Recently, I’ve been writing about the major academic program cuts that have been occurring at UNI. Every public university is going through a crisis: from sky rocketing tuition rates to outstanding cuts in resources, students striving for quality higher education are suffering.
But even though logically it makes sense that there are cuts happening at UNI, the community is still hurting from the loss of cherished faculty, lack of transparency and acknowledgement that perhaps the quality of education provided to students may falter.
While I always considered myself as professional as a freshman college writer could be perhaps, reporting on the budget cuts took a toll.
For weeks, day in and day out I listened to faculty and students mourn over the loss of their academic programs and for faculty, perhaps even the loss of their own jobs.
I always thought that I could handle tough stories. But after a while of writing about the cuts and hearing out people’s passionate pleas for just some recognition, I knew that I was going to eventually break.
That moment happened when I spoke to a faculty member who served the university for the past 38 years and then faced a dilemma. The program that he worked so hard on and received regional recognition for was getting cut because of low graduation rate. He was left with two choices. Leave the program he loved and created but let a younger faculty member get laid off, or retire earlier than planned and say goodbye to many years of hard work and dedication.
It was a story that I heard repeated over and over again for the past few weeks, but for some reason, it was this one man sitting in his dark office with me clinging to each of his words with only a cheap recorder in hand that it finally got to me.
After the interview, I quickly left and started crying. I sobbed while leaving the building, I sobbed while walking toward my dorm and I finally lay in a crumpled heap in my room, pained by the hurt and frustration that I listened to for far too long.
The first thing that I felt was embarrassment. I felt that my reaction was unprofessional, childish and over dramatic. Why am I so upset over the lives of people that I didn’t even know? My academics weren’t getting cut, so why did I feel worrisome when students told me about their concerns over the elimination of their courses?
And most importantly, I wondered how I could possibly give justice to something while also remaining objective?
If I could make everyone listen to the phone conversations or sit in an office with a grieving professor, I would. If I could make the administration let their voice be heard and openly explain everything that’s occurring, I would like for that to happen as well. If I could just make people pay attention to the deep core of things and actually analyze and realize what is going on, instead of merely listening to rumors or allowing their aggravations to override their emotions, that would be the greatest success.
It’s like sitting behind a window and only being able to breathe on the glass and write out a few words with your fingertips. You want people to be inside and see everything, but the few frosted words will have to do.
Recently I learned that one of the professor’s I interviewed is basically left with either a buy out plan or she will be laid off. Another person I talked to sadly told me at the end of our conversation that, “at least you will have substantial stories to put on your resume.”
At the end though, I knew I only had one job that had to be completed.
Write the truth. Make it fair. Leave everything you feel out of it.
And hopefully in the end, people will catch a glimmer of what you witnessed before your eyes.