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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Tocqueville and Numa: CSA or the College Administration: Who should have the power of student governance?

<rt our exploration of campus governance with an examination of CSA. CSA was formed both to promote student self-government and advocate student interests to the college. Looking at the first function we contend that CSA’s governing ideology has become classically liberal in nature and attempts have been made to cede authority back to students. However, CSA’s authority to govern does not rest with the students and could not be ceded to them. Rather, authority that has been ceded returned to the College administration with mixed results.

It is hard to imagine the historic vigor of student self-government at Carleton. Early student associations were centered around dorms and social life. Students made a claim to govern just about every aspect of non-academic life at Carleton. Students set visiting hours in the dorms, decided what types of entertainment to bring to campus, and disciplined their fellow students when they broke rules.

Since then student government at Carleton has become classically liberal. The student body today is more heterogeneous than in the past. Few of us would be comfortable describing the values a typical Carl must hold, and if we did we would probably limit them to academics. Increasingly we view the decisionås that students make in their social lives as their own. As a result CSA has slowly divested student leaders of much of their governing power with the intent to return that power to students.

Unfortunately much of the power given up by student government has not gone to students, but has been reclaimed by the College, particularly Res Life. Why, for example, does Res Life set all campus quiet hours? Are the students of Carleton really so juvenile that we are incapable of balancing the conflicting desires of different students through public deliberation? Do we really need the paternal hand of Res Life tucking us in to bed at 11pm on weekdays and 1am on weekends?

Certainly there are some advantages to be had from ceding social governance to Res Life. We are all here as students: first and foremost to learn. Governing takes a lot of time. Res Life has ten full-time staff members helping to run the social side of the College. Also, if we take a hard look in the mirror, we might realize that a lot of maturing takes place during our college years and perhaps we should look upon our ability to make the best decisions for ourselves with more humility.

At the same time, ceding social governance to the college has not had an unambiguously positive effect on the decisions that shape Carleton’s social environment. In many instances Res Life makes important decisions of social governance without sufficient public debate. Not only does this lower the quality of those decisions, but also it generates ill will and distrust between the administration and the student body. We do not believe that RAs are an effective substitute for public deliberation by students. (We don’t have space here to clarify this argument, but we will elaborate it in the future.)

Res Life is not the only college office that has taken on significant social governance responsibilities. Campus Activities has done similar things for entertainment and recreation. On one hand, this has saved students time and provided necessary services. For example, CSA organizations need a legal agent to sign contracts and disburse student worker wages. CSA organizations also benefit from the ways in which Campus Activities acts as an institutional agent—providing permanence and continuity for campus social life. Still, Campus Activities also provides specific programming—from comedians to dances—that actively shape the Carleton social scene in ways that reflect administration rather than student priorities.

CSA does retain almost complete control over its budget. The student activity fee is distributed at the sole discretion of CSA’s Senate, which has taken a classically liberal approach to distribution of funding. The CSA by-laws and constitution do not specify goals for the Senate in distributing funding. The only direction comes from the preamble to the constitution, which states that CSA exists to “improve the lives of Carleton Students (sic).” Senate has chosen to leave it to students to form the organizations necessary for the improvement of their lives and to request funding for them. The Senate does not undertake to provide a certain social scene at Carleton.

Carleton students, left to their own devices, tend to be a creative bunch. It is a testament to the atmosphere of the College and the quality of the students that Carls are almost always viewed with admiration by those who have a chance to interact with them. It is this capacity for creative self-direction that CSA wishes to promote.

It is fallacious to believe that Carleton can only excel by institutionalizing many of its best aspects. We might gain consistency from building consciously welcoming, creative, and ordered dorms, but we lose the creative energy that defines Carls. As Carleton as an institution defines its niche in the ever increasingly competitive world of higher education it is tempting for the College administration to control and guide that which makes Carleton Carleton. We believe to do so is impossible and to try is hubris. What Carleton needs is a renewed respect for student social self-governance.

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