By Emma Livingston, Co-Editor
Thunderbird students and staff attended a “Town Hall” meeting on September 22nd led by Melinda Alonzo, Director of Arizona State University (ASU) Parking and Transit Services, to answer questions about the new parking fees coming into effect on the Thunderbird campus October 5th. The team from ASU PTS had prepared a detailed power point on how to obtain parking passes, where to park, etc. But it became clear from the very beginning of the meeting that many of the Thunderbird students had come not to learn how to pay for parking, but to discuss their frustrations about this unexpected fee and the lack of communication between decision makers and the people who these decisions will affect.
Candice Sparks (MBA ’15 Jamaica) pointed out that when the Thunderbird-ASU merger went through in January 2015, students were told that they didn’t have to worry about parking. “It was pushed over, it wasn’t talked about in detail. We were told: when we get there, we’ll talk about it. This is talking about it now, but the decision has already been made. If we’d talked about it then, we could have put together an action plan, instead of being reactive. Now, it’s reactive.”
“It’s concerning that the primary concern for ASU is to make money,” stated Brendon Biegel (MBA ’15 USA).
“I am a student who lives off my financial aid money. $300 is almost my entire monthly rent. I can’t afford this!” said Leah Funk (MA ’15 USA).
By far the most passionate student there was Catie Crain (MBA ’15 USA). “Why are you making us all so mad for twenty thousand dollars? Why are you generating so much ill will? Why is this where you’re putting your foot down?” she demanded.
The students became so heated, that Thunderbird CEO Allen Morrison, who was sitting in the audience, weighed in. “The decision’s been made, guys,” he said. “Remain calm, or no one will want to listen to you.”
“No one will listen, anyway,” a student in the back row muttered.
In the end, we learned:
1) That we will have to start paying for parking. The decision’s been made; BUT
2) According to Ms. Alonzo. “We’re not telling the teach-out students to buy the parking pass. We’re waiting to hopefully get an answer, maybe this week?” So the parking fee situation, at least when it comes to the teach-out students graduating in fall 2015, is still up in the air.
The anger that flared up at the Town Hall wasn’t all about parking. Students are angry at the lack of communication between both the Thunderbird and ASU administrations and the student body. We are also concerned that Thunderbird students, faculty and staff don’t have a voice in the direction the school is heading. Decisions are being made somewhere high above, and there is no channel for feedback or collaboration between decision makers and those being impacted by the decisions. At the Town Hall meeting, students protesting the new parking fees were told that Ms. Alonzo and her team from ASU “are not the decision makers,” and that we need to take our complaints “through the proper channels.” But we don’t know what the proper channels are. ASU, like any bureaucracy, is a complicated web of overlapping networks and responsibilities. There is no clear contact person to send our concerns and complaints to and no one responsible for clearly communicating and explaining ASU’s decisions concerning Thunderbird. I believe that Dr. Morrison should be this point of contact and connection between ASU and Thunderbird. He should be a greater presence on campus and should send at least monthly communications to all Thunderbird stakeholders: students, staff, faculty, and alums about the projects he is working on and how Thunderbird is progressing as part of the “ASU Knowledge Enterprise.”
Dr. Morrison told the students lingering in the hallway after the Town Hall that he and the TSG are planning to have an open dialog between himself and the student body on October 2nd. I hope they publicize this event soon, and that all students who care about the future of Thunderbird attend, not only to voice their frustrations, but also to share a vision for how Thunderbird can move forward as part of ASU, while remaining true to our culture.
For another student perspective on the merger, check out the inaugural article in the Merger Mania column.