Students Need to be Involved in Academic Senate

Joseph Kim is an ASUC student representative on the committee on teaching. Respond at [email protected].





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State budget cuts and the onset of Tidal Wave II have forced UC campuses to make hard decisions concerning many aspects of university life. Such changes have helped students appreciate how greatly UC Academic Senate decisions can impact their academic and non-academic well being.

President Atkinson's proposal last February to abolish using the SAT in UC admissions dramatically reinforced this point. Yet these were only the most visible cases that demonstrated the importance of student involvement in the academic senate.

The level of academic senate student representation varies on each UC campus, sometimes to a significant degree. Moreover, the present level of student representation on a given UC campus, whatever it is, was generally a hard-fought gain. Unfortunately, the existing channels of participation have typically been underutilized by student representatives, as revealed by inconsistent attendance records and ignorance on major policy issues facing academic senate approval.

Attempts at feasible reform must account for two political realities, however.

First, the academic senate is, by its administrative nature, resistant to any change to its organizational structure. Second, this underutilization was largely because of student governments' failure to develop administrative structures that encouraged students to maximize the available channels of participation.

While student governments may be reluctant to concede this last point, individuals serious about improving academic senate student participation cannot overlook the important intermediary role student governments play between the student body and their campus' academic senate.

The Academic Senate Renewal Project was established in Nov. 2000 at UC Berkeley as a response to many of these perceived problems. Its mission was to reinvigorate the role of student involvement in the academic senate by establishing an administrative structure that would promote a high level of student service to the academic senate. Through a series of legislative changes in student government, UC Berkeley students were able to substantially improve the quality of service to student constituents in a matter of weeks.

The focus of the reform efforts was the student government's management of the academic senate program. This managerial model was legislated into student government reality by establishing a timeline for soliciting applications and securing nominations, developing communication mechanisms between the student body and representatives, outlining duties of students holding positions of responsibility, and instituting other reforms that fostered an organizational culture of professionalism and responsible participation.

This weekend, representatives from eight UC student governments will convene at UC San Diego to discuss reform options in the first system wide meeting of

the project.

While each UC student government will retain authority over administering its academic senate program, the conference will stress the ways student government can improve the quality of service its representatives provide to its constituents and the academic senate.

A major theme of the conference will be enacting regulations to the academic senate program to achieve dramatic change in service delivery. As we have witnessed here at Berkeley, observable improvements can be quickly (and sometimes instantaneously) realized by passing legislation that more clearly specifies the administrative features of the academic senate program.

The critical dialogue we will begin this week will no doubt be an important first step to meaningful reform.

Our student governments must do more than talk, however; student governments must move aggressively to ensure that constructive representation is provided in a timely manner.

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