A task force is assessing the structure of student governance at Virginia Tech to ensure that all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students have effective representation.

The Task Force on the Future of Student Governance will benchmark best practices and make recommendations for redesigning the current structure to make it more effective and inclusive.

“As Virginia Tech grows, especially in its diversity, it is critical for us to understand how all voices are heard in the governance process,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Shushok. “We’ll look at systems, structures, and policies that increase participation and broaden perspectives about what Virginia Tech can do together.”

Shushok is co-chairing the 13-member task force with Vice President for Policy and Governance Kim O’Rourke. The group began work this month and includes student leaders, faculty, and staff.

The work coincides with the university welcoming the most diverse first-year class in its history.

In addition to making recommendations to increase participation and foster inclusion, the task force will search for ways to improve coordination and communication between governing bodies and more clearly define distinct roles and responsibilities of the various bodies involved in student governance.

“For example, we need to look at the functions of the Student Government Association (SGA), Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), Board of Visitors student representatives, and the Commission on Student Affairs,” said O’Rourke. “The task force builds on the work of the President’s Committee on Governance over the past year.”

Virginia Tech operates on a shared governance system to advance the vision for the university.

“Student participation in governance is vital because that is the way students can help shape policies that affect them every day, have a platform for communicating what’s important to them so they are heard, and influence the direction of the university,” said O’Rourke.

It is also a great way for students to learn about leadership, gain experience, and practice important skills, according to O’Rourke and Shushok.

“Involving students in the governance process is important for multiple reasons,” Shushok said. “It provides a truly powerful learning opportunity and invites students into decisions that shape the environment so critical for their success.

“Of course, Virginia Tech students are unusually capable and insightful,” he added. “They make great partners in a larger conversation about how Virginia Tech reaches its aspirations.”

Although student governance at Virginia Tech has undergone numerous changes over time, the university remains committed to providing students with experiential learning opportunities that allow them to lead, serve, and help shape the university’s policies and vision.

“Virginia Tech aspires to launch students into the world with a commitment to building communities that are thoughtful, inclusive, just, and framed by disposition of service,” Shushok said. “Involvement in governance provides a laboratory for students as they prepare to be citizens of good will and engagement wherever their education takes them after graduation. This is our land grant mission—to serve the world for good.”

The task force will share preliminary recommendations with the President’s Committee on Governance and final recommendations with President Tim Sands, with a goal of implementation during the fall semester of 2021.  

Written by Tammy Tripp