Editorial: An open letter to student senate
Dear 2013-2014 student senate,
It’s election week. I’ve never been a huge fan, but this year I’m particularly perturbed. Originally, this year’s senate “race” was an “if you’re willing, you’re in” situation, assuming you could get 500 friends or clueless freshmen to vote for you. But after several failed attempts, we’ve finally got a slapdash exec team that exists mainly for the purpose of creating a race, according to our interview with them.
It’s sort of embarrassing.
I’m disappointed, but I can’t say I’m surprised. I keep waiting for a fresh batch of student senators who are willing to take a different tack, but it hasn’t happened in my four years. And before you attack me for hypocrisy — no, I haven’t run for senate. I’ve dedicated my Calvin tenure to working for Chimes, a different kind of campus service.
This year’s elections have led me to wonder why more people don’t run for senate. Is it sincerely a lack of desire or a lack of interest in campus issues? I doubt it — we have plenty of potential leaders on campus, movers and shakers who are using their individual student organizations or academic departments to change things. (Think about how much competition there is to become an RA or an OL — many of us are willing to lead.)
I think it comes down to a lack of belief in the system. Student senate, under its current organization, does not have the trust of the student body. We don’t truly believe that you can get things done.
Something’s gotta give.
I’m not sure when senate last defined its mission, but I think it’s that time again. In my mind, senate exists to gather student opinion and present that opinion to the faculty and administration of Calvin. You listen to student complaints and try to fix them. You listen to student praise and pass it along.
Senate does not exist to hold parties or rent bikes.
A case in point: the much-discussed prioritization process going on at Calvin this year to alleviate budget problems. Was the student body ever formally polled about what was important to them at Calvin? Were we ever even given a public platform like a town hall meeting in which to express our opinions? No. Instead, we were given #WeAreCalvin, a messy and inaccurate popularity contest that selected sports, the speech pathology program and concerts as the most important things at Calvin.
Call me old-fashioned, but I’d prefer a nice online survey any day. Surveys can be fair, are generally accurate, and they’re inclusive and easy to participate in. Not to mention they give data to Le Roy and the administration that they can actually use — not a handful of photos that do little more than raise awareness of the problem.
Poll us, senate. We won’t be annoyed. A couple of weeks ago, Chimes put up a Facebook poll asking people which core classes should be eliminated. We got 200 votes and almost 50 thoughtful comments from voters. Don’t tell me no one likes polls.
In order to know what we care about, you have to ask us. Once you’ve figured that out, work hard to make it happen.
I know you work hard now, and I don’t mean to discourage you. But, I think a lot of that work is misguided. I have a suggestion. It’s fairly radical, but I think this year proves that it’s time for a big change.
Cut the extra stuff. We don’t need you to organize masquerade balls or fundraising concerts or bike programs or discount cards. Calvin has a plethora of student organizations who can do all of those things. Focus solely on gathering student opinion, lobbying for what they care about and helping them change things they can’t change on their own.
A great example from this year: you heard that students from outside the Midwest need a longer Thanksgiving break. You let the administration know, and didn’t let up until they agreed. You created change in this area, and students are thankful.
Be our link to the folks who run Calvin College. Though students are, in my opinion, the most important aspect of a college, we can often be overlooked or unheard in the sea of lobbying by faculty, staff, alumni, donors and community members. Be our voice.
Get President Le Roy or Provost Beversluis in Johnny’s once a week to hear student comments and concerns. Sure, we could ask for personal meetings with those people, but it’s intimidating, and a single student might not be important enough to these busy administrators.
Find out what professors or classes are giving students particular trouble, and investigate. Pull up grade records and class evaluations. Represent us when we feel slighted.
When donors object to certain concerts or the Board of Trustees sends ridiculous memos to faculty members, find out what students think. Compile those thoughts and present a united (or perhaps diverse) voice to the administration. A single student’s voice is easily lost, but the chorus student senate could produce would be formidable.
Instead of doing an average job on 56 things, we need you to do a great job on one thing.
Senate of 2013-2014: the clock is ticking. The next couple of years are lining up to be critical ones in Calvin history, but if you don’t carpe diem, the chance to make significant changes will be gone. We’re on a new track in a new world, and you could be at the forefront.