Apr2017, Opinion&Letters
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Thinking Ahead: Student Involvement in Institutional Decisions at Quest

By Cello Lukey and Andrea Aylesworth

Over the past year, there has been a concerning trend towards decision-making that either involves inadequate student consultation or no student consultation at all. Remember the removal of the Music Bay or the termination of the Block Rep program? Not only was the consultation process flawed in both of these cases, there was also no formal way for students to challenge these decisions after the fact. After-the-fact, all-student emails explaining the administration’s decisions seem like the equivalent to the token parental line, “Because I said so”. Where are the checks and balances? Are all of Quest’s policies vulnerable to the whims of the administration?

Quest takes pride in being progressively student-centered. However, when student opinions are not central to institutional decisions, the term ‘student-centered’ is little more than an empty marketing gimmick. As students, we are major stakeholders in the administration’s policy decisions. In order to give the student voice the weight that it deserves, Quest needs to move towards a consent-based model rather than merely a consultation-based model. Students should have to agree to administrative decisions in order for them to be finalized.   

Both of us came to this school because we sought a university that grew and was governed from the bottom up. My (Cello’s) experience as the chair of Residence Council this year has enlightened me to the many ways this school falls short when it comes to engaging student perspectives in their direction setting. For example, I have been approached by members of the administration to provide insight into the student experience in residence only to receive no follow-up, resulting in student perspectives going unheard.

As a student employee working on the Campus Sustainability Team (Andrea), the greatest challenge I’ve faced in making effective change has been the university’s lack of formal commitment to environmental sustainability. There are no official policies or goals in place to encourage environmental stewardship, nor is there any mention of such in the proposed Vision Statement as published on the school’s website. This makes it so that we students are unable to hold the institution accountable for decisions related to environmental sustainability. Further, we have nothing to leverage when trying to justify the allocation of funds or staff members to this area.

It is even more difficult for students who are not in a formal leadership position to influence, or give feedback on, administrative decisions. There is no clear or consistent protocol for students to express their (dis)satisfaction with the changing of the university motto from ‘Question Everything’ to ‘Think Ahead’, or the incorporation of  the Common App into the application process, for example. Student frustrations about such decisions build and leads to antagonizing confrontations when students finally do get an opportunity to voice their opinions. If channels were in place to ask students for generative feedback on a regular basis through in-person meetings or online forums, then we could ensure that communication between students and the administration would take place in a respectful way.

It would be unfair to say that students are never involved in institutional decision-making. The development of the sexual misconduct policy, the needs assessment informing the hiring of our new food service provider, and the creation of the university’s Vision Statement are all good examples of student consultation. We particularly appreciate the initial efforts to generate discussion regarding the Vision Statement;the executive committee was very considerate to create an online feedback form, to present at Community Update, to hold two Fireside Chats, and to meet with representative student groups. The introduction of the Ombudsperson position this year has also been a step in the right direction. Karen Elliott has provided a refreshing third-party perspective on policies at Quest.

In most cases, however, student consultation has been too superficial and too finite. We are asked to attend one-off events and provide feedback with limited knowledge of the boundaries that we are working within. We get to share what we would like the future of Quest to be in five, ten, even 20 years, but we do not get to know what is actually feasible given our financial situation. We get to quickly evaluate our courses at the end of each month, but we do not have the opportunity to come up with alternative projects or ways of structuring the class (the elusive Foundation program redesign comes to mind).

If the university is ready to be as progressive as it markets itself to be, we want to see policies that require student consent for major institutional decisions.To accomplish this, there are a few positive steps that the school could take in order to engage the voices of its ground level students and employees.

First, we want the administration to make information that is pertinent to student groups and initiatives available in a timely manner. We both have felt that we were unable to structure our projects with longevity in mind because we don’t know where the school will be in the immediate future.

Second, we want to see improved mechanisms for soliciting student feedback. These mechanisms should be easy for students to locate. These could come in the form of democratic votes or the verbal consent of selected student representatives, depending on the situation. The mechanisms could also include an administration representative or feedback form that is consistently available to record and incorporate student suggestions during and following the decision making processes.

Third, we want clear indications that our suggestions have been taken into consideration. Once a decision is made, we would like the administration to share the rationale behind it in an all-student communication. This would allow students to provide additional feedback that was sensitive and specific to the position of the administrative staff.

Quest is constantly changing, and its students are an important part of this process. As the university matures we hope that students continue to feel like they have an opportunity to “Question Everything”, even if the school has let that motto go.

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