sutton in an email.
Professor Rick Kern serves as the chair of the Academic Senate’s Committee of Undergraduate Council and believes the current degree of student representation in his committee is appropriate. Enlarging their already “sizable” group would not change much as Kern believes the student members currently do a good job of representing their peers.
“Our student representatives are really great, and they take their committee membership very seriously,” Kern said in an email. “Their input is actively sought-out on student issues, and their voices are very definitely heard by the faculty members of the committee.”