Panelists urge students to graduate regardless of budget crisis at The Presidents Town Hall Meeting

Angelica Bonomo / Staff Photographer
CSUN President, Dr. Jolene Koester, Faculty President, Dr. Jennifer Matos, and A.S. President, Abel Pacheco address concerns about the university budget cuts at the Presidents' Town Hall Meeting in the Grand Salon, Sept. 8, 2009. Photo Credit: Angelica Bonomo / Staff Photographer

Students should be ready to deal with the effects of the budget cutbacks that are expected to affect the California State University system over several years said University President Jolene Koester at The Presidents Town Hall Meeting yesterday.

The event, which took place at the University Student Union’s Grand Salon, gave students the opportunity to voice their concerns and ask questions to the university presidents panel. The panel included Koester, Associated Students(A.S.) President Abel Pacheco and Faculty President Jennifer Matos.

“The best thing you can do as students is focus, choose a major and get out of here,” said Koester, when asked what advice she could give students who are currently dealing with the cutbacks.

Koester acknowledged that there was “frustration, hurt and pain across the university,” but added that there are some issues that “are not within our control” but that she was willing to listen.

Students were asked to write down their questions on note cards or step up to the microphone to speak directly to the presidents.

Senior Michelle Reese, an art major, who said that she would like to graduate on time, started the conversation by asking what strategies and goals the presidents have to handle this difficult time.

Koester responded that the 2010 academic year is expected to be “more severely affected” which is why the administration has long and short-term goals.

Right now we are trying to get students into classes at the best of our ability,” she said.

Pacheco added that as a student he too is feeling the pinch. “I wish I had a magic wand that would lower the fee hikes,” he said.

Money was also an issue on students minds. A student, who did not identify herself, asked why A.S. was using student fees to produce CSUN’s annual Big Show instead of putting the money to a better use or helping students who are struggling.

Pacheco added that A.S. continues to work on behalf of students to provide them with reduced-price textbooks and pointed to the transit subsidy program as an example of the kind of work that A.S. is involved in. In response to the Big Show comment, Pacheco said the concert is meant to “raise students’ morale” and that there are only certain things that A.S. money can be used for.

Students also questioned why the Valley Performing Arts Center was being built during such an economic crisis. Koester said  the construction of both the performing arts  center and Chaparral Hall were built with bond money from the state.

As for the fee hikes, Koester said they were necessary because the other alternatives would not benefit the CSUN community.

“The Cal State Northridge fee increases bring in $13 million and without them we would have had to reduce classes and reduce the overall workforce,” Koester said.

But money was not the only issue that was discussed. Many students said they were receiving conflicting advice from advisers when it came time to choose classes.

Matos responded by saying the discrepancy in advice is due to faculty and staff also struggling. She said that most of the information you need to graduate is in the catalogue.

“It is in the students interest to choose classes carefully and not screw up,” she said. “The longer you stay here the longer you will end up in debt.”

Pacheco said, “we are all sacrificing and in some level suffering” but “it’s our own responsibility” to get involved and demand change with those responsible for the hikes.

Koester made it clear that she is not responsible for the fee increases or the faculty furloughs. She also added that she has never seen the situation as bad as it is now.

“We will preserve the characteristics of the university and even though it will be difficult, we will make it through this,” Koester said.