OPINION - Flexing student muscles

By Larry Guyette

Did you know that at lunch time nearly every day, the president of this college works out in the gyms's physical fitness lab. Dr. Ehmann said he works out to flex his muscles, but the routine is good exercise for the mind, too. "I do my best thinking while I'm on the stationary bike. Exercising is very powerful."

I wonder why more students don't use this resource to exercise their minds and strengthen their muscles. Here at Mendocino College another kind of muscle fails to get strengthened. This kind of muscle remains a tremendous source of untapped power —it's the political muscle of the student body. As you know a body needs muscle to thrive.

Student Power—like a body's muscles—strengthens with use and, with a lack of use, atrophies. MC students have powerful muscles that could be used to move the governing forces of the college, but only if the students here choose to exercise those muscles.

The Eagle itself is a forum of student muscle that is under exercised by the student body at the college. The Eagle is staffed by a few hard working students who bring to you a student newspaper primarily because the Eagle is a medium for fostering public opinion and, as you know, public opinion can sway the administration of this college.

Students who are not on the Eagle staff can contribute to the formenting of public opinion by writing Letters to the Editor, or by submitting articles of contemporaneous interest to the campus. Students advance this discourse by reading the newspaper and becoming better informed citizens. However, student participation on the Eagle is currently so low that we have been unable to people a single journalism class at Mendocino College since 1991. The student muscle at the Eagle is not as strong as we on the staff think it should be.

In November voting students will have an opportunity to affect college governance by voting for candidates of their choice for President, US House of Representatives, California Assembly, and the ballot propositions that affect higher education.

And, of course, students can vote for and run for Associated Student government. But alas, Student Council seats are almost never filled for every office. The ASMC muscle, as it has been for a long time, is weak.

The last regular election for Associated Students offices saw only about 200 students casting ballots, and that's a lot when compared to some past AS elections. But this is less than 5% of the nearly 4000 full-time and part-time students who are eligible to vote. Student participation in important issues on campus has been, and continues to be, dismally poor.

Even when it comes to simply attending the many fun and sometimes serious events sponsored by the ASMC, you can't count on students to be there. The recent ASMC sponsored debate between US Congressman Frank Riggs and Democratic challenger Michela Alioto is a good case-in-point. This event took more than a hundred hours of preparation, involving many AS government members, college employees, congressional staffers and campaign managers. The debate was covered by TV, radio and print media and was attended by more than 650 people from every political corner of our community. The very successful debate, moderated by MC history instructor Larry Mac Leitch, attracted a record breaking attendance for any ASMC event, but very few students were there. MC students failed even to exercise the muscles that are strengthened by just being present at an important AS sponsored event.

Student muscle can influence college governance at its highest level by students voting for and running for Board of Trustees members. The Board hires and fires the top administrators of Mendocino College and approves major administration decisions. But in the nearly twenty-five years students have been attending school here, no Mendocino College student has run for election to the Board of Trustees. So little public interest exists toward the MC Board that there has almost never been a contested seat that would require an election. Vacant seats have been primarily filled by appointment, not unlike what often occurs at the ASMC. Except when a student has a particular complaint, students seldom flex their muscles by attending the Board meetings.

I want to tell you about still another example (perhaps the prime example) of unexercised student muscle on campus; student participation (or lack of it) on Mendocino College administrative committees. From issues of the smallest concern to institutional policies that effect us all to the hiring of every member of the faculty and every other employee and manager, even the President/Superintendent, the governance of this college is largely affected by committees. What most students don't realize is that we can wield great influence directly with the administration because student representation on these committees is not only accepted, it's actually sought after by college administrators.

Mendocino College has about 15 standing committees; student representation is invited on more than half of them. Very few of these committees have bodies to warm the students' seats. Nearly all the committees (even ones that don't invite students) are open to public attendance, input and criticism. These committees make important recommendations to the administration on the subjects of their study. The minutes of these meetings, the agendas, and the dates are posted. So if you had a favorite committee, you would have no problem keeping track of when and where it was meeting. Just think about this: if only 10% of the students concerned enough about the college to vote in the AS elections (say 20 students) regularly attended meetings of the administrative committees, students would gain greater influence at the administrative level and the committees would gain much needed student input.

Mendocino College students have tremendous muscle power if only they exercised it. But exercise, as we all know, is hard work, and nobody works for nothing. The question which arises is 'Why?' Why, with all you need to worry about with homework, term papers, mid-terms and finals, with children at home and housework and child care, should you concern yourself about the governance of an institution that you'll be leaving in a year or two? The answer is because Mendocino College belongs to you.

Unlike other colleges, a community college belongs to the community. It is owned and operated by, and for the benefit of, the people who live in the District. It is where our children and grandchildren will someday be educated. It is where the future teachers, counselors, and leaders will begin their educations. This college is also the place to which some of our students will return after they are graduated from college and are ready to teach the next generation of learners.

Like voting on election day (that's Nov. 5th by-the-way), involvement in the business of Mendocino-Lake Community College District is the duty of every citizen and resident.

Mendocino College students must learn how to exercise their body's muscles even though its hard work and at times our muscles will hurt. In a little while, what is now difficult will become easier. As they say, 'no pain-no gain.' So make it your business to know the issues, to get involved and to participate in the shared governance responsibilities delegated to (you) the students.

And don't forget to vote.

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