By Cameron Scherer
Homework, practice, meetings—it seems that life at Haverford is dominated by an endless series of activities. To address the increasingly pressing issue of competing interests in student life, the Administrative Advisory Committee recently hosted two forums to discuss means through which the administration could enhance students’ participation in both extracurricular activities and academics, particularly pertaining to students who hold student leadership positions.
Every year, the AAC—which according to its mission statement, “offers advice to the President and other senior administrators on all College business matters where faculty concern is strong”—dedicates one meeting to a topic of student concern. In the past, members have discussed issues such as equity of staff wages, clean energy purchases, and maintenance of residence buildings.
AAC student representative Emily Walden ’09 reflected on her experience on Student Council (SC) when she introduced this year’s topic. Recently, SC has had conversations regarding the sacrifices student leaders have to make in all other realms of life and how such compromises affect the number of students who partake leadership roles.
“My experience at Haverford has really been shaped by [academics and extracurriculars],” she says. “And while I’ve enjoyed participation in both…at times I have felt that demands on my time have not allowed me to participate as meaningfully in either as I would like to.” As Walden’s fellow AAC student representative Ben Lansky explains, SC has been trying to find “different ways to institutionally and administratively allow students to participate on student government that are beneficial to the community,” without simultaneously detracting from their academics.
Walden and Lansky together brought three primary suggestions to the table during the March 27 forum, all of which they hope will ease the burden on students in these demanding positions. For one, members of the AAC are exploring the possibility of establishing some sort of compensation for students who take on the most time-consuming roles, such as SC Presidents or Honor Council Co-Chairs.
Lansky explains that those major leadership positions involve a lot of “paperwork, busy work, and red tape stuff,” and are generally thankless jobs. “Doing that kind of work is a huge commitment of time, time that is not immediately connected to the real pressing concerns of those bodies,” he says. Furthermore, they are working on finding a way to reduce the burden of work/study requirements for those who are interested in the responsibilities that come with student government.
Additionally, they proposed the development of a student-administrative component of the Student Activities Office that would address issues relating to the more technical aspects of student organization. With Jason McGraw or another administrator, says Lansky, students would be in charge of photocopies, fliers, event organizations – necessary activities that are often carried out inefficiently. The office would serve as an outlet for a variety of clubs and student groups, and thus hopefully “cut down on all those redundant activities that each group ends up doing.”
Finally, the group raised the idea of funding for students who wish to pursue work over the summer that nobody is willing to do voluntarily but that is in the interest of SC or the student body, such as compiling a history of the Honor Code. “This is work that takes research and time,” says Lansky. “Neither the staff nor faculty, though, wants to get involved with what they see as student projects.” Like the work subsidized by CPCG grants, the AAC hopes this work would improve overall campus life.
One thing the faculty and board wants to make clear, though, is that students should not be rewarded for all activities that come with the responsibilities of student government, Says Lansky, “There is great amount of value to volunteer service. Some grunt work and volunteering should be expected.” In the March 27 discussion, participants worked on drawing the line between required work and needless menial activity. On April 24, the AAC hosted a second forum to resolve issues that still remained after the initial discussion. Most of the meeting—which was attended by the AAC, McGraw, and other members of the deans’ offices—centered around the second proposal, that of a another work-study position in the Students Activity Office to make the office more accessible to student groups. McGraw emphasized the notion that the office should better serve the students and suggested creating a larger space where student leaders could work together and share ideas. Additionally, they discussed placing an activities intern office in Ryan Gym. “Although the issue of how to make the activities office work better for students was not resolved,” says Walden, “I think that this is just one part of what I hope remains an ongoing dialog.”
Although the forum was not open to the general public, the AAC opened the issue to discussion on the Go! Boards. Mark Burgmann ’09 offered his opinion on the issue, posting, “If Haverford were to make more job positions that would allow students to be compensated (as they need to be in order to fulfill their work-study) while doing things that directly better the community, then this could solve a lot of problems and frustrations with student involvement in the campus… This could help students feel they can both work and participate in campus life.”
While SC has yet to respond formally to the forum, Walden hopes these forums will foster a dialogue that will carry over to next year: “I’m really excited about pursuing ideas that will support student participation in extracurriculars,” she says, “and I’m hoping that SC can continue this discussion next year.”