University life is filled with positives. As students, we are given the opportunity to meet new people, experience new cultures, challenge our belief systems and build lasting relationships.
While student leaders, such as members of ASUW and Student Media, get to reap the benefits of the college experience, some things are a bit different and part of university life for them is attempting to improve it for all students.
We start our terms or employment believing that students have the most power and that if we are willing to stand up, speak out and do what is necessary to effect positive change, we will. However, over the past two years, a much darker reality has become clear to me.
The truth is that student power will be finite as long as there are administrators whose careers span decades.
The problem is that while we would like to assume that university administrators have the best interests of students in mind, oftentimes they don’t.
For the most part, I think, or at least hope, that our administrators are genuinely working to make life better for students. However, there are often instances that administrators make decisions for themselves.
Those decisions may be made in an effort to pad a resume, gain a promotion, to appease donors or even to enhance the legacy of a retiring administrator. Looking through the lens of administrative action, the idea that education comes first at a university is incorrect.
Administrators at universities are like administrators anywhere else. They have agendas, aspirations and ladders to climb. The only difference is that the moves that an administrator makes to climb that ladder can harm the students they are supposed to be serving.
The student government and student press are arguably the two most powerful student organizations at any university. Student legislators wield the voice of the students and have the power to write legislation and make recommendations. The student press has the power to shine a light on that which might otherwise be hidden or ignored.
Individually and together, these organizations can do truly great things for a university, but only for a short time. Students can fight administrative dishonesty and damaging policies with all the passion in world… for a year, after which the leaders graduate and the fight will likely end.
Administrators know that. They know that when they are doing something with which the students disagree, or when they are caught being dishonest, they don’t have to win a battle with students, they need only outlast them.
I have experienced this first hand. Administrators have moved time tables, put off votes and withheld information for as long as possible, in the hopes that the time on the graduation clock will run out.
Sure, these organizations can do their best to create continuity and ensure that the next group continues the fight, but the administration still has the advantage of three months of uncontested work.
Students can and should work tirelessly to improve the learning environment for their peers, day in and day out, but the hard truth is that for the things that really matter, we can’t win.
Administrators have decades to ignore regulations, lie to students, and circumvent established boards and other checks on their authority, while students have roughly 9 months to try and slow them down.
My hope is this; that, despite the massive disadvantage student leaders have from the very start, organizations like ASUW and Student Media will continue to fight. That students will continue to do everything in their power to hold administrators accountable and fight to create transparency and accountability for anyone whose decisions impact students.
It’s not always easy. You have to be willing to do things that are unpleasant. Ask questions other students won’t, spend long nights upset with those with the most power on campus and deal the consequences of speaking out.
It’s hard, but the students willing to make these sacrifices, if they are lucky, might be given the greatest reward possible:
The opportunity to make a difference.