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Students speak about budget cut concerns

March 30, 2010

About 40 students met with university administrators Tuesday to voice concerns about potential budget cuts to programs aimed at multicultural students, including a potential 7 percent cut to the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, or OCAT.

A list of demands for administrators, including placing program cuts on a moratorium and constructing a free-standing multicultural center, were read by members of the MSU Coalition for Educational Justice. The coalition is composed of representatives from cultural organizations and students concerned about program cuts at MSU.

“We demand for the university to be transparent and for our voices to be heard,” said environmental biology and plant biology junior Gemini Bhalsod, who read the group’s demands during the meeting.

Administrators in attendance included MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon, MSU provost Kim Wilcox and Vice President for Finance and Operations and Treasurer Fred Poston.

Tuesday’s meeting was organized amid concerns that students were not being acknowledged in budget considerations, said Sara Vitale, a social relations and policy senior and Coalition for Educational Justice organizer.

“We know that these people are the ones that have power and we know that they really need to listen to students,” Vitale said. “We need to have a seat at the table.”

Discussions with the president, provost and budget planning committee have shown that a budget cut of about 7 percent across the university — particularly for noncollege programs — is necessary to keep the university economically viable, said Lee June, vice president of student services and associate provost, after the meeting.

Administrators have looked at potentially reducing the amount of money going into the OCAT office in next year’s budget, although decisions have not been finalized, June said. The number of OCAT aides will remain the same, but office resources could be reduced by about 7 percent.

The office’s 2009-10 budget is $683,866, according to the Office of Planning and Budgets. A 7 percent cut would result in a loss of about $48,000.

“There have been some reductions that have been going on for a number of years,” June said. “Reductions are part of almost the routine operation, but this year and next year the size of them will increase some. Reductions are nothing new. The magnitude is increasing.”

Services to students are being re-examined under the new neighborhood concept, a proposed project that would organize MSU’s campus into six neighborhoods and create a stronger sense of community for students, June said.

During the meeting, students expressed discontent with the concept, saying it would further segregate campus, and criticized administrators for the budget process.

“It seems as though students only have a vague idea about what has been going on with their programs and decisions being made,” Bhalsod said.

Of particular student concern Tuesday was the effect of potential cuts on the diversity at MSU.

Students said programs through OCAT were instrumental to their success at MSU. The programs increase retention and success rates, they said.

“If we are not speaking up as students, they’re going to just keep taking away the things that students before us fought so hard to get,” Vitale said after the meeting.

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