So I went to the Town Hall Meeting this morning. The Chancellor was there to speak and answer to questions, and the seats were full of faculty and staff. I guess I was lucky enough to be in the area and not have work at the time; there weren’t many students there today, since a lot of them were either gone or working at the moment.
Faculty and staff asked a lot of questions about how the impending cuts and potential policy changes would affect their positions, their places in the University, how this University will cope. All great questions, and unfortunately not a lot of them got very satisfactory answers.
I finally managed to muster up enough courage to ask my question, which was how these cuts and changes are going to affect the students. It took a few minutes for the Chancellor to notice that I had my hand up,and when he did, he skipped over me in favor of hearing a faculty member before coming back to me. I asked him how he anticipated the budget cuts and policy changes were going to affect the students, reminding him that a lot of us are already seeing repercussions–classes we want and need aren’t being offered, and some student jobs are at risk just like the faculty positions are. This is what he told me.
1) He didn’t know about the potential of student jobs not being able to pay/compensate what they initially promised and so couldn’t comment on this.
2) The potential cuts and changes are going to affect the students.
Yes, I know. I know these changes will affect students. I know because they already are. Can you say anything to help me understand if and how they will continue to affect us?
Questions continued to be asked from the viewpoints of faculty and staff (which makes sense because they comprised the majority of the audience) and the Chancellor did not bring up the students’ viewpoint as much as would have been appreciated. I was getting pretty antsy because I was not getting as much out of this discussion as I had hoped. I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said because there were a lot of terms I didn’t understand and there just wasn’t much talk about how the students were factoring into all this.
I asked for the mic again. I said that I wanted everyone to keep in mind the perspective of the students in this debate, because almost everything that affected faculty and staff would then affect the students, but not everything that affected the students affected the faculty and staff.
I told him about myself and my friends. I told him I knew students who weren’t just leaving this college, they were leaving Wisconsin, because of how shitty the system is getting. I told him I knew students who had to drop minors because they were no longer being offered, and students who are afraid they’ll have to drop their majors if their programs continue to lose faculty and course offerings. I told him I knew of students who had to travel to other campuses to take classes that fulfilled major requirements. I told him I knew students who wanted to go into teaching, but who are now second-guessing this career path because of how messed up Wisconsin education is becoming.
He acknowledged me. He told me to keep saying this, because this is what needs to be heard.
Somehow though, I don’t really feel like he heard me.
After I spoke a faculty member who was seated in front of me turned around and whispered, “Well said.” As I was leaving the meeting a few more professors and staff came up to me to thank me for saying what I did, because they too sensed that the student perspective was being neglected. As I was sitting outside the town hall recuperating from my public-speaking jitters, the Chancellor walked by with some of his staff, and again thanked me for speaking, and went on his way.
I’m not writing this to toot my own horn or to shame anyone for not coming, because I know that a lot of you are elsewhere or at work and it was impossible for you to make it. And to be honest, I almost didn’t come, even though I was fully capable. I’m glad I did because otherwise what I said might not have been said. Anyone else could have said it (and a few people I know could have said it a lot better than me) but I was the one who was there who was willing to say it. It was purely circumstantial and I just want people to know that. I am more than happy to sit back and let other people do the talking, and I hate being redundant, so if what I have to say has already been said, I don’t say anything.
But sitting there for an hour and not hearing my own voice represented made me really anxious, and I knew that there are a lot of my friends who would have loved to be there where I was saying what I wanted someone to say. Finally I decided that it was more important for that voice to be heard than it was for me to spare myself some stage fright.
It was only because I have been working on this with awesome, passionate, talented people that I was able to stand up and say what needed to be said. I’m just throwing this story out there because I want people to know this. You can’t always wait for someone else to say things for you. You have to be willing to pay attention to the people you admire and respect so that when they’re not around, you can speak for them and the many voices that are unable to be heard at that moment.
Student voices need to be heard. Without students, the faculty and staff would have no one to work for. So even though it seems like the focus is on faculty keeping their jobs (and granted that is HUGELY important), we have to remember that it’s the students who are going to feel the most of what may or may not happen as these cuts and changes become more and more real. And unfortunately it’s the voice of the students that tends to be underrepresented or drowned out.
One of the faculty members who approached me after the meeting told me that it’s important for students to stand up for themselves. He said, “When policy makers hear from faculty, they tend to think we’re just whining. But when students speak, they listen.”
So, speak. I can’t say I felt a lot of love from the Chancellor today, but what I had to say was heard by some, and if we all continue to say it, we WILL be heard.