Patrick Rochelle: The Student Association cannot forecast future student concerns

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Patrick Rochelle

I’m willing to bet that if you asked most students their thoughts on the strategic plan, they would answer your question with another question: What is it?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Student Association President Ashwin Narla is concerned this initiative largely ignores the student body and, as a result, has proposed making student life a part of the plan.

But Narla is wasting his time.

He has to realize that strategic plans – documents universities create to outline the trajectory of the institution for the future – rarely factor in student life. Several other research schools, such as Northwestern and Duke universities, have developed strategic plans in the last few years and also did not include specific sections devoted to student affairs.

Narla should spend his little time as the student body’s top leader advocating in more productive ways.

So far this year, he has been working to increase student space on campus by keeping academic buildings like Duques Hall open later, as well as getting rid of the $10 transcript fee. Those moves are wise, as our SA president should devote time to issues that make a larger impact on students’ lives from semester to semester – instead of laying out a plan for the future.

Two years ago, the SA’s top executives, Jason Lifton and Rob Maxim, pushed the University to create late-night study zones during finals and helped eliminate a burdensome graduation fee. In the spring of 2008, former SA President Nicole Capp spent her tenure trying to get Safeway on GWorld.

There is a reason why you may not have heard of these issues before. They are remnants of old battles, of old concerns, of issues that are no longer relevant.

It makes sense for the University to set a strategic plan for the next 10 years. It will give members of the community the opportunity to talk and reach a consensus about the future of this institution.

But student issues are a lot like predicting the weather. The forecasters can guarantee sunshine, but it still might rain. They can encourage everyone to wear sweater on Tuesdays, but it still might be 100 degrees. The fact is, no one knows what issues students will face in the future. And in 10 years, there is no guarantee people will consider student space a problem.

So how is it possible – or even productive – for the SA to try to predict students’ issues or concerns in five or even 10 years?

The answer? It isn’t.

Of course, there are some issues that never seem to get old. The cost of tuition, discontent with J Street, the value of a liberal arts degree and concerns with employment after graduation will always remain items on the agenda.

But for the most part, student issues are random: They change as the campus develops and students graduate. No two years are ever alike.

Narla’s proposal to construct a student affairs plan is a sign of his concern with the future of student life and involvement on campus. He wants to ensure students play an integral role in campus life in the years to come as the University evolves. But students want to see results this year – not five or 10 years from now. Narla owes it to the student body that elected him to focus the entirety of his attention on the issues facing students today.

Patrick Rochelle, a senior majoring in English, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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