ASWC senators set standards for on-campus involvement

Katy Wills

The senators of the Associated Students of Whitman College are a bunch of nerds. I can say that with authority and playfulness because I served my time in Senate last year and identified with that type myself. Those 16 senators and several other members of ASWC are passionate about representing student interests, think Robert’s Rules are fun and actually enjoy writing legislation. While their enthusiasm is evident, up for debate is the commitment to involvement of the rest of the student body in administrative decisions at our school.

While brainstorming ideas for articles to write this week, I came upon a member of ASWC who was exasperated at the current status of a resolution working its way through the Senate. This conversation piqued my interest because she was discussing student involvement in one of the most critical aspects of the Whitman experience: selection of professors for tenure. This issue of student involvement has two parts: the amount of influence Whitman students have in the decision to grant a professor tenure and the connection students have with their elected representatives.

The current method of adjudicating a tenure appointment keeps student input at a minimum. When professors are up for tenure, they submit evaluations from two thirds of their classes and the reviewers assess their teaching based on those. Additionally, while a fundamental part of a good professor‘s job is their advising, the only way that aspect gets reported is through their own self-reflective analysis. We need more room for students in choosing which professors get tenure because students have a nuanced perspective that must be aptly accounted for. Presently, 11 out of our 13 comparison schools include student input beyond course evaluations, making it even more evident that Whitman needs to up their student input game.

I know this information because I sat down over coffee with one of our student representatives. These students are a wealth of information and drive, often spending three hours on Sunday nights debating the specificity of legislation they pass and the implications of decisions they make. These students work incredibly hard.

I realized I couldn’t write an article on student involvement in tenure decisions without accounting for the lack of student involvement in, or knowledge of, other more routine ones. So herein lies the age old question: “What does ASWC even do?” Students need to be asking this with much more regularity. In the context of administrative decisions at the college, an ASWC member recently told me that students need to be constantly asking for more. For several years, ASWC has been pushing to appoint a student to the Board of Trustees, which would be, for some, the ultimate level of student involvement. This ASWC member meant that Whitman students have to make requests to the administration because it doesn’t have a reputation for going out of it way to reach out to students for insight. I’d like to turn that around and say that Whitman students need to be asking making requests to their senators.

I became a politics major for several reasons –– mostly because it’s the sexiest major at Whitman, but also because I think civic engagement is a beautiful thing. So I’ll leave you, dear readers, with some thought-food to munch on. Ask your senators what’s going on in ASWC. Ask them why they care, and ask them why students aren’t at least asked to write letters of recommendation for their tenure candidate professors.