I am a 5th year graduate student in the department of Anthropology. With support from Minnesota Transform I have been conducting an internship throughout the Fall 2021 semester. From the moment I started my internship with the University of Minnesota Library, I knew that this was an opportunity to make something lasting and impactful. My inspiration for this guide came from both Minnesota Transform's commitment to accessibility, but also my long time experience navigating the best way to help my fellow student. As a culmination of those two factors, with this guide, I seek to make the process of understanding policies that impact university life more accessible and transparent to students. I have personally taken part in my departmental graduate student organization, but representing your and your fellow students interests is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Through this guide you have the option to be proactive and find the best way to become involved in the policy making process in a way that is comfortable to you.
Most importantly, this guide exists to show you that no matter what every student has a voice and can enact change in their environment. I hope you find this guide as enjoyable to use as I did to make!
Where to Start with Understanding University Policy?
In order for students to understand the complexities beneath their university experiences, they must first understand the rules and policies that shape those experiences.
One of the most critical pieces required to understanding the systems in place that allow the operation of the university, is to understand the division of university power, starting from the individual:
Student → Department Student Government → Department Chair → College Chair → Student Senate = Council of Graduate Student (COGS)
The flow chart above is meant to act as a depiction of the channels in which change can occur. There is not a true hierarchical component and person, regardless of their position, plays an important roll in enacting policy changes. Each division of the chart above is involved at various levels of the decision making process (there are state and governmental guidelines that must be followed as well). Access to information on policy changes and current initiatives is available to everyone.
UMN Policy Library
The most direct source for information regarding policy changes and updates is the UMN Policy Library.
The Policy Library sends out email updates to all University affiliated persons, and has in-depth information about the policy making process. From a policy archive, to a dictionary of policy related jargon, this can be considered the best introductory resource for those who not only want to get involved with the changes occurring at the University of Minnesota, but with education and social policy as a whole.
The Policy Library houses information on the steps policies undergo when being formed or reformed, as well as contact information for those who are the policy owners. Policy owners are responsible for maintaining the policy and addressing suggestions/questions. Through these resources students are able to research specific policies, and are enabled to contact policy owners.
Enacting Change in University Policy
Student Government Organizations
Clubs and centers can give students a good place to start, but even within departments there are many ways to receive information and for involvement in policy formation through:
Through department notices, news and opportunities are shared openly with students, this often includes information on policy updates and changes at the university, college, and departmental level. One of the strongest tools students possess that is accessible through their department is Council of Graduate Students (COGS) and the Student Senate. Both of these organizations have a direct hand in forming policies that affect students on a university-wide scale. COGS and the Student Senate openly engage and encourage students to take part in the policy making or reformation process. Both organizations send emails and host discussion of proposed policies and changes to existing policies at meetings (virtual or in-person) throughout the semester.
The methods mentioned above provide a forum for students to voice their concerns on and suggest changes to policies that are currently up for review or being created.
Clubs and University Centers
All students have access to student-run groups and organizations. Some student-run groups and organizations are highly involved with social issues. Additionally, many of these organizations work closely with UMN departments and centers that focus on social initiatives and policy changes.
If you would like specific examples, the best place to find affiliated clubs or organizations is through your department. One of the greatest advantages of going to the University of Minnesota, is the dedication our institution has to interdisciplinary research. Many of the clubs and centers in the list above are affiliated with several departments and act as a bridge for such interdisciplinary approaches. This makes them the perfect forum for discussing policy changes, as they affect everyone within the university.
How Are University Policies Made?
By pulling on the resources from the Policy Library webpage as well as from the COGS and Student Senate page, a comprehensive explanation of the policy formation process can be reconstructed. Below is a graphic from the Policy Library page, which illustrates the flow of creating or revising a policy:
The primary stage in which students can engage most closely with the policy in question is in the development and approval stage through the consultation review (circled in blue above). This stage is brief but important (~30 days). At this stage representatives from the Student Senate and COGS can share the opinions or concerns of the general student body in regards to the policy in question.
Steps to Getting Involved
- One of the most direct ways to get involved is to apply for a role in either COGS or the Student Senate. These spots are limited and come with additional responsibilities. What's important to remember is that these positions are elected!
- Since the representatives are elected, you of course have an impact in your representation.
- Departmental student organizations additionally elect representatives to attend all COGS meetings in order to bring forth concerns or initiatives which are important to students within a department.
- For Example: Graduate students of the Anthropology Department have the Anthropology Student Government Organization (AGSO). Each year AGSO elects a COGS representative to attend all COGS meetings. Any information from COGS that needs to be disseminated to graduate students, or any concerns from anthropology graduate students that need to be shared with COGS goes through this individual. Any and all professional/graduate students in the Anthropology Department are not only allowed, but encouraged to attend the multiple meetings AGSO hosts.
- Last but not least, even if participation is limited, everyone has access to watch the senate meetings through YouTube.