Tensions Flared at Student Government Meeting

Questions of racism raised at SA meeting.

Tension mounted at a recent UWM Student Association meeting as some minorities expressed their displeasure with how the Student Association was handling issues.

It was a stern and serious night in the UWM Alumni Fireside Lounge on Nov. 12, as around 30 people showed up to hear Student Association President Jay Burseth discuss the latest issues going on around campus with them in an open forum format.

Those issues included diversity issues, the cost of books, and online course fees, tuition, and the cost-cuts around campus. 

The discussion got the most heated when one person at the event accused those in the Student Association of not doing enough. This was brought into light when it was revealed Burseth celebrated his birthday instead of making an appearance at the last town hall meeting.

President Burseth was then asked by a student whether or not he was aware of the anger minorities had towards what was going on in the senate.

Burseth said, “Yes. Those kinds of statements are why I ran against Kyle and everyone around him in the first place. My solution, there’s nothing I can personally do. I have no say over the senate at all.”

That same man asked Burseth how much he made as Student Association President. When Burseth told him that he made $9,500 a year, the man suggested that he needed to actually work for that money.

The man was motivated to bring this topic up because he felt that President Burseth should have come out and publicly said what current Student Association Speaker of the Senate, Kyle Duerstein, had said on his blog a few years back does not represent them as a whole.  

The issue kept getting brought up throughout the meeting with people not understanding why Burseth had not come out and publicly stated that this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable, and that’s not what the Student Association is about.

Duerstein had made a racially discriminating remark in a blog post back in Nov. 2005, but it just recently starting making the rounds the past couple months in the news due to his position as a UW-Milwaukee student government leader.

He would go on to issue a signed public apology on his blog on Oct. 5, but even that was controversial. In his apology he said that he was sorry for saying the comments that he said four years ago, however he felt the way he was portrayed in the media was unfair.

When someone asked why Kyle Duerstein had not been removed from his position yet, Burseth said it isn’t that simple, and that he can’t just do it himself.

Burseth said, “With someone being removed, I don’t have the power to remove them. Barack Obama can’t go to Nancy Pelosi and say, ‘I’m going to remove you. Sorry.”

It would seem as there is a power struggle as to how much the President of the Student Association can do in student government.

For Duerstein to be able to be impeached from his position, 25 percent of the students in the same school he is in, such as the School of Letters & Science, would have to sign a petition for just that.

Anna Campbell, a Freshman Senator, stepped up and said that she will try and improve diversity interaction around campus.

Campbell said, “I ran on the notion of diversity. I Promise to help minorities at school. I know there’s a lot of minorities that have just been elected to senate. It’s not what it should be, but it’s getting better.”

The discussion then moved forward to include ways to keep this situation from happening again. A diversity training workshop on campus was brought up as a possible idea. Burseth noted that he liked the notion and called it, “A great idea.”

More than just controversy regarding diversity was bought up though. There were quite a few people there concerned with other issues.

A concerned representative for the Women’s Resource Center, Kristen Holsapple expressed her anger with the center’s funds being cut.

Holsapple said, "I know that there's been budget proposals in a lot of the resource centers that I use on campus. I work in a resource center, and I know they've been affected. I'm disappointed in the proposals that have been made for the budget, my center is going to suffer."   

Burseth stated it was done because, “"The women's resource center isn't doing enough with what they have. So I think the mentality is that if this is what you're going to do, then we'll give you enough to do that because our feeling is that you're getting more to do than what you're doing."

Other issues discussed included:

•  Tuition has been a large issue around campus, as just recently on Nov. 10, the UWM Education Rights Campaign held a large rally in front of Chapman Hall on campus to promote the groups ideas.

The UWM Education Rights Campaign has been pushing for pay cuts from high level administrators and the chancellor instead of lowering salaries of UWM staff.

Keeping tuition from going up is top priority right now for Burseth.

Burseth said, “Freezing tuition is my main goal right now. In the past, we have asked for a freeze in tuition, and gotten a slight increase. Now, we are going to ask for a decrease in tuition, and see what we can get.”

•  Lowering UWM online course fees was another topic discussed. Burseth noted, “The argument to keeping online fees is that something like the School of Letters & Science is able to rebuild a whole lab as an example. It’s taking money from the people who are not taking classes at school, and making school better.”

•  Some students wanted to know if lowering the cost of books was on Burseth’s agenda. Burseth stated how he is working towards getting a system worked out where the cost of books will be down.

Burseth brought up a book rental system as one possibility. Another thing he talked about was being able to buy books cheaper by keeping books the same version for a few years, which could start as soon as next fall.

The next meeting will be a town hall meeting Nov. 16th, 2009 from 6-8 P.M in the UWM Union Ballroom West.


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