Opinions, Column, Featured Column

The UGBC Challenge

With three pairs of candidates for president and executive vice president of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College officially declared, this is going to be an important election for the organization. Events in the last year have demonstrated the great need for effective student leadership at the University, and many students are ready for impactful change. As in past years, campaigns have been announced from inside and outside the UGBC organization. No matter what the candidates’ relation to UGBC or the BC administration, I challenge them to put student governance legitimacy in the University’s administrative structure at the top of their agendas.

In the past, candidates have come forward with comprehensive and representative initiatives that address the needs and concerns of the student body. But their agendas failed to deliver an effective plan to shift University policy. This time last year, Thomas Napoli and Olivia Hussey strongly advocated for free speech and students’ rights. Many of their supporters were disappointed by the inability to achieve student-developed input into the updated student guide’s sections on free speech and expression.

The inaction on this proposal and others like it does not stem from its merits as reasonable and important, or from the hard work of the student body’s elected representatives. Rather, it reflects the lack of political leverage that students hold against the University administration and the entrenched interest of the administration to perpetuate these power relations as status quo.

This lack of legitimacy for the elected representatives of student voice can be seen in two ways. Firstly, it is seen in the ineffectiveness of student-led initiatives to better the campus climate and the rights of students. The second manifestation of this issue comes forth in more ways than students can possibly know, simply because so many decisions at the University happen without student input or even student knowledge that such decisions are taking place. Without student voice or oversight in the governance actions of the University, issues for students can be perpetuated with a strong disconnect between the decisions of University leaders and the effects that they have on students. The result is that most decisions that affect students’ daily lives, including those on health care, diet, faculty, curriculum, and budgets, happen in spaces that do not require student input.

Student leaders in UGBC lack the leverage they need to make substantial or impactful change to the governing of the University because UGBC, and every other student-led initiative like it, lacks the institutional legitimacy that it needs to act independently of University benevolence, approval, and oversight.

This issue does not mean that UGBC has not been able to receive meeting time with University administrators or the Board of Trustees. It does mean, however, that the time and resources given to student-led initiatives are considered a privilege, not a right. It can only be given with the benevolence and oversight of the University, and it can be withheld or taken away without question when the administration decides that the initiatives of students do not agree with its own visions of academic and student life.

One way to gain a legitimate foothold in the governance of the University would be the institutionalization of permanent positions for students and faculty on the University’s Board of Trustees. This is a demand that has already been made by members of Eradicate Boston College Racism, among others. In this way, students and faculty have a regular means to voice their concerns and ideas at the highest level of the University’s administration. Additionally, students and faculty would be aware of all the governing decisions made for the University, and would be able to give input before experiencing their effects on how the University is run. Ideally, these student representatives should be from UGBC and include the president, executive vice president, or a newly created position of vice president for board relations.

Another means to achieve this goal of increased student oversight would be the release of all the minutes of Board meetings to the campus community to be discussed and commented upon by the Student Assembly of UGBC. These responses should be based on input from the greater BC community and should be presented promptly to board members as feedback. Additionally, student initiatives that receive majority support, either as passed in the Student Assembly or by student referendum, should be taken to the Board and responsible administrative bodies to be addressed promptly and effectively.

To the candidates for UGBC president and executive vice president, Anthony Perasso and Rachel Loos, Elizabeth Foley and Joseph McCarthy, and Olivia Hussey and Meredith McCaffrey: this is a challenge to each of you to consider the position of students vis-a-vis the University administration and the importance of increasing student power by gaining a legitimate foothold in the University’s governing structure.

To the students of BC: this is a challenge to each of you to consider this proposal strongly as well. It is the student body that will choose the next set of candidates to lead the University’s student government next year. The candidates that prioritize the institutionalization of legitimate student governance at the highest levels of the University administration will be best positioned to initiate the changes necessary to benefit the student body as a whole

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Graphics

February 7, 2016