How Important are Students?

Angry Student: “What’s the difference between a terrorist and the Registrar’s Office?”

Resident Assistant: “What?”

Angry Student: “At least you can negotiate with a terrorist!”

As students make their way back to my university in two weeks or so, it’s time to ask ourselves who we exist to serve. An important question for us is, “Do we do stuff to students or for students?”

If you do stuff for students, when’s the last time you asked them what they need? When’s the last time you asked them to help you develop policy or a process?

Ah, I can tell that most of you are way ahead of us on this one. We just included a student rep in our development of policy and procedures, and somewhat reluctantly on my part, I must admit. I was bracing myself for a most unreasonable student, one who would have impossible dreams, want everything for nothing, and have it all preferably by 4:00 pm today, please.

Boy was I pleasantly surprised. Jason was a GREAT addition to the team. He listened to our proposals, contributed to their development, explained the typical student frustrations, and made our work much better. My ultimate come-uppance was when he turned to me after someone else came up with a pie-in-the-sky idea and said, “But we have to be reasonable – this likely means too much work for your office, right?”

“Ahem, right. Thanks for, uh, looking out for us,” I stammered, rather taken aback.

We say students are important. We say they’re the reason we exist. Why not live that out and include them in helping us get better at serving them? Try the following guidelines:

  • Set up the working relationship by establishing that the aim is to be collaborative to improve things for everyone, not adversarial or to make massive, unrealistic changes.
  • Be clear and focused on what the outcome of every meeting should be.
  • Give the student time to think through the implications and perhaps poll other students before responding.
  • Give credit where credit is due (Jason deserves a lot of credit).

I’ve found that treating students like they are actually important makes their contributions much more valuable and makes our office better.

Oh, and an unintended consequence of including students?  I might just drop a hint to our student rep that if we have a position opening when he graduates, he should consider applying… No promises, of course, but….

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