The university’s mission was the focus of discussion between about a dozen graduate students and four SIU Board of Trustees members Tuesday.
At the Graduate and Professional Student Council meeting, a roundtable discussion was held with Trustees Donna Manering, Roger Herrin, Mark Hinrichs, and Don Lowery. While the graduate students voiced many concerns that related to the university’s focus, some of the trustees asked for input on how they can best make decisions that further SIU’s goals.
GPSC President Carl Bloom said student access and the establishment of SIU as a research facility have become competing themes.
“This is a problem, because it seems to be pulling the university in two separate directions,” he said.
The reasons behind some of the student fees show some of the concerns the council members expressed with the university’s mission, as well as how much those fees cost.
Because of budget constraints, Bloom said, graduate students have taken on an increase in fees over recent years.
“As graduate students, you really feel the pinch, because if you work for the university, you’re on fixed income,” he said.
Of a nine-month salary, Bloom said two or three months of that often goes toward fees. Graduate students on those assistantships do receive tuition waivers.
Trustee Don Lowery said he didn’t know graduate assistants paid fees, because he hasn’t been on the board long. He said he thinks it’s important the trustees ask questions in order to get such information.
Manering said she thinks the trustees are trying to get the information they need to make informed decisions.
“We are concerned about the recruitment of students and the mission of the university … all of those things, we’re having to deal with, and we want to make good decisions and the right decisions,” she said.
She asked the graduate representatives how the university can continue to attract graduate students but not overemphasize the importance of enrollment numbers.
One student said the fees were a big deal to prospective graduate students. Some of the students said they pay $1,200 to $1,500 in fees per semester.
Pete Lucas, a GPSC representative, said he doesn’t mind the fees, but he doesn’t understand why graduate students can’t have a freeze on fees like undergraduate students have on tuition. He said fees have increased by more than 120 percent over the past eight years.
Eric Wilber said he was the student trustee at Easten Illinois University for two years and voted to raise tuition and fees.
“But that was a partnership between the administration and the students,” he said.
He said there were debates and votes taken, and the student trustee was able to take those concerns to the board.
“It seems like on this campus that hasn’t been done … that the students have said ‘no, we don’t want these fees,’ but the administration has still pushed it, and the Board of Trustees has still approved it,” he said. “I think that it’s very important that the board looks at what students want.”
Manering said she often asks how the advisory boards voted on an issue before she makes a decision. If they vote unanimously on an issue, she said she feels comfortable approving it.
Jake Baggott, assistant to the chancellor, told the council that graduate students are able to serve on many advisory boards.
“It’s important that those folks engage,” he said. “And regrettably, that hasn’t happened as often as you might like it to.”
Baggott said he went to each of the fee areas and asked about their advisory board votes.
He said the Student Health Advisory Board, which is made up entirely of students, unanimously passed the fee increase. The only votes against the fees were from the graduate students on the Intercollegiate Athletic Advisory Committee, but they passed. The Student Center Advisory Board was unanimous in support of the fees, but the graduate representative was unable to attend, according to Marnie Glazier, GPSC vice president for administrative affairs, whose husband is that representative.
“That’s something that sort of happens a lot; on voting day, suddenly the meeting time changes,” she said.
Baggott said the conflict in schedules is something that can be looked into. He said it’s really important for students to be engaged in those groups in order to get their voices heard.
Wilber said the board should also look at discussions and decisions that student government bodies make.
But the overall deciding votes by the trustees can be made on more than just decisions of committees, Herrin said.
“In the past year … I have tried diligently to make an evaluation of the information I was given. I haven’t been given enough at this point in time that I know how to cast an objective vote,” he said. “I will cast my vote for what I believe is in the best interest of all the students and for this university.”
Lauren Duncan can be reached at email@example.com or at 536-3311 ext. 268.