Student Affairs Committee Refuses to Let Students Know What’s Going On
By Paul Lagarde and Christian von Hassell In his recent address to the community, President Ruscio described W&L as “an educational institution devoted to free and open inquiry.” This, many academics claim, is the point of college: to provide the opportunity for students to think deeply, independently, and at times, contrarily. To support this end, one would hope that the powers that be at W&L would encourage a free dialogue and exchange of ideas between faculty, administrators, and students. Sadly, we fear this is not the case.
One of the most powerful governing bodies at this university—and one of the least well known—is the Student Affairs Committee (SAC). According to the universitywebsite:
The Spectator recently asked Dean Sidney Evans, who serves as the chair of the Student Affairs Committee, if student publications—including the Ring-Tum Phi and Spectator—could start reporting on SAC meetings. She refused this request, suggesting that the presence of student reporters could leave members of the committee insecure about voicing their honest opinions. “The presence of a journalist in that room would undoubtedly inhibit these discussions,” she said.
For the record, every person on the committee either works for the University or is a student with a substantial leadership position. This is not a focus group of random students seeking only to generate discussion. Anonymity and confidentiality would certainly be desirable if this were the case. But this is an active governing body comprised of elected and appointed leaders, who, bearing the responsibilities of their offices, should also be held accountable for their actions.
Affording students the opportunity to report on this very important committee that discusses their affairs would undoubtedly lead to a more transparent and free exchange of ideas on campus. It is worth noting that SAC lists one of its primary responsibilities as “serving as a University forum for the discussion, debate and dissemination of issues and information affecting student life.” Indeed.
But SAC does not just debate and discuss—it takes substantial action as well. Just last year, SAC made the decision to shorten pledgeship (or “New Member Education,” as they like to call it) by two weeks. Such a decision affects a large portion of the student body, and yet, no one knew about it until it had already been decided.
Certainly some topics might be best discussed in private. The Spectator therefore suggested to Dean Evans that SAC could hold both “open” and “closed” meetings depending on the subject matter discussed. The Executive Committee follows such a practice, keeping meetings related to the honor system private while allowing full student access to its normal business meetings. The topics discussed in these open meetings remain significant – even controversial at times – and the EC’s willingness to open them to the student body reflects a sincere commitment to accountability and transparency.
Though Dean Evans denied The Spectator’s request, one would hope that it was given fair attention. Perhaps it could have even sparked some discussion within SAC. However, one committee member said Evans has in no way consulted SAC on the matter.
Perhaps after an actual discussion, (and we hope one occurs) SAC could take some reasonable steps to improve transparency. The students of this university, whom it claims to represent, would surely benefit.