Editorial, Opinion

Missing the point: informational forum becomes frustrating

(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?


Mary Frintz

I was present at the forum in question. I found this editorial completely deserving of the harmless woman’s general assessment of the crowd – written by a kid that just doesn’t get it. (I apologize for my cheekiness, Mr. Holmberg…I could not resist.)

I suppose it is my turn to be “irritated” by “flippant” comments. I accept that. There is a lot I could say in retort to this editorial, but I will limit my comments to answering the concluding question: “How much did we actually accomplish?”

1. Students needed the opportunity to raise their grievances with these decisions and ask questions of the administration. That is the least Ambrose can do, which I feel he did express. The fact that a student forum occurred well after the decisions were made is another matter, and one I hope students took note of.
2. The issue with the Muleskinner’s accessibility to students needs addressing. Ambrose and Holmberg kept pointing out that articles with the information were/are available online, but that does no good if it is not reaching the readership, as this forum made clear. Sure, you can make it the students’ sole responsibility to seek out the Muleskinner, but that is how periodicals are becoming extinct. There has to be some responsibility to the periodical itself to get its name out there and stir up interest. If those steps were made here, it isn’t enough.
3. Ambrose is now well aware that the liberal arts students care a great deal about their programs and are watching. This restructuring is title changes and consolidation, but that could lead to other things. This shake up has caused a camaraderie that will serve the liberal arts students well when the administration presents future cuts.

In a university environment, everything should be seen as a learning opportunity and this forum is no different. Hopefully it inspired students to learn what is happening, pay attention, and voice their concerns more readily. Even if only a few students are provoked to do this, my time was well spent.

Chris Holmberg

I would like to thank you for taking the time to read the piece and then respond. I think there is immense value in people writing things to challenge readers, but I think there is perhaps even more in readers challenging writers.

I would also like to apologize for the delay in this response. We’ve had some moving parts at the Muleskinner with staffing, and I’m afraid this slipped through the cracks; that is a poor excuse, understandably, but it is unfortunately the only one I have. Nevertheless, I found your comment this morning and I feel it is worth a response, late though it may be.

Initially, I’d like to address your statement that the piece was “written by a kid that just doesn’t get it.” While I smiled after reading it and liked very much how clever it was, I want to point out one thing: I’m 30. For several reasons, some good, some not as good, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend college until now. Whether or not it is fair, my age and experience in non-academic settings for the past 10-or-so years provided the lens through which I observed the forum.

To your first point that students needed the opportunity to raise their grievances with these decisions and ask questions of the administration, I would say I both agree and disagree. I absolutely agree that students, who either fund the university directly by paying tuition or indirectly simply by being students and warranting funding from the state, should never hesitate to express dissatisfaction or concern. We’re all paying a bunch of money for this, and we should certainly feel a sense of return on our investment. I disagree with your statement that this forum was the least Ambrose could do; He could have actually done much less. He and the other administrators didn’t need to hold such a forum, and they could make all of their decisions from their offices. And the forum didn’t take place after decisions were made. In fact, one of the key points of contention in the forum, going from four colleges to three, was reversed. We will be entering the 2018-19 school year with the same four colleges we had last year.

Your point about the Muleskinner’s accessibility to students is dead-on. The Muleskinner ran into some issues last summer with changes in funding, and for about a month a complete lack of funding, which changed how it was published. At this point, however, there absolutely needs to be more done to increase visibility, thereby increasing its usefulness to the campus community. When I wrote this piece, I admit I was only looking at it from the perspective of the work I had put in, but you make a valid and important point that that work is not helpful to anyone if they don’t know how to find it. I appreciate your thoughts here, and I hope we can provide a better service moving forward.

Respectfully, I think your final point is mildly overstated. First, there were roughly 250 in attendance of this forum; there were between 11,000 and 12,000 students enrolled last semester. Even if everyone in attendance was a liberal arts student, it would have only been a fraction of the enrollment of the college they were proposing to fold into the three other colleges at the time. To say the university president is now aware that liberal arts students care a great deal about their programs when most of them didn’t show up is a stretch. And it is important to understand why these cuts are happening in the first place. They are not at the whims of UCM’s administration, but are happening because the state government has cut money from the appropriations the university relies on. Additionally, as noted in several of the informational forums the administration held, the university experienced a surge in international graduate student enrollment between 2014-2016, providing an influx of revenue. That enrollment has evaporated in large part because of sudden changes in national policy. The university administration is not pulling these strings; they are reacting to the realities of the financial circumstances of the university.

I also hope this forum, and everything that has transpired over the course of the last academic year, has inspired students to learn what is happening and to pay attention.

Thank you again for your engagement.



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