How can students gain
more of a voice in the affairs of their psychology department? Here is the
experience of one Psi Chi chapter...
The idea of having
a permanent student representative position established on each of the three
department committees (i.e., Undergraduate Committee, Graduate Committee, and
Department Faculty Committee) at California State University, Stanislaus (CSU
Stanislaus) had been mentioned in conversation by psychology majors for a
couple of years. These conversations, and the very legitimate concerns and
perceived needs of students that were the focus of these discussions, were
held, unfortunately, mostly over coffee in the campus restaurant called Mom's.
Student concerns--such as
more student input on what classes were offered, class scheduling, better
student/instructor interaction, and the mysterious process by which the faculty
and the university decided how much funding would go to each of the various
components within the department (Counseling, Behavior Analysis, Research/Experimental,
BA, MA, MS, etc.)--were debated intensely. Sometimes these discussions even
included instructors (those few instructors who felt comfortable eating lunch
or having coffee with students, that is).
The problems, besides the
one of actually getting the faculty to agree, of course, always came down to
this . . . How could those of us who recognized the need for closer cooperation
between faculty and students legitimately claim to speak for the rest of the
psychology majors and minors if we had no established and consistent way of
receiving their opinions and concerns and deciding upon those for which we
should advocate? Then came the issues of who would attend the faculty meetings
as the recognized and agreed upon student spokesperson(s), the voting status of
the student committee members, the problem of committee discussions that
contained confidential information about students and instructors, and dealing
with faculty objections to having students become equal members of their
traditionally self-governed realm.
These problems have been
the focus of several studies that have looked at the impact, efficacy, and
advantages versus disadvantages of student participation in department decision
making. According to a report by the Cornell Commission on Student Involvement
in Decision Making, there was no doubt that the inclusion of students in
decision making at the departmental level, on both curriculum and faculty
selection committees, would have good effects both on the decisions and on the
students (Morison, 1970). The authors state that "the student committee
must have opportunities to engage itself in a real way with departmental
deliberations on matters which affect students, and almost everything
The need for such student
input is justified because "academic disciplines tend to develop internal
criteria of what is important (and fashionable) and sometimes this may lead
them in directions farther and farther from the felt needs of students"
(Jencks & Reisman, 1968). The influence allowed by students when they are
given positions on department committees is the subject of strong disagreement.
One study found that of 199 institutions where students sat with executive
committees, 33 did not allow them to vote. Of the curriculum committees studied,
78 of 506 did not allow student members to vote, while only 41 (with 10 not
voting) committees on faculty selection, promotion, and tenure had student
members (McGrath, 1970). More recently, in a study of the affect of chaos
theory on curriculum and teaching it was found that student input and influence
played a positive role in developing a system that supported and nurtured
change within departments (Iannone, 1994).
At the beginning of the 1995-96 school year at CSU Stanislaus, the Psi Chi
chapter had a total membership of six students (all but one of whom were
graduate students) and had not held a scheduled meeting in almost two years.
Presented with the need to generate interest in Psi Chi among students as well
as a growing awareness that part of their academic success and professional
maturity would require more active participation in the decision-making process
of the various department committees (especially among graduate students
looking with concern at rapidly changing professional requirements), the local
Psi Chi leadership recognized an opportunity to promote interest in Psi Chi
membership as well as provide a platform for student advocacy.
It was clear that what was
needed was a student organization that would be accepted by the department as
legitimately representative of the students in the department and whose
membership and leadership would (a) establish a process for gaining approval
from the department for this new advocacy, (b) be the initial spokespersons on
behalf of the students, (c) recruit students from the various
"domains" and theoretical orientations within the department to serve
on a permanent Student/Faculty Liaison Committee, and (d) be responsible for
gathering and presenting the changing needs and suggestions to the varius
committees. With these needs in mind, the leadership of the Stanislaus Chapter
submitted a proposal (see page 21) for establishing a permanent student
representative position on each of the three department committees. As
spokesperson for the membership of Psi Chi, the chapter president received
numerous individual responses from instructors in the department, all of which
were supportive of the idea. However, one month after submitting the proposal
to the three committee chairpersons (with copies given to each full-time
instructor) there had been no official response.
On Wednesday, April 24, Dr. Gina Pallotta, chairperson of the psychology
department's Graduate Committee, and Dr. Bruce Hesse, chairperson of the
Undergraduate Committee, formally extended to Psi Chi Chapter President Samuel
Tull an invitation to attend the next and subsequent meetings of their
committees, either in person as the author of the aforementioned proposal or
through a designated student representative who would speak for and report to
the student members of the CSU Stanislaus Psychology Department. These
invitations were accepted by Mr. Tull as the de facto representative of
psychology majors and minors at this campus. These newly established positions
will be permanent additions to the makeup of the committees, and although the
student positions will not be voting members of their respective committees
(for now), they will voice the concerns of students and will comment on issues
before the committee which affect the students in this department. All
pertinent information will then be made fully available to Psi Chi members, and
a summary of the proceedings will be displayed on a Psi Chi Information Board
in the Psychology Office.
The members of Psi Chi and
other student members of this department would like to express our appreciation
to the instructors on both committees for their willingness to acknowledge the
rights and responsibilities of their student colleagues.
Also on Wednesday, April
24, Psi Chi Advisor Jamie McCreary learned from Psychology Department
Chairperson Gary Novak that faculty members have agreed to an initial
arrangement whereby a student representative could occasionally attend
department faculty meetings to present current concerns and/or suggestions
gathered by the Psi Chi-sponsored Student/Faculty Liaison Committee. This
committee will be made up of student members of this department (Psi Chi
members and nonmembers) and will be responsible for soliciting student input
and presenting appropriate issues and concerns to the faculty committees.
While this response to the
proposal is not as empowering for students as was hoped for, most students will
recognize it as an attempt to accommodate the needs of students without making
major changes in the traditional decision-making process of the department. As
such, it will be appreciated by the students, particularly those who understand
the great effort that is required on the part of individuals within an
established decision-making system to make potentially far-reaching changes in
Morison, R. S. (1970). Students and
decision making. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press.
Jencks, C., & Reisman,
D. (1968). The academic revolution.
Chicago: Doubleday Press.
McGrath, E. J. (l970). Should students share the power?
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Iannone, R. (1994). Chaos
theory and its implications for curriculum and teaching. Education, 115, 4, 541-546.
* * * * * *
This letter was
presented to the chairpersons of the three department committees mentioned
below and to the full-time faculty members of the Psychology Department last
week. It is written on behalf of the psychology majors and minors at CSU,
Stanislaus. Anyone who is interested in finding out how this proposal was
accepted, please contact Psi Chi Chapter President Sam Tull or watch for
upcoming announcements on the "PSI CHI NEWS" board.
February 28, 1996
Dear Dr. Novak, Dr.
Pallotta, Dr. Hesse, and Faculty:
I am writing to you in my
capacity as this year's president of the Stanislaus Chapter of Psi Chi, the
National Honor Society in Psychology. I would like to thank each of you in
advance for what I know will be your sincere, thoughtful, and professional
consideration of the proposal I am about to make on behalf of the students in
It has become clear to many
of us that part of our educational and professional training now requires us to
begin to accept more responsibility for the quality and the content of the
training process we are going through. In order to do this we must begin
immediately to assume a more active role in the decisions made in this
department which affect us such as curriculum changes, financial priorities,
and the academic policies established by the Psychology Department.
Based on my conversations
with faculty members, with a large number of students, and with interns who
have recently completed their graduate programs, it is recognized that some
changes in the psychology program will be needed in order to meet the needs of
a swiftly changing professional world outside of the university setting.
Therefore, it is the firm belief of many people that the best way to facilitate
an increased partnership between students, department administration, and
faculty is to establish student representative positions at the Department
Faculty Meeting, the Graduate Committee, and the Undergraduate Committee.
I therefore propose that
three permanent student advocate positions be established. These students would
be chosen by psychology majors and/or appointed by the members of Psi Chi (most
likely in conjunction with the new APS Student Caucus which is being formed by
Dr. Todd Nelson) on a yearly basis and would speak on behalf of their fellow
students at each of the department meetings mentioned above. As a
representative of Psi Chi I would like to offer the services of our Society in
the yearly selection process. Additionally, Psi Chi will convene a
student/faculty liaison committee, which will review the student suggestions and
concerns to be presented at each department meeting. I have already spoken to
several students about serving on the committee, and once this proposal is
approved I will (in conjunction with faculty advisors Jamie McCreary and Todd
Nelson) recruit other committee members who will be representatives of both the
counseling and behavior analysis components of our department, as well as the
MA and undergraduate program.
If the faculty would like,
I will make myself available at the next department meeting to elaborate and
explain further the reasons why students have placed such importance at this
time on the need for this student advocacy program. According to several
students and instructors, similar student representative positions are in place
at other colleges and have generated not only an improvement in the quality of
education but also a more positive interaction between students and
instructors. In fact, the response of students to this proposal has been
unanimously supportive and enthusiastic.
In closing I would like to
thank you again on behalf of the students in this department for your sincere
and open-minded consideration of this idea. Due to the growing interest in this
concept among my fellow students, I look forward to your timely reply to our
attempt to work as colleagues and to share the responsibilities of making the
psychology program at Stanislaus the strongest it can be.
Samuel D. Tull
Psi Chi Chapter President, CSU Stanislaus Chapter