(WARRENSBURG, Mo.) – I was one of the 250 or so students who attended the student budget forum April 3. It took only about 45 minutes for me to start sinking into disappointment and shocked disillusionment as though I were standing in quicksand – and there were about two hours left.
President Chuck Ambrose, Interim Provost/Chief Learning Officer Mike Godard and Interim Executive Vice President and COO Roger Best were presenting the financial situation of the university and the proposed strategies for meeting financial constraints imposed by cuts in state appropriations, and what they would mean to students.
The plan was to open the floor to those in attendance to ask Ambrose, Godard and Best questions, raise concerns, or clarify anything that needed to be clarified.
For one person in attendance, the wait became intolerable. She raised her hand. Ambrose, midsentence, called on her.
“Are we going to have time to ask questions?” she said.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m sorry, maybe too much information and not enough dialogue.”
“I think a lot of this financial information goes over most of our heads,” she said. “I mean, I’ve worked in finance a long time, but I don’t know how many of the kids…”
She paused, at which point Ambrose tried to explain to her the importance of understanding the university’s financial situation by those who are looking to get an education and parlay it into a career at an ever-increasing expense.
I was irritated at the notion this woman had that I and the others in attendance lacked the capability to understand what was going on.
I was also irritated by her flippant reference to everyone in the room as “kids,” especially since the majority in attendance was old enough to vote, sign contracts and pay taxes, and therefore should be considered at least minimally capable to handle general budgetary information affecting the institution to which they are largely responsible for funding.
Be that as it may, the administrators did cut short the presentation and started taking questions.
The first question of the night: “Why were the students, especially the liberal arts students, not informed about the elimination of the liberal arts college sooner? I just found out about this just yesterday, and I was informed that this was started as early as February of this year.”
There was a Muleskinner report covering the reorganization of the colleges published March 1 after the general faculty meeting Feb. 28. That meeting was actually open to the entire campus community, and was publicized in the UCM News Bureau’s Daily and Weekly newsletters.
And then there’s the proposed structure of the schools in the reorganized colleges. As you can see, one of the colleges has liberal arts right in the name.
About 30 minutes later, there was this question: “This whole situation seems a bit fast and kind of rushed, and students still do not know what’s going on. What are you going to do to slow down the process and make it understood to every student… What is going to be done to ensure that students will be kept in the loop?”
In addition to the above article, there was this one about what the changes mean for staff. And this one about the restructuring of the honors program. And this one specifically about the reorganization of the colleges. And this one that covers a bunch of topics during Ambrose’s question-and-answer session on Snapchat.
There were several questions about the restructuring of the colleges, the names of the colleges and how the colleges would be represented and what the value of degrees would be when the colleges had new names and structures.
Coincidentally, when the presentation was interrupted, the slide on the screen behind Ambrose had some key talking points about the restructuring and reorganization. Had we held out just a few more minutes and listened to the administrators, those questions would have been answered. The questions that remained could have been more informed and more specific and less about hurling vitriol at administrators under no obligation to divulge any of this information to us in the first place.
It bothers me that there is so much responsibility placed on administrators to come to us with information about every single nuance of their day-to-day decisions for two reasons. First, many of those decisions, to quote a person at the forum, go over most of our heads.
Second, and I think most importantly, they make themselves available to us. I have had hours of conversations with Ambrose, Godard and Best. Ambrose talked to me for 30 minutes while he was in the airport over the Easter weekend. The first conversation I had with Godard was over 90 minutes, and I’ve lost track of the number of emails he’s responded to that I’ve sent him requesting information, some as late as midnight. I’ve not had a conversation with Best that was shorter than an hour – one of them was over spring break.
I like to joke with people that I’m important enough to have Ambrose’s cell phone number.
You know where I got it? It’s included in his email signature. And I know that because he always emails me back.
As the forum progressed, it was evident there were many who showed up with little faith in the administration and little understanding of the situation. The most unfortunate thing is that there were many who left with the same amount of both.
How much did we actually accomplish?