As a student, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was an elected leader at Eureka College in Illinois. President Bill Clinton served as class representative his first two years at Georgetown University and ran, although unsuccessfully, for student body president his junior year.
Throughout the world, student governments represent student views to college administrators. In the U.S., students interested in politics gain real experience in governance. Elected by their peers, they typically serve a term of one school year. But what they learn in that one year often informs their whole careers.
Getting things done
In 2012, student council leaders at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville demanded a public explanation from their school’s governing board after the unexpected firing of university President Teresa Sullivan. The council’s demand, quoted widely by the media, contributed to the board’s ultimate decision to reinstate Sullivan.
In May 2015, the student government of the University of Texas in Austin overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the removal of a statue of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis. (During the early 1860s, 11 Southern states, led by Davis, seceded from the union, in part to preserve slavery.) The students’ argument that the university should not “condone or promote Jefferson Davis’ values that are offensive to the student body” is an important factor in a still unresolved decision.
In addition to voicing concerns, student governments oversee significant budgets. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, a large state school, the student-government budget is a whopping $24 million and pays for student services, intramural sports and student publications, among other things.
Katie Blot is a senior vice president for Blackboard Inc., a large educational-technology company. Her experience in student government as a liaison between the student body of Johns Hopkins University and its surrounding Baltimore community taught her much. “I left having met once a month with the president of the university, which helped me develop my briefing and communication skills,” said Blot. “It’s a great way — for women especially — to enter the workforce with confidence in their skills and their ability to lead.”