Transitions between leaders don’t always go smoothly, especially when one leaves two weeks before the other arrives.

Paul Wong
RC Students Graham Atkin and John Paul Dutka try to accomplish the first mission of the new RC Student Republic: Getting in.

The time gap in which an institution is left without leadership can leave holes for a new, expected leadership to take over and lead a revolution.

Just ask students in the Residential College, which is currently without an official director. Interim director Charlie Bright left the country and Tom Weisskopf, the school’s former director who will hold the position again come next Monday, has not yet returned from his year sabbatical.

Several RC students are taking advantage of the situation by temporarily taking over the school’s directorship and starting the RC Student Republic – at the suggestion of Bright and RC Prof. Martin Walsh.

Walsh and Bright asked RC senior Graham Atkin, who has been active in the RC Players theater-drama group as well as the Residential College Student Life Committee, to assume the position on behalf of the students.

Atkin accepted. Joined by several other RC students, Atkin has already formed a student government as a way of maintaining the momentum of the Student Republic once Weisskopf returns.

“The director of the RC has never been a dictator, he’s always been somebody who is coordinating very individualistic types,” Walsh said when asked if he was worried about the power given to his new employer.

Atkin said the ability of the RC leadership to hand the reins over to the students is one of the things that differentiates the college from the rest of the schools at the University, as well as the rest of the schools around the country.

“In the 1960s and 70s, students were more active in the RC government than they are now, but I think that’s because they weren’t as involved in everything else,” he said, adding that he believes the chance RC students are being given now should be preserved and taken advantage of. “The fact that the faculty and staff are willing to take this risk is a huge note of confidence. … In the RC, it’s a foregone conclusion that students are going to be taken seriously.”

Members of the Student Republic began their work last week, meeting several times to arrange meetings with University President Mary Sue Coleman and the deans of other schools, as well as to discuss how the republic should be run and what other things they wanted to accomplish.

Atkin said the Student Republic could serve as an important introduction to the RC for Coleman, adding that even if the students do not have the opportunity to meet with her, he would like her to “spend a day, or even an hour, at the RC and see the sorts of things that go on.”

“It’s unbelievable – the respect for students, the students’ respect for faculty, the respect for learning in general,” he said.

When asked if he believed that two weeks was enough time to make any change, Atkin responded with “Why would you ever sell yourself short like that? There is no reason to doubt yourself.”

Several RC students agreed, saying that the Student Republic could offer students a chance to make a real difference in the way both students and faculty are heard.

“I would like to see Graham Atkin go into a room and just listen for an hour and not say anything – to work to have other people heard, to really empower everyone,” RC sophomore Bill Trenary said. “The most brilliant people are the ones not being heard.”

Other students expressed doubts that the Student Republic could accomplish anything significant during its two-week tenure but said they hoped it grow into something that did impact the school.

“I think this is a great idea,” said RC senior Mark Buckles. “But if he wants a republic, he better get some constituents.”

“I just see a lot of actions like this, that never advance beyond the organizing and the rallying cries,” Trenary added.

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