Navigating the College Years
Student Self-Governance: A Defining Value
By Patricia M. Lampkin
Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer
Student life at the University of Virginia is built on six core values:
— Academic rigor
— Honor and integrity
— Student self-governance
— Public service
— Health and wellness
These values guide our work with students. Together they create an environment that is focused on academics but balanced with opportunities for leadership, service, self-discovery, and fulfillment of individual talents. From leadership positions in student organizations to service experiences in the local and global communities, students find opportunities that complement their classroom experiences.
Self-governance means that students have significant freedom to develop their talents and make decisions that matter to University life. With that freedom comes high expectations of responsibility.
Students are expected to hold themselves and their peers to high standards inside and outside the classroom, and to engage ethically in their local, national and international communities. Preparing students for global citizenship relies on the high expectations and levels of responsibility that come from student self-governance, a combination that makes a U.Va. undergraduate experience unique. Within the framework of student self-governance, students have the latitude to be creative, assume ownership, develop leadership, take risks, and learn from their mistakes.
At the same time, the University provides support and guidance. You may still ask, "What do you really mean by 'student self-governance'"? At the broad, systemic level, student self-governance means that students own the Honor System and the University Judiciary Committee. Students derive authority to run these systems directly from the University's Board of Visitors. Students elect their own leaders, and those student leaders are responsible for operating these governing bodies on a day-to-day basis, for initiating policy revisions and other changes, and for making all decisions about disciplinary actions.
Unlike other institutions that employ administrative oversight, U.Va. truly grants ownership of these systems to the students. A huge responsibility to delegate to students, yes — but also a tremendous educational opportunity that has proven over time to be effective and of great value. Students also assume responsibility for running the numerous student organizations on Grounds — CIOs (contracted independent organizations) as they are popularly known. Again, students learn much — everything from planning and organizing programs, to negotiating conflict and managing funds — as they take on duties of leading and participating in an organization.
At the individual level, student self-governance reflects the philosophy that students are responsible for their own actions. They have great freedom and latitude in making decisions about how to conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis. Most students come here already functioning at a high level, and they thrive on this freedom. A few may flounder, but over time learn from their mistakes and also grow within this community.
Students also learn from and are influenced in positive ways by their fellow students, either through informal interactions or through formal peer support programs. Within the framework of student self-governance, students still receive considerable support and guidance. Members of the University community, especially those of us whose daily responsibilities revolve around students, provide mentoring, seek out students who may need additional support, and continually work to ensure the overall safety and wellbeing of the community. We rely on students, too, to help in all of these areas and to demonstrate leadership within the community at large.
Jefferson believed that the preservation of freedom and democracy depended on the active participation of an educated citizenry. Today, students learn to become educated citizens by experiencing student self-governance while they are part of this community. We believe they leave the Grounds well-prepared to assume positions of responsibility and leadership within larger society. Many alumni say that the opportunities afforded by student self-governance were some of the most rewarding and significant aspects of their education. As new generations of students come and go, we believe that student self-governance continues to add unparalleled value to the U.Va. experience.