I am a member of the Student-Faculty Senate and the student representative to the Faculty Curriculum Committee at Silberman. Our Common Day was yesterday, and I found myself furious by the end of the day. What I’m posting below is what I almost sent out to the Student Senators but decided to keep for myself – a cathartic rather than confrontive endeavor. Writing it did, indeed, help, but I remain disappointed in a member of the school’s administration for having felt a need to attempt manipulation of a student representative, which seems to me entirely inappropriate, and I’m also fairly disappointed in one of my peers for taking the stance that a student voice ought to be silenced. Namely, my voice. Before I post the letter, here’s a picture of a t-shirt I received for my donations to the Obama campaign; it is one of my more favored possessions:
And the letter (edited for privacy):
My Fellow Senators –
Something has been voiced to me that causes me great concern regarding the nature of our role as student senators and in particular the role of the student representative to the Faculty Curriculum Committee. I believe our role is to present views upon our best information, which is necessarily a personal decision. I believe the notion that we democratically speak for the student body is a misconception. Unless one of us has an ability of which I am unaware, none of us are aware of the wishes of a majority of our entire student body, hence no decision we make is fully democratic but rather is based upon our best-informed judgment.
Two situations in particular concern me: one from the Common Day forum and one from the October 20th Faculty Curriculum Committee meeting. At the Common Day forum I voiced my opposition to the survey result of the question concerning whether or not our Policy I course thoroughly covers the US governmental process. Seventy-four percent of the roughly 25% of the student body who took the survey believes Policy I does, in fact, comprehensively cover the topic. I disagree and stated so, which prompted Professor L., who teaches Policy I, to tell us he agrees with me and will talk to Professor A. about the concern to see if the governmental process might be covered more in-depth. Only a positive result can come from this conversation, in my opinion, and it would have been remiss of me to keep my disagreement to myself considering when I was voted into Senate, getting Policy I to more comprehensively cover the governmental process was on my platform.
Next there is the Faculty Curriculum Committee meeting. At one point I said, “I’m going to switch from democratic mode of speaking for the student body to republic mode of speaking for myself.” This occasion was prompted during a discussion of Silberman switching to letter grades. I stated that I am for it and told the committee why, at which point Professor G. thanked me (he seems to want the change). On the second occasion, which was regarding whether or not there is enough integration of the classes, I stated, “Back to republic mode” and told the committee that the curriculum and the faculty have offered us the tools to connect the classes and various curricula. I told them we do have the ability to connect the classes, and that it is an academic responsibility of students to form this connection for themselves. I do not believe anyone can “speak for the student body” on this topic since we all have various and different sets of professors, hence me making it unmistakably clear – to my mind – that I was speaking solely for myself.
If this body agrees that in our roles as Student Senators we are to be but vessels for what we assume the student body desires, and are to silence our own voices as students, I will respect that as the body’s decision; however, I vehemently disagree, and I believe the notion goes against an essential component of our responsibility as social workers. I hope we are all passionate about following our directive to value our clients’ inherent worth and helping them to do so, as well. We should not silence our own voices; we would be debasing our own worth by devaluing through silence our own beliefs. That would be a worrying state of affairs at any school of social work and particularly at Silberman.
Having offered my very strong opinions – passionate beliefs, really – I will get to the point: the position of student representative to the Faculty Curriculum Committee. Perhaps this isn’t even an issue for any of you and the bearer of this news, who was neither a Student Senator nor Faculty, was out of place. But if it is an issue for any of you, and you strongly believe the student representative should be only a vessel for whatever student body opinion we assume is held by a majority of our peers, and that the position requires that we silence our own voices in pursuit of pushing that assumption, please call a vote to replace me. I will always present the student perspective as best I assume it to be, and I will certainly bring back to the Senate what is said in the meetings, but under no circumstances will I devalue my own perspectives.
I realize I have presented this in negative terms, but consequences must always be considered, and the consequences of an opposing view, as I believe them to be, are what I presented here. It would be very disappointing, certainly, if such a vote occurred, but I know this would be a well-considered decision based upon theoretical and professional beliefs. I would not take it as a personal rebuke.
I want this body’s backing if I am to remain in this position, and at the moment I am uncertain I have that.