‘Lehigh Lore’ column: The development of student governance at Lehigh

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Kerry Mallett, B&W staff

Kerry Mallett, B&W staff

I have been involved with Lehigh’s Student Senate since my freshman year, but knew very little before this year about how student senate came about or what past senates had accomplished.

The 27th Student Senate has governed the student body this school year. When I came into the role of president, one of the more fun projects I wanted to work on over the summer was research the history of senate and what governing bodies were in place before senate was created in the late ’80s.

My digging unveiled that Arcadia was founded in 1904 to be the “virtual head and governing body of a committee composed of all the students of the University for the faithful observance of the (honor) system,” according to the 1920 Epitome.

The group acted as a jury for students who were reported as violating the honor code as well as “foster(ing) worthy and advisable activities which help to promote and uphold the good name of Lehigh University and the wellfare (sic) of its student body.”

Arcadia was originally comprised of the president of the senior class, several captains of sports teams, the editors and business managers of campus publications and other presidents of campus organizations. In 1917, the representation changed to have a student from every fraternity, residence hall and the off-campus student group.

Arcadia disbanded in 1970 because students felt as though their voices were not being heard in the present governing body. According to coverage in The Brown and White in April 1970, Arcadia voted to suspend itself because of its lack of influence.

An unsigned opinion piece reads, “All we want is some voice and meaningful participation in issues vital to us and over which we have absolutely no control now. It is this realization that caused Arcadia to disband. For example, social codes was an issue that obviously affected only the student body. Yet, it was the faculty, not Arcadia which supposedly was the student governing body, that held complete jurisdiction.”

There were student protests in the UC lounge around these issues, as well. Their arguments included that they wanted greater participation in university activities and decision-making.

According to a Brown and White editorial, the Forum, a governing body consisting of equal amounts of students and faculty members, was founded in response.

The Forum addressed campus issues and policies, some of which include whether class credit should be given for organizations like The Brown and White, ROTC, Forum and the band, and considering campus building projects. In 1977, it opposed the building of an Athletic and Convocation Center and sent the proposal back to the board of trustees for further consideration.

In October 1987, discussions about splitting the Forum into faculty and student senates began. Ken D’Andrea, co-chairman of the Forum Restructure Committee, said the two groups would meet separately and then together, as quoted in a Brown and White article.

This change was discussed because there was a lack of enthusiasm and not bringing together faculty students and administrators in “spirit of community, as founders had intended,” according to a Brown and White editorial from February 5, 1988.

On February 2, 1988, Forum XVIII unanimously passed the restructuring proposal. A student senate consisting of 45 members from living groups and with three committees — Allocations, Assignment and Recognition and Publicity — was formed.

The main purpose of the organization was to recognize and allocate funds to clubs. These were previously the responsibility of the assistant dean of students.

As for the addressing of campus issues, the designated delegation was that the Forum must decide that the issue at hand was strictly student-oriented, then they would pass it to the senate to consider.

After the split, the Forum went from 60 members (half of who were students) to six.

The elections to fill Student Senate I occurred in March 1988. Five-hundred and fifty students voted for 36 seats to be filled. The remaining nine would be reserved for first-years to fill in the fall. Len Kern was elected the first president.

In the past 27 years, student senate has accomplished a lot on campus. Senate members brought forth a proposal to have a pub-style late night eating place on campus (Hawk’s Nest), started the discussions on establishing an official Lehigh mascot in the 1990s, the result being a Mountain Hawk, and criticized plans for a redesigned university logo that included just the sun portion of the original logo.

More recently, Student Senate has established the campus-wide formal, organized the annual Light Up Off-Campus event and has worked on diversity and inclusion efforts.

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