Opinions, Column

Power Negotiations, Or How To Hold The University Hostage

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

When I look back at times in my life when I have been really surprised—other than the unfortunate diagnoses of medical ailments for loved ones or the pairing up of that couple that no one ever saw coming—I think of a moment in Higgins last year. A number of eager young Eagles were dressed to the nines with their best networking faces on, attending a presentation by Bank of America. The recruiter had just started on the first couple of PowerPoint slides, and notebooks had just begun to be scratched with silver pens. As we moved on to slide three, BAM! The back door opens up. A group of about five students wearing matching green shirts marches in.

Disclaimer: This event transpired about a year ago, and in my old age my memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, so feel free to write in and correct me. From what I remember, however, these five students sat in the front row, and started to raise their hands. The presenter politely told them that questions could be asked after the presentation was finished. The students continued to raise their hands until called upon by the presenter. When the presenter yielded to their persistence, a student asked about the ethics of all of the equity that BofA holds in oil companies. At this point, the Eagles in business attire started to look at each other worriedly—they were a very confused convocation indeed. (Sidebar: A group of Eagles is called a convocation. Those Boston College administrators are pretty clever, aren’t they?)

In my negotiation class this semester, we have been discussing the elements that give one party an advantage over another in a negotiation setting. On the first day of class, I expected technique to be the most important element. As it turns out, the academics and professionals who are experts in the field believe that technique is the least important of the four elements that give one party an advantage. The most important element is power. The second is the quality of knowledge that each party holds. The third is trust, or the history of the relationship between the parties and past negotiations. Bringing up the rear, you have actual negotiation technique.

At BC, we like to complain. There is nothing wrong with criticism–it is necessary to move society forward. While I will not reveal my opinion on whether I believe that the University should divest from oil, I would like to diagnose the climate of change creation on campus. It is great that BC students have passion and that they want to diagnose problems, discuss them, and push for a better University. I just think that we should think of the serenity prayer every once in a while.

Power is the most important aspect in any negotiation. A better understanding of this fact may lead to less disappointment from a student perspective as well as more efficient use of energy and resources. A group of 20 students who have formed a club have very little power compared to 14,000 other students who may or may not agree with them, the administration, and the Board of Trustees that has been charged with the financial upkeep of the University. Planning one interruption of a corporate information session at one campus is not likely to change anything. The event will occur, the company will be upset, there will potentially be some discussion of the event on campus for a short time, and then we will all move on, and nothing will change. A coordinated effort with similar clubs at 20 notable universities around the nation that all decide to protest at info sessions for different companies on the same night, and the creation of a social media campaign to document the protests? That could get some discussion moving across the country.

Students at BC once understood the power dynamics of negotiation better than they do now. In the spring of 1970, BC students actually shut down the University over a tuition hike. Before setting the world aflame, those Eagles started with their own backyard. In order to bolster their power in negotiations with the University, students occupied the president’s office and boycotted classes until the University voted to cancel them. Academic buildings were locked, and classes were cancelled in May until an agreement was reached. The enlarged network of students tipped the power balance, and the students ended up receiving a better deal from the University.

While I do not endorse extremism, this is one very telling example of the role of power in negotiations. Who would have thought students could actually say no to a tuition increase? These students certainly had the courage to change the things they could, even when they were told they couldn’t.
There is still a place, though, for the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed. Incessantly complaining about tailgating regulations on Shea isn’t going to change the city’s stance, and I don’t think this issue will ever be pertinent enough to inspire a network of Eagles young and old to protest in city hall. BC will always be a Catholic institution, and the efforts of student groups to change policies that cannot be changed unless the Pope decides to radically alter the course of the Catholic Church may inspire national conversation, but they will not inspire change on this campus as long as the U.S. continues to believe in the separation of church and state.

There is a litany of other issues that passionate BC students try to change every week on campus. I love your passion—this is part of what makes BC BC. If you want to optimize your usage of time and energy, however, and maybe even sleep for once, think of the serenity prayer.

Featured Image by George Rezk / Heights File Photo

October 6, 2014