Trustees need to listen to students’ voices

Nearly a year ago we addressed the student body, asking them to speak up about the problems facing the University, to make their voices heard about the concerns they face daily. We’ve spent the past year, and are continuing, to ask you to join the campus conversation about the issues — and we’ve been encouraged and proud to see this happening everyday. Students are outraged, rightfully, at what is going on at this University and are trying to speak their minds, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like those making the decisions are even listening.

Although we value the professional experience many of our trustees bring to the group from their outside careers, they would do well to remember the ultimate mission of this university is the education of thousands of students and a dedication to world-class research. The University of Illinois may be an expansive institution with a large — and struggling — budget, but we are not a corporation. We are a University, made up of students, paying tuition — tuition that is ever more important as state support wanes, tuition that is increasing at an unmanageable rate for families struggling to balance their bills and afford higher education for their children.

Six students spoke at the public comment section of the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday and were allotted 30 minutes total. Thirty minutes to discuss tuition, graduate student problems, health care, student rights, diversity and the many other serious issues facing the University — not nearly enough time.

Public comment took place at the end of the meeting, when the trustees were exhausted from discussing other issues all day and were anxious to adjourn the meeting. Even the meeting location, the Pine Lounge at the Illini Union, was not accommodating enough to welcome the students brave enough to speak out. The room filled quickly and many students wishing to support those expressing their views were sent to an overflow room, including one of the speakers.

One woman spoke emotionally about tuition increases, the struggle of graduate students and the way these changes have affected all of us; yet as she stood before the trustees on the verge of tears, they couldn’t be bothered to answer her questions or thank her for her impassioned speech.

Several students blatantly asked President Hogan to give up his raise, asked Chairman Chris Kennedy if there would be another tuition increase and other questions that weren’t dignified with a response. Kennedy said it is not the tradition of the public comment section to be a question–and–answer session. This refusal only raised our own questions about how accessible and responsive our leaders really are to our concerns.

Maybe a board of trustees meeting is not the best place to express such serious, complicated concerns, but as several speakers mentioned, their attempts to contact the board went ignored.

Our University leaders owe us the respect of listening to our problems and our ideas, answering our questions and giving us the respect they give to their own colleagues.