EDTalks, a public forum in the format of question-and-answer sessions for students who want to have a voice in education on a local and state-wide level, is being brought into existence through The Free Press in collaboration with the student body vice president, Marpheen Chann.
Chann emphasized that the event is a place for students to address their concerns and inquiries regarding their education at the University of Maine System and what the legislature’s plans are for education around the state. Politicians in the Maine Legislature, from the Portland and Gorham area, are coming to the University for the EDTalk session. Students will be able to ask these legislators about the problems surrounding the Maine education system. Chann hopes that students will tackle some of the main issues that are currently causing complications around USM—budget cuts and funding.
“These public forums are meant to help students to get a better grasp of policies around USM and Maine,” said Chann. “It also allows students to express their concerns to state leaders.”
Azia Gilbert, a senior English major, thinks that these talks will help students find out what the state’s priorities are for education. Gilbert said that in most of her classes, professors and students are voicing their frustration about all of the proposed cuts to departments at USM.
The impact that the talk can have, Chann stressed, is measuring how much the administration and the state government in Augusta are able to back up what they say. This EDTalks session is a way for students to express their concerns about their education to the people that actually make decisions regarding public education and have it lead to action in the long-term.
John Correll, a freshman music performance major, thinks the EDTalks is a great idea. Correll said that he feels like the school administration activities are not in depth or discussed in an informative way. He said that he wants to have a discourse with his fellow students in order to see different points of views on education funding and cuts.
“This event will help bring the issues closer to the hands of the students,” said Correll. “It will spread awareness to students about what is happening at USM and hopefully give them encouragement to take action.”
Essentially, the concept behind this question-and-answer session, according to Chann, is to look beyond the university political structure. This talk will help students find for information outside of the answers university officials have been giving to the faculty and student body.
“I don’t think it’s an idealistic event,” said Gilbert, after being asked what impact she thought the talk would have on students. “Hopefully it encourages people to try to change things. If anything, it will expand the minds of students and possibly empower us, as members of the university, to take action and make changes.”
Gilbert said that one of the statements she’d make to the legislators, should she attend the talk, would be her concerns about the direction for USM as a university. Gilbert believes that the university is leading itself into becoming a “glorified trade school” that merely wants students get an education to fill positions in white collar jobs. She would like to hear how the legislators would respond to this concern, and also hear what other students have to say about this opinion.
“Just because the university says we have to do something about the budget and funding doesn’t mean that the administration has the final answer to solve problems,” said Chann. “I want students to be able to find out the source of the budget cuts and where our funding is going.”
Correll agrees with Chann when it comes to learning about school funding. When Correll was asked about the inquiries he has for the EDTalk, he said that he wants to know how much of the school funding comes from the government and how much the school makes on its own. Correll also said that he thinks the impact this talk will have on the university will be small, but he appreciates the opportunity to ask questions and to see what’s going on in state funded education.
There are currently three state legislators that will be at the session on Nov. 21. Students will be able to discuss the issues with the Maine Senate president Justin Alfond, the Democratic state representative from Gorham Andrew Mclean, and the Democratic chair of the education committee in the state Senate Rebecca Miller. Chann is still trying to find one more state legislator from the Portland or Gorham area to join the discussion.
“These state representatives and senators have a responsibility to listen to students,” said Chann, “and consider what they have to say. We want students to help contribute to statewide debates on education.”