Student organization policies should serve student interests

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Last week’s “What’s New BU” email blast included a note from the department of student activities announcing a review of the policies and procedures under which student organizations operate. To facilitate this, the department has requested input from the Baylor community.

“We would like for you to partner with us in this process by reviewing our existing Student Organizations Policies and Procedures Guide and providing any comments, questions or feedback,” the email reads.

After careful review of the Student Organizations Policies and Procedures Guide, the document stands as detailed, clear, concise, direct and fair. It serves as an outline for the ways all student organizations on Baylor’s campus – groups that have been officially chartered by the university – operate. These organizations must abide by policies in exchange for “the ability to reserve campus spaces, the ability to advertise for organization activities on campus, and the ability to apply for funding through the Student Government Allocation Fund,” according to the Student Activities website. If not chartered, student groups cannot affiliate themselves with the university in any capacity.

“These expectations exist to guide, support, empower, and even protect organizations as they operate during the upcoming academic year,” the website explains.

This partnership between Student Activities and the students themselves, in which we are given an opportunity, and even an invitation, to review and comment on the policy guidelines, needs to be taken advantage of. With over 200 student organizations, this is an issue that affects most students on campus to some extent. Our voices matter to the university – the policies that govern student organizations should serve the students’ best interests, and the department of student activities recognizes this. We should take full advantage of this opportunity to share our concerns and clarify our questions relating to student organizations practices and expectations.

The most striking example of a point of divergence between policy and the people is the Baylor University Policy for Religious Organization’s Statement of Common Faith. Religious student organizations must adhere to a statement of faith that addresses Jesus Christ and the role of His life, death and resurrection, the Holy Trinity, the role of the Bible, salvation and the Church. According to the Baylor Institutional Research and Testing Fall 2017 Profile of Undergraduate Students, Baylor was home to 109 Hindu students, 60 atheist students, 56 Buddhist students, 125 Muslim students, 22 Jewish students and hundreds of other students who don’t necessarily fit the mold of the Statement of Common Faith. Therefore, students who identify with minority religions have no opportunity to be chartered and offered official student organization benefits.

The document also outlines the rules and guidelines for faculty advisors, which each organization must have to be initially chartered and retain as they continue to operate each subsequent year. These advisors must attend off-campus meetings and social functions. According to the policy, graduate students can only serve as secondary advisors. This claim seems inconsistent with the other roles graduate students perform within the Baylor community. If graduate students can teach classes and grade undergraduate students, they should be able to serve as a full-on adviser for student organizations. This change in policy would offer more options for organizations that struggle to find a professor willing to commit to the responsibilities and time required of a faculty advisor.

While for the most part, the guide offered clearly defined language to convey expectations for student organizations, the instructions for printed materials and advertising content lacked necessary details. All chartered organizations are allowed to post publicity information in campus facilities, but these documents must be submitted for approval. Similarly, the university reserves the right to reject speakers who organizations invite to campus if “speakers whose purposes and methods are contrary to the purposes and methods of Baylor University” or use profanity, according to the guide. These sections of the document should more clearly lay out what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable content for promotional material or campus speakers. Without clearly defined terms, the university could reserve the right to turn away any flier, any pamphlet and any speaker without a concrete explanation. Therefore, the policies and procedures should include a more detailed description of organization expectations with regard to forms of expression and publicity.

While the student organizations expectations guidelines offer a relatively straightforward explanation of the relationship between a student group and the university, there is always room for improvement. We thank Student Activities for seeking student input in this matter, and we hope other students will take initiative to read the document and voice their own concerns.