This column is dedicated to the thoughts of students as the Arizona State University merger progresses.
By Jessica Knutzon, Co-editor
Note from the author: I had originally elected to remain anonymous but have since changed my mind. I am very proud of Thunderbird and hope that this small voice is heard.
I was a Thunderbird before I ever started taking classes here. My dad graduated from Thunderbird many years ago and fortunately his tremendous career moved us to places most people never have the opportunity to even visit. The travel bug bit me a long time ago and I am eager to know every corner of the earth – not see or enjoy – but to know. My wanderlust has driven me to find a career where I can accomplish this dream but use my education wisely to get me there. Thunderbird was the obvious choice and it was the only MBA program to which I applied.
I know that the Thunderbird administration did not run the school adequately and for that, I am deeply saddened. Several months after I was accepted, the Laureate deal had gone through, but was then rejected. I came to Thunderbird regardless of the issues because I knew it was my home. Quickly after I arrived in August 2014, I heard about the Arizona State University (ASU) merger.
As the ink was drying on the contract it was inspiring to see the growing concern in faculty, staff, students and alumni that our beloved Thunderbird was going to change. Throughout the fall trimester we were told Thunderbird would essentially remain the same and that ASU was going to work with us to make sure we remain who we are as an institution. Once we were officially ASU in January 2015, communication went from very little to none at all. What is worse is that we, the students, tried to open lines of communication with the administration but the responses were few are far between. The responses we did receive were dismissive or condescending at best. In the two “open” forums, the poorly executed town halls were so trifling that both events ended in heightened emotions and a bitter aftertaste. As a result the ASU administration missed a chance to get Thunderbird students on its side.
Changes are happening in both process and culture, but students are rarely informed of anything. The lack of communication is laughable and discouraging. Amid the chaos, I am able to look at this situation as a business transaction. There needs to be uniformity in the process of a business and I can understand that, in its enormity, ASU is trying to quickly get Thunderbird in its full control in order to continue business as usual. But in this rush to change Thunderbird’s system and culture, ASU has failed to capture why this school is so special and is quickly losing ties to students and alumni. Many fear that ASU is ruining a place thousands of people – successful, cultured, well-traveled, passionate people – love and once called home.
Do you know that feeling when you walk into a room, everyone knows you and you are instantly comfortable? That’s Thunderbird. I can walk across the entire campus and feel that anywhere I turn, my family is there and the sense of unity that comes from that is indescribably remarkable and notably rare. Just look at Carlos or Cedric’s stories, where their lives were forever changed because Thunderbirds helped them without hesitation – Thunderbird is a special place. To ASU I am just a number. Just another body handing money to the university and no one at ASU cares a bit about me, they just need to know where my next check for tuition is coming from. I do not need to be loved by ASU, believe me, but it would be nice to at least be treated like a paying customer. While business can be cold and dry, something I’ve learned in my life is it can also be a pleasant and rewarding experience. Treat your customer like you would want to be treated by another human being and perhaps you will get something beyond money in return. You may get an alumni network that will bend over backwards to help your students be successful, instead of alumni who just pay for season football tickets. Thunderbirds pay it forward because we love what this school shaped us into and we want to continue to do so. What made Thunderbird so wonderful and the reason it is possibly the most passionately loved school by its alumni, is that we were treated like people here. We were treated like family by the staff. Thankfully, for now, many of the faculty are still on campus and they are the final thread connecting what Thunderbird used to be to what it is becoming.
The parking fiasco that is happening right now is noteworthy insight on how much ASU is unwilling to make us feel welcome into the community. There was a “town hall” earlier this week at which students gave valid reasons for why faculty, staff and students should not be paying for parking – at least not at these rates – only to be told that we have to pay for parking anyway. What was the purpose of the open forum? Between foreign students being forced to purchase expensive health insurance, not extending in-state tuition to students and now making us pay hundreds of dollars to park in an empty parking lot, we can’t help but have little faith.
There are rumors coming at us left and right, and while voices from ASU sometimes assure us that none of them are true, considering how we have been treated, there is very little trust on our end. The latest bit of “information” students received is that the pub is closing after the class of May 2016 graduates, which, to those who attended Thunderbird after the pub opened in 1971 will agree that this action alone may in fact destroy Thunderbird as we know it today. I realize as I write this down that it sounds ridiculous, but I cannot begin to explain how important the pub is to Thunderbird’s existence. It is a pivotal reason there is a Thunderbird mystique. Imagine hundreds of internationally minded students on a campus in Glendale, Arizona, all coming together at one place on campus to talk about an array of topics and bonding over their passion for the world. If this concept is unimportant to you, I will tell you now that you are not equipped to understand what it means to be a Thunderbird.
To ASU: I know you are a business and for that I do not fault you for implementing the changes you have already committed to, but consider the repercussions of missing out on being the launching pad for generations of global business leaders who shine at every corner of this planet. It is a beautiful and proud institution you are lucky to call your own.
To the incoming class: I urge you to understand what it means to be a Thunderbird (which, after meeting many of you, I do not believe will be a problem at all – you are all remarkable) and try your best to spread that energy to every corner of this institution so the future generations can hopefully get a taste of what it means to have the honor of being called a Thunderbird.