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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Communication Breakdown

Communication Breakdown

Derek is the President of his university’s Associated Students. As a part of his position, he meets bi-weekly with the Vice Provost for Student Affairs to discuss issues that are important to the students. The Vice Provost also provides ideas, feedback, and support to student government projects and initiatives. As he has participated in more and more of these meetings, Derek has begun to feel increasingly torn. He feels it is his duty to voice the needs, frustrations, and desires of the students. He has also come to understand that the administration will not support an issue that does not fit into its explicit goals and learning objectives.

To accomplish things, Derek must spin the issues and, in a sense, tell the Vice Provost what she wants to hear. Derek wishes he had the freedom of a newspaper editorial writer to express student beliefs. He feels inauthentic voicing student concerns in glossy, toned down language. Derek knows that sometimes, the meaning and intention of student initiatives are compromised to meet departmental learning objectives. Other student government leaders have complained as much. Without this compromise, Derek knows the Vice Provost will be significantly less willing to help. Her vocal and monetary support are necessary to complete many student government projects. Derek would hate to lose that relationship, but feels he can’t continue being inauthentic.

Recently, fraternities and sororities off-campus experienced targeted thefts, and reached out to student government for support. The university does not officially recognize Greek life, and the Vice Provost refuses to discuss any related issues. A large portion of the student body participates in off-campus Greek life, and Derek is unable to convey their experience. If he doesn’t, the students will doubt the efficacy of Associated Students, and he won’t be able to address other substantial issues happening on campus. He feels trapped in between students and administration, and is unsure what he should do.

How would you handle Derek’s situation? Have you felt trapped between administration and student desires? Do you change the way you frame issues when speaking to administrators and students? Is this necessary or inauthentic?

case, student government