As I watched the UCLA Bruins play this past Friday in March Madness, I was reminded of the great success of the program’s former coach, John Wooden. Named “Coach of the Century” by ESPN, Wooden led the UCLA basketball program to astonishing heights, including a record seven consecutive NCAA championships and an extraordinary 88-game winning streak. Yet, when Coach Wooden went to pick up his well-deserved paycheck, he found it adorned not with the signature of the UCLA athletic director, nor of the UCLA chancellor, but rather with that of the UCLA student body president.
Across the country, universities empower students to take part in decision-making. At UCLA, this came in the form of signing the basketball coach’s paycheck; at 70 percent of public institutions of higher learning and over a fifth of private ones, this comes in the form of student seats on governing boards.
The institutional framework at Yale, like those at Harvard and Princeton, does not create a similarly integrated role for students. Our access to administrators is based entirely on their discretion, and proposals from student representatives can be rejected or ignored without any explanation or justification.
Unsurprisingly, the reputation of student government at our schools has suffered. In 2013, a joke ticket won the race for president and vice president at Harvard. At Princeton, a joke candidate won the general election for president this year. When administrators don’t take their student governments seriously, students respond in kind, and student power is weakened.
Here at Yale, the debate concerning the role of student voice has taken a different form, most recently culminating in the large “Unite Yale” rally on Friday. Mounting frustrations regarding seeming inaction on the most important issues on campus have led to a spike in student activism and calls for greater empowerment of the student body.
Although institutionally the role of student voice is not strong, today we are fortunate to be led by administrators who are profoundly concerned about student interests and well-being. They are eager to engage with the YCC and carefully consider our proposals. Indeed, on Thursday, Dean Jonathan Holloway, Director of Yale Health Dr. Paul Genecin and YCC leadership will sit down and go through the mental health report in its entirety; at the meeting’s conclusion, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the status of our proposals.
My number one focus during my time as YCC president has been actualizing that empowerment. I have spoken of our need to concentrate our voices to overcome institutional obstacles and maximize our impact, using the STEM metaphor of a laser to communicate the message. With the year coming to a close, I think we can see the fruits of this effort: a more inclusive housing policy, a frozen student contribution and more mental health resources on the way (albeit lacking in specifics, for now).
These outcomes would not have been achieved if not for the sincere passion students felt for them, manifested in personal testimony, a student petition with 1,100 signatures and fantastic editorial journalism from the News. However, the YCC remains the best mechanism through which to achieve our desired impacts. All of these ends were first proposed by the YCC; although buttressed by student shows of support, all went through the proper administrative channels with YCC engagement along the way.
Work remains in formalizing the role of the student body in the broader governance of the University. Our institution is experiencing profound change, including the opening of two new colleges and the filling of vacancies in numerous deanships. With administrators ready to listen, we in turn have an obligation to demand more of ourselves and from our student leadership to help shape that future.
Due to the combination of a dedicated membership, guided by YCC Vice President Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16, the solid footing provided by our predecessors and the passion of the student body, I believe this year’s YCC has succeeded in advancing many priorities as students. We failed, however, to better engage the cultural centers, particularly in the wake of the events in Ferguson, and to make our athletes feel included, especially because of the continuing Spring Fling date controversy.
We can make the YCC stronger, both in its institutionalization in the governing structure of the University and its integration within the student body. I believe we took great strides forward this year, despite some errors; what we do next year will be up to you.
So run for YCC, vote in the YCC elections next week and make sure you do your part to empower the student voice and improve our Yale.
Michael Herbert is a junior in Saybrook College. He is the president of the Yale College Council. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .