Recently the UT-Arlington family saw Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, Jeff Sorenson, off to what we all hope will be a long and happy retirement. Members of the Graduate Student Senate are certainly going to feel the loss of his wisdom and leadership. It isn’t that Jeff hasn’t earned a bit of down time after serving students here for nearly 40 years. But, for the GSS, which by the very nature of its mission, survives a dual existence of both longevity and instability—as a student governing body we have had an active presence for 38 years, but our leadership and membership is an ever shifting group with diverse needs and demands. Parking and tuition rates may be the only two problems that have emerged repeatedly over time. But, undoubtedly each GSS has had its own concerns and its own achievements. For instance, many of you may have no idea who I am, but I served in the Graduate Student Senate from 2005-2010. I was a co-chair of the Printing Committee—that’s right we had a committee and fought to have printing costs for graduate students covered. Jeff warned us when he thought our demands were too aggressive, and guided us as we drafted our proposal. He made sure our documents appropriately addressed the critical needs of students, and the growing concerns of administrators about increasing printing costs to the University. And we won, at least for a little while.
I also served as the Public Relations Director and worked to create a unique logo for the GSS. On the GSS website calendar, the Aug. 27th activity icon, represents the logo we adopted during my tenure. Jeff listened patiently as I explained why I thought the GSS needed a logo separate from Student Congress. It may seem like a small matter, but it meant additional printing costs, and changing over promotional material. It meant we couldn’t simply use the materials for Student Congress. For a group that operates on a shoe-string budget, it was not a change that we could have accomplished without Jeff’s support. Proof of the shifting nature of our group can be found on the Sept. 3 event icon on the websites calendar. We have a new logo, and I have to say I think the update is a great improvement. Bravo.
I was eventually elected GSS President only after Jeff called me in and said with little subtlety, but the firmness of a sage mentor, that it was time for me to step up. I respected him and he was hard to deny. I served as president from 2006-2008. In fact, I was president and worked with then Graduate School Dean Phil Cohen to create the first University-wide travel funding scholarship for grad students. TAGSS remains one of my fondest achievements. I hope all of the current GSS members will apply so that campus administrators will continue to recognize how valuable and needed these funds are for research and travel. Getting them was no small task. Jeff spent endless nights with me: me telling him each detail of my grievance about the process; he ceaselessly moving his chain link from one hand to the other. He often talked me off the ledge as it took almost two semesters to draft the appropriate documents, get the language just right, keep the support of administrators, and actually get the funding. The program was nearly scratched twice before we actually managed to get it approved at all the levels necessary. We might have failed had Jeff not provided instrumental guidance. He refused to let me give up even when it seemed the task had run its course. We owe him a great deal.
Jeff participated and took great pleasure in what he did every day. His send-off celebration last month, which included a polling booth and election campaign buttons, certainly represented the leader that Jeff was for all those years. He approached every problem with humor as he supported a democratic approach to student leadership. He could diffuse the most volatile situations with a hardy laugh, and a simple request that never seemed to be an order: “Alright, let’s calm down.” He put students first. Always. He was quick to praise. He celebrated student achievement. He remembered everyone he ever met. He was eager to learn how those he had mentored were doing even after they had left his tutelage. He believed that representing student concerns contributed to the health and well-being of the university community. He helped guide student leaders in understanding how to honor and represent student concerns. Student voices always mattered and in serving them he was sincere. There is little doubt of that, but what made him so wonderful in his position is that he did this with every GSS president and every Student Congress president for all those years, and he did it with great cheer and with great charity. He supported me when I insisted that the GSS offices be moved and that we be allowed to paint our offices. He laughed, but did not flinch when we hunted down new furniture that was more playful that practical. And, while he shook his head when I often failed to acknowledge, or adhere, to our miniscule budget, he always helped us find the funding for the projects that were important to our members.
And, let’s be honest, after nearly 40 years, Jeff clearly knew who could help us when he could not. And he could make the call when we couldn’t. His retirement, while well-deserved, means we are going to lose the wonderful mentor who served us unselfishly for all these years, and it is going to leave a hole in our collective soul. But while Jeff cared deeply about traditions at UT Arlington (bed races is only one example), he embraced change and innovation. We are going to experience change, but in his honor we will keep innovating and we will keep putting our members first. We wish Jeff all the best, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to miss him.