Why Am I Running? Why Should You Care?

If you don’t know me, then hi! My name’s Ian Ware; I’m a second year in the College at UVA, studying Politics and American Studies. I grew up in London, Northern Virginia, and Ohio, and have lived in a few other places thanks to my parents’ jobs. But you’re not reading this to get the same intro I’d be expected to give on the first day of a class. Hopefully you’re reading this because you want to know who I really am, and why yet another kid invited you to his “Elect Me for *Insert Student Government Position Here*” Facebook event. So let me reintroduce myself.

My name’s Ian Ware, and I’m a climate organizer who’s fighting to see Virginia — and the world — transition justly from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

My name’s Ian Ware, and when I was 14 I came out as queer.

My name’s Ian Ware, and I want to see our university become a leader in higher education access for minority and low income students.

My name’s Ian Ware, and I don’t think it’s right that we don’t ensure a living wage for all of our workers, the majority of whom are people of color.

My name’s Ian Ware, and I believe that our university should be doing more to protect immigrants students, especially those affected by the possible rollback of DACA and by our white nationalist president’s recent actions.

My name’s Ian Ware, and I’m running for Student Council. This is my platform, and I would be extremely grateful and honored if the College of Arts & Sciences elects me to try and push forward an agenda of accessibility, student and worker protection, and sustainable growth.

On Affordability and Accessibility

As a major public university whose mission is to educate young people of Virginia as well as students from around the country and the world, UVA has consistently failed us in providing adequate means of accessibility and affordability. Over a decade ago, our university made the decision to allow low-income students to attend UVA on full scholarship — a policy known as “no loan.” According to an Inside Higher Ed article from 2014, the implementation of this policy lead to an over 350% increase in applications from low-income students from 2004 to 2012. With the no loan policy, thousands of students who would have otherwise been unable to attend UVA without taking on enormous amounts of debt suddenly saw our school as a fiscal possibility, a great education from an extremely well-respected university that was actually affordable.

With the curtailing of this no loan policy — a decision the university justified in a now-deleted press release that called the program too expensive — UVA gave low income students a choice: become saddled with debt, or go somewhere else.

Our university has long struggled with socioeconomic diversity. From its inception, UVA had a reputation of being exclusively white, male, and rich. A consultant for the university pointed this out in a 2013 report, saying, “[UVA] is also seen as more elitist, preppy, and homogenous than the competition.” That reputation is actually a reality. The New York Times’ 2015 College Access Index reveals that in 2015, only 11% of UVA’s incoming class were receiving Pell Grants, a federal higher education grant given mostly to students with families making under $70,000 a year, and a key measure of the number of low income students attending a school. Compare this to the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at peer public institutions nationally like UCLA (27%), UNC Chapel Hill (18%), and UC Berkeley (23%), or to comparable private institutions like Syracuse University (19%), NYU (18%), and Emory University (18%). We are lagging behind, and students are suffering because of it.

If elected to student council, I plan to push for a subcommittee dedicated to advocating the Board of Visitors to revisit its decisions on AccessUVA, our financial aid program. For years, they have used state budget cuts as the rationale behind curtailing financial aid programs at this school, and while that is a valid issue, it’s also important to note how little of our school’s budget is actually funded by state money. In the 2016–2017 budget, only around 10% came from state appropriations, according to the university Budget Office’s report. When such a small portion of our funding comes from the state, it seems unlikely that cuts in that sector would automatically lead to a decrease in financial aid. Combine that with the consistent growth of our university’s endowment — currently valued at around $7.6 billion according to the University of Virginia Investment Management Company’s annual report, a massive number for a medium-sized public school — along with the $2.5 billion that can be found in our controversial “Strategic Investment Fund,” and the numbers don’t add up. If the university truly wants to invest its money “strategically,” does it not make sense that it would divert resources towards allowing students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to gain access to a UVA education?

If elected, I will push for this subcommittee to demand answers from the BOV on why we continue to deny access to students who are not privileged enough to be able to pay the ever-increasing tuition costs at our school. I will advocate for the Board to reinstate the no loan policy, so that low income students — prospective and current — can attend UVA without taking on ridiculous amounts of debt, and I will not be placated by hollow responses pointing fingers at “state budget cuts.”

On Immigrant Student Protection

With the results of the presidential election this past November, immigrant students, documented and undocumented, have been put in a situation even more dangerous than before. Our new administration is putting all of its effort into curtailing the rights of immigrants and invalidating the lives of undocumented people across our country.

President Sullivan recently underscored the university’s support for immigrant students by restating UVA’s policy against sharing student immigration status unless required by law, a policy I am glad our university had adopted. The administration has also offered legal advice and support for students, faculty, and staff who may be affected by executive orders banning people from specific Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

This, however, is not enough. Our university needs to adopt policies that effectively turn Grounds into a sanctuary for students and staff. Under our current policies, if ICE were to conduct an immigration raid on UVA and obtain warrants for such information, the university would simply give them the names and immigration statuses of documented and undocumented students. This school has a long history of being hesitant when it comes to complying with laws surrounding the identities of its students — in 1944 UVA essentially acquired the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, at the time a women’s college, to avoid having to become coed — so why such hesitation today to fall out of compliance with federal law when students’ lives and futures are at stake?

I commend the work that the Student Council has done so far to protect the rights of immigrant students. I do, however, believe that the Council should be advocating the university administration to go further in pushing for protection.

On Student Self-Governance

To be quite honest, my relationship with this subject has been a rocky one. When I first came to this university, I was bombarded with the phrase by excited upperclassmen who wanted me to know that I have a voice in our school. Honor, UJC, and Student Council members came to my first year hall to remind me that, yes, students do make all the decisions at our school. But despite all that, I never felt quite sure.

Objectively, our university does not practice the tenets of student self-governance that it so espouses. Yes, the tour groups are run by students; yes, Student Council has a very large budget; and yes, all punishment for breaking university policies is handled by student-run committees. But looking deeper, there’s a disconnect between students governing the things directly in front of them, and wealthy political appointees governing our education without any meaningful input from the student body.

One of my goals, if elected, would be to create more legitimate avenues for students to participate in the governing of our university. To start, I would like to the student representative on the Board of Visitors be given a vote, and become an elected position, rather than one appointed by the Board itself. It makes no sense that a Board of wealthy business-owners, all of whom were appointed by the governor because of their political connections or donations, would govern our university with so little input from those of us that attend this school and have to deal with the consequences of the Board’s actions. I am deeply grateful that we were given a spot on the Board in recent years, but simply choosing a student to sit in on Board meetings and send out updates to the student body every now and then is nothing more than a conciliatory effort meant to placate a student body that loves to tout self-governance. Ideally, the Board would include more than one voice from the student body — as well as more than one voice from the faculty — but that is not going to happen anytime soon. So for now, I am advocating for the student representative position to be picked by actual students, and to be given a vote on this important governing body.

The second pressing issue in regards to student self-governance is the upcoming search for a new university president to replace Teresa Sullivan. It is imperative that our new president be an educator who understands how to run a public university with the best interests of the students in mind, as opposed to a businessperson who views the financial bottom line as the most important aspect of university administration. After Teresa Sullivan was ousted in 2012, one of the names most frequently thrown around as a strong contender to be her successor was Tom Farrell, the CEO of Dominion Resources, our state’s energy monopoly. Mr. Farrell is everything we don’t need as a university president. He is politically connected as the CEO of the most powerful company in Virginia, he is so wealthy he undoubtedly is not familiar with the importance of financial aid, and he runs a company known for its antipathy towards the environment and the safety of Virginians.

To avoid picking a new president who might fit the mold of Tom Farrell, it is crucial that more legitimate student input is included in the search for a new university leader. The Board and its Presidential Search Committee must realize that students are the ultimate barometer for how a new president’s policies and leadership style will affect the university on the micro and macro levels. As a representative, I would push strongly for the Board to include more students in the search for president, and would push Student Council to pass a resolution advocating for such a change.

Other Issues Included in Platform

  • Pushing for a living wage for all workers at UVA
  • Expanding the budget for Counseling and Psychological Services at the Student Health center, a department that is increasingly struggling to keep up with the high amount of students seeking mental health treatment
  • Pushing the Board of Visitors to divest the university’s endowment from fossil fuel companies
  • Advocating against the proposed natural gas pipeline that would run across Grounds to fuel the power plant next to the Medical School
  • Calling for the university to defy the law pushed through the General Assembly with the help of lobbyists from Dominion Resources that denies private entities like UVA from building renewable energy infrastructure to power itself

A Thank You — And A Promise

I certainly hope that the College of Arts & Sciences elects me to represent it on Student Council, but I also know that as a student, I have other means of engagement that don’t involve institutionalized student government. I have worked, and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our school serves all of its students, faculty, and staff as best as it possibly can. And I will do that regardless of my official title or place in our university. That, I promise you.