This op-ed is based on our opinion as individuals, not as college presidents. We are committed to advocating for our college and will vote based on our colleges’ beliefs, not our own.
On Feb. 13 the Student Association introduced Resolution #4, proposed “To Support the Passage of the BRIDGE Act” in an effort to “stand in support of current protections put in place by the DACA initiative.” The BRIDGE Act is bipartisan legislation created to better support undocumented immigrants who fear deportation. The SA will vote on Resolution #4 on Feb. 27.
While the BRIDGE Act may not be controversial amongst Rice students, Resolution #4 sets a precedent on how the SA will act regarding political topics, a conversation we have largely neglected. The SA has the right to take a stance on political discussions that involve Rice University, but condensing nuanced discussion into a yes, no or abstaining vote as Resolution #4 does is detrimental to discussion. Administering a campuswide survey similar to the campus carry survey which aided Rice’s decision to opt out of new campus carry legislation provides for more organic discussion, allows for all voices to be heard and should be used in place of Resolution #4 and for future political discussions.
As college presidents and voting members of the SA, we worry that the method of advocacy through Resolution #4 compromises the power of voices within the Rice undergraduate body in two ways. First, voting at the residential college level may disengage those who disagree with the majority. Always striving for greater inclusion and diversity of thought, residential colleges risk losing the involvement of students who believe their college does not advocate for their views, limiting discussion and silencing opposing beliefs. Second, decentralized data gathering and decision making allows for inconsistent representation. The discrepancies between how colleges and other voting members of the SA like the external vice president, internal vice president, secretary and treasurer vote creates the opportunity for an imbalance of power in a situation in which all voices should be heard.
For these reasons and others, the SA should table Resolution #4, release a campuswide survey, administer a stance based on the results, and use this method of representation in future issues of political advocacy. Voting members like college presidents and senators should initiate and encourage political conversation at their college within the same time frame to aid the campus wide discussion. A resolution backed by data demonstrating considerable effort to hear all student opinion is much more representative and, in the spirit of advocacy and intellectual engagement, more effective.
In this new climate, we must consider what methods best capture the diversity of opinion present in these discussions and fully represent the student body. We encourage all students to attend the SA meeting on Feb. 27 or to reach out to their college’s president and senator to add their voice.