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The Carletonian

The Call of College Governance: Why it should matter to you and what you can do about it

<w are students involved in campus governance? CSA probably comes first to mind. It is true; CSA is active in countless facets of life at Carleton. Last year the students of Carleton organized themselves into over a hundred groups which they supported with over $394,000. The CSA bought newspapers for students, funded Spring Concert and Rotblatt, brought countless speakers to campus, sustained KRLX, The Cave, SUMO, the Algol, and the Love Bus. We printed five student publications, competed in 25 club sports and five academic teams, acted and sung in our 15 performing groups. We sent students around the world, from Minneapolis to Bali, to attend conferences on everything from climate change to health careers. We experienced diverse cultures through 18 cultural groups on campus. Carleton just wouldn’t be Carleton without CSA.

CSA, however, only begins to scratch the surface of student engagement with campus governance. We normally think of the Administration – the president, vice presidents, deans, and associated staff – as paid professionals whose job it is to set the rules by which the college operates. In fact, at Carleton this is only one facet of campus administration, or campus governance. Students serve alongside administrators and faculty on the committees that govern the College. This in theory gives students the ability to influence practically every decision made about the College. Students voted to approve the budget, including the 5.25% increase in the comprehensive fee. Students helped create the Access Scholarships to decrease student loans. Students voted to approve the new mission statement for the college. Students can have a huge impact on the way the College works.

It was with this conviction that during our four years at Carleton we have spent more than our fair share of nights discussing CSA and campus governance into the early hours of the morning. In this we are certainly not unique. Carleton students have long been curious and motivated, so it is no surprise that the history of the college is littered with shards of ideas of students who have thought seriously and passionately about the issues of governance. This project is dedicated to the hope that rather than fade with our morning hangover, the products of our late night discussions might be made more permanent.

We too are moved to act by our conviction that CSA, and particularly those parts of CSA most directly involved in the governance of the College, currently suffers from the same malady observed by CSA President Jim Loder in 1953: “Somehow through the years it has become so bogged down in technicalities and trivialities that it has missed the whole purpose of its existence.” We students are a busy bunch and we certainly did not come to Carleton in order to run a complicated and important institution, but like it or not, decisions are made at the College with the imprimatur of “the students.” We have a responsibility to think seriously about those decisions—what the implications of those decisions are for the College and how students ought to help make them.

Purposeful and informed thought is only part of our prescription. We also would like to see students reengage on a more substantive level with the ideas that undergird our current policies and forms of governance. This engagement cannot be individual. Instead we need a conversation on campus about what we value and how we can build a community based on those values. Students need to be able to step back, assess what Carleton is and what it does, and how we can work together to improve and change those things that seem to be lacking. A full throated and practical articulation of the role of students in campus governance requires a fluent and coherent understanding of the College’s governance in theory and in practice.

Over the next seven weeks we will present a series of columns meant to help jumpstart this conversation. The columns are important because they provide a public venue for the discussion, but they are necessarily limited by their short length and infrequent publication. We propose to supplement them, therefore, with a blog. Available at,, it will include more detailed discussions of the ideas presented here over the course of the term. Feel free to check it out and leave us your comments.

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