Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Curtis Kearns Q&A

I was sitting in a Student Government Association meeting a few weeks ago, taking notes as usual. Board of Governors representative Curtis Kearns began giving his report, and while he was talking, I thought to myself, "That's interesting. This would make a good story." So, I talked to Curtis and set up an interview for a story. The interview was conducted on Friday, October 30. The story will appear in the November 11, issue of The Concordian.

It was a good interview, and I feel as though the information presented will benefit Concord students. The editorial staff of The Concordian over the last two years hasn't placed a great emphasis on the SGA, something that I had considered one of the paper's main priorities when I was News Editor and Editor-in-Chief (way back in the day...). I think it's important that students know this stuff, so I've taken the initiative to get the information out there.

I would like to do more features like this in the future with different people in the SGA. The SGA President, Jeff Yeager, has agreed to be interviewed next; we just haven't worked out a time yet. So, look for that sometime in the next few weeks. I'd like to learn more about the Judicial Branch of the SGA, so I may be tracking down some of those people for future interviews.

Click here to see this week's edition of my weekly newspaper column, "Communication Breakdown," where I give a preview of this interview, in addition to speaking about the SGA's attempt to "go green."

The interview with Curtis is below.

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Interview with Curtis Kearns, BOG representative - 10/30/09

Chris Slater: Let’s get some technical stuff out of the way. This is your fourth year, right?

Curtis Kearns: Yeah.

CS: Okay. What other SGA positions have you held?

CK: Oh, geez. Twice Business Manager. Vice President. A Senator. An organizational representative. And, I’ve chaired just about every committee.

CS: First off, back in 2006 or so - what attracted you to the SGA?

CK: Well, I came to Concord not knowing anybody. I really want to be involved in politics when I get older; political science is my major. And, the Student Government Association was the way to become involved with campus politics. I met a lot of people shortly thereafter that who encouraged me to join SGA, so I did.

CS: For people who might not know, what is the Board of Governors and what is your role on it?

CK: Okay. Board of Governors is the governing board of the university. Essentially, the highest officer at the University is the President. The President enforces the policies that the Board sets. The Board of Governors is part of a “lay board” concept, which is that members appointed by the Governor, who are just average citizens, help guide and direct state institutions towards their goals. Now, West Virginia, like many states, has a student and faculty representative; but like almost no other state, has a staff representative as well. So, the element there - and the fundamental principle there - is you want every constituency group, the faculty, staff, and students to have a say in the direction of their institution. And, I serve as the student representative.

CS: Why hasn’t the Board of Governors met yet?

CK: The Board of Governors hasn’t met yet because there are 12 members of the Board and four of them have been serving past their terms. The law allows them to serve until the Governor replaces them. Instead of replacing them on a staggered basis, the Governor used his prerogative and replaced them all at once. Now, these individuals included the Chairman of the Board, as well as the Secretary of the Board. Counting those four members, plus myself; five members of the Board were brand new. And, one member of the Board has only been appointed in the last year. So, half of the Board was basically brand new. So, the idea was to push back the meeting for a month to allow people to clarify the situation. The didn’t know who would be able to vote, because certain people hadn’t been sworn in yet. Then, they decided they were going to push it back a couple more weeks when the new Board members had been sworn in, and they expanded the agenda of the Board.

CS: Who are the new members of the Board?

CK: I can read you the names right now. [looks through binder] The new members of the Board are: Steve Collins, General [Robert] Fogelsong, Stephanie Stafford, and Elliot Hicks.

CS: When will the Board meet?

CK: The Board will meet November 16. It will be a full Board meeting; including committees, as well as - I imagine - executive sessions, as well as briefings from the Deans and the Deans’ staff.

CS: What will be discussed at the meeting?

CK: There are several action items of the Board. They include the approval of the budget throughout the university for next fiscal year. They include approving the military accommodation policy; the call-up policy for faculty, staff, and students. As well as approval of the faculty handbook. Also, the institutional compact, with the State of West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. I think those are the major ones. There’s some minor things, like renaming the locker room for a donor.

CS: What’s your role in the "military policy"?

CK: The military policy is several years in the making. When the Iraq War sort of got into its main swing - 2006, 2007 - we saw the need for a policy that would allow students more options. Not only students, but faculty and staff. The Faculty Handbook now states, that should a student be activated - called up - that they have to withdraw from the university, get their tuition back, and basically we send them on their way and hope they do well. This policy changes that. It allows them the opportunity to withdraw or get an “Incomplete” in their courses and make those up in the future. It also protects faculty and staff, in terms of positions when they return. If they’re off for a couple years fighting and want to return, their jobs would be here for them, basically waiting for them.

Also, an issue we had before was “being called up” was an issue. With fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, you will have units of the National Guard for example who are federalized and be activated and go off for six or eight months and train and not go anywhere. Previously, there was some discussion of whether that would be covered or not. This new policy covers that, across the board. So, if you have to go off for training, you’ll be covered by the policy. A lot of institutions have these types of policies, state law and federal law covers some of this. But, the institution had no policy aside from the student and faculty handbook.

The Student Government Association at the time wrote this, sat down and wrote this, and gave it to the Academic Dean and he got it rolling. It’s been several years in the making. The Board has had this since, when Akeya was on the Board, when they decided not to vote on it at the time and they delayed it. And, it was supposed to be voted on in September and it was not. I raised my objections to the Chairman of the Board and the President of the University graciously agreed to extend everything that’s within this policy in the interim. So, the President will follow this policy until it’s passed by the Board. So, he’ll be protecting students, and faculty, and staff.

CS: Who were some of the people who worked on this?

CK: Jessica Cook, she was a major player. Wes Prince, followed up with that. Sean Noland. More of the “older generation” of the Student Government Association. Unfortunately, this policy has been “lost,” quote, unquote, for about a year. It was in that “limbo stage” of not being approved by the Board, sitting on the Dean’s desk, and we’re still waiting to hear back from him. So, for about a year, nothing really happened with it because the Dean had to rewrite it, and then he had to send it for comments, then he had to get those comments back, work on it again. And, the Board decided not to take it up, to wait. Then, the new Board members got on and it sort of fell through the cracks for while, but now it’s back on track.

CS: Do you expect it to pass?

CK: I expect it to pass overwhelmingly. If the new Board members are uncomfortable voting on it, I’ll ask them to abstain from the vote. I think we need this policy. I think they have more than enough time to read over it. I hope that General Fogelsong will be on board with it; he’s a Four-Star Air Force General, retired. I think he’ll understand the need for such a policy.

CS: Aside from that, what do you hope to accomplish this year as Board of Governors rep?

CK: Well, uh, I ran on a multi-faceted platform of - one, doing a comprehensive review of the Board policies, making the more student-friendly; secondly, getting the Board more in-touch with the students on campus. And, most importantly, being frank and honest with the Board. There has been a combative nature the last several years - we don’t think the Board’s doing this, we don’t think the Board’s doing that. But, when you with them and you talk with them, you realize that they don’t have the time or the opportunity to sit down and see where students are coming from, because they’re running banks or they’re doing this, that, or the other thing. So, when you explain the situation the them, they’re really sympathetic. They’re really pro-student, most of them are. They want to help us, we just need to give them the resources to do that. So, hopefully by the end of the year, my major accomplishment is that I want to have a low tuition increase. I think that’s every student Board members goal. But, if I don’t accomplish that, I still want to have a record of changing the Board policies, making them more student friendly and tackling the issues that need to be tackled.

CS: What is the HEPC Advisory Council of Students, and what’s your role on that?

CK: The Higher Education Policy Commission State Advisory Council of Students is an advisory body established by West Virginia law, that advises the Higher Education Policy Commission on its policies, procedures, and actions related to students at their individual institutions. I represent Concord and the Concord student body on that. There is a similar council for faculty and staff. Amy Pitzer not only sits on the staff one, she’s the chair of it for the state. So, my goal is to be a liaison between the student body and the Higher Education Policy Commission.

CS: What’s your role with the Tuition and Fees committee here?

CK: I’m chairman of the Tuition and Fees committee, as student Board members have been for the last several years. Basically, I pulled together what I considered to be the “cream of the crop,” in terms of data analysis, in terms of experience, and in terms people I think will be growing and maturing in the university and the SGA. There are several freshmen who I really want to sort of get “in the mix,” so they know what’s going on. And, this semester, we’re doing a lot of theoretical discussions about… a zero-percent tuition increase is something we thought we could get two years ago. With the state of the economy, that’s not the case. So, we want the most “bang for our buck.” We don’t want to have, for example, a 2 percent increase if it’s going to mean a 10 percent increase for the next couple of years. Now, we’re discussing if we’re going to have tuition increases, what can we really get for those - what are the tangible benefits?

CS: Who are some of the people on that committee?

CK: Jeff Yeager, of course, the President. Two freshmen - Travis McReynolds is a freshman member. The Faculty Senate representative, Ashley Green is on there. Most of the Executive Branch is also on the committee. I’ve asked them to come in at different times to present different parts. Bill Lewis, for example, has done about a 90-page statistical analysis comparing full-time enrollment and different elements of state institutions and how they receive funding. So, Bill has done a lot of the statistical work that we hope to present to the Board, when the time comes. So, it’s a broad committee. It’s got a lot of experience, it’s got a lot of insight, I think.

CS: That looks like just about everything I have. Is there anything I haven’t brought up that you think needs mentioned?

CK: Well, I’ll just say that I’ve worked with Dr. Beasley and I’ve worked with Dr. Aloia. And, I have been, publicly, one of Dr. Aloia’s largest critics. I think he has, so far, been a fantastic President. He’s been honest, he’s been frank. We haven’t always agreed, and I’ve never asked him to do that. He has a vision for the institution, which I think the former President lacked. I think our early criticisms of him were premature. But, I think that he’s a President that can really take us someplace, if he continues down the course of honest discourse and transparency in his operations.

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There's that. If you have any questions or comments about the interview, leave them in the comments section. If you'd like to suggest future "SGA-related" things for The Concordian to cover, let me know.

Click here to check out Curtis Kearn's blog, "Discord University."

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