Should Students Have A Hand in Setting Academic Policy?

A pair of students are currently acting as co-chairs to the Academic Standards Committee, but question has been raised by a small number of faculty as to the appropriateness of their positions.

Student Government Association president Michael Slavens and vice president Jacob Schriner-Briggs opted to co-chair the Academic Standards Committee, a standing committee reporting to the Academic Senate which primarily serves as the birthplace of new academic policy proposals.

Slavens, on his second year of service on the committee, enjoyed serving on the committee and upon seeing a lack of faculty interest in chairing the committee, took on the role of co-chair along with colleague Schriner-Briggs.

“[Former SGA President Catherine Carney] and I were on the committee last year and I really liked it, so this year Jake and I joined. … As is typical, at the first meeting we met to elect a new chair. None of the present faculty seemed like they wanted to do it, and we didn’t think it would be best for a member of the administration to chair. Jake and I were willing to do it, so we opted to co-chair, and we were completely fine with the extra work,” Slavens said.

Schriner-Briggs and Slavens primarily serve as facilitators for the committee’s meetings, where they keep minutes, set meeting dates and report the group’s findings to the Academic Senate. The chairs have no actual power within the group, a fact the head of the Academic Senate Chester Cooper emphasized when discussing the student’s position.

“[Slavens and Briggs] are voting members of the committee, and there’s nothing in the by-laws suggesting they can’t serve as co-chairs,” Cooper said. “There’s no power in the positions. They can’t make policy on their own.”

Despite the committee by-laws offering no opposition to students in chair positions, a small portion of the faculty at the most recent Academic Senate meeting voiced concerns over the ethics surrounding students chairing a committee that proposes academic policy.

While not calling into question the students’ capacity to lead or personal qualifications, Michael Jerryson — assistant professor in the department of philosophy and religious studies — and William Buckler — associate professor in the geography department — raised concerns over whether or not students should chair committees that can introduce academic policy proposals.

Schriner-Briggs, co-chair of the committee with Slavens, understands where the criticism may come from, but doesn’t believe there is any need for concern.

“Since the committee deals with policies affecting students, [critics of students as committee chairs] may think it isn’t prudent for students to be in leadership positions. I don’t think Mike or I will be conflicted in running the committee,” he said.

During the Academic Senate meeting, Adam Earnheardt — chair of the department of communications — opposed the concern over student leadership, citing a lack of faculty interest in the position, which left Slavens and Schriner-Briggs with the leadership opportunity.

Cooper echoed the sentiments, praising the students for their willingness to take part in the processes that shape the university.

“They had the courage and the gumption to step up. They can do that job as well as anyone else, and there’s nothing in the by-laws saying they can’t,” Cooper said.

Jack Fahey, vice president for Student Affairs, also praised Slavens and Schriner-Briggs, suggesting critics look at their track record as committee members for validation of their qualification.

“Anyone who has served on a committee with Mike [Slavens] knows he’s always on time, probably has zero absences, he’s thankful, he’s well prepared … he’s as good as anyone else on the committee,” Fahey said.

Despite the concerns, Slavens believes that the conflicting viewpoints are fueled primarily by a misunderstanding of the title and position in question.

“I really believe it’s just the title that bothers [the concerned faculty] … to be honest, I got the impression that those opposed to our position in the committee had no idea we were active members on the committee, and that as students we were equal to all other members on the committee,” Slavens said.

While there may be more discussion of student leadership in major academic committees, Slavens is confident he and Briggs will remain in their current seat.

“I talked to Dr. Cooper and he said we have his full support … unless the committee moves to remove us, which I don’t see happening, we will stay,” Slavens said.