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LETTER: A defense of CMU students and Student Government Association

Very clearly stated and quite widely used, the mission statement of the Central Michigan University Student Government Association is: “Dedicated to inspiring improvement throughout its community by providing and promoting advocacy amongst and for its constituency, in hopes of developing a healthy and diverse learning environment while fostering a positive image of our university.” Put exceedingly simply, SGA is responsible for promoting ‘advocacy of the students,’ at whole, of CMU and to provide to them a ‘healthy learning environment.’

Not only this, but consider the mission statement of CMU, adopted by the board of trustees in December 2010: “At (CMU), we are a community committed to the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, discovery, and creativity. We provide student-centered education and foster personal and intellectual growth to prepare students for productive careers, meaningful lives, and responsible citizenship in a global society.”

Lastly, we will consider the mission outlined by the Faculty Association’s Constitution: “The purpose of this organization shall be: to represent the professional concerns of its members; to improve education and advance the interests of education and of educators; and to assist in interpreting the role and function of higher education in the state and in the community.”  While the FA also notes on its website it “Proudly serves the State of Michigan by serving the interests of faculty, students, and quality education at (CMU).”

As you can see — each of these bodies claims to have, in varying degrees, the best interest of the students at heart.  This makes perfect sense — in a philosophical sense that students are the future of our society and a commitment to education builds on democratically founded principles, and in a contractual sense that the students are paying a substantial amount of money to be provided with the quality of education and commitment to student-centered learning that the university, and subsequently, the faculty purport to give.

However, given the events of late – it is not clear that either the administration of CMU or the FA are acting in a way that is in the best interest of students.  The stories of abuse, harassment and criticism of students and their elected leaders are almost endless – as if somehow, forcing students to pick sides in the contractual negotiations between CMU at the FA will bring about the end of this ridiculous chaos.  As an alumnus of CMU, I am ashamed to have any sort of association with an institution and its members that choose to treat students in such an unceasingly disgraceful manner.

With regard to CMU’s Student Government Association, I applaud their membership and their leadership for the holding their values, and remarkably, seeming to be the only body of the above three to keep from sacrificing its purpose and mission.  CMU SGA has made it abundantly clear to all that their primary focus is the well-being and the best interest of its students. As a result, their membership and their leaders are doing all that they can to advocate on behalf of the students.

This battle is for the administration and the FA to fight out amongst their selves – the only role that CMU SGA can rightly take in such a debate is to remind the administration and the FA that students are suffering as a result of their incessant bickering.  To remind them that the quality of their education is suffering when faculty members take up portions of their class to complain about the administration or being forced to appear for work.  To remind them that the administration and FA are responsible for setting the example, the standards, by which students are to follow in regards to integrity, respect, compassion and social responsibility.  To remind both sides that persuading students to support their position is NOT to be used as a bargaining chip.  And finally, to remind both sides that this treatment of students has tarnished the image of CMU irreparably.

The question that I pose to members of the administration and the Faculty Association, then, is this:  If you do, in fact, purport to have the best interest of students at heart – at the end of the day can you say in all honesty that you have done all that you can do to provide for this interest?

Or have you, for your own reasons or benefit, put undue burden, stress, or a ridiculous amount of weight on student leaders to coerce them into supporting your position.  If so, shame on you.  How dare you treat students with that level of indecency and disrespect.

Again, I wholeheartedly stand behind the students of CMU and especially SGA — for the position that they have taken to be the only group left on campus to advocate on behalf of the students.  My heart and support goes out to CMU SGA President Vince Cavataio and all other student leaders wrongfully placed in a position in which they must defend themselves against attacks from faculty and other students — to a degree in which they must fear for their well-being.

I will continue to watch this situation with great interest and hope the CMU administration and the Faculty Association can come to a speedy resolution of this matter to return to providing the good quality education promised to the students of CMU.

- David J. Breed Former SGA vice president and Program Board president, and 2011 alumnus