Posted tagged ‘student representation’

A place for students

May 27, 2009

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.