Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Governance: Toward Effectiveness and the Ideal

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Governance: Toward Effectiveness and the Ideal

Article excerpt

College students have been engaged in various aspects of campus governance since nearly the beginning of the academy. This governance was formalized greatly by the academic freedom movement of 40 years ago, and the current system of shared governance has not adapted well to the changing nature of the commercial higher education institution. The current study was designed to explore the ideal characteristics of student governance bodies, their leaders, and elements to be used to determine organizational effectiveness. Respondents from six different institutions agreed most strongly with the conceptualizations of engaging broad student interests and creating clarity about the role, purpose, and mission of the governance unit.


College student voices have been spoken and heard in higher education since nearly the beginning of the academy. From the rise of college student nations at Bologna to student protests to divest from sweat-shop-reliant businesses, college students have actively worked to influence how colleges and universities conduct their business. Students were particularly effective at exerting influence on the process of decision-making in higher education in the 1960s and 1970s, when large numbers of students worked together to force their recognition by senior administrators. This collaboration among students dismantled in loco parentis, and formalized channels for students to participate in institutional decision-making (Hodgkinson, 1971).

During the last 30 years, however, student involvement in institutional decision-making has eroded to the extent that student empowerment has largely assumed a placating role with authority delegated to oversee student-related activities and fee disbursement. In what has been described as a spiraling effect, this relegation of authority has in turn led to fewer students participating less passionately, and a growing attention to self-service activities (Weis, 1992; Miles, 1997B).

Student involvement in institutional governance has become fragmented and often seen as a non-serious component of holistic institutional governance. Although some institutions place students on boards of trustees and even allow them to vote, higher education as a whole has increasingly segregated governance bodies and stripped them of many of the powers that were initially delegated to them. Baldridge (1982) was quick to note that there never truly was a period of time in American higher education where all authority and power were delegated equally among differing governing bodies, but, the increasingly commercial behavior of higher education institutions has marginalized governing bodies due to their inefficiencies and focus on fiscal positioning (Giroux, 2001 provides an excellent broad discussion of this trend: Engell & Dangerfield, 2004 similarly provide a good description of the cultural change fueled by money).

The competing interests of higher education, those being the desire for corporate like success (and financial control) coupled with the inherently inefficient purpose of student maturation create a tension within higher education that does not support shared governance generally, and with students specifically. Although there are indeed advantages to sharing authority and delegating work, contemporary higher education seems to be generally disinterested in increasing shared governance opportunities (Miller, 2003). The result is a gradual dismissive nature by institutional leaders to respect, call on, or rely on student governance bodies for input into the decision-making process. The purpose for conducting the current study, therefore, was to identify the barriers and opportunities for involving students in meaningful shared governance.

Student Involvement in Governance as a Practical Problem

Student involvement in institutional governance has been predicated on a number of arguments. These include student's entitlement of citizenship and the right of franchise for citizens in a democracy, the correlation between student learning and involvement, the learning produced by engagement in decision-making, the acculturation into democratic life, and that students are often on campus as long as administrators (Miller & Nadler, 2006; Sibley, 1998). …

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