Following several decisions made by the Harvey Mudd College administration without student input, the Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College and the college’s Division of Student Affairs have agreed to pursue a shared governance model, ASHMC president Julia Wang HM ’20 wrote in an email to HMC students Feb. 7.
A draft of the memorandum of understanding that was discussed with DSA, which Wang emailed to students, instructs the administration to receive approval from ASHMC before making changes to policies regarding the school’s honor code, room draw, orientation, hiring committees and other items.
“Our intention is for this document to serve as a foundational reference document for students and administration when making decisions in the future,” Wang wrote.
In an email update the following week, Wang apologized for sending the draft of the MOU before receiving approval from the administration, which violated an agreement between ASHMC and the administration. Since then, ASHMC Senate members have gathered input from students on the MOU, which they planned to discuss at their meeting with DSA Thursday.
Wang wrote that the administration “extended a verbal agreement” to five out of seven points in the MOU as currently written, with the other items needing to be reworded to “better capture the nuance of their implications.” She said ASHMC and DSA leadership are planning to have a final MOU signed within the next two weeks.
“I think what was helpful for us to understand in that meeting was that student leaders who had organized this petition really were seeking to capture things that we already do as an office in writing for the future and for institutional memory purposes,” said Leslie Hughes, the college’s assistant vice president for student affairs.
The discussions between students and administrators were prompted by a petition for shared governance with more than 500 signatures, which objects to recent changes the administration made to HMC’s New Student Orientation and the structure and hiring process of Residential Life teams.
“We do not believe that this is an isolated incident, but represents a concerning trend of DSA neglecting student voices,” the petition states.
Student dissatisfaction stemmed from Hughes’ January email announcement that a series of changes were being made to the orientation trips and mentor model at HMC.
The position of mentors, who are placed in dorms and provide support for groups of first-year students, will be combined with that of orientation leaders, who lead orientation trips for first-year students at the beginning of the year, Hughes wrote.
Assistant Dean for Residential Life Marco Valenzuela announced other controversial changes in an email to students in January: sending all students on the same trip and “maintaining small groups throughout the trip” instead of creating 23 separate trips, merging of the head mentor and orientation director roles and removing community input from the mentor application process.
After the Feb. 7 meeting, however, DSA reinstated the community input forms in a different, more focused format that would “probably be more helpful for us moving forward,” Hughes said. The forms allow HMC students to give feedback on students who apply to be a mentor or proctor.
“They weren’t being super considerate of [what] student reactions would be to some changes, especially when the students are very invested in the community that they have,” said Kyle Grace HM ’21, a Linde dorm mentor and ASHMC sophomore class president. “But I think it’s good they have sort of come to this agreement and not shut out student voices.”
Wang declined to comment, and other members of ASHMC and HMC student leadership either did not respond to a request for comment or were unable to comment by press time.
Hughes said the new orientation model has been used in the past — most recently the 2015-2016 academic year — and was being brought back to provide a “more cohesive experience” for first-year students.
“Before, they were sort of bonding with their orientation trip leaders in a short-term experience, and then having to figure out how to bond and integrate with their mentors,” Hughes said. “What we envision happening is that our students will work with their mentors from the get-go, and go through this bonding experience with their small groups, and then have the same person continuing on for the rest of the year supporting them in their experience at Harvey Mudd.”
When asked if she was surprised by strong reactions from students following these policy changes, HMC Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez said, “Yes and no.
“I was surprised and pleased that there was the sentiment of looking at shared governance,” Gonzalez said. “And so moving forward what I actually like about it is that our student leaders and our students are eager just as we are to have that working body to look at shared governance at the college.”