A place for students

Harvard University is one of the finest in the world – perhaps the best – but even it gets some things wrong. According to this article in a Harvard student newspaper, students at the university are not represented anywhere on the key decision-making bodies.

In fact, student participation in key committees and other decision-making bodies is still quite new in most universities. When I was a student in Trinity College Dublin, the first steps had just been taken, one of the by-products of the student rebellions a few years earlier across Europe. Students had representatives on the main Faculty decision-making bodies, and the Students’ Representative Council (as it was then called, now the Students Union) had secured an observer status on the College Board, the ultimate decision-making body. The first representative, SRC President David Vipond  – a member if I recall of the ‘Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist)’ – used his membership to promote his particular brand of revolutionary politics, and I believe was given to wordy political speeches during meetings. I have no idea what happened to him after this – while SRC President he stood for the Westminster Parliament in a by-election in Down South, and got 152 votes. Bless him.

But David Vipond’s antics were a side-show. In my own School at the time, the Law School, students were invited to participate actively in curriculum reform, and the resulting changes were pedagogically both exciting and intellectually demanding.

For much of my career as an academic, I have supported and sometimes been the main proposer of student representation on decision-making bodies, most recently in DCU when we admitted the Student Union President on to the university’s Executive. It has always seemed to me that it is far preferable to hear the student view directly in discussion and debate rather than indirectly in occupations, protests and boycotts. Not only that, but students are our partners in the teaching and learning adventure, and we must treat them accordingly. The quality and sustainability of decision-making often improves significantly with student input.

The article about Harvard was written in 2007. Maybe they have corrected this omission in university procedures since then. I hope so.

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7 Comments on “A place for students”

  1. x Says:

    Trying to find a sympathetic ear in institutions isn’t always possible as has been shown vividly in the Ryan report. Even after the Universal Human Rights declaration was made in 1948, children still continued to undergo atrocities in this country.

    As for universities, students have less a duty and more an instinct to protest when their rights are trampled on by those in power. If only children had the same capacity for organised expression, as it clearly annoys those in power, regardless of whether it is effective.

    As for your sideshow, the politically challenged friend who you blessed, he was also a student, someone who deserved a proper debate, rather than silence and then ridicule.

    The ultimate healer, compassion, is still gravely selective in too many at the top of our institutions.

    At least you open yourself up to debate and are also clearly embracing the diverse voice of the student population you govern.

  2. I too remember David Vipond at TCD. I later heard that he had become a teacher in the north. His son, by the way, graduated from DCU with a BSc in multimedia.

  3. Daithí Says:

    I was a sabbatical officer in TCDSU (which succeeded SRC) long, long after the Vipond days (04-05) and found some remarkable bits and pieces on his reign in the Union files – most notably the handbook where Vipond and his VP (can’t recall the name) basically had separate parts of the publication where they slung mud at each other (I think it was on the question of whether drug use was counterrevolutionary). There’s a great book to be written on Irish student politics if someone has the time – activists were certainly quite prolific when it came to setting out their views. Official university histories tend to miss out on much of this.

    • David Vipond’s Vice-President was Ian Wilson, who now works for RTE, and whom I always liked. That handbook was wonderful – David Vipond’s call to revolution, and Ian Wilson’s view that sex and dope never hurt anyone… And as you say, with each having a go at the other. It was great stuff.

  4. cormac Says:

    We have both the President and VP of the student’s union on our academic council. They are often a great support in negotiating with a management that can sometimes be too far removed from the classroom..

  5. Vincent Says:

    Forgive me here, but I do not see any good with the inclusion of students into the ruling body. It seems a perfect idea, but there is something of the fox eating his leg off about the whole thing. At least that is how it should be, mind you, you will get the professional politician like Rabbet, a delightful man I’m sure, but one who needs a education in plotting.
    Think Belgium, the only reason that place works is that they hate those outside the borders slightly more than they hate each other.
    In an ideal world, but go out in the morning-in term- with photos of the student union and see how many can ID them at the 10am, 11am and 12 lectures.

  6. Mathieu Says:

    I have to agree with the idea of listening more to the students not only in time of boycott or strike.

    Take for instance the 16-weeks long movement of general strike in the French universities, held by students and teachers. The results? Nothing. The government stood proudly and deaftly on its ground.

    So much for democracy…

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