This interview is a continuation of an ongong GSS initiative to research, educate, and campaign around increasing graduate student representation on the UMass Board of Trustees, and also in assessing and analyzing the present state and limitations of the Wellman document and the powers it grants both grads and undergrads at UMass. You can read more on these initiatives, and our first interviews with graduate student trustee, Brian Quattrochi, here. This, the first half of our interview with undergraduate student trustee Jen Healy, takes up the question of where the Wellman document has fallen short in the past, and what might be done at both the student and administrative level to remedy this.
Q: So you are aware of the Wellman document and what power it grants to students. I’m wondering if you think it has been ignored in the past, or if it’s functioning like it should be?
A: I think the problem with the Wellman document is that it’s too vague. So, for instance, from the undergraduate experience, last year with the peer mentor decision -where they decided to eliminate the peer mentor decision almost overnight- the complaint by the undergrads who organized against that decision, was that we weren’t involved in the decision making. So we were, sort of, crying to the Wellman document and asking for involvement, but the administrators that made that decision said that they had taken student opinion into account when making their decision, and that was their form of “student input.” So there’s an inconsistency in the way it’s interpreted by administrators and by students, and I think as long as that exists, there are going to be abuses of it. If we had stronger language surrounding the student input component of that, you know, for example, student members have to be voting members on committees, or students have to have primary responsibility for policy changes on campus that affect their daily lives. That sort of language, I think, would eliminate those inconsistencies, and we’d see the Wellman document be a lot more effective. And I think we’d see it have higher approval ratings from the student body.
Q: So, as it stands, do you think the Wellman document has any teeth? Or do we have to invoke it more than we should for it to do what it’s supposed to do?
A: I think the latter. I think it needs to be improved. As it stands now, I think it’s more of a gesture than an actual governing document. Which is something, absolutely, but it needs to be improved upon.
Q: Do you think undergraduates are aware of the Wellman document? Especially in the SGA?
A: I think that we weren’t until last year. I wasn’t as close to student government then as I am now, but I think, in large part, we didn’t really know what it did until we needed it, and needed it to be better than it is. So, for instance, this year, one of our first senate meetings we had a workshop done on the Wellman document and what it is now. So now all the student government is more aware of it.
Q: It seems like Wellman usually gets invoked after the fact, after something big happens without student input or involvement. So do you have any suggestions for what the university might do to prevent that, so they are living up to Wellman before these things happen?
A: I think there are a couple of things that could be done. First, changing that language to make it stronger. Again, I think the reason we’ve been looking to Wellman after the fact of changes being made is that the administration feels they are abiding by it. They say, well, you know, we talk to students everyday, so I know their opinions on these things. Whereas we say, well, no, we haven’t been sitting on these committees that have made these decisions that are going to affect our daily lives, so we didn’t have input. So if it was required that students sat on these committees, that their were focus groups, then those would all come before decisions were made, and that problem would be solved. I think another thing that would go a long way is some education about the Wellman document to begin with. We get –at least the students who live in the residence halls, they get a packet of information on the first day left on their desks, if something in there was about the Wellman document, “by the way, you have these rights…” I think that would go a long way too, because I think a lot of students just trust that things are being done in their best interests, and I think the intent is always with students’ best interests in mind, but it doesn’t always connect.
Q: Do you think there could be some new policy in human resources that requires new administrators, in student affairs for example, to do a workshop with Chuck DiMare (Attorney, Student Legal Services), for example? Because it seems like what happens many times is that these administrators go about making their decisions and they aren’t even aware of Wellman.
A: Yes, I think that would be fantastic. Because, in my experience, a lot of what Chuck DiMare said was in line with our interpretation, and I think that if we all get on the same page about things, a lot of problems won’t even occur. So, yes, I think that would go a long way.
Stay tuned for part II of this interview dealing with the issue of student representation and voting rights on the UMass Board of Trustees.