UNT SGA President Yolian Ogbu called for major campus climate reforms and new diversity and inclusion programs in her speech before the UNT System board of regents at their Friday meeting.
Ogbu and dozens of student protesters approached the regents on Thursday and Friday in support of several demands sponsored by SGA, UNT NAACP and the Black Student Union. Their demands included required diversity and inclusion courses for students, staff and faculty. The groups created their list of demands after former UNT System assistant general counsel Caitlin Sewell said a racial slur at a public forum.
In addition to required training, the list of demands, or “strategic plan,” as Ogbu called it, include a request to increase the number of minority faculty at UNT to reflect the proportion of enrolled minority students, and expansions to the Multicultural Center.
The board heard Ogbu’s presentation before it voted to increase the Student Services Fee to $13.41 per semester credit hour beginning in Fall 2020 – up by one dollar from the previous amount.“In light of all these recent racially antagonistic and racially biased incidents on the UNT Denton campus, we stand as students in requesting that our university lives up to these stated values of inclusion by supporting these values with more than rhetoric and […] with concrete deeds and actions, ” Ogbu told the board. “We are more than willing to work with UNT administration in achieving the outcomes we all desire to make our institution the best in the country.”
SGA oversees the usage of service fee funds funds for student operations like the Green Brigade and the North Texas Daily. Part of the funds go toward the Multicultural Center and student diversity efforts, giving Ogbu an opportunity to deliver her comments to the regents although the list of demands was not up for a vote.
“We’re asking for the university to utilize all necessary resources in order to become the world-changing institution that we strive to be every day,” Ogbu said. “The university needs to make all necessary investments in financial and human capital in order to adopt policies that will support the recommendations within this document.”
Board chair Laura Wright responded to Ogbu’s comments with support on behalf of the regents in what appeared to be a prepared statement.
“I want to personally assure you and the fellow students that building a culture that embraces and defends diversity, inclusion and equity is a top priority of this board of regents,” Wright said. “We are going to raise the bar, and we are going to be better.”
President Smatresk offered words of support to student protesters after their sit-in on the Thursday board meeting, then sent out a public statement over Twitter regarding Ogbu’s remarks following the Friday meeting.
“I’m proud of our students passion and commitment to create a more equitable and inclusive campus,” Smatresk said on Twitter. “We had great discussions at the Regents meeting and are committed to doing more. Thank you [Yolian] for sharing your thoughts today. We appreciate the leadership of [SGA.]”
In her address to the board, Ogbu said she intends to create a task force to oversee the implementation of the strategic plan demands.
Daniel Ojo, SGA senator for CLASS, lauded Ogbu’s address and stressed the importance of following through with their plans.
“I don’t think much of [the regents’] response until I see any action,” Ojo said. “You can say anything you want to say, but I think it’s the action that backs it up. Do I expect them to do their job? Yes. We are going to hold them accountable regardless. We are going to make sure our voices aren’t silenced again.”
Some demands may face roadblocks from administrators, however. On Wednesday, Smatresk told the UNT Faculty Senate he believes mandatory diversity and inclusion training for staff and faculty would “trivialize” important issues brought to light after Sewell’s remarks and resignation. Instead, the president said he would opt for increased conversation about campus climate issues among UNT leaders.
Ojo defended diversity courses as a way forward in spite of the challenges they may face.
“It’s always important to learn your biases and learn about people you’re not often taught about,” Ojo said. “There’s no harm in teaching people how to be better. If people are opposed to this, it’s because they want to stay in their own ignorance.
Other actions taken at the meeting
Regents also approved a range of fee increases, beginning with “differential tuition rate” increases for certain UNT programs.
Differential tuition rates add fees per credit hour on top of typical tuition prices for specific academic programs. The board approved differential rate increases in fall 2020 for students in communications, dance and theatre programs, the College of Engineering and three graduate programs, all of which will go toward hiring additional faculty for each program.
The College of Engineering will see a $6.25 increase of differential rates, bringing their tuition total to $246.36 per semester credit hour.
Communication, dance and theatre students will see a $6 increase to their tuition, bringing the total to $236.11
Graduate programs in data science and advanced data analytics will both receive $7.75 increases in differential tuition, bringing total tuition costs to $310.64. Students taking online portions of the sports entertainment management program will see a $11.00 increase, raising their tuition to $438.79.
Lastly, the board approved an increase of around three percent for all room and board rates as well as meal plan prices beginning in the 2021 fiscal year. The fee increases will address rising operational costs in UNT housing and dining facilities.
A student with a typical double-occupancy room and five-day meal plan would pay $4,445 per semester, or $135 more than previous rates.
Featured Image: SGA President Yolian Ogbu responds to questions after the conclusion of the UNT Board Regents meeting on Nov. 15, 2019. Image by Quincy Palmer