As the midway point of the year approaches, it has become clear that students at UNA are carrying the majority of the burdens and challenges that come with transitioning to Division I. The administrators and the board of trustees consistently make swift decisions with little to no student input on policies that directly affect them.
Before the transition was official, Jacob Cole, the former sports editor for The Flor-Ala, warned the student body and community in an op-ed about the board of trustees’ approval to transition UNA from Division II to Division I.
“The risks far outweigh the reward for UNA to move up a level and the students will be the ones to suffer in the decision,” Cole said.
If those in power fervently wanted to become a Division I school, then they should have secured more state funding through Project 208 before making the move. It is like someone purchasing a home without the sufficient amount of income to pay the house note, the utilities and the renovations required to live in it. At some point, someone will be responsible for the costs, and in this case, it is the students.
The university is toward the bottom of the list of schools in the state that receive state funding. In order to address the lack of funding, UNA created Project 208 in hope to secure more money from Montgomery.
“UNA total funding per full-time student equivalent is ranked 12 out of the 14 public colleges in Alabama and last when in comparison to similarly sized institutions,” according to a Project 208 statement. “The state support we receive is 22.8 percent below the median.”
Even with over $35 million of donations, it seems the school is still scrambling to find ways to fund the requirements of a Division I status.
Every impulse decision the administration and board of trustees have made is firmly rooted in a lack of funding, and as Cole warned, students are now suffering for their premature and miscalculated decision.
For example, President Kenneth Kitts and Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost Ross Alexander held a forum June 4, to inform faculty and staff that they are implementing a new flat-rate tuition policy. This forum was after students had already met with their advisers and registered for classes in the following fall.
It is incredibly inconsiderate to make a decision that will affect a student’s finances after they already registered for classes and without giving them time to provide input. A press release on a student’s portal page after the fact is not a sufficient way to inform students how a new policy will affect their or their parent’s money.
Kitts and Alexander said the policy is supposed to encourage students to graduate in four years, but who said it was their decision to determine the pace of a student’s time at UNA? Students who cannot take 15 or more hours are now burdened with the responsibility to fill in the financial gap for other students receiving a discount for having the ability and time to take more hours per semester.
The truth behind the flat-rate policy though is UNA desperately needs to increase their graduation rate to prepare for upcoming state implemented performance-based funding. In 2016, UNA’s overall graduation rate was 38 percent, according to the USC Race and Equity Center. One of the key elements performance-based funding will hinge on is a university’s graduation rate.
There are other decisions that raise questions as well.
The Staff Senate decided to not publish the Staff Senate survey taken at the end of the 2018 spring semester.
Staff Senate President Bishop Alexander said the senate agreed to not publish the survey because it had the markings of irrational results.
“There were comments on the survey that did not provide professional criticism,” Alexander said. “We were not going to publish a gossip column.”
The staff believes the flawed results were due to the survey’s lack of security to access it.
One of the senate’s other concerns was that the survey was taken more than once by the same person to purposely skew the results.
“Because of the security issue, we were really unsure who was actually taking the survey,” Alexander said. “It could have been anyone, so that is another component to why we didn’t feel comfortable publishing the results.”
Alexander said they are already working on ways to make next year’s survey more secure.
Why did the university not communicate this to the students or community?
Is this something that public universities across the nation typically do when issues of security within its own systems of shared governance occur?
What are the ethics in that type of situation? Does a public institution need to disclose that information?
As Kitts becomes the face of UNA while standing in front of legislation and pleading for more funding, the perception of the university’s image has never been more important than this moment in our school’s long history. The administration is willing to make these instantaneous decisions with minimal effort to let students speak on them.
Students, please use your voice. It is your First Amendment right. Be eloquent and passionate.
I want to challenge the university as an influential public institution to have more integrity, communicate with more transparency and start prioritizing student education over increasing the status of a brand.
We are all in this together, so stop using students and government power as solutions in one long and complicated equation.