Chancellor Andrew Rogerson and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Mark Poisel hosted an open forum Monday evening, addressing student’s concerns about the university.
Though the forum had a set agenda, the dialogue ended up being far less neatly structured, with students driving most of the dialogue. Nichele Anderson, a veteran and non-traditional student, told Rogerson and Poisel that she feels the university’s approach to education is unsuited to the needs of modern students.
“The dynamic is changing, chancellor,” Anderson said. “You guys are still in the dark ages.”
Anderson also cited the university’s lack of initiative in veteran services, uncleanliness in the dorms and cafeteria and subpar teaching as points of dissatisfaction, attributing them to an administration that is out of touch with the student experience. The chancellor acknowledged the curriculum and timing of classes as major reasons why many students did not return this fall.
Responding to Anderson’s issues with military student affairs, Poisel said that the university is considering providing emergency loans as a way to help veterans pay for books when the Department of Veteran Affairs fails to provide benefits in a timely manner.
Several students cited problems with financial aid, such as lost scholarships or slow appeals that forced them to take out loans, with one student claiming a GPA miscalculation caused her to lose funding. Poisel said that he could not speak on individual cases, but that many of the problems which occur with financial aid are because students do not complete the necessary paperwork in time or because the federal government determines the rules.
“We’re not dropping anybody from classes, so I’m not sure who’s telling you that they’re gonna drop you from classes,” Poisel said. “But I can check and see what the real issue is.” He urged all students to complete their applications for student aid as soon as possible, he said that the university needs to do a better job of communicating why it is necessary to do so.
Frustration with eStem garnered the most response from the chancellor, who admitted he won’t even go to get a coffee during the high school’s lunch hours.
“I want everyone in this room to know I won’t give up until I have found a solution,” Rogerson said. “There is congestion, and it’s overtaxing our facilities, and I actually believe that it is degrading the campus climate of this university, so I hear you loud and clear.”
The chancellor assured students that the university would conduct more surveys and encouraged students to do their part by petitioning and contacting their student government representatives to voice their concerns with eStem.
Rogerson also touched on student fears about the university’s recent $9 million budget shortfall. He clarified that while the removal of adjunct professors was one of several options for potential budget cuts, the effect these cuts would have on the education process is a major consideration. The chancellor says that he has found a way to save $8.9 million in the budget, but did not go into details about his plans.
Art students also voiced their frustration with a recent bookkeeping error that led them to be charged an additional lab fee midway through the semester. One of them, Rushton Dobbins, recently created a petition asking UA Little Rock to absorb the losses rather than pass them on to students in his department, which has already collected over 300 signatures. Rogerson said that was the first he had heard of the petition and that he would look into it.
While responding to a graduate student’s concerns about travel grants, the chancellor stated that his larger goal for UA Little Rock is to turn it into a research university. But it was his aspirations for the city itself which brought the audience’s applause.
“We are going to be a college town by the time I resign from this position,” Rogerson said. “That would make me so proud, if people thought of Little Rock like they think of Austin, Texas.”