Story by Kim Craft
While the Univeristy of Arizona administration looks to a new academic year with the prospect of continued budget cuts, students and faculty have set their members in motion to become part of the solution.
Long before students descended and began scrambling for textbooks and classes at the advent of a new school year, Emily Fritze began her new duties as President of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona. She declares her goal to represent students and give them a voice in the governance of the institution.
“We’re doing a big push for that to try to be more visible and let students that we don’t normally reach out to know that we are a place for them to come to for their voice to be heard, but also a way for them to be inovled” says Fritze.
Students have seen their costs rise as state funding plummets, meaning ASUA is busier than ever before to advocate on their behalf.
“We also have continued work on fees, tuition, affordability,” Fritze says. “All of those things, every single year it’s an issue, especially with program fees and student input. We’re looking to find a more streamlined process to get student input.”
Meanwhile Emily Conally says the number of graduate students has soared, and she was excited to see a hundred more people signed up for a recent orientation than any time in the past. She campaigned for the post of president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council particularly to address issues brought about by dwindling budgets. Her platform for presedency hinged on two ideas. First, to employ all the resources of a research one univesity to guide decisions, and deliver information based on that research.
“It could be that faculty feel comfortable and they don’t see the need to update their style,” says Conally. “They’re not necessarily using the methods that are going to get the information across in a sustainable way.”
Conally plans to follow through with another plan to form a graduate enrichment program, a marketplace for students to use their expertise to teach needed skills to their peers. Graduate students face other challenges, including a decrease in health care benefits and limited funds for travel. And with no new faculty lines added this year, Conally says graduate students struggle to pick up the slack.
“The reality is if we continue to accept more undergrauates the graduate students are going to take on more and more of the burden and I don’t see a pay rise coming any time soon for us,” Conally says.
Faculty members don't expect bigger paychecks either. Faculty senate president Wanda Howell says they've accepted that basic truth, and unless they come up with something out of the box that situation will continue.
“Academic postions, like many others, really should be based on a job description,” says Howell. “A lot of faculty think that’s anathema, academic freedom, they should be able to do what they want . That doesn’t work so much any more.”
Howell says resource problems have forced faculty to rethink their roles, and she's pushing for establishing a system of accountability, something many faculty members loathe to consider.
“We need to be able to distinguish the people who work very hard and those who don’t work hard enuough,” Howell says. “It is the eexception you find prematurely retired facy who are still being paid full time and we need as faculty to police ourselves in that regard.”
Howell thinks she's made a difference in her six year tenure. She travelled a rocky road last year during the university transformation, where some departments were merged or eliminated and prompted a faculty vote of no confidence in the administration. However the community chose to work together to solve mutual problems, and Howell stresses that students are critical in that process.
“We’re not selling a commodity here, “Howell explains. “We’re engaging in an intellectual exercise with these students and trying to make them better people. Our success is their success and vice versa, so it’s important to have that inclusionary philosophy I think.”
Fritze echoes that notion, hopeful that her presidency will inspire students to create that success by getting involved in shared governance.
“I think we need to do a better job of that. We need students to know that if they’re passionate about something, they don’t have to be in a club or organization,” Fritze says. “They just have to be passionate and dedicated enough to get involved and have a voice. If I can do that by just being encouraging and reaching out to students, I think that will have left a good legacy for this organization and on campus.”
Both faculty and student groups say they enjoy access to and inclusion in administrative decisionmaking, and expect to continue their efforts to make sure their voices are heard.