The voice of the students
With curly brown hair and a smile, Abbey Stemler was difficult to distinguish from any other student sitting at Starbucks in the Indiana Memorial Union.
A half-hour coffee break was not exactly luxurious but was enough time for the 18th IU student trustee to relax from her on-the-go administrative and academic commitments.
A graduate student at Maurer School of Law and the Kelley School of Business, Stemler has been fully involved in administrative decision-making procedures since she was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels as student trustee last year.
Stemler works with eight others to set University policies regarding tuition, fees, costs for campus projects, hiring processes and other issues.
During the first year of her current term, which ends in summer 2011, Stemler has been working on several policies that concern the IU community — especially the students — including the textbook pricing policy.
“The high prices of textbooks are not just hurting the students’ budget,” Stemler said. “They essentially raise the tuition costs by 5 to 10 percent each year.”
As a trustee but also a student, Stemler said she absolutely feels the students’ need for a change in textbook prices at bookstores and has two ideas to fix this.
“One is a so-called textbook rental program,” Stemler said. “It is basically what it sounds like. It does not force the students to rent, but it just provides an option for students to rent a textbook for half of its sale price and return it when they are done with that class.”
Stemler said the program allows students to save up to 40 percent of their spending on textbooks.
“It is insane for any student to spend 100 dollars on a textbook but only gets two bucks for buyback,” she said. “It is our goal to reduce the possibility of that.”
Stemler said the trustees were negotiating last month and plan to implement the program next year.
“The other idea is to work with faculty members and see what they can do to help make the costs low for students,” Stemler said. “They don’t realize what important roles they are playing in how much money students can save on textbooks.”
Stemler said she was trying to make the faculty aware that their timing to turn in textbook orders can affect the book prices students will pay.
“If campus bookstores know early about what textbooks students will be using, students who sell them back to the stores can get more money back,” she said.
Also, Stemler said getting rid of unnecessary bundle items included in the book such as CDs is another possible strategy.
“Those two could help students to save as much as about three million dollars in textbook costs,” she said.
Stemler said another controversial issue is the enforcement of campus smoking ban policy.
“IU is a state educational institution, and it is the University policy that smoking is restricted on campus,” Stemler said. “But meanwhile, we also have to consider that the enforcement of the ban may involve in disrespecting students’ rights and habits.”
Her take was simple; the more students get used to the policy, the easier the enforcement will be implemented.
“We make decisions based on the University’s guiding principles, which serve the best interests of students, faculties, staff and alumni,” Stemler said. “Enforcing the smoking-free policy is definitely one of our most important decisions.”
Stemler said the trustees will keep working on carrying out a policy that could be better enforced.
Considering the budget-cut situation, Stemler said employees should also be aware of the policy that will benefit them.
“As the University is making cuts,” she said, “it’s better for employees to quit smoking not just because it gives them better health conditions, but also it helps to reduce their spending on health care insurance.”
Stemler said the board members keep in touch with each other regularly and inform each other of issues to discuss. They also work closely with state government to ensure better communication on policy making.
William Cast, chairman of the board, said Stemler’s dual status as student and trustee would not pose a significant problem.
“The student trustee is a peer,” Cast said. “That trustee takes committee assignments and votes equally with all trustees. We have only nine trustees, all of whom are diligent in sharing duties.”
And it is her work that impressed the other trustees.
“She is an excellent trustee,” said Thomas Reilly, chairman of the Finance and Audit Committee. “She has one of those personalities that every board or committee needs: one that brings people together, keeps them focused on the important things and keeps everyone in good humor.”
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