Words fly, tears flow at Board of Regents meeting
By Tom Hewitt
Sun Star Reporter
Last week’s UA Board of Regents meeting might not have had the excitement of a boxing match, but at times it had the emotion of one. Public testimony at the meeting gave rise to impassioned student pleas for gay rights protections and arts funding.
Students from UAF’s Gay-Straight Alliance spoke in favor of adding protections for sexual orientation to the university’s nondiscrimination policy. Student Karen Webb tearfully recounted the story of her freshman year, when she came out as bisexual and suffered verbal abuse from people close to her. “I cried myself to sleep every night,” she said. Other student speakers from the GSA cited statistics that report an overwhelming majority of other states have enacted similar protections in their public schools.
The nondiscrimination policy wasn’t the only topic that drew student tears. Several students spoke about the need for renovations and upgrades in the theater department. Jennifer Schlotfeldt, a senior theater major, and president of the Student Drama Associtaion, said the department’s facilities – including the Lee Salisbury Theater – were largely out of compliance with regulations relating to access for disabled people. Katie Sousa, another theater senior, asked the board to push UAF’s administration to comply with an earlier directive to hire a guest artist for the department. Rhi Johnson broke down when speaking about the staffing shortage, saying that it “kept the theater department from being a world-class institution.”
The Regents gave hope to the GSA representatives, saying that they planned to discuss the matter of amending the nondiscrimination policy during the coming academic year. They were less supportive of the theater students’ entreaties. While they expressed sympathy over the departments’ situation, they made no promise to give the matter more attention. Regent Timothy Brady suggested the students pursue other sources of funding, like selling seat sponsorships and holding bake sales, to show that they were committed to their goals.
While the public testimony provided most of the emotion at the regents’ meeting, the board also discussed other important issues facing the university. The group met in executive session all day Wednesday to discuss the candidates for outgoing UA President Mark Hamilton’s job, and on Thursday gave final approval to the plan for the new Life Sciences Building, the university’s primary capital project.