Editorial: Why Le Roy’s student panel is not enough


Photo by Rick Treur.

This fall, President Le Roy announced a search committee for a new provost, and one thing stuck out to us — there is no student representative on the committee.

Instead, Le Roy said that he plans to hold a student panel at the end of the interview process with the top two or three candidates.

And student senate — a group that says student governance and representation is a cornerstone of their agenda this year — has said they are “completely satisfied” with having no representative.

While we commend President Le Roy for adding a student panel to the process, our staff doesn’t think that’s enough: we urge President Le Roy to add a student representative to the provost search committee.

First, we’d like to explain how important this is to students. The provost is arguably the second-highest ranking person in the college — the top dog for all faculty, all research and all academic courses at Calvin College.

She’s pivotal in academic strategic planning and she’ll be critical in implementing the new core curriculum. She’s also the one who will tell each student to move his or her tassel over at commencement.

That’s why we’re disappointed that the student voice will not be included on the committee to choose the next provost, but instead marginalized into an isolated panel.

So what can a student on the committee contribute that a separate student panel cannot?

First, the students on this panel won’t be engaged in — and won’t shape — the months of conversation about what Calvin needs in a provost right now. If students on this panel have just one interview with the top candidates, the input they give will be limited and not rooted in those months of conversation.

Second, there will be no one on the committee to push for this voice after the student panel leaves the room. We doubt that anyone’s vote will be swayed by the opinions of students who have not seen the full picture, were added in the 11th hour and are not in the room for the final call. We’re afraid that this panel is more of a tokenization of a student voice than a worthwhile pursuit of the student perspective.

Third, forming a separate student panel deprives the committee of the unique voice of a student. Le Roy said he wants a committee of experts on hiring. But a student should be on the committee not in spite of their different perspective on hiring, but because of their different perspective on hiring. In deliberation, it’s important to value difference. A student would encourage the committee to think differently and stress issues important to the student body.

Of course, we do see one major advantage to a student panel: it will involve more students than just one in the process. But Le Roy’s rationale — that it’s hard for one student to represent the entire student body — is a dangerous argument to make. If we don’t think one student on a committee is effective at providing a student voice, it gives reason to take student representatives off almost every committee at Calvin.

And there’s precedent for having student representatives on committees for big issues: there was a student on the search committee that chose President Le Roy and students sit on almost every governance committee in the college.

Now normally we would look to student senate to thrust the student voice into the middle of important conversations like these, but student body president David Kuenzi told us Monday that he was “completely satisfied” with the current plan, which he calls “absolutely adequate.”

We were surprised to hear student senate balked on this issue. They really have taken student representation seriously this year, including a push for a second representative on the core committee, but we think they are dropping the ball here.

This case is a textbook example of the student voice being marginalized exactly because it is the student voice: because a new provost isn’t important to us, because we can’t understand the complexity of the situation or because the place where we add the most value is tacked on as an afterthought.

We believe the place the students add the most value is with their own seat at the table — not all the seats at the kids’ table.

We urge President Le Roy to give students a representative on the provost search committee.