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Other schools eye UISG administrator forums

BY JORDAN FRIES | FEBRUARY 17, 2010 7:30 AM

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As budget cuts threaten universities nationwide, the UI Student Government is trying to keep students in the loop with regular public forums.

But turnout has been low. Roughly 15 students showed up for the first forum on the semester, on Feb. 10, to discuss student-related issues with university administrators. At a forum last semester, attendance also hovered around a dozen.

UISG officials maintain that most students are interested in bypassing complicated jargon when receiving answers to their educational concerns directly from school administrators. So they’re hoping to boost awareness of the forums.

UISG President Michael Currie said despite attendance having improved since last semester’s forum, future sessions need better marketing — beyond e-mails and posters.

Developing a “less sporadic” event time and setting a date at the beginning of each month would attract greater interest, he said.

“I think the consistency will draw more people in, and simply by word of mouth, we will have more attendees,” he said.

Those who attend the events can ask President Sally Mason and Provost Wallace Loh questions about the dwindling budget, the recently released task-force reports, and binge drinking, among other concerns.

“I really hadn’t heard about it, honestly,” said UI senior A.J. Schmidt. “But I definitely would have attended. Being a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I’d like to ask some questions about certain programs that might be cut.”

Other universities are also looking to involve students in town-hall style discussions to provide transparency on administrative decisions.

Iowa State University’s Government of the Student Body will hold four to five meetings this semester to gauge student opinions on key issues.

The University of California-Berkeley, where cuts have forced talk of layoffs and prompted significant tuition hikes, will hold a special session focused specifically on student reception to budget cuts, according to the school’s website.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has an all-student voting board that recommends and reviews proposals for school officials to consider. Student representatives held a meeting with school administrators last month to discuss a recent tuition hike for undergraduates.

But the UI is unique among many of its peers by allowing students to directly question high-ranking officials.

“I really applaud the UISG for lessening the distance between student and administrator,” said Ken Harris, press director for Wisconsin’s student-government body. “It wouldn’t be unprecedented for Wisconsin to take a page from the UI’s book, either.”

Currie said plans are in place for another forum in March, with a different set of topics on the agenda. He said there is a “wealth of motivating factors,” most notably the budget, spurring the forums.

And Eric Kaiser, the president of the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, said he wants to conduct a separate forum focused specifically on the uncertain future of some graduate programs.

“There is a lot of change happening on campus, and we want students to ask the important questions,” said Kaiser, who attended the Feb. 10 forum. “We want to have a two-way street between students and university officials.”


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