My Day at the Regents Meeting
By Austin Van Zant
UT Watch Representative
February 13, 2003
As I woke up this morning, I knew that I'd be going to an important meeting. Not necessarily for my input but for my presence because, you see, I was denied to speak at the UT Board of Regents Meeting. Last Friday (February 7th) morning, six days before the meeting, I talked to a secretary who said that in order to speak at this meeting, I had to simply fax in a memo with my name and topic of the speech. I did so that afternoon. On Monday, I received a message to call Francie Frederick. I called her (twice) on Tuesday to see what she wanted, and the message was that I got denied to speak. I asked for a reason, and I was given none. I even asked if it was due to a time constraint, and she said "No...I don't know...Board Chairman Charles Miller just denied you." The next day, I received the same message in writing. Why would they deny a student to speak at their meeting if they are supposedly more accountable than elected officials (as UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof claims in the Texas Compact)? Why are they trying to sell themselves as student-friendly when they didn't even give me 5 or 10 minutes to address them? My mom always told me to judge people by their actions and not by their words...
As I hurried out of bed, into a suit, and out the door, I was on the phone trying to gather people to come with me. Luckily, there were 5 or 6 of us who came out despite the weather. After I signed in at the front desk, I was sternly told not to bring the signs in. Then I was told to take them outside of the building. It's amazing that a PUBLIC Board meet in a private building that infringes on our right to free speech. I thought that was bad enough, but as we got on the elevator, another security guard accosted Nick and looked in his backpack to ensure that we were not carrying any signs. That would have been "criminal trespassing." This did not go over well for me.
At this point, I was not in the best of moods. I walked into the meeting, and I saw nothing but suits. I then was interviewed by the Houston Chronicle and the Austin-American Statesman (I had already talked to the Texan). About half-way through speaking to the Chronicle, the meeting started, and I sat down. I looked up and saw Mark Yudof and Board Chairman Charles Miller sitting next to each other. As soon as the meeting started, Yudof began talking about the Texas Compact. He said that "support for deregulating tuition was growing," so I held up the thousand signatures or so we've collected against tuition deregulation in just a few days' work. That was the only time during the meeting that Chairman Miller was not playing a staring contest with me; in fact, most everyone in the room glanced at them and quickly looked away. I thought it was pretty funny that I was not only not supposed to speak, I was not supposed to be looked at.
After hearing Yudof ramble on about how good tuition deregulation would be for everyone (and "how can the regents be accountable if we don't even have control over setting tuition"- which makes me believe he honestly does not know the meaning of the word), his assistant got up and tried to clarify some issues about the plan. She was saying that it would benefit anyone making below the state median income of $41,000. However, she said that the "big difference" between the Texas Grant and the Compact was that it was a "guarantee" that students with families making below the said amount could attend any public university in Texas for free. If it's only a guarantee, why try to play it up as a monumental plan? She then said some basic requirements for receiving the money were that the student had to maintain a 2.5 GPA and be enrolled for 12 hours each semester (these were the only two that stuck out; I'm positive there's more). I started thinking about how 12 hours in some colleges can be a burden, such as engineering or biology. She then said that funds would only be available for 10 semesters of work. Did that include the summer? What about students who attend school for more than five years? She then added that students, such as engineering, should then consider taking 15 or 18 credit-hours. Wait, I said, I know people in engineering who take 12 hours. It's already a burden for them, but to insist that they take more hours so that a smoke-and-mirrors plan can help in getting tuition deregulation passed just doesn't fly. I was extremely mad about this, as are students with extremely tough majors whose parents make below this mark.
I started thinking that it was ironic that Yudof and the regents are pushing for tuition deregulation so that they can be "flexible" at the same time, they're trying to pass the Texas Compact that is anything but. In my opinion, the Texas Compact is the analogue of TANF (a welfare program)- it has strict guidelines to follow, and if you barely fall short of the cutoff, you don't get the money, or you get sanctioned. The difference between TANF and the Texas Compact is that TANF truly helps those who need it, but the Compact won't provide much more for people who already receive the Texas Grant.
At this point, the plight of the less-affluent engineering students re-entered my mind. Then, Regent Cyndi Krier surprised me by addressing Yudof with the following scenario (excuse me if it's not the exact wording): "If there was a single mom with two children trying to juggle a college education with working and raising a 6 year old and an 8 year old..." Miller cut her off and said that she should be on part-time status, taking 9 hours...then she'd be covered almost fully by the Texas Grant. Wait, I thought, Miller just inadvertently admitted the generosity of the Texas Grant program, which reinforces my argument that the Texas Compact will not be that substantial of a change. Anyways, Miller then alluded to the fact that this person could attend community college. I almost burst out and made a scene at this highly formal meeting since it's apparent that the regents do believe that college is for the rich. Miller and Yudof's thinking: 'If you are poor enough to qualify for the Texas Compact, then you must follow each and every rule to receive any money. If you need further help, then get out of our fine university and attend some other college where you will get a far less quality education for the buck.' This then mixed with my idea of the Compact as TANF, and I was reeling. Miller probably was noting how much I was clenching my teeth.
I didn't stay for too long after this. I had to go and take a test (the university cutting into my time again!...), so I left early. They were still talking about everything as they see it- from the top where the air is REALLY thin. They don't realize that not every student can take 12 hours. They don't understand that there are students whose parents make above $41,000 and still need all the money they can get to survive. They choose to ignore the fact that the Texas Compact can and should be passed without deregulating tuition and with many less strings attached; they want the Texas Compact if and only if tuition is deregulated- proof that it is just a political move. As I left for class and headed for my test, there was nothing else going through my mind.