Dear Lou Anna,
During the past academic year, MSU has seen the arrival of two new members to the Board of Trustees. In November, the residents of Michigan elected Democratic candidates Faylene Owen and George Perles to replace Republican incumbents Dee Cook and Dave Porteous. The two began their eight year terms as trustees on Jan. 1, and since then, the two have participated in the board decision-making processes. So far this year, board decisions have included approval of a new College of Music, changes to the Duffy Daugherty Building, plans for an osteopathic medical school and the location and name of MSU\’s College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids. All of these issues have gotten considerable amounts of attention from the board, but are students taking notice?
\”The board has an ongoing challenge of trying to stay involved with students in a visible way,\” said Roger Ludy, a supply chain management senior and chairperson of the ASMSU Student Assembly. He believes the board has continually lacked a strong tradition of involvement with the student body.
In addition, the board has not failed to notice the lack of visibility among students across campus. \”They\’ve felt that some of their efforts have not been as rewarding as they\’ve wanted them to be,\” Ludy said. However, this has not disheartened the board in its efforts. In particular, Owen and Perles have expressed interest in increasing the board\’s involvement with students. \”They would like to be involved with things that students are already doing rather than create new things for them. There is an interest in getting involved with existing student organizations on campus,\” Ludy said.
The Student Liaison Committee to the Board of Trustees is one group currently used to present student issues to the board. On the day of the trustees\’ monthly board meeting, the liaison committees speak with the board over breakfast beforehand about things on their agendas. \”If changes aren\’t happening below the board level, then I take to the board to get pressure from the top to get the ball rolling,\” said Ludy, who is also the Student Assembly\’s representative to the committee. \”It\’s one way that we try to accomplish our agenda to improve student\’s experiences.\”
In the past, there has been criticism of the board by local media for apparent secrecy and lack of communication with students. Materials science engineering sophomore William TenBrink believes there has been little effort from the board in the past to establish a strong relationship with MSU students. \”I think that the only people who feel like the board has an impact on them are the people who go out of their way to find people who have impact on them,\” TenBrink said. \”They\’re virtually invisible on campus. I\’ve never seen any of them doing any kind of meet and greet, where they just meet students and get their views.\”
[board] However, one of the new trustees has committed herself to connecting with students around campus. Faylene Owen has made it her goal to meet regularly with small groups of three or four students. \”The main thing I did during the campaign was express that I wanted to have a chance to listen to students at least once every three months, which I have done,\” Owen said. She has met with students twice during her term so far, once in January and again in March.
\”A number of students contact me all the time. I called back three or four of them that could meet when I wanted to meet,\” Owen said. From the students, Owen said she heard mostly positive things about their experiences. There were \”minimal\” negative comments, she said. \”One is, of course, the parking situation. You hear that all the time. The other negative is tuition,\” she said.
[pearl] So far this year, those concerns have not been a part of the board\’s agenda. \”I have only been to two board meetings, but we have not addressed the parking issue. There just isn\’t enough parking around campus. However, where they can\’t park they have the CATA system, which is a plus,\” Owen said. \”As far as tuition is concerned, the state government is just slashing funding. We need to make sure that we have top notch professors teaching at our school. That means when we get less and less money we have to raise tuition.\”
It seems the issues emphasized by the media, such as the location of the osteopathic medical school, affect a minority of the student population; however, issues like a lack of campus parking will have an impact on nearly every student during their four years at MSU. If that\’s the case, L.A., shouldn\’t the board change its focus and lean toward addressing problems that many students would like to see solved?
Interdisciplinary studies in social science junior Grace Wojcik said there are other issues that deserve the board\’s attention. She also believes the board itself could operate differently to better suit the needs of the students. \”There should be a student on the board or someone who just graduated, someone who actually knows what the students want because there\’s more to everything than tuition,\” she said. \”There are also issues with how the school is run and the bureaucracy of it all.\”
An issue that largely affects a majority of students is the rising cost of tuition. Many students pay their own way through school, and with the increased costs, the pocketbooks take a hit with the increased cost of each credit hour. Students are at MSU to get a worthy education, from highly-educated professors with relevant class agendas, L.A. – the cost of tuition should reflect the university\’s desire to retain students. This issue could be a big reason why Perles was elected to the board, since his campaign platform during the elections last year was focused on keeping down the cost of tuition. Perles primarily would like to provide assistance for middle class students.
\”[Tuition] was the only thing I really emphasized,\” Perles said. \”The wealthy take care of themselves. There are Pell Grants available for the poor. So, I am concerned about the middle class. My number one thing is keeping tuition down, but I will do everything I can to make things better for students.\”
Despite the positive outlook on the board\’s future expressed by Perles and Owen, TenBrink believes the addition of these two new members to the board will not keep the board from continuing to allow \”the university to squeeze us [students] dry both financially and socially.\”
\”I would say that their number one goal of keeping tuition down is a joke. Look at the laws they put into effect regarding tailgate on campus. The entire university used to come together for that and with a couple exceptions, everything went peachy,\” he said. \”Now we\’re separated and thrown off campus. Then you\’ve got the City of East Lansing capitalizing on that, and separating us even further.\”
In an obvious call for change, Perles and Owen were elected to replace two incumbent members of the Board of Trustees. Their election is a clear indication that voters want to see some previously ignored issues addressed, or they are tired of the board\’s past operations. In order to gain the confidence of the student population, the newest trustees need to work especially hard. They have been given the opportunity to prove their worth, as well as the worth of the board itself. Efforts like Owen\’s meetings with students may be a step in the right direction toward increasing the board\’s visibility among students, but it is only a beginning.
Watching N. Waiting