Why Are There No Students on the Presidential Search Committee?

This piece, written by Dave Wyman, was published in the Michigan Daily on September 25, 2013:

In July, the University placed the Presidential Search Advisory Committee in charge of finding University President Mary Sue Coleman’s replacement. Unlike the committee that nominated Coleman in 2002, which included two students, University staff and non-tenured faculty, this committee includes just administrators and tenured faculty.

While the administration is quick to assure students — and everyone else who has been excluded from the real selection process — of how much they value our input, their words ring hollow when confronted with the fact that 24 of the top 25 universities included students on their most recent search committees. While we applaud the efforts of the Central Student Government to increase the students’ voice in this decision, the student committee that they’ve been granted doesn’t have the power that the committee itself has. It’s no substitute for direct representation.

Everyone but the regents seems to understand this.

If we are truly the Leaders and Best, why can’t we be trusted to be a part of the actual decision, when we hold such a high stake in it? Why have our opinions been relegated to a few forums and easily discountable online surveys?

The strength of our University community is in its diversity. As undergraduate and graduate students, tenured and non-tenured instructors, staff and Ann Arbor residents, we all have interests, hopes and concerns for the new president and the direction of the University in general. We’re all stakeholders in this, and deserve to have our ideas taken as seriously as those of the narrow fraction of the community that makes up the administration and the committee.

Unfortunately, the search’s departure from the more inclusive practices of past searches and peer institutions is in no way exceptional. It’s the culmination of years of administrative expansion.

We find ourselves on a campus where in-state undergraduate tuition has risen 63 percent in the last decade, making the University continually less accessible and forcing many students to take out dauntingly large loans. And, yet, we’re surrounded with new construction geared to boost rankings and draw out-of-state students. We have less say than ever in how the University operates. If we want these things to change — if we want a president who will rethink the model the administration has imposed — we have to take a stand for student rights.

When state funding subsidized the majority of University costs, perhaps it might have been fair for the regents to claim the broad authority they now do over University affairs. But when our tuition money is 62 percent of the budget, it’s unjustifiable for the administration to disenfranchise students in this fashion. Meanwhile, tuition climbs every year with the rationalization of state defunding, construction continues at a fever pitch and the average student graduates with $27,000 in debt.

The time has passed for us to quietly petition the administration for a voice in the direction of the University. The time has passed for us to accept a powerless “assistive” role in vital decisions like the presidential search. We must demand a binding voice in the selection of Michigan’s next president and a deciding role in the way our university is run.

The Student Union of Michigan is resolved to bring real democracy to our campus. The time has come for us to take charge of our own educations. Join us at The Cube at 12 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 3, to call on the administration to include students, faculty and staff as part of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee and let our voice be heard.

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