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Board of Regents host first public forum

Jessica Pikul, a graduate student in the environmental management program and a supporter for the “Defend Education for the 99%” campaign calls for the regents to pursue alternative revenue options during Wednesday’s public forum. Photo by Lucas Anderson

The UW Board of Regents listened but didn’t respond yesterday at its first public forum.

Public feedback may become a regular component of Board of Regent meetings, depending on the passage of House Bill 2313, which would make such comment periods mandatory.

“What we’re hoping to do is get input from all the constituents around the university before we’re in a position to have to finalize [the UW] budget,” said Kristianne Blake, current chair of the Board of Regents.

A multitude of students at all different levels of study and from a wide range of departments at the UW’s Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma campuses were in attendance to speak directly to board members about budget and tuition issues. Only four regents were present: Blake, William Gates Sr., Sally Jewell, and student regent Kelsey Knowles.

A broad spectrum of issues were addressed, all relating to the larger problems of funding higher education and keeping college accessible for everyone.

Even before the meeting had begun, students preceded their sentiments with signs featuring statements such as, “Defend education for the 99 percent,” “Huskies for quality and access,” and “Where is our money going?”

Students submitted testimony in advance to receive priority on the list of speakers, and testimonies were limited to three minutes. Topics addressed included increased tuition; differential tuition; tuition predictability and accessibility; regent accountability to students; leadership at the UW; problems students are facing in light of funding cuts and higher costs; and what one student called the overall “attack on higher education.”

After defining the word “public,” UW senior Cody Lestelle asked the regents why the administration consistently dealt with the budget cuts coming from the state by raising tuition “as much as legally possible.”

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Regent William Gates Sr. listens to student concerns during Wednesday’s public meeting. Gates was highlighted multiple times during student testimony for his advocacy and outreach efforts.

“Why, at a public university, in a society I was raised to believe as being controlled by the people, for the people, are decisions about tuition being made by a Board of Regents that is not elected but is directly appointed by the governor and [has] a lack of direct accountability to the people?” he asked.

Many students implored the regents to look for progressive options for dealing with budget cuts and to promote predictability in terms of tuition rates. Some simply asked for leadership.

“Where have you been for years?” graduate student Jessica Pikul asked the regents. “When will the UW leadership take that role seriously and fight for progressive revenue in a public and active way?”

Another student suggested cutting excessive administrative salaries and reminded the regents that “this is a public university, not a business.”

Other students became emotional while sharing personal stories of difficulties encountered and sacrifices made as a result of high tuition rates and course fees. Some were simply appreciative for their first chance to speak directly to the members of the board.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak because there are many a time when the leaders of this campus don’t represent their students or don’t give their students or their constituents a chance to speak,” sophomore Daniel Nguyen said.

At the meeting’s conclusion, the regents said they would take the students’ comments into consideration. Whether or not this promise will hold true remains to be seen, but many students seemed pleased to have the chance to voice their opinions to the Board of Regents.

“I’m really, really happy to see the huge student turnout,” Nguyen said. “We’re all fighting for the same cause, and that’s funding higher education.”

Reach reporter Katie Pine at news@dailyuw.com.

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