Spotlight on governance committees

Student senate appoints students to sit on governance committees every year. Photo by Reid Petro
Student senate appoints students to sit on governance committees every year. Photo by Reid Petro

Undoubtedly, the process in which Calvin College is led is complicated. If I wanted to oversimplify it, I could say that Le Roy or the Board of Trustees run the college. If I wanted to be cynical, I could leave it at that. We could chalk up the failings of Calvin to faceless figures (excluding Le Roy) who operate of opinions that are not our own. This, however, would not be true. No, we have governance committees. Glorious governance committees.

Most major decisions at Calvin are made by governance committees. As examples, the decision to switch from KnightVision to Moodle had to pass through the Information Services committee, and the supervision of Prelude and DCM is done by the Core curriculum committee. On most of these committees, a seat is reserved for a student representative. The voice students have on these committees means that students are part of the power structure of Calvin and decisions that affect students are not made without student input.

But despite the impact student representatives have in campus decision-making, few students know about the opportunities available.

It does not have to be this way. As a way to make students more aware, here are interviews from the student representatives from a number of Calvin’s governance committees.

Jaclyn Sikkema
Grade: Senior
Major: Special Education
Committee: Student Life Committee and Student Discipline Committee
Time commitment: two hours every other week

What do you do as a representative on a governance committee?
Because our governance committees are also made up of faculty and staff, I try to bring in a student perspective to the issues on which we are discussing. By having faculty, staff, as well as students on committees, we try to make decisions that will best represent our community.

What does your committee do and why should the student body care?
The Student Life Committee does a lot of work with student organizations and their charters. We also discuss issues that will affect the student body. We will make recommendations about the issue, and our recommendation will be presented at faculty senate. The student body should care, because if they have an opinion about a certain issue, they need to know where to express their opinion, and that they have a voice in things that matter.

How did you hear about the opportunity to serve as a governance representative?
I was on student senate, so I heard about it there. Serving on committees has helped me see why it’s important for students to get involved in committees and have a voice in the decisions that are made at Calvin.

Do professors and staff value your opinions on your respective committees?
Yes they do. They want to hear what students are talking about and what they are thinking.

How could the governance structure become more effective?
The governance structure could be more effective if the committees were more interconnected with one another. The committees cover a wide range of topics and issues, and I think there would be less overlap if they knew what was going on in the other committees.

How could student representation on governance structure become more effective?
I think that students shouldn’t be afraid to say what they or other students are thinking. Your opinion really does matter and is valued. The college is here because of its students, and they want to know what opinions and ideas are out there.

What is your reason for serving as a representative?
I think that it’s important for students to get involved in decisions that are made at Calvin. Also, not to be repetitive, but the student opinion needs to be voiced. It also helps make you a well-rounded student when you know what is going on at your school, what things are good, and what things need to be changed.

What would you like to say in closing about your experience as a representative?
Everyone should try to get involved in some form or another. It has really opened my eyes and made me a lot more intentional about how I live in the Calvin College community.

Katie Aguiar
Grade: Junior
Major: Engineering
Committee: Scholarships and Financial Aid
Time commitment: An hour and a half a week

What do you do as a representative on a governance committee?
My role is to sit in on meetings where policy is discussed and to give a student point of view. I ask questions, give opinions, and vote. Unlike other committees, I do not attend all meetings because of confidentiality. I attend only policy meetings, not meetings concerning specific students. Beyond what I do, and possibly more important, I am a face for the student body. My presence means the faculty, staff, and alumni on the committee associate their decisions with a feeling, breathing student.

What does your committee do and why should the student body care?
The Scholarship and Financial Aid Committee is exactly what it sounds like. We help students financially afford Calvin College. This is done through policy and through specific decisions made in sub-committees. One sub-committee oversees scholarship awards for incoming students and the other reviews the appeals of returning students.

How did you hear about the opportunity to serve as a governance representative?
I am really passionate about education quality, especially here at Calvin. My friends suggested that I find a way to use that passion constructively shortly before Vice President Josiah Sinclair announced that Student Senate was looking for applicants.

Do professors and staff value your opinions on your respective committees?
Of course they do! They made sure to choose a meeting time that didn’t conflict with my class or work schedule and made me feel welcome when the meeting started. When I asked questions about terminology or how the committee operates, they respected my questions and took the time to explain. When I suggested an alternative solution, they considered it seriously. The committee didn’t choose my solution, but I’m glad that they didn’t because my suggestion would have made things worse rather than better.

How could the governance structure become more effective?
It would be nice if decisions were made a little bit quicker, but like our new president said in his convocation speech, we must balance grace and truth. Based on my experience, the committees work hard to balance these, and rushing them would only make them less able to do their job.

How could student representation on governance structure become more effective?
It would help if students were more aware that they are being represented in these committees. Everyday, on the path to class, in the dining halls, at work and while doing homework, we students talk about what we’re experiencing here at Calvin. The representatives need to hear about ideas for change or even just where the problems are.

What is your reason for serving as a representative?
Calvin College is an amazing place of learning and community. I want it to continue along this path and to exceed all expectations. I want the instances of inefficiency, of confusion, of miscommunication and of wrongful acts to be corrected. I want the moments of grace and truth to be celebrated and repeated. Being a student representative is my way of contributing to all this.

What would you like to say in closing about your experience as a representative?
I can’t wait to serve again next year! If you aren’t happy with what you’re experiencing or if you really want the college do something again that you appreciated YOU need to apply to represent your student body in as a committee representative.

Ryan Martinie
Grade: Senior
Major: Biochemistry
Committee: Planning and Priorities
Time commitment: Two hours a week

What do you do as a representative on a governance committee?
The most obvious part of being a part of a committee is to attend meetings and prepare for those meetings by reading over the materials. However, it also includes gathering information from the Calvin community regarding what they think about important issues at Calvin, as well as spreading information about why certain decisions were made.

What does your committee do and why should the student body care?
The Planning and Priorities committee is the strategic planning apparatus of Calvin College. That means that PPC sets the vision for what fulfilling our mission looks like and also makes decisions about how to make that vision happen. This especially means making hard decisions about programs at Calvin when the budget is strained. In short, students should care about PPC because it shapes what Calvin is and where it is going.

How did you hear about the opportunity to serve as a governance representative?
My roommate has been on governance committees for a couple of years now, and hearing about his experiences made me want to get involved.

Do professors and staff value your opinions on your respective committees?
Absolutely. While there are definitely lots of tough decisions that need to be made, everyone definitely have the good of the students as a high priority, and value student input.

How could the governance structure become more effective?
I think that moving toward structure where more voices are heard throughout the decision process would be helpful, though I don’t know exactly what that looks like.

How could student representation on governance structure become more effective?
I think that student representation has made a big step this year by opening more committee positions to the entire student body (vs. only student senate). For instance, I am the first at-large student representative on PPC; in the past the only student on PPC has been the student senate president. I think that continuing to expand the number of positions for students on governance committees will be valuable.

What is your reason for serving as a representative?
I want to be a part of shaping the vision of what Calvin should be, especially in the formative beginning of President Le Roy’s leadership. I also think that it is a great opportunity to be involved in and aware of what’s going on at Calvin.

What would you like to say in closing about your experience as a representative?
I’ve only been to a couple of meetings, but it’s been fun and exciting so far. I’m excited to see what the rest of this year brings.

About the Author

Maxwell Howard

Maxwell Howard is the Chimes Features Editor for the 2012-13 school year.

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