EDITORIAL: Laughing at student activism makes Ferguson undeserving of trustee title

MSU Board of Trustees Chairman Joel Ferguson has served on the board since 1986 and has been its chairperson since 1992 — longer than some college students have been alive.

One might think that with such a history of service to the school, he would come to respect the students he represents. His comments about student activism at the Board of Trustees meeting suggest otherwise, however.

The Board of Trustees voted to raise the rate of room and board by about $350, just one day after MSU Students United submitted a letter to President Lou Anna K. Simon’s office requesting a freeze to tuition rates.

Editorial Board

Ian Kullgren, Editor in chief

Rebecca Ryan, Opinion editor

Robert Bondy, Staff representative

Omari Sankofa II, Minority representative

Emily Jenks, Opinion writer

When asked to comment on the student activists, Ferguson all but laughed in their faces.

According to a State News article, Ferguson said that the petitioners were in the right county, but the wrong building — that their protests should be taken to the Capitol and that their attempts were laughable.

“Last night I received a phone call from The State News, and they wanted me to comment about students who were going to picket our meeting ... about tuition and I can’t help myself, but I couldn’t laugh candid,” Ferguson said during the meeting.

Although there have indeed been recent cuts to state funding in higher education, this response is incredibly inappropriate for an elected official, especially one whose purpose is to make decisions to benefit the university and students.

The fact that the Board of Trustees raised the cost of room and board is not the main issue here — we even expected it to happen, although perhaps not unanimously and without public discussion. Rises in the cost for higher education is an ongoing trend.

No, the main problem is that one of the highest officials at MSU openly laughed at the efforts of students who wanted their voices to be heard.

At MSU, we are encouraged to be critical thinkers, form our own opinions and speak our minds. Unless, apparently, it is against the university itself.

We understand that there is not much the university can do to prevent the state from cutting its budget. And maybe the increase was necessary. But that does not justify laughing at students and telling them their well-intentioned protests fall on deaf ears.

Deferring the student activists to the Capitol was also an inappropriate action. After all, Ferguson and the other seven other members of the board are the ones with the direct authority to raise and lower costs. 

Ferguson’s attitude toward student activism displays that not only does he not respect the students whose lives he affects, but he finds it funny that students think they should have a say in their education.

This brings into question the validity of Ferguson’s votes, as well. Ferguson clearly was not interested in listening to what students had to say. He told The State News that the Board would not consider a Students United petition with more than 3,000 signatures as of April 21.

To come to a decision, he at least needs to listen to both sides of the argument, especially considering one of the arguments is being made by people directly affected by the policy change.

If Ferguson is going to ignore the opinions of more than 3,000 students, we should ignore him as well the next time we head to the polls. It is just a shame his seat will not be up for vote until 2021.

Perhaps his long service as a trustee has caused Ferguson to become desensitized to the idea that his actions require critical thought and a listening ear. Perhaps he honestly believes students are barking up the wrong tree. But his role as a trustee should be to do what is in the best interest of the university, and as someone voted into the position on good faith he will fairly represent the public, he needs to do a better job of showing he cares about the well-being of students. 

Because our futures are no laughing matter.

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