Memories from a student activist

Student leaders at UW-Green Bay, 1975Editor’s note: Former Student Government Association President Robert Stevens ’76 growth and development, responded to an Inside request for reminiscences from early UWGB. Excerpts were shared in the November 2008 print edition of the campus alumni magazine. With permission, we share his entire letter here.

Dear Inside UWGB:

I noticed an item in the May 2008 “Inside UWGB” asking for memories of student government. Here is some ancient history from a 1976 grad.

College was so much fun when I started in 1970 that I never left. I have been involved in higher education as a student, adjunct instructor, and student services staff member and administrator ever since. I currently work as a graduate student adviser in the Fischler School of Education & Human Services at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I am also working on my doctoral degree, and you can be assured that student issues are part of my dissertation which looks at advising graduate students in online degree programs.

When I started UWGB in the Spring of 1973, we were still riding the buses from the Deckner Avenue campus to the new Library Learning Center. Dr. Fergus Hughes, who just recently retired, inspired me to major in Human Growth & Development, and Gerry Olson, the now retired Dean of Students, encouraged me to become involved in campus affairs.

The sense of excitement was palpable on campus in those days. With new buildings going up around us, and new programs and new students popping up every day, it was a fun time to be there. The 1971 legislation to merge the Wisconsin State University and UW systems created an environment of reform in university governance. The merger statute required student participation in university governance. Chancellor Weidner was relatively good natured about our sophomoric challenges to administrative and faculty authority. (I was a sophomore, after all.)

The new UW System shared governance structure created a Segregated University Fee Allocation Committee (SUFAC) on each university campus around the state. This campus committee opened the door for significant student involvement in distributing resources on campus. The campus student interest and involvement soon led to a series of groups that formed within the academic “concentrations”, AKA “majors”. (You know it was the era of educational reform and we had to have new names for everything.) The “student unions” formed, and I was part of the Student Union for Growth & Development (SUGD), and I helped our groups collaborate with the Student Union Steering Committee (SUSC).

Student leaders in September 1975 seen in the vintage photograph, this page, were Dave Thaldorf (SU Performing Arts Music), Cheryl Aden (SU Performing Arts Theater), Rob Stevens (SU Growth & Development), Joanie Zawikowski (Segregated University Fee Allocation Committee), Peter Beth (SU Managerial Systems), and Mark Owens (SUPAT).

In addition to those identified above, friends, collaborators, and a few “mortal enemies” included people like Jim Allen, Alix Baptiste, Teresa Bargielski, Russ Barnes, Martha Brown, Rob Bulkely, Mark Fekete, Peter Frechette, Janet Freedman, Cliff Gottleib, Mark Heimbach, Carol Hillestad, Sue Murphy, Joe Reed, Kathy Reif, Pat Schwartz, Jeff Strother, and Mark Thimke. I hate to make a list because I know there were so many others.

Those days would not have been the same without Fourth Estate Editor Rick Berg, reporter Martha Hennick, and the wonderfully weird cartoonist Greg Brecht (you mentioned him in the November 2003 Inside UWGB).

UWGB campus issues included allocation of student fees, ROTC on campus, the food service , student disciplinary guidelines, faculty disputes in G&D and MGS, the daycare center, groundbreaking for the university commons, proposed I-43, pot reform, and the kick-off of the 1976 presidential campaign.

A new SGA constitution was ratified in May 1976. From a pamphlet from around that time titled, “Student Government & Political Activism, University of Wisconsin Green Bay”:

Student government at UWGb has had its ups and downs. The original Student Government Association (SGA) existed in traditional form until 1972. At that time the SGA dissolved itself in favor of the Student University Committee (SUC). SUC dissolved itself in the Fall of 1973 and until the Fall of 1975 no student government existed on campus. At that time the Student Union Steering Committee (SUSC) assumed the position of student government and in the Spring of 1976 held a constitutional referendum that established a new Student Government Association (SGA) with the Student Senate as its legislative body.”

I graduated from UWGB in May 1976 and went to Madison where I worked full time for the United Council of UW Student Governments for a year and a half. I was the administrative director and then legislative director for the organization. I had a great deal of access to the UW system administrators and staff, and I roamed the halls of the state capitol building. It was a great learning experience, and I was able to advocate for UW student interests regarding issues like tuition and fee increases, faculty collective bargaining, landlord tenant legislation, legal drinking age, and the legalization of marijuana. As a state-wide university student organization, the United Council also worked closely with other student groups in Wisconsin, other state student associations, and with the US National Student Association.

I started a MS degree program in, what else, Higher Education Administration. With the support of the late Dr. Joseph Kauffman, who had been Dean of Students of the Madison campus during the Dow Chemical riots, I was able to do almost half of my degree through independent study while working with the U.S. National Student Association (USNSA) in Washington, D.C. My experiences there included working on four national conferences for USNSA, collaborating with other national and state student associations, meeting with staff of various education associations on DuPont Circle, frequent contact with congressional offices, and an occasional talk with an executive department liaison.

This experience led to an appointment as Student Liaison Officer in the newly created U.S. Department of Education. This was a political sop thrown to the national student groups by the Carter administration. I was thrilled to be invited to the November 1979 swearing in of the first Secretary of Education Shirley Mount Hufstedler. Secretary Hufstedler remarked that her mother insisted she go to college so that Shirley wouldn’t end up working as a secretary!

During the Fall of 1979 and the Spring of 1980 Washington focused on the reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act of 1965, which provided basic authority for a variety of federal student aid and college assistance programs. Notable issues included; Title I, the reduction of barriers to continuing education for adults; Title III, institutional aid to developing institutions; and of course the major student aid programs under Title IV. Other national student issues included funding and survival of national, regional, and state student associations, a proposal to reintroduce the draft, bilingual education, abortion rights, the March on Washington, National Energy Education Day, White House Conference for Campus Student Leaders, and National Student Leadership Day, among a dizzying array of other causes, campaigns, events, meetings, and receptions. Also during this period the entire nation was enduring the Tehran hostage crisis.

That political appointment ended in the twilight of the Carter presidency, and I moved to Miami, Florida. I had the wonderful opportunity to work at Miami-Dade Community College for 16 years at the urban Wolfson campus, located in the heart of downtown Miami. I was a student financial aid counselor for several years before becoming Director of the New Student Center for the college’s urban campus. From 1989 through 1997 I was an Assistant Dean of Students in charge of student services for New World School of the Arts, a remarkable institutional partnership between the Miami Dade Public School System (4th largest in the US), Miami-Dade Community College (the largest in the US), and the University of Florida. I currently serve on the graduate advising staff for education students at NSU.

While working at MDCC, I was active on campus. It was great fun to be the student government adviser for several years. I also helped form the Support Staff Senate in the late 1980’s. I also was involved in local politics for several years, helping to run campaigns for several candidates in the City of South Miami, and served as president of the local homeowner’s association.

Through the years I have been less interested in politics than in policy. I have always enjoyed the personal contact with students, and advocated for their interests. The college environment that I experienced at UWGB nurtured my academic interests in human growth and development, and inculcated the value of being an active participant in one’s community. Higher education has been my home for a long time, and I am grateful for my early experiences in Green Bay. I hope I have made a small contribution to the lives of the thousands of students I have encountered since then.

Robert Stevens
P.O. Box 600364
North Miami Beach, FL 33160

Rob Stevens and son LoganThe hair is a little shorter today for Rob Stevens and for his son Logan, a current college student, than it was in Rob’s heyday in Green Bay.