This Sunday, throngs of students will come to hear John Stossel speak on my campus, Hofstra University, in New York. They will see a famous television host speak, get to ask questions, have some refreshments, and hear a libertarian perspective on current issues. But, these students will have no idea how difficult it was to book this event. To Mr. Stossel’s credit, he has been more than gracious and understanding throughout the entire process. The difficulty comes from campus administration, university bureaucracy, mountains of paperwork, meetings with administrators, and extensive waiting periods.
While it differs from school-to-school, booking a speaker or organizing an on-campus event can be horribly difficult. But students on campuses around the country and the world know the best ways to navigate the bureaucracy in their specific situations. F. A. Hayek wrote about this indirectly in his classic essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” He said, “Every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made.” Hayek is speaking about local knowledge; in our context, simply that you know more about your campus than someone who doesn’t go there. Yes, students of a certain campus know where the cheap places to eat are, but they also know how to deal with administration better, know the best places to chalk before events, and are aware of the student body’s political philosophy as a whole and can use that to better mold events to that campus. This is the most important point in student organizing, running campus events, and booking speakers. Local knowledge is why the SFL Campus Coordinator program exists: to help students and student groups on a local level.
Administrative bureaucracy is one of the most difficult and infuriating parts on having a pro-liberty student group. There is something about bureaucracy that truly tears at the soul of young libertarians. Here are six tips on how to navigate campus rules and administrative bureaucracy so you don’t rip your libertarian, anti-bureaucracy hair out. Utilizing these six general tips, plus the local knowledge you learn on your campus, will make it much easier on your group to deal with bureaucracy.
1) Find a Friend in the Administration
It is so imperative to make friends with some of the administrators. One friend in administration can really be beneficial to helping lessen the rigors of bureaucracy. Whether that person is involved in your events management office, the clubs office, or even students in student government, having someone close to the club can push things through much easier, help with paperwork, and explain all the cumbersome regulations to you in a succinct way.
2) Chocolate Works
Is there someone in administration who really pulled through for you in booking a room, approving flyers, or walking you through paperwork? Don’t be afraid to show your appreciation! Going to their office with a box of chocolates and thanking them for their efforts is a great way to show how much the event meant to you and helps you create a better relationship with the person. Something else, send a thank you email, letter, or office visit once the year ends to everyone on your campus that helped you. This simple gesture makes your club look great and saying thank you is always right.
3) Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Is administration ignoring your requests or emails? I may have sent 50 unanswered emails since summer began about organizing a libertarian speaking event on my campus. The outcome was, after many aggravating email checks, a great event with university support! While it may seem overzealous and pushy, sending emails on a consistent basis keeps reminding the administrator they need to do their job and keeps you fresh in their memory. Remember: always be respectful and cordial.
4) Don’t Try to Make Enemies
Some libertarian groups relish at the chance to take on “the man.” They welcome this potential conflict between the group and administration. This does nothing but hurts a group on their campus. Don’t purposely take on administration unless you see a good opportunity to spread your message because of it, get some local press, work out an event, or contact FIRE about a legal issue. But merely taking on administration in some attempt to prove how hardcore your group is futile. Try to make friends despite hatred for the university bureaucracy. It will make it a lot easier on your club to operate. While it may be fun, it is not beneficial.
5) In your Infancy, Be Nice!
Continuing off the last point, groups must be smart in their dealings with administration when they are young. If a group is in its first year on campus, doing the dirty work is imperative. Schedule meetings with all the “important” people in each office (clubs, events, university relations, student government) so they know who you are, find out about your club, and put a face to a name. Developing a rapport with these people is one of the first things to do when the club starts up. It helps big in the long run! Remember, first impressions are priceless. Reshape the image of libertarians: we are young, polished, respectful, and professional.
6) Talk to Other Groups
Every group has to go through this in their hopes to operate clubs. By speaking to the leaders of other clubs one gets a good idea about administration. Talk to other groups and find out things that they have figured out during their time on campus. This is crucial to not make the same mistakes that other groups on your campus have. Also, the political clubs on campus may have a more difficult relationship with administration than the cooking club. Talk to other political groups specifically to hear their stories.
Every campus is different and individual groups will find best practices for their campus. The goal for clubs is to find ways to navigate the bureaucracy without it inhibiting the group’s growth and events. Maybe there is “that” administrator nobody wants to deal with, maybe the events management office has extremely strict deadlines, and maybe there is a way to avoid paperwork. The more local knowledge you have the better you will be able to lead your club to prominence. Ask questions, be respectful, and figure out the in’s and out’s of your school’s administration. Dealing with administration may be aggravating, but it is crucial to operate a successful club.