Student Power and All That
SEPTEMBER 01, 1969 by BENJAMIN A. ROGGE
Dr. Rogge is Chairman of the Department of Economics at Wabash College in Indiana. This article is reprinted by permission from the Wabash Bachelor, Spring, 1968.
The question is this: To whom does Wabash or any college or university belong? To the current students? to the alumni? to the faculty? to the administration? to the Board of Trustees? to "society"? to some mixture of these agencies?
The answer to this question is of some importance. Perhaps, though, it should be made even more specific: Where does sovereignty lie in a given college or university? Who’s in charge around here?
(1) A college exists, in theory, in whole or in part, to serve its students. In the same way, Steck’s Men’s Store exists, in part, to serve the students of Wabash College. But Steck’s Men’s Store does not belong to its customers and Wabash College does not belong to its students (past or present). "Student power," in the sense of a claim by students of a right to make decisions that relate to their college or university, is thus of no substance or standing.
This is not to say that a college or university administration is always acting wisely if it ignores the wishes and the recommendations of its students. It means only that, when the chips are down, the students can rightly be told to get the hell out of the administration building and to stop interfering with the conduct of college business.
(2) The faculty members of a college are employees of the college and, by definition, a college does not belong to its employees. Again, this is not to say that a college administration is necessarily unwise if it delegates authority over (say) the curriculum to its faculty. But again, when the chips are down, the college can rightly say to any faculty member for any reason whatsoever, "Go away!" A human being has a right to believe in and espouse communism or laissez faire capitalism or any other piece of nonsense but he has no right to be paid by someone else for doing so, against the will of that someone. So-called academic freedom is in reality a denial of freedom—the freedom of those to whom a school belongs to put the resources under their control to the uses they believe appropriate. Again, a school is surely unwise if it refuses to permit a wide range of views to be presented to its students but it is not denying anyone his natural-born right if it takes this unwise position.
Administration Delegated Control
(3) The members of a college administration are also employees of the college—hence they cannot be the ones to whom the college belongs. In practice, they are the ones to whom control is usually delegated by the "owners" and they are the visible source of authority on the campus. Unfortunately, many college administrations in this country seem to have abdicated (not delegated) their authority to some combination of students and faculty members (or athletic departments). The result is a kind of tragicomic anarchy—although for short periods of time on some campuses it can be very exciting (even intellectually exciting) for everyone involved. A college should be actually run by the administration—not the faculty. As Sidney Hook has put it, "Give the intellectual everything he wants—but power."
(4) Does it follow that it is to the Board of Trustees that a college or university really belongs? In the case of a private college the answer would seem to be yes. It is this Board that has legal control of the assets that the college has acquired. It is this Board that, in theory, is responsible for seeing that the assets are used for the purposes for which they were and are made available to the college.
In the case of the public college, the answer is somewhat more complex. Here the Board must ultimately answer to those who largely pay the piper—the taxpayers of the jurisdiction involved. When the taxpayer in California screams, "We’ve got to get those Lefties and Hippies out of Berkeley," he may not be evidencing much knowledge of educational processes—but he is exercising a right that is essentially his. After all, it’s largely his money.
Claims of Society Invalid
(5) But what of the claims of society? Do not the institutions of higher learning in any society really exist to serve the interests of that society? In a word, No. In the first place, the word "society" is filled with ambiguities and difficulties. As a matter of fact, those who use the word in these cases usually mean by "the interests of society" the interests of society as seen by their own minority group, whether it be the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Education Association, or Americans for Democratic Action. But more than that: the best example of a university system serving the interests of its society would be the German universities under Hitler or the Russian universities of the last 50 years.
Neither society nor the students nor the alumni nor the faculty is or should be in charge at Wabash College. The administration is and should be in charge, acting under the authority delegated to it by the Board of Trustees, and serving the purposes of the college as defined in its charter and interpreted by that Board over the years. And if you think things probably aren’t this simple and clear-cut in practice, you’re right.
A future social historian is likely to decide that the most powerful instrument of all in bringing about the erosion of our civilization was none other than the public education system set up with such high hopes and at so great expense precisely to sustain it.
From an article, "On Rediscovering Jesus," Esquire, June, 1969