Pitzer College Council Tables Proposal on Decreasing Student Representation

The Pitzer College Council has tabled a controversial proposal to remove three of the student representative positions on the Pitzer Campus Life Committee (CLC), which currently comprises five students and two faculty members. 

After discussion at the College Council meeting Nov. 1, the council returned the proposal to the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) for further discussion, said Pitzer College psychology professor Mita Banerjee, the chairperson of the FEC. 

The number of Pitzer Student Senate members, who also serve as the student voting representatives on the Pitzer College Council, is dictated by the number of student representatives on individual committees. The proposal raised concerns among students regarding their representation, Senate Chair Jonathan Rice PZ ’13 said. 

“Understandably, students were very concerned,” Banerjee said. “I don’t think that the faculty who initiated this realized that if they cut students on this committee that this would reduce students on the Student Senate. Obviously, some students were alarmed about that.”   

Rice said that the College Council, made up of both students and faculty, generally discusses and approves all policies passed by any of the standing committees that focus on issues that apply to the Pitzer community, including the CLC. 

Senate Vice Chair Sebastian Aguiar PZ ’14, however, takes issue with the balance of power.

“In College Council, bizarrely, faculty can always overrule student decisions because quorum is structured so that voting faculty outnumber voting students 3:1,” Aguiar wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “What use is student voice if we can be overruled every single time?”

Rice said that the amount of representation given to students at Pitzer when determining policies is an important issue to evaluate continually and discuss.

“I think that students at Pitzer generally want more of a voice in the college’s policies and decisions, and therefore want as much representation as possible on the College Council,” Rice said.

“The proposal came from the Faculty Executive Committee, who had been asked by several faculty members to rethink the structure and composition,” Banerjee said.

According to Banerjee, several faculty members came to the FEC with concerns regarding the ratio of students to faculty on the CLC last year.

“The majority of the proposals [discussed by the CLC] are faculty proposals for talks and such,” Banerjee said. “So the concern was that decisions were being made about funds where faculty could potentially be overridden by the other members.”

After discussion within the FEC, Banerjee said that the most likely next proposal would involve adding two faculty members to the CLC and not changing the number of students on the committee, although this alternative proposal has yet to move on to the College Council.

Rice and Banerjee both said that students and faculty have different points of view, and that the length of time they spend at the college is an important factor to consider.

“When there are students who are here for four years and then leaving, it’s a different kind of commitment to the college than when you have a faculty member who is going to be here for their career,” Banerjee said. “The fact that, at this point, faculty vote is greater than students I don’t think most people think is problematic, given their different roles at the college.”

However, Aguiar wrote, there are some who disagree about student representation on the College Council.

“Student governance is a major draw for prospective students, and an asset Pitzer leverages well,” he wrote. “The truth is less sanguine. We have the right idea, rhetorically, but true representation is far from the reality.”

At the same meeting, the College Council also discussed a proposal from the Pitzer Student Senate regarding protection of students’ right to free expression. According to Rice, the current language of the student handbook does not align completely with the Leonard Law, which protects free speech at private colleges and universities in California.

According to Aguiar, by changing its approach to free speech, Pitzer could become the first college in California to gain green-level certification from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). According to Rice, Pitzer now holds yellow certification, indicating that some of its speech policies are vague and may not completely protect student rights. One example of this is the policy that states, “The Office of Student Affairs reserves the right to limit or stop distribution of publicity deemed offensive.”

“Our hope is that nobody will be disciplined or intimidated for any expression protected under the Constitution,” Aguiar wrote. “Free expression is the cornerstone of academic freedom, and we want to make that explicit.”

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