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It started a little late and ended a little early, but Thursday morning’s student open forum was dense with highly specified questions and impassioned demands for change.

Most of the nearly 100 attendees this time were faculty members, but the students who did show up at the Key West Ballroom came prepared to address the panel, which was led by Hitt.  Also seated were Provost Dale Whittaker and Vice Presidents Maribeth Ehasz, William Merck and Grant Heston.The forum was hosted in the Key West Ballroom in the Student Union from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. UCF occasionally hosts such forums in order to give students the chance to voice their concerns and questions to UCF administration, including UCF President John C. Hitt.

Among the forum participants were two graduate students, introduced as Tiffany and Jason, who took issue with the amount of compensation allotted to graduate research and teaching assistants.

“UCF graduate student stipends are not livable or competitive with other Florida universities,” Tiffany said.  “What will the administration do to ensure that graduate students receive a livable and competitive wage?”

Whittaker agreed with the duo, saying that the stipends are low and there is a concerted effort to increase these wages.  He and a graduate department faculty member added that there were larger factors to consider, noting the University of Florida’s $16-million fellowship compared with UCF’s $2 million.

Some students addressed on-campus issues like housing and building maintenance.  Student Gabrielle Higgins asked the panel if plans were in motion to expand on-campus counseling and psychological services, which Ehasz called a “very high priority.”

After several tense questions, School of Visual Arts and Design student Richard Munster kept the tone lighthearted even as he presented photographs evidencing damaged, deteriorating areas of the School of Visual Arts and Design buildings.

“These areas were damaged by Hurricane Charley, as the story goes,” Munster said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

Munster pleaded for facility improvement on behalf of the SVAD community.  The damage, he said, has been subject to comments from prospective students and their parents visiting campus.

“You have a really strong group of faculty and students over there who feel like they’re getting overlooked,” Munster said.

One small group of students pressed a lengthy discussion about a pledge related to repaying the student loans of school employees. Hitt has repeatedly declined to sign the pledge because the administration is currently on board with only nine of the 12 items within the pledge.

“It takes a while to figure out whether or not all of these items can be in place, how to implement them, what the price ramifications are,” said UCF Vice President and Chief of Staff Dr. Rick Schell. “There’s no desire to thwart what you’re trying to do.”

The students repeatedly asked Hitt why he would not sign the pledge before one asked him to attend a future meeting with them.  Hitt gave a firm “no,” to which one student responded, “I didn’t even give you a date.”

When tense discussion re-emerged later on in the forum, two attendees sitting in the fourth row quietly suggested that future forums should perhaps include a moderator.

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Jennifer Kline is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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