The Cynic recently spoke with SGA President Bryce Jones and Vice President Katherine Ash about the budget cuts and the financial future of UVM.
Q: How do you think the administration is currently doing on trying to compensate for the $28 million deficit?
Bryce Jones: The administration had to make decisions, and I understand that. Time was a factor, and we all do wish that there was more time to involve more people and have more conversations and I think it would be retroactive at this point to really push for a different strategy. I think at this point the strategy for the percentage reductions is the one that has been chosen, and we’re starting to see the impacts of that. It’s hard to make definitive arguments because so much is still in the air; how much are we getting from the state. I heard a new fact that the state still needs to appropriate enough money to higher education for them to receive some of the stimulus funds. Right now the rumor for phase II is going to be something a lot less impactful than the first one, which I’m hoping for. Now there’s been a lot of demands for a more democratic process, and this is where it gets really sticky. It’s not fun to admit but higher education has always been administrative in the US as a business. The reality is the administration, they’re the bosses: it’s there decisions we have to follow. However, do I wish that certain methods of communication could have been approved? Definitely. Could there have been feedback on the strategy before it was enforced? Definitely. Right now I think the best way to move forward is to support the current strategy and make sure we voice our concerns when they arise at this process. We are a very high tuition based institution, so our voices here at this University do have more say because this university functions a lot more with our tuition dollars. So it is something that we understand and want to help and inform students as much as possible.
Katherine Ash: It’s been a really interesting past few months. Bryce and I have been very involved in the budget process in a variety of ways. We’ve really been looking at the information that we’ve gathered, and the feedback that we’ve heard from such a variety of angles that it’s really allowed us to understand the concerns. Which I think is more of the exciting parts of coming up with this next week, we do have a valuable grasp on that. I certainly agree with Bryce in that it was an administration decision because it had to be. I am disappointed to see the detrimental effects this is having, and students and faculty have a right to be concerned that class sizes may be growing or some faculty have to leave, but the reality of it is, and the administration focuses on this a lot, there are a lot of other institutions who are facing even greater problems. It’s exciting in one way; I had a meeting with the Dean of Nursing and Health Sciences. She said she’s spoken to so many faculty members and have gotten a lot of positive feedback, and that there are still decisions to be made by the board. Things are constantly changing. Bryce and I at this point are also evolving with that information, and the ways and strategies we have to connect with the information that is going to be coming in and the strategies that will be taken up by the administration. It’s a working process.
Q: What do you believe are your responsibilities on this issue?
Jones: First and foremost is to be active, and proactive, for the students. Our role is to make sure the students concerns are getting through. I think that would be by far the most crucial involvement for SGA. It’s what SGA is here for.
Ash: Absolutely. Also, one of our responsibilities is that since Bryce and I have such primary access to the administration and to members all over the state who are involved in these budget making decisions. The fact that we have that accessibility and we use it in a positive way so that we can educate the students and our senators, so the SGA senate knows what’s going on and has a foot in the door on the topics that are of main concerns of students. Our biggest responsibility is attempting to get everyone on the same page with information so people can make informed decisions for themselves. I think its really important that we allow variety and recognize that there are going to be students that disagree with the administration.
Q: Which relationship would you say is more important, your relationship with the administration or your relationship with the students?
Ash: I think they’re very different. But I would say we work with the administration, but we work for the students, and that’s the difference.
Jones: The students are obviously the first priority, but having a good relationship with the administration is also good because then they’ll be responsive to our concerns. The openness of the administration, as far as meetings and involvement of the process, is reflective of this relationship, and is something we would not see if we did work toward removing ourselves with that good connection. They’re both very crucial, it’s hand in hand. The student’s voice, if not respected or heard, is a negative and I wouldn’t like to see SGA go in that direction. Our goal should be at least to try and condense and produce information the administration has to its available to students. When you don’t know really what’s going on, and you hear class sizes are going from 80 to 250, how do you not get freaked out about that? What we’ve experienced is, we’re finding out stories and every situation is different. For example in the history department, one class size went from 80 to 150 or 250. But that’s one professor who took one for the team, and took all the increases onto his plate so the rest of the department could still be sustainable. It’s a very complex issue, and it’s going to be a very difficult for us to work toward presenting it in an easy understandable way.
Ash: And to go back to the question, one thing to remember that’s very crucial is that Bryce and I have established a relationship with the administration on different levels. We have also established a relationship with the students on different levels. Students are aware of our positions; they agree and disagree with us on certain things, it’s different. What’s most crucial is that we have established a relationship with the administration, but we haven’t yet established a relationship with the entire student body. I think that’s going to be the most important thing that we look into the next few months.
Q: What are going to be your future goals regarding this issue?
Jones: My goal with this is to prevent any further stratification, or try and play the best role with the resources we have and can potentially create. Our biggest challenge is getting that information out. It’s an issue that students feel the administration hasn’t fulfilled its responsibility in passing the information clearly. It is a challenge; how do you take such a complex issue and simplify and condense it so it’s understandable to present in a easy way. So that’s my goals for this issue. Another goal I see that falls onto our plate is doing the research and finding out what the impact is going to have on us students, whether it’s class sizes and what that environment is going to be like. We’re already doing that with our budget ad-hoc committee, as far as contacting deans and trying to figure out how their colleges are going to be affected and what they foresee. I think next year a big issue will be to see if students really do notice the extra few students in their classes. What’s going to happen next year is really unforeseen right now so my goal is to make sure we have a foundation to take on the impact.
Ash: As Vice President, one of my main responsibilities is working directly with the Senate itself. Part of my biggest job is figuring out how to manage, how to work with appointments, and seeing a really diverse group of individuals within Senate to properly represent the student body. I’m thrilled to see such a different group of people on Senate; this huge range of individuals who are plugged in to so many different parts of our community and who are involved in so many student groups and know so such a diverse group of people. One of my goals is to properly use that body to really inform ourselves and encourage people to go out inform their peers. Hearing it from peer to peer is much different than hearing it from a website or from a microphone. It’s much different, and much more one to one. Students can relate to that a lot more, and it’s my goal to establish some kind of means for that.
Q: Kate: you had said you were mainly going to focus on being more transparent on this issue. What specifically were you thinking?
Ash: I’m a member of the budget ad-hoc committee, and one thing we’re working on a presentation that is a full-fledged PowerPoint presentation. We are going to every possible spectrum that we can, and that will be published. How its given to the student body we haven’t determined because it’s not finished. Something else I’d like to see established is monthly, maybe even bi-weekly areas on campus where students can be accessible with the senators. That’s one on one, five minute time where students can ask whatever they want. It’s our job to make those resources available, and it’s my job to make the Senators available. That’s part of my upcoming strategy.
Q: The Editorial in last week’s issue of the Cynic offered some specific suggestions, such as a Gmail account, AIM, etc. Is that anything you might be able to incorporate?
Ash: Actually, instant messenger exists: It’s UVMSGA. It’s not used, and I don’t know if it’s been used in recent years. As I first year and my sophomore year I had in on my instant messenger, did I use it? No. I did read the editorial, and I remember reading that paragraph and thinking “well that exists; that’s happening; we do want to do that,” so it’s good to see suggestions are being made and being a part of the current strategy. Those things listed are all listed on our to-do list, or highly to do list. Coffee with President Fogel – similarity with SGA is something that has been discussed for almost a year. Things like this really is our goal. We are still stepping into this, and we are still trying to define our body and what our senate is going to look like, and I think that will have a lot of impact on the presence we will have on campus when we see what membership we will have.
Q: Bryce: You have mentioned you feel that you understand the Administration’s actions. Do you have any fears that your opinion might spark resentment in students?
Jones: If it does spark resentment, I would hope to encourage those students to look at it from my perspective. There are many times that we feel we’re completely disconnected from the administration; we’re a younger generation with new and progressive ideas. I just have faith the administration is here to uphold our quality of education. It’s our future. It impacts what our next step after undergraduate. It affects the staff and faculty jobs – the competiveness of them. It affects the reputation of the administrators. Everybody has invested interest in keeping our quality of education because it reflects at our rankings. I believe the administration would work to make a decision so that impact from the current economic crisis is the least as it can be. Now, just because I support them in their decision making doesn’t mean that I completely am on the same page as far as did they do it 100 percent the best way. And that’s where I differ from the administration. I do understand and do believe there is lots of room for improvement. But how many times are we in an economic crisis such as this? Not everyone is an expert on how to prepare for this. I’m excited that because this has happened, the University realized that the way things were run and how we have been working with the budget process is one that needs to be improved. I think that’s what the new Vice President of Finance Richard Cate is excelling at. Yes, the new strategy of budgeting has added to that budget gap we’re facing, but that’s something that is very beneficial because we aren’t going to be so reliant on the economy and our one term reserve funds. That’s what I think should be looked at – the positives. There’s so much negative, and it’s so easy to get caught up in what could’ve been done, what could’ve happened. We need to look at this on a global perspective; we’re still maintaining our academic programs. There are universities as Kate mentioned; I mean, just look at Arizona State. There are universities out there, and it’s unbelievable how much their being affected. I don’t want to undermine the folks we won’t see next year, it’s definitely disheartening, but the reality is I’d rather see us not be so hostile toward everybody. Yes, we do need to be there when there are mess ups and bad decisions, we do need to voice our concerns and I think the student’s are doing a good job at bringing awareness. It’s a sticky situation, and I just hope that those comments don’t spark too much resentment in students. At this point, the strategy was picked so quickly, and we’re being impacted right now, we should not necessarily embrace it, but join forces and tread forward together.
Q: How do you feel the former SGA President and Vice President have done working on this issue?
Jones: This is something that came out so quickly with so many factors and was hard to grasp. For my position in Jay Taylor, he put a lot of effort in organizing the forum that happened with representatives with all different perspectives. Yes, students were very upset with the content of information that came about, but that shouldn’t be something that is reflected on Jay. In the end, Jay did organize that, and put in the effort in contacting everyone, and that’s something that is overlooked. It’s disheartening, because it does take a lot of effort, and it was very crucial, and SGA did step up. As far as what could be improved – and this is not something that they necessarily didn’t work toward – is passing on the information. That’s why I think they let us create the budget ad-hoc, to achieve these goals, and this is more reflective of what the budget ad-hoc needs to do right now. That’s the only criticism I have of Jay right now.
Ash: To begin with Jay for a little bit, I remember after the forum I spent a good hour and a half speaking with students one on one who were very disappointed with the content of the forum. Something I had to remind students, and even myself, was that President Taylor was a part of that conversation, and the fact that we were all at a forum with United workers, Graduate Student Senate, the Administration, Faculty Senate, and students all at the same table discussing the same issues at the same time was really the significance of the forum. Unfortunately a lot of people were still disappointed with that. But I was very happy to see that Jay made the effort and has made such a presence of himself within the administration in dealing with the budget crisis. He has really been firm in wanting to be involved in that process, and they want him a part of the process, and I’m pleased to see the work he’s done in establishing that relationship. I have not seen as much involvement from the Vice Presidential role with the budget realm, simply because of how the positions are separated. The President typically works more on policy issues, and this is very much a policy issue. I would like to see myself, because I have been a part of the ad-hoc budget committee, and because Bryce and I have worked so closely on this is the past few months, I would like to see my position as Vice President be more involved in that. I would like to continue to use my position in order to research and create new ways of information with the Administration; perhaps meeting and discussing how this is affecting the diversity of the student body – not so much academically, but how is this affecting student socially.
Q: What criticism did students have of the forum?
Ash: Some students were disappointed because they felt their voices and their opinions were not adequately represented by Jay, simply because he made many of the same points that we’re making right now – that it is a sticky situation. I was pleased with what was said from all aspects at that table because there was a real effort to address the issues.
Q: What is the budget ad-hoc committee?
Jones: Right before Christmas I attended a press conference that was put on by the Students Faculty Staff Together (they had a different acronym before) about when they were issuing for a moreatorium? I contacted a couple folks to see what sort of involvement SGA could have. Once I heard what they wanted I realized that I couldn’t bring into a resolution the arguments because the action statements were so unknown because of the situation and what was going on and what was actually feasible. I addressed Jay and Emma and asked if I could create an ad-hoc committee that was basically a research hub, and try to get as much information from the students prospective to compile and then present. We’ve reached out – I wanted it to be not just from SGA, so we brought on a couple students from the Student-Faculty Staff Together, and we also have a student that expressed interest from an outsider’s perspective. We brought it in to try to work and collaborate; “these are the numbers we’re getting,” and comparing numbers. Right now we’re just focusing on getting the foundation agreed upon by all aspects. The next step is getting it out, which is a big one. It’s exciting because the students on it really want to take it on, and with our new positions we aren’t going to be able to have as much of a guidance role. I mean, right now I’m the Chair, so I’m the one kind of organizing it. But I will definitely have a presence and will definitely be a part of it once we roll over.
Ash: I am the only other SGA member on it, so that’s when Bryce and I started to be in our working relationship, almost a precursor to this, so that’s been positive. It’s been unbelievable how much information as senators we have been given, and how much interest we have received from administrators and even deans. We’ve split up every dean from every college between the members that make the ad-hoc budget committee, so we are learning outside of our own realms, outside of our own colleges. We’re learning how it’s being affected, if it’s really being affected at all; I mean, is this something that’s mainly been just an upset in the faculty sentiment or is this something that is truly changing the entire process of a school? So it’s been really interesting to have that conversation, and the budget ad-hoc committee has given me a lot of insight, which I mentioned during the debate and in my platform; it gave me a lot of understanding to what the needs of the students are as a result of what’s going on, and that’s been a great motivator.
Jones: And as a message to students: I haven’t come across any problems in contacting any of the people we’ve talked to, whether its faculty members, deans, administrators. Everybody’s willing. You don’t need to be on Senate in order to send an email and set up a meeting time. If there’s more information, they’re willing and they want to present it. You can only do so much, and have the resources readily available, so there needs to be that 25 percent to reach out and grab it. So I encourage students, if they have questions people want to answer them.
Q: What is your outlook toward the situation for next year?
Jones: All of the current phase one and phase two is closing the gap for fiscal year 2010. We’re basically set for fiscal year 2010. So next year, unless something horrible happens to the economy which we’re all hoping doesn’t, we’re set. So once phase two comes out we’re going to be set for fiscal year 2010. There’s some projections that the following year there might not be as many returns, and we might need to figure that out then, but as far as one year ahead of us, we’re set.
Ash: For my personal opinion, I certainly am optimistic. I’m excited for Bryce and myself to be a part of this, and see where we can make a positive influence on the decisions being made. I’m also optimistic in our new Vice President Richard Cate. I’m very optimistic to see the goals and plans they’ll be working through next year. I think there is a common misconception that this is a one year issue – it’s not going to be over, and this is something that is going to need to be addressed for the next few years. We don’t know what that’s going to look like right now, and for my position I can’t say what it’s going to be. But I can say that I’m optimistic, and that as vice president I want to be involved in the process.
Q: What will be the easiest way for students to come to you with opinions on the matter?
Jones: For me I foresee email. We finally have a functioning website; it’s up, although there are still a couple areas that need tightening, links that still aren’t working correctly, but it’s up with all the contact information and office hours. Our doors are always open. Those will probably be the two best ways. Even being approached; if I’m walking on campus and students recognize me and pull me aside I wouldn’t be angry with that or resentful, I really encourage that. I want to be a resource for students, and I want them to feel like they can come to me anytime, and they will be able to.
Ash: For me, it’s person to person. I loved to be approached, it’s a lot of what I based my campaign upon, just one on one dialogue. Along with Bryce I encourage that 110 percent. I would also love to see students utilize the open forum during Senate, every Tuesday at seven o’clock is our senate meeting. From seven to whenever, you can come in and voice your opinions, tell about an event your club is doing, and speak on your concerns on the budget. Bryce and I will be sitting at the head of the table with our ears open eager to listen to students concerns. Secondly, email of course, and I encourage students to utilize their Senators, and part of the website’s new capabilities is that they’ll be able to contact students directly who are on certain committees. They’ll be able to look at their voting records directly and see where they stand and which Senator represents them most. Or just send a comment or a concern. I think that’s going to be a very valuable resource that people can use as well.
Q: What are your opinions on the baseball/softball removal?
Jones: It’s unfortunate. Nobody ever wants to see any of our students’ niche is taken away. It’s a decision that had to be made, and is one that happened so quickly that nobody foresaw it coming. That whole area, even with our resolution, is complex; they were dealing with a 1.1 million dollar deficit they had to come up with. That’s a lot of money. Personally, from what I have heard and the opinion I have right now, I really would’ve liked to have seen more belief in the students to at least give them a chance in fund raising. I mean, I know the idea of fundraising that amount of money each year – because it’s not just this one time, it’s that much money every year, and I understand that – but it would’ve been cool to at least seen a trial and what they could’ve done for a year. Maybe it’s only a year that we need to somehow locate the resources to support them again. That’s what I’m most upset about, although I know it’s also asking for more time. But I definitely want those athletes to know we’re supportive of them, and we hope they create clubs and come to us with whatever they’re dealing with right now.
Ash: I agree. The athletic department, unfortunately, is like every other department and had to make cuts. In SGA we were given three to five different scenarios; we had the athletic director come in and give us these scenarios, and we saw what different possibilities might look like, and to them this seemed like the most feasible, the best. I wish there had been more consideration gone into that; I also don’t sit behind the desk. I don’t work at the athletic department. So it’s not fair for me to say, without the proper information, that there wasn’t the quality decision making there. However, I’ve spoken to members of both the softball and the baseball team, and their education and their future really relies on how they’re going to be supported as a result of their program being cut. That is one issue SGA really needs to be a part of – this is a very big change, there are hundreds of students within the athletic program, so as things continue to move along in these next few years, how is SGA going to support this group of students who oftentimes are grouped together, and I think we know that. Someone came in last night from the Student Athletic Council and there were only a handful of us who had even heard of the Council, which was very frustrating from my point of view. Just having that kind of involvement perhaps we could’ve helped the situation, perhaps the SGA could’ve used some sort of influence or gone and received feedback from these students. Our job is to be a connector, and use its resources and use its skills and try to help out.
Q: We’ve touched upon this, but for next year: what can I tell the students your plans and goals are?
Jones: It’s hard to speculate what concerns and issues are going to arise for next year, because a majority of that process is happening right now. I think the most controversial issues are being experienced right now, so next year I think the focus will be different because all these decisions right now are going to be made, so next year it will be like “well this is what we have now.” My goal is to make sure that we are still upholding the university’s values and goals as being the environmental university, and focusing on the initiatives. Our enrollment practices should still be bringing in a diverse population and I know the administrators are on par with that as well with the three million dollars they’re putting into financial aid to make sure that pool is still diverse. Also to make sure that these current cuts now, especially in areas such as support services, if there’s areas that are lacking because of budget issues, that SGA steps up to the plate and can help and provide those that would otherwise be disappearing. In general my goal is to make sure we still are the university we came here for. To shed light on how that is going to be accomplished is our networking goal. To make sure that we at least make the relationship with students and clubs and organizations so they feel they have an easy route to communicate with us. It’s one that is going to be very difficult and is yet to be a success, not to undermine the past administration and SGA’s work, but it’s a difficult one. We’re going to have a high bar and high expectations put on our committees for next year, some that are going to be significantly higher, especially in the area of public relations since it is a committee that has a lot of room to improve. That would be one of my goals, and to make sure leadership on Senate is one that is upheld, and hopefully we can encourage the leadership we’d like to see and the students need.
Ash: I’m so excited for us to take on this position because I think students will see a change in the approach on how we take on these jobs. The budget issues affect more than what is just on our campus. They’re affecting what’s going on with students at home, whether they can live off campus this year, and they’re affecting our neighbor community members and colleges and the other colleges in the state. I would really like to begin the dialogue with Champlain college, Burlington college, and establishing, “What changes are you being forced to make? How are you being affected?” It’s more than just the UVM community it’s the Burlington community and I would really like to see a dialogue there because I really haven’t seen that, and that’s something to be improved upon. I think it would give us, the students, a lot of insight to how our entire community is being affected rather than in our own little UVM square, I guess.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ash: I would like to say that I encourage students to take the initiative to ask a variety of people what’s going on with this; whether that’s an activist, faculty member, administrator in Waterman. Just taking a minute to say “I don’t understand what this means,” or “Could you elaborate a little bit on that?” I encourage students to do their homework on what’s going on and become active on it. Or not, I mean, there’s a variety of interests, but I think it’s very important that we try to encourage that.
Jones: We’re experiencing a difficult time, and I feel like that’s so cliché, but one of my general goals is to make sure next year is fun. I feel like this has been a very heavy year; we’ve seen deaths and cuts and budget issues, and I don’t want that to spill over into next year and prevent that from being a year that we can grow and have fun. I guess if there’s any other message I want to make sure student’s know is that we’ll provide the support that clubs and organizations need to fulfill that.
Ash: We got to do what we got to do, and that’s one of the most important parts of our job: to make sure students are enjoying their experience here at UVM, and if they’re not, what can we do to tackle that issue.