The nation of the United States of America has always had a special history and connection with the concept of government and authority. As a country literally born from a dissatisfaction with the then current system and propelled forward by a desire to create a brand new, separate system of government that could be uniquely shaped and adjusted to fit the young country in the best possible way, the idea of possessing an organized system responsible for governing others is a notion that is held particularly dear in many different aspects of American society. However, with this practically innate feeling of the right to have an influence and say in how any given governing structure is run, it is understandable how often times conflicts arise regarding just how such systems are managed and more importantly, who the ones who get to manage them will be.
There is no doubt that this struggle can be acutely observed within institutions of higher education. Universities have long served as unofficial hubs for students to explore their rights, opinions, and desires for themselves and the world around them, often times not in total agreement with those officially designated by the university to have control over these very issues. Thus a perpetual back-and-forth ensues, with students championing the argument that as the recipients of the education, the financial “customers” of the colleges themselves, and frankly the vast majority of a university population, they should hold a strongly prominent position of influence and decision making in regards to how the university is run and what occurs on campus. Yet on the other hand, university administrators present an equally compelling argument, revolving around the ideas that as the institution is the one that has admitted the students and who is responsible for the maintenance of the college’s reputation and functioning as a whole, they ought to be automatically and systematically entitled to those positions of authority and by extension, a greater level of control and influence.
This complex power struggle becomes even more evident when individual issues are considered. For example, when pondering the question of who should have a more weighted say in the hiring of faculty, tenure decisions, or curriculum revision, one might suggest that students should have a more active role, as such decisions directly impact their educational experience both financially and in the classroom. However, one might also suggest that such decisions cannot be made without the expertise and specific experience of faculty and administration, something that most students would not effectively be able to offer. Some issues, such as faculty workload or undergraduate student admission decisions, may not immediately seem like they would hold much interest to students in the first place, but upon further reflection could be interpreted as something that students might have very different opinions on then perhaps the general administration, especially considering the potential of differing mindsets regarding the “bottom line” goal for the university in general, whether that is to educate students most effectively or to most effectively wind up with a comfortable profit margin at the end of the year. Historically, there has been much debate over which party within an institution for higher education ought to hold the greatest say in regards to on campus political on-goings or social movements. As previously mentioned, the college years are almost famous for the increased passion for change and a heard voice observed in the students composing those populations, while faculty and administration scramble to make sure that everything that goes on within that realm is carefully monitored to fit within the acceptable molds that form the very reputation of their respective universities.
At the end of the day, there is not a simple excel spreadsheet where one could simply sort which aspects which populations of the university should hold the highest authority on and then simply call it a day. With a body of academic culture that is as cautious to embrace change as it is radical to encourage it, I don’t expect that this fluid struggle will become explicitly sorted out any time soon, if honestly ever. However, I do believe that intentionally endeavoring to pursue a more joint than divided effort to collaborate on issues and decisions between administration, faculty, and students will ultimately have the most successful impact in creating a college culture that is more unified and impactful as a whole.