Remember that kid who couldn’t propose to University President Mary Sue Coleman on Valentine’s Day because she refused to come out of her house and talk to him? Apparently he’s not the only student who can’t reach her.
Members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality have been pushing a “Sweatfree University” campaign all year to ensure that University apparel is made in factories that respect workers’ rights. Coleman, however, has yet to open dialogue with the group about the proposal it sent her near the beginning of last fall term. The president’s unsettling detachment from student concerns ultimately harms students, the administration and the reputation of the University.
The University’s Labor Standards and Human Rights Committee won’t vote on whether to recommend that Coleman approve SOLE’s proposal until April 21. The vote’s convenient timing, which falls after classes end and right at the beginning of the exam period, ensures that students will not have much time to react to the committee’s findings. Because Coleman makes the final decision on whether to accept the committee’s recommendation, SOLE maintains that the University’s labor standards are up to her.
The members of SOLE are voicing legitimate concerns, and they have rallied from the beginning of the school year to the end. They deserve attention and respect from the administration. At the very least, the committee should have voted in a timely manner and the Coleman should have allowed discussion on the issue. If the administration is unable to meet a student group’s demands, it at least owes the group an explanation. Waiting seven months to respond to a proposal looks awfully like the University is waiting for some student leaders to graduate.
Everyone in the campus community suffers when the University’s leaders aren’t accessible to students. Such disinterest discourages students from getting involved and promoting the issues they care about. Student activists have the power to drive the movement for social change, and University leaders – especially the president – should encourage that activism by responding in a timely and efficient manner.
The president of the University has a responsibility to the students she represents. She is more than the University’s chief fundraiser, and she must be accessible to students and willing to listen to their concerns. Ignoring a group that has come together for a cause discourages student activism and silences voices that should be heard through the campus community.