Steps to increase student input in campus cost-cutting measures met with criticism from students

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Seeking greater student input and providing regular updates are among several actions the campus intends to take as part of its strategic initiatives plan, which was announced by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in February.

According to Andrew Szeri, vice provost for strategic academic and facilities planning, the Wednesday campuswide email announcing the planning was the first of many updates that would inform students on the progress of cost-cutting proposals in light of the campus’s currently unsustainable structural deficit.

In addition, Szeri said the campus will offer all students opportunities to provide input about these changes, which has been met with criticism from several ASUC and Graduate Assembly members.

“We’re looking for more opportunities for students to be involved in individual projects,” Szeri said.

The Office of Strategic Initiatives announced Wednesday four initiative categories that would form the framework of the cost-cutting measures, including academic, administrative, fundraising and finance and intercollegiate athletics initiatives.

The academic, as well as the fundraising and finance, strategies will be overseen by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele, the administrative proposals will be headed by Vice Chancellor for University Relations Scott Biddy and the intercollegiate athletics initiative will be led by Dirks, with all three serving as executive sponsors for their respective initiatives.

“The sponsor has the responsibility to provide the overall direction of the initiatives,” Szeri said.

ASUC Executive Vice President Lavanya Jawaharlal said she believes the email was likely an attempt to increase transparency after student backlash about the possible dissolution of the campus College of Chemistry and the temporary suspension of the undergraduate public health major.

“When people see a long email from an administrator, people immediately throw it in the trash,” said ASUC Student Advocate Leah Romm. “(It’s) better than nothing as an effort to explain to students what’s going on but there are better ways to do so.”

According to the strategic framework, the student engagement group — which includes the ASUC and Graduate Assembly will identify concerns and advise sponsors on initiatives, along with a staff engagement group, but will not have a direct role in developing policies. After receiving campus input, the initiatives will then be reviewed by an executive council of campus administrators.

Graduate Assembly President Jenna Kingkade said she doesn’t believe the Office of Strategic Initiatives has been properly communicating about the strategic initiatives. A number of questions she sent to the office prior to a meeting were not answered, she said.

“The email came as a surprise, especially when they put the ASUC and GA name (in) without us having signed out on it or approved it,” Kingkade said.

Kingkade, along with several ASUC and Graduate Assembly members, expressed concern that the current strategic framework does not give enough weight to student input.

“Both faculty and students are only going to get public forums versus having official representation,” said ASUC President Yordanos Dejen. We won’t be happy until we get students on the advisory council because that’s where a lot of decisions are being made for review.”

Szeri said he and campus Chief Financial Officer Rosemarie Rae intend to speak with the ASUC Senate about creating a student engagement group soon, though Dejen said the level of engagement between the Office of Strategic Initiatives and the ASUC has yet to be solidified.

Contact Haruka Senju at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @haruka_senju