James VanVoorst, vice president for administration, and Jim Norris, interim athletic director, take part in a Student Association-sponsored town hall meeting held Nov. 29 in Old Union Hall.
Photo by Jiang Wu
Magrath, VPs hold town hall meeting with studentsTweet
Questions ran the gamut from construction to food to funding to academics during the Nov. 29 town hall meeting between Interim President C. Peter Magrath, four University vice presidents, the interim athletic director and students. Co-sponsored by the Student Association, the session was moderated by SA President Jared Kirschenbaum.
About 200 students attended, with more than a dozen asking questions of the administrators before time ran out. Kirschenbaum asked the first question to get the evening started: “What are the plans for the future of Dickinson?”
Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs, said the remaining new halls for Newing College will open next fall, along with the collegiate center that will serve both Newing and Dickinson residents. The last phase of the multi-year project – construction of a new Dickinson Community – will then begin, with a fall 2013 target date for completion. “Some of the current Dickinson buildings will then be repurposed into office use, and some others may be demolished for new construction,” Rose said.
Mountainview residents were out in force, questioning what the University hasn’t done anything about the dirt path that people take to get from Mountainview to the main part of campus. Vice President for Administration James Van Voorst noted that he and Rose have met with students on this issue and a study has been completed. Any solution will be driven by the 10-year master plan, he said, but the cost to create an avenue where the dirt path exists, coupled with maintenance, is “not insubstantial.”
“The walkway down still has issues to address, and I can assure you that this is an issue we talk about,” Van Voorst said. “It’s not lost and we will solve it.”
More than one student asked about issues involving tuition, class size and the ability to register for classes, now and into the future if enrollment increases. “It’s not possible to forecast,” Magrath said, “but it’s not wrong to assume that at some point in the foreseeable future there will be increases in tuition here as is happening all over the U.S. in public higher education.”
Jean-Pierre Mileur, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, responded to several questions about lack of resources, including faculty and classroom space. One student in particular spoke of lack of resources for the Arabic program. The University is actively recruiting faculty for the Arabic program, languages will always be part of this campus and Binghamton University will continue its very strong commitment to the liberal arts, Mileur said. “That’s the good news. The answer to your questions, however, is money. We have only so much to hire faculty and address the shortage of square footage in the classrooms. We manage very close to the bone and it’s a result of trying to run a university on less money than we need.
“There are enough seats for people to finish their degrees, but we have to fine-tune from semester to semester,” he added. “I know it’s difficult, but what we’re accomplishing together, you through persistence and us through moving money around, is actually doing pretty well.”
Mileur asked students to “bear with us” and said it’s extremely important that students make department chairs aware of any “pressure points” early in the semester.
Magrath also reminded the audience that the University has cut back significantly in support services, various administrative areas and student services to protect academics as much as possible. “Our fundamental mission and purpose are the educational programs of this University, and they will be protected,” he said.
Transparency for the Binghamton University Foundation was also questioned more than once, with Marcia Craner, vice president for external affairs, responding. One student questioned the lease the foundation has entered into to consider natural gas drilling at some point in the future if the Environmental Protection Agency lifts its moratorium. Craner noted that she has met with students on this issue, so there has been some transparency, but stressed that the revenue from the lease has not been spent and is in a restricted account to be used to support the University’s mission. “If it gets to the point where the regulations allow drilling, we will have more discussions,” Craner said.
As for other foundation funds, most large donations to the foundation are restricted for specific purposes, Craner explained.
“The majority of funds are held in trust for the University and are not student funds, but come from donors,” she said. “Any gifts to the Binghamton University Foundation have gift agreements that outline exactly what the donor’s intentions are and are legally binding.
“The foundation also gave out $2 million in scholarships to students this year,” she said. “We’re not just taking money and spending it.” Smaller gifts, such as a $25 donation to the Arabic program, are unrestricted in their use. “If $25 comes in for a program,” Craner said, “it goes to that department and the chair uses it as he or she sees fit.”
The meeting ended before all those in line could ask their questions, but they were asked them to write their questions down with the promise that a response would be forthcoming.
“This has been a really good use of everyone’s time,” Magrath said. “You’ve heard answers you don’t like, but welcome the fact that there can be openness and criticism. We learn from these questions.”