A Letter from ASuop President Grant Kirkpatrick
Hello Pacificans! My name is Grant Kirkpatrick, and I am currently serving as the President of the Associated Students of the University of the Pacific (ASuop). My primary responsibility as President is to serve as an advocate on behalf of students to the administration, staff, and faculty of the University. In this role, I feel it is important to keep the student body informed about the issues that face our University and what I have been doing to address these issues. As I reflect on the issues that have been discussed across campus there are a few that stand out as the most pervasive and significant. In my opinion, the largest obstacles we face moving forward are an ever-increasing tuition rate and a broken system of governance at our University.
Tuition at Pacific has been an issue for quite a while. Since 2002, tuition has doubled and has far exceeded the rate of inflation in the same time period. There is no question that it has become near impossible to attend our University without financial aid unless you come from a family with significant financial means. We are not alone; many similar private colleges have increased their tuition at a similar pace. These continuous increases have hindered our ability to take advantage of the specialized education we were promised, such as experiential learning opportunities (internships, research, project work, and so on) which are often unpaid.
Less money in the pockets of students means that we have less time to work for free, which is often the reality with internships. Furthermore, additional financial stress makes it more difficult for students to participate in organizations that require dues and to attend events that charge for entrance. As a representative of students, I did my best to convince the administrators to reduce the tuition increase, but I was unable to convince the Institutional Priorities Committee (the budget committee) to recommend a lower increase. Instead, the committee approved a recommendation to increase tuition by 3.9%, but it is up to the President to determine what the recommendation to the Regents will be. Ultimately, President Eibeck recommended a slightly lower increase to the Board of Regents (3.7%), and while I am glad that President Eibeck is sympathetic to the effects of tuition increases on students, I am still waiting to see when real change will come.
But, I for one, will not be holding my breath until that change comes because while our University espouses a firm belief in “shared governance,” the administration does not understand the concept of sharing nor governance. Shared governance is not just an honorary seat at the table, but a belief that those with a common commitment to the success of an institution have a right to be meaningfully involved in the decision-making process. This is the reason that the ASuop President gets a seat on just about every committee.
Yet, if you read the “Shared Governance Matrix”, which is available on the Pacific website, you will not find a single mention of Students. The largest group at Pacific, and the group that foots the bill, is not explicitly included in the governance of Pacific by any official policy. A common view I have heard from administrators regarding student involvement is that “your seat at the table is a privilege.” I find myself fundamentally opposed to this philosophy. Our seat at the table should not be considered a privilege, luxury, or gesture of goodwill. Rather, it should be considered an absolute necessity and basic expectation that is deeply rooted in our institutional values.
Such values as student-centered, diversity and inclusion, and integrity and accountability do not live within our University so long as students are not given a right to represent themselves. We are the ones paying into this university, and we deserve to be treated as investors into the institution. But it would appear that the University believes the extent of shared governance is allowing interested parties the opportunity to be included in the discussion of issues, but not to determine the course of the solutions. In the status quo, our participation is at best an opportunity to make a case for students, and at worst a way for the University to claim that students consented to their agenda. In either case, the current situation is unacceptable.
So, what can we do? We can organize and let the administration know how we feel about these endless tuition increases. In recent years, our student body has been increasingly accommodating – students have been shouldering ever-increasing hardship while demanding little in return. We can angrily curse the administration in closed quarters all we like, but at the end of the day, students are not stepping up and publicly taking a stand.
How can we expect the administrators to understand how we feel if we don’t let them know? From their perspective, numerous opportunities are afforded for students to give feedback in the form of email blasts, town halls, and office hours, yet we continually don’t provide it. Decisions are made by those who show up, and it’s time for us to start showing up. It’s time for us to voice our grievances during President Eibeck’s office hours and the administration’s town halls on tuition. It’s time for us to start filling the email inboxes of various decision-makers around campus with our questions, comments, suggestions, and concerns. The way I see it, there are two paths moving forward: action and inaction. I choose the path of action.
It is easy to subscribe to a belief that there isn’t anything that we can do when faced with a complicated issue, but we cannot succumb to this temptation. This isn’t an “us versus them” situation, and I sincerely hope that this letter isn’t perceived as such. Rather, my intention is to articulate that the frustrations and dissatisfactions of the students are not being dealt with in an effective way, and that this is in part because students have not demanded the change they desire.
We must make it clear that we deserve to be given the opportunity to participate in the decisions that affect the future of our institution. But first, we must prove to the administration, and the Pacific community, that given the chance to participate, students will show up. I know that I will be attending the next town hall, asking President Eibeck questions during her office hours, and advocating for students at University committees – will you join me?