It’s time to challenge an apathetic University

Y By Steve Snyder

you’ll never guess what he said next: ‘It’s not my problem.’

I was talking to a friend on Pleasant Avenue. Well, not talking, but more listening to a rant from the disgruntled. She was tearing up and needed someone to talk to and I was more than happy to listen.

She is a senior, planning to study abroad next semester and was on a quest to take one of three needed classes this semester before her departure. She had tracked down a class that fit her busy schedule, had attended the section, which was only half full, and had approached the professor about those ever-elusive “magic numbers.”

“It’s not my problem,” was the professor’s only response.

The more I thought about it, this story was not unique to her plight at all. I had encountered professors and teaching assistant’s who had shrugged their shoulders at my problems and concerns. I had been at the bookstore, the registrar’s office, the bursar’s office and other administrative offices only to be ignored and disgusted by the system.

Indeed, my flustered friend had gone to her department’s office and had been given the runaround. She asked to speak with a decision maker. “I’m sorry, that person is out sick.” When would they return? “We don’t know, come back later.” And it was the same the day after, and the day after that.

No matter that classes were already in their second week. No matter that she was a senior and her graduation was in the balance. The answer was always the same: “Come back later. It’s not my problem.”

Listening to the story, I was angered by a sense of helplessness that overcame me. Given the situation, what could she do? “Don’t take no for an answer,” was all I could muster.

But more and more frequently, I think students here at the University are taking no for an answer. Treated more like ungrateful children than paying customers, we are expected to accept the status quo and readjust our expectations.

No more.

I have seen the potency of student activism in even its smallest doses: the occasional protest, the annual student elections and the reliable outrage over increasing student service fees and tuition.

I vividly remember the buzz surrounding the excessive use of force by Minneapolis police following last year’s NCAA hockey championship. A vocal few stirred the community, generated controversy and caused top city officials to submit their resignations.

Why then does that end-of-the-year activism rarely translate to early fall? Why are we less involved in September than in April? Is it that we are starting a new school year and need to find our groove? Do we think our influence is limited to tuition decisions and student services fees rather than day-to-day University behavior?

What each of us must understand is that we have an important voice on every facet of University life. Think of what you would change at the University. Upset about the Campus Connector? Contact parking and transportation services. Sick of cramped or dirty classrooms? Contact facilities management. Angry at a professor? Contact the dean’s office.

It is when we shake our head, convinced of our unimportance, that the University will no longer resemble an institution made to service the students.

Therefore, in the interest of inciting debate and stirring some controversy, here are three of my current pet peeves:

Oh where, oh where has my Coffman gone?

I have hazy memories of those glorious days in the fall of 1999. As a freshman, I was able to bowl, rent movies, meet friends and get ice cream at Coffman Union. I saw movie screenings there, had club meetings there and proudly showed it to friends when they visited. It is now September 2002 and our union more closely resembles a bomb shelter than a gathering place.

Jared Roddy’s opinion piece in the Daily on Sept. 17 was pitch-perfect in its cynical observations. The union will likely not open this year, yet no one has been held accountable for one of the worst debacles during my student career.

Who has been fired for the delays? What University official has come forward to take responsibility? Where is the concern for the students living on the east bank and their diminished quality of life?

More importantly, where is the commitment to getting it open this semester?

Increased student services fees?

Just as Coffman Union remains closed, student services fees continue to increase. Why? How am I enjoying more benefits on the Minneapolis campus in fall of 2002 than in fall of 1999?

I propose a serious re-evaluation of the programs now housed at the St. Paul Student Center. I strongly believe that, in its present location, it is ridiculous to believe that every student will have the time, or the desire, to make the lengthy pilgrimage for a Roxy films presentation or midday concert.

If we have no union, aren’t we entitled to lower student services fees? If no students make the hike to the St. Paul Student Center, shouldn’t programs be moved, reduced or eliminated?

It is a scam when the collective subsidizes activities for the few.

Your wait will be approximatelyÖ one hour?

Another travesty that demands mentioning is the new “One Stop Student Services” help line. A good idea, in theory: If you need help with anything, from financial aid to grades, you call one helpline. Fewer phone numbers, less hassle, right?

Wrong.

This grand solution has resulted in massive waits, sometimes in excess of 30 minutes, for students desperate to correct problems from loan disbursements to enrollment issues. A University operator even suggested to me, “You might be better off just going in person.”

Again, why are we silent on such an issue? Is it too much to expect that, as we attempt to pay our 13 percent tuition increase, a human being will actually pick up the phone in under 10 minutes?

Are my complaints legitimate? You decide. The point is that we must actively question such things if we are to make the University a better place.

Even as a single voice, you have the power to make a difference at the University. Like my friend, your complaining might pay off.


Steve Snyder’s columns appear occasionally. He welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]