Give administrators something to hear

By Lori Foley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 25, 2005

It was a really cute picture: President Peter Likins helping a brand-new freshman move into her brand-new dorm room to start her brand-new college life. And of course, this precious little moment made for a great photo op and a prime spot on the cover of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. Our president: a man of the people, rubbing shoulders with the little guys.

But really, that's not how we see him or any of the other administrators. No one looked at that picture and thought, "Dang it, why didn't I think of calling Pete to help me move in?" We're not so easily bought.

We know that picture-perfect moment wasn't to advertise our president as a moving service. It was a carefully contrived gesture, designed to show how much the administration wants to be in touch with students.

It's obvious that the powerful people in suits want us to think of them as approachable. They're trying so hard because, frequently, the administration doesn't see us as particularly approachable.

Let's be honest here: The goings-on of that (seemingly) far-away world of university politics may not always immediately strike us as enthralling. And so, as a student body, we've cultivated a culture of apathy.

We've become as approachable as the cool kids in the back row are to a junior-high substitute teacher. And that doesn't really render us valued consultants on campus policy issues.

However, regardless of our desire, or lack thereof, to give them direct input on campus issues, we do communicate with the administrative powers that be. We pay tuition; we maintain a financial association even as we frequently reject any other type of relationship.

If the only way we communicate with the administration is financially, then that's the only way they'll have to view us. We choose to shift ourselves from being the university to being its customers. If we're nothing more than consumers here, the university's only obligation is to sell us a product that will keep us pacified.

And what if we're not satisfied with the service the university's providing? If our university experience was the same as any other purchasing decision, like buying soup, we would just take our money elsewhere if we weren't pleased. Campbell's not doing it for you? There's always Progresso! Don't like the proposed fee for the union? ASU awaits!

But our university experience is not on the same level as our soup-buying ones; we're most likely not just going to take our dollars and head somewhere if we're unhappy with an aspect of our UA "purchase." We've got way too much invested already to leave.

We're not just consumers here; we make this place. So, we can't reduce our communication to our tuition checks. We've got to stop forcing our relationship with the powers that be to fit in the narrow channel of the financial realm. And the only way to do that is to speak up, both when the administration wants to hear us, and when it doesn't.

We have too much at stake to just be users of a product; we need to start viewing the administration as our partners in this college adventure, not just providers. We have the power here. There are way more of us, and the big guys want and need our opinions.

The decisions that the administration makes are not so far off as they sometimes seem; they change our lives in very tangible ways. Their response to the housing shortage on campus will affect where we'll live, their campus security policy will play a huge role in how safe we are here, and their budget policies will determine whether we can attract and retain the best professors.

And this year, it's more important than ever to make our voices heard. The new president who will be chosen is going to direct the vision of the UA for years to come. Just look at all the changes that occurred during Likins' tenure: The university had a facelift with the construction of the country's second-largest student union, among other huge construction projects. Many of us felt the financial sting as the university had the largest tuition increase in its history.

The new president will make changes that impact the university on the same scale. We need to ensure that he or she is someone who will make the best choices for us.

It's obvious we've got to speak up. We're not buying soup here; we're not going to pack up and switch brands if we've got a problem. We're at the UA for good. So we've got to make this the year that we're informed and become a voice the administration can't ignore. They say they want to hear us. Let's see what they do when we give them something to listen to.

Lori Foley is a senior majoring in English and French. She can be reached at