University pride is in many ways similar
to national pride. Loyalty to one’s university is similar to
loyalty to one’s homeland: we’re happy when our sports
teams beat their rivals. We’re happy when we’re highly
ranked and we feel a sense of closeness with our fellow Wolverines
that we don’t get with other students. As such, we trust the
people who run the University. After all, we’re all on the
same team. Why would the administration do anything that
won’t make the University a better place for students?
However, unconditional trust in the administration is a dangerous
thing, and it is naïve to count on them to always act in the
students’ best interest. Much like we hold the politicians
who run our country to a high standard of accountability, so too
must we constantly question the legitimacy and motives behind the
decisions made by the University administration.

Elliott Mallen

First of all, University administrators are not always as loyal
to our institution as we expect them to be. This is especially true
in the case of University presidents. Presidents shift between
schools in the model followed by corporate executives. They act as
if they’re professional athletes, making universities compete
with one another over who will pay them the most and bring them the
most prestige, and often they will abandon ties with their original
schools to head up new ones. University presidents are no
exception: Lee Bollinger left the University to become the
President of Columbia University, and University President Mary Sue
Coleman gave up her post as President of the University of Iowa
before coming to Ann Arbor. Instead of establishing roots with
their universities, presidents are sold to the highest bidder. No
amount of rhetoric about how loyal they are to their universities
can make up for this fact.

The administration does make token gestures to appear open and
accessible to students. Coleman holds monthly “Fireside
Chats” where a number of randomly-selected students
informally talk with the President about student issues. The
University Board of Regents allows for anyone to make public
comments before the meetings begin. While giving students the
ability to speak with the administration is admirable, idle
listening isn’t enough.

Advisory committees are favored by the administration as means
by which student input guides decision-making. These committees
typically are made up of students, faculty and administrators and
have a great potential to act as an intermediary between students
and the administration. They are one way in which students can have
oversight over decisions made by the University and can lobby the
administration on their behalf.

In her April 1 letter to students, Coleman outlined a strategy
involving four advisory committees in order to deal with complaints
regarding a wide variety of issues brought to the administration by
Student Voices in Action. While it is possible that the committees
will do their best to act on the students’ behalf, it is
impossible for any headway to be made without significant student
involvement. The committees function with ample built-in inertia.
The purpose of committees is to be methodical and deliberative.
While this slowness has obvious advantages, more often than not it
acts to the detriment of students. We’re only here for four
eight-month sessions, and committees have the ability to stall
issues in the name of deliberation until the summer or until vocal
students graduate, making progress difficult.

What most people don’t realize is that many of these
advisory committees simply would not exist or function if it
weren’t for significant student action. The Advisory
Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights would not have been
formed had Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality not
occupied former president Bollinger’s office. Nonetheless,
this committee is plagued with bureaucratic inertia and it still
needs significant lobbying from SOLE in order to do what is
required of it. While beneficial, advisory committees alone
can’t provide the oversight necessary to ensure that the
administration acts in favor of students.

In short, I am encouraging students to become involved in
engaging the University. Don’t accept its motivations as
pure. We’re always told to constantly question the motives
behind government officials. It took Watergate to get the general
public to see the importance of public scrutiny in government
affairs. I’m encouraging students to become involved now so
that greater oversight will prevent a Watergate-like scandal
here.

Mallen serves on the Advisory Committee on Labor Standards
and Human Rights. He can be reached at
“mailto:emallen@umich.edu”>emallen@umich.edu.

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