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The Daily Wildcat

 

Presidential retrospective

Valentina Martinelli/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

Former student body president, Chris Nagata, speaks about his experiences as president this past year and his hopes for the future.
Valentina Martinelli
Valentina Martinelli/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Former student body president, Chris Nagata, speaks about his experiences as president this past year and his hopes for the future.

 For the commencement issue, the Arizona Daily Wildcat interviewed 2009-10 Associated Students of the University of Arizona President Chris Nagata on his term in office.

 

DW: Was the job of being president harder, easier or as much work as you expected?

CN: It was nothing like I expected. I think we all have this naïve sense of what the job entails and psych ourselves up for what the responsibilities will be. But I think it’s always really hard to get a true grasp of what your responsibilities, day-to-day schedule and duties will be until you’re physically in those shoes. Was it anything like I imagined? It was everything plus more. It was truly a wonderful experience that I will always be grateful and thankful for.

How many hours a week on average would you say that you put in during this time?

I worked mornings, afternoons, nights consistently, as well as holidays, weekends, you name it. There was really no downtime within the realm of the office or the roles there. I can’t give an accurate hour amount, but I would say that we were in the office by 8 a.m. at the latest every morning, and it would be a real reward if we could get out of the office by 10:30 at night. That doesn’t take into consideration or account for the phone calls you make outside of the office, the travel, the planning, the correspondence outside of the office, it goes on and on. There are things that you do that are not visible to everyone else, but your body definitely recognizes what you’re putting it through, but that’s what makes the job unique and special. You have to be passionate about what you do in order to put in those crazy hours and to have that much intensity for what you do, so it shows the heart and investment and dedication that you have for your position. You wouldn’t be getting up at crazy hours, going to bed at crazy hours or getting no sleep to do the best you could at your job.

Was it difficult to balance academics and ASUA?

Sure, without a doubt. You are the student body president, so in some sense, you have to remain responsible for your duties as a student, such as performing well and going to class. But you also have to expect that the amount of time delegated to being a student is probably not the same amount that you prioritized it in the first few years at UA. You take a reduced class schedule, you probably take classes that are easier in a sense than in a normal course load, and you try to prepare as much as you can for your year as president.

Was being ASUA president something you’d thought about doing long before you ran for president?

No, I wish I could say that. I actually didn’t even think about being president until mid- to late-fall semester of my junior year, and that’s about the time you have to start campaigning. I talked to my parents over Thanksgiving break and asked them if this was something that I could accomplish and could my school life take a pause while I did this. Through thoughtful consideration with my parents and close family and friends, we decided this was something I really wanted to tackle. I’m staying here an extra semester, but I wouldn’t take back the experience of being ASUA president if it meant I could have graduated in four years or three and a half years. The opportunity was there and I would rather kick myself for having done it and have regrets than kick myself for not having done it and knowing that the opportunity was there.

What would you say to a student who criticizes ASUA for not doing anything, or not being representative enough?

I am really pleased with anyone who has an opinion of ASUA, whether it be positive or negative, because it shows that they care and are aware and knowledgeable about their surroundings. For our critics who suggest that ASUA isn’t doing its faithful duties of representing their interests, I would say that in order for us to adopt their concerns and viewpoints into our agenda, if they’re passionate about what they say, we’re right there taking the same classes, so pay us a visit, send us an e-mail, talk to us in class. We’re excited to hear the feedback of our students. At the heart of everything we do, we strive to be that representation and be advocates. If we’re not doing a good job, we need to be reminded so we can be in check. I appreciate the critics out there to keep us in line, because if we don’t have that, we’re probably not doing our job. I invite criticism because I’d like to hear feedback to improve as a student organization.

Is there anything you wanted to accomplish during your time in office that you didn’t get around to doing?

There are a lot of projects that were halted mid-way through. You work so hard to accomplish all that you can and you know that in a year’s time, there’s a lot that cannot be accomplished. There are a lot of outstanding projects that I am hoping the future administrations will potentially pick up if they’re interested. But that’s the thing, student leadership at ASUA is only for a year and then you transition into a whole new team of leaders. Some of that institutional memory gets carried on, but often, it doesn’t. I am hoping that within each student leader, we transition the next leaders so they don’t have to come in at ground zero. If we don’t pass that torch symbolically, all that groundwork we’ve made has to be recovered and re-done and lessons have to be re-learned. It’s our duty as outgoing leaders at ASUA to make sure that the incoming leaders are equipped with all the knowledge that we had so they can further what they would like to do. It’s that institutional memory that we need to do a good job in transitioning. 

What are some of the things you’re most proud of? 

There are three things that I’m most proud of, that I can think of at the top of my head. 

We balanced an extraordinarily difficult budget coming into the school year and I think we did it professionally, responsibly and to a large degree, with as much transparency as we could. I think we were the first year to publish our budget from month to month online. It was a six-figure dollar amount that we had to balance without cutting too deeply into programs and services that students critically needed. I think that was testament to our treasurer and his leadership and the spirit of the organization to rally behind this new initiative that we had to be more fiscally sound. I was pleased that we were able to incorporate those budget challenges but do so without ill effect to the students.

Secondly, I believe it’s been the first time that the Board of Regents have accepted a student proposal for tuition and fees. It was through thoughtful consideration with regents, students, university units and university administrators to get to a comprehensive, thorough proposal. Despite the increases that have occurred, it was the first time that the regents had ever really responded to a student proposal in the fashion that they did, and it ultimately ended up being approved. It makes a big statement that students are here to create policy on behalf of students that’s as worthy as anybody else’s proposal. If we can set the tone for how the university should budget, we should be able to stake our claim and priorities just as much as anyone else. I was pleased to see the regents respond that way, and I think it really empowered the students.

The third is the State of Student address, which had never happened before. I would like to see that, as something traditional, each ASUA president gives this address, especially in these times of higher education, it’s important to articulate what it’s like to be a student. Administrators will try to make that claim, regents will try to say how it’s like to be a student, but only a student will know what it’s like to walk to class, learn in this environment, and in that fashion, so it’s our responsibility to be able to voice out the challenges, opportunities and what is at stake so all higher education stakeholders understand from a student’s perspective the realities of what being a student is like and how they should be making decisions based on providing opportunities to students. 

What sort of qualities do you think it takes for someone to be ASUA president? 

I think there’s been one common denominator for all the ASUA presidents. If you don’t have a sincere and honest passion for the job, and you have to reflect on the positives and negatives of the job, and if you’re not sincerely passionate about what all that entails, you won’t be able to fight through the long hours, naysayers or critics to be able to push forth to success. History will say which student presidents are better at that than others, but it all comes down to passion. It all starts off with fundamentally being in love with what you’re doing.

What would be your advice for President Emily Fritze?

The biggest thing that any ASUA president has to do is remember whom they serve. We serve the students, and it gets so easy to just get wrapped up in the priorities of administrators, regents and the state that oftentimes, our very job gets lost in that mix. At the core, you have to look out for the genuine interest of the students. The most important role and piece of advice is to remember who you serve, because, especially during these times, the student body needs an active, vocal, responsive student leader who is truly out there fighting for what the students deem is important.

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