(Update 9:48 p.m. Wed. 4/29/09: Valias met with a "scattering of students" and from the sounds of it, there was a great deal of dancing around the issue. Am I surprised? No. Should the students be blamed for the small number of them who did show up to the forum? No. You can't throw a forum together as damage control and then hold it on a lunch break right in the middle of dead week.)
The weather this morning in Pocatello may be symbolic of the dreariness that will soon be presented to the students of Idaho State University in a forum hosted by University president Dr. Arthur Vailas. The forum, scheduled after two concerned students expressed their worries to a reporter at the Idaho State Journal a week ago, will allow President Vailas to address the concerns of students and will allow students to express their many concerns about faculty layoffs, assuming of course that President Vailas opens the floor for a question and answer session.
While another state institution made the news because they were able to find an additional $37,000 to hire a president, here in Pocatello the local paper has been flooded with commentary on the editorial page regarding the recent layoffs of seventy-three members of the ISU faculty and staff. Martin Hackworth, an instructor in Physics, has offered a running commentary on the campus tension. Additionally, student body president Matt Spencer has defended the administration, specifically Vailas, on a handful of occasions. When the heat is on, as they say, Spencer's positions appear adamantly pro-administration and pro-Vailas. His latest editorial chastised students for not getting the story straight, surely a response to two students who approached the paper with their concerns about class availability and the continued funding and support of university clubs.
The concerns of students on this campus as well as the Idaho Falls campus are legitimate. Students have had a front row seat to some pretty drastic changes at Idaho State University over the past few years. We have ushered in a new administration after a faulty, somewhat corrupt administration was forced out because of administration pay raises in the face of rising costs for students and faculty losses. We have watched as good, qualified individuals were passed over for promotion while favoritism and connections ruled the day. Unfortunately for those of us in programs unrelated to the newly stated medical mission of ISU, programs concentrating on the hard sciences, we have had to watch as our programs scrambled to continue offering the basic courses on a restricted budget and we've watched as faculty in some departments have resorted to spending a majority of their time working on grant applications to continue research projects. As students we can't help but feel that we've been abandoned in this drastic redesign of priorities.
The two students who approached the Idaho State Journal presented legitimate concerns, but as they say in the world of bureaucrats, they neglected the chain of command. Hence the presidential forum today. Should they have addressed their concerns to their student representatives? Sure, but having been a student representative, I know that there is very little a representative can do with those concerns. Student representation and leadership at ISU has become an over glorified popularity contest. Clearly, had they presented their concerns to the president of the Associated Students of Idaho State University, Matt Spencer, they would have been dismissed while he, I'm assuming here, defended the administration and their priorities. I suppose in all reality, the students in question went to the only source that would listen as well as be even remotely sympathetic to their concerns.
Personally, I have only had one encounter with ASISU President Matt Spencer and that was in my capacity as an ASISU Senator before he became involved in student government. He expressed his support for a battle I was waging at the time against a newly drafted ASISU Constitution. At the time I was impressed with his appreciation for dissent, but now realize that appreciation may have been misguided as his tenure, as well as the administration before him, did not address the issue of a illegitimate constitution. In fact, his administration ushered in amendments to the fraudulent document. Strangely enough, I have had numerous interactions with President Vailas and have found him to be a genuinely thoughtful and sincere individual. As is the case with many politicians, university presidents are politicians to an extent, I have liked Vailas the person and have had my qualms with his tenure as president.
With every day that the legislature drags on, with every dollar our universities are cut and with all the money we've uselessly poured into pet projects (here at ISU the pet project is a multi-million dollar expansion to Reed Gym similar to Governor Otter's road projects in that the timing is awful), we are squandering the greatest resource we have in this state--our young people; young people who are genuinely concerned with the status of higher education. Students are finding that the cost of education is reasonable in other states and that in-state tuition options aren't what they used to be. If students are going to have to take out student loans in a world where Pell grants are fewer and scholarships are suffering while the economy has hit endowments and donations drastically, they're looking at what other universities have to offer and finding that some are much more friendly to students and much more concerned about actually educating and training rather than public praise and esteem.
Something tells me that the hour President Vailas has devoted to meeting with students in a large forum today will do very little to assure students who must know that it is not only plausible, but likely that cutting seventy-three instructors will have an impact on class size, course offerings, faculty advising of student clubs and ultimately class availability.
The student forum with Dr. Arthur Vailas will take place today, Tuesday, April 28, from 12-1 p.m. in the Pond Student Union Theater. Bring your umbrella, it's storming.