There is a need to dispense with a dangerous myth that has spread itself throughout the Butler community.
As our statement of purpose makes clear, we at the Underground firmly believe that the voices of students and faculty have been suppressed and have lacked serious inclusion in the decision-making process.
Unfortunately, an alternate viewpoint seems to have taken hold with many. This position asserts that organizations like SGA and CPA and mechanisms like President Fong’s Starbucks forum provide avenues for the voices of community members to have substantial impact. This is fantasy.
It’s not that campus organizations and forums are unwelcome or are void of any influence. I know from personal experience that student groups can make positive change and I consider this a testament to the value of active participation. Furthermore, I think open forums with administrators are wonderful and too rare in universities around the country.
That said, we must harbor no illusions. It may be true that certain community members can organize concerts, start campus organizations, or “share their concerns” with administration officials; however, it’s imperative that we recognize four points:
1. Even many of the popular avenues of decision-making are not available to large segments of the Butler community.
This applies to students, faculty, and administrators and to virtually all campus employees.
Student decision-making power is largely confined to organizations like SGA and its subsidiaries. Even if we set aside the issue of the insufficient influence of these organizations, the fact remains that they in themselves are rather exclusive and hierarchical.
Supporting evidence can be found in the recent proposal to reduce the number of SGA representatives or in the platforms of recent SGA presidential candidates who advocated an even more condensed format for SGA assembly and debate.
Moreover, due to quantitative limits on representative and executive positions, only a small percentage of the student body is able to participate in the (inadequately effectual) decision-making process granted to students.
Although I believe it’s the place of others to speak on their own behalf (and we at the Underground encourage all to use this forum to do so), it should still be said that faculty, particularly those at the lower levels of the institutionalized corporate hierarchy, have also been subjected to the unmitigated power of high-level administrators and the board of trustees and have been relatively marginalized in the decision-making process.
Low-level administrators are in a unique position of disadvantage. As they are not paying customers (i.e. students) or highly trained professionals (PHDs, MBAs, etc), their labor can be erroneously considered “unskilled” and thus disposable in the event of insubordination, insufficient performance, or undesirable action.
The influence of campus employees in the university’s decision-making process is effectively zero. Although the lives of those in maintenance or food service are substantially affected by university policy, they lack a mechanism to exert their influence. Many campus employees, such as those cleaning academic buildings, work midnight shifts that guarantee they won’t even be seen by those who benefit from their services.
2. Real decision-making power continues to rest in the hands of high-level administrators and the board of trustees.
In any corporation, power is concentrated at the top. At Butler, this translates to the vice-presidents, the president, and, most importantly, the board of trustees. Within this exclusive group, the real decisions are made. Its members—mostly male, mostly white, mostly business background—are essentially the masters of the Butler universe. The big choices—involving investment, tuition, and enrollment—are made in the absence of voting representatives from the aforementioned segments of the Butler community. The process is far from transparent. Yet it continues, essentially shaping the direction of the university, with only the input of a handful of individuals.
3. Certain opinions and actions are continually suppressed by a competitive, hierarchical structure.
Let’s be clear. Though the department of public relations seems to be seeking the title, there are officially no information police at Butler. Aside from the occasional e-mail monitoring or mysterious blog disappearance, criticism and dissent are not consciously supervised or suppressed by malevolent ministers of truth.
That said, we at the Underground firmly believe that certain opinions and actions are effectively prohibited in our university community. This prohibition is rarely carried out by conscious individuals; rather, it is done subconsciously and its ultimate source is a competitive, hierarchical structure.
Rhetoric aside, competition is the emphasis of the corporate university—competition for promotions, for power, for money, for scholarships, for positions, for popularity, for elections, for grades. This has monumental effect on university education and thus on students and thus on society, but this is another matter in itself. In terms of repressing undesirable opinions, the competitive corporate model is a master censor.
Simply put, articulating an opinion not in line with the proper doctrine is a sure way to harm one’s chances of climbing the ranks of the hierarchy. It’s a dynamic that’s been well illustrated as inherent to the totalitarian structure. In a corporate university, you may not be dealt with like you would in the Third Reich, but you certainly run the risk of being passed over for a promotion, a grant, or an A.
4. Embracing fictitious notions of popular influence can be just as dangerous as having no influence at all.
Thought control is incredibly more effective than physical coercion. Someone who is chained, incarcerated, or tortured at least knows that injustice is taking place and will seek to redress it if given an opportunity.
Conversely, if you can control the way someone thinks, the way he or she perceives a certain situation, the very framework in which rational thought takes place, then not only can do as you please and make others do the same, but you can make them think it’s their natural place to do so, that all is right as it is, as it must be, as it should be, that it can be no other way.
This is the very danger present in the illusion of input and why it’s so essential that we adopt a realistic view of our influence.
- Caleb Hamman