Imagine finding out what productions will be brought to stage at a major performing arts venue before it’s made public. Picture voting on which nationally known speaker to invite to deliver a campus lecture. Envision shaping a new building project at its inception.
All University students have the opportunity to do these things and more—with an appointment to one of 15 University of Iowa charter committees. The committees, which tackle issues ranging from safety to recreation to diversity, were created 40 years ago as a way to ensure that the University administration received formal input from faculty, staff, and students, says Belinda Marner, assistant vice president of student services. While each committee has a specific charge, all have the basic function of advising central administration.
“It’s a form of shared governance, and many of the committees are chaired or cochaired by students,” Marner explains. “Not only are students interacting with faculty and staff outside the classroom, they are operating as equal partners in making recommendations.”
Applications for the committees’ student slots are solicited in the spring by the UI student governments, which appoint students to one-year terms beginning the following fall. While the committees are required to meet at least twice a semester, most convene multiple times.
Erin Donohue, a senior from Bloomington, Minn., has served on the Hancher Auditorium committee all four of her years at Iowa, including three years as committee cochair.
“I had danced on the stage at Hancher so I had personal ties to the auditorium,” says the business and dance major, “but I was also thinking ahead to my career.”
Donohue aims to dance professionally after graduation and perhaps work in a facility similar to Hancher. She says she was surprised by how influential the committee is, and adds that learning to run the monthly meetings, keep members on task, and delegate action has been invaluable.
“The Hancher staff really looks to us for outside perspective and comes to us with questions,” she says. “I also took on a marketing internship at Hancher, which I never would have done if it weren’t for my work on the committee.”
Mark Warner, director of the UI Office of Student Financial Aid, says he depends on the feedback he receives from the six students serving on the Financial Aid Advisory committee and seeks their advice on everything from web site development to best communication practices to determining students’annual costs of attendance.
“We can have all the best policies and procedures in place, but if we don’t have effective ways to communicate them to students and their parents, then much of what we do is marginalized,” he says.
Greg Pelc, a junior from Oelwein, Iowa, is a pre-med student majoring in integrative physiology. As a second-year member of the Student Health Services committee, he has addressed issues as varied as clinic parking, insurance, and H1N1.
“The committee has a lot of freedom—there is nothing that we have to do,” says Pelc, the committee chair. “We work with the director of Student Health Service, but it’s up to me to set the meetings and plan the agenda.”
Donohue strongly recommends student involvement on the committees.
“They are so diverse, from lectures to parking and transportation,” she says. “It is one of the best learning experiences: it’s a great way to build skills and learn how to work with others—and it’s really cool to see your ideas come into play right away.”
To learn more about UI charter committees and their specific charges, visit www.uiowa.edu/president/charter_committees.
by Sara Epstein Moninger