By the time you read this, Ground Hog Day and Super Bowl Sunday will be memories, and the flurry of exams and papers will make students long for midterm break and the golden weeks of March Madness. Hopefully, our own basketball teams will contribute their own good “madness” in the PAC Conference tournaments.
In my last column, I promised to report on the results of the “listening and learning’ sessions held throughout my first several months as your president. These conversations involved over 200 students, faculty, and staff; they were stimulating and invaluable for me and, I am told, for many of you. Faculty, staff, and student leaders heard an in-depth report at the December campus meeting. There is far too much to report in a single column, so we’ll look at a few of the topics most frequently mentioned by students and cover some others next month.
On the first topic, there is broad agreement among students (and faculty and staff) that good progress has been made and that much more improvement is needed:
* Enhanced Services/Resources for Residential Students
Students were quick to praise the recent progress on “residentiality,” expanded nighttime activities and the increased number of students spending the weekend on campus. But students were also passionate about their dissatisfaction with the lack of access to services and resources of all kinds in the evenings and on weekends: group study areas, computer labs, library hours; gathering spaces for socialization; recreation facilities; and especially food options. The need for gathering spaces involves outdoor as well as indoor spaces—perhaps like a new mall or green space developed in the center of campus. Such a gathering space would help us become a more genuinely residential campus.
Many faculty and staff echoed these observations, and some also expressed concern about evening and weekend services for adult students. Students and others also were critical of the barriers to handicap accessibility across the campus. And they were emphatic about the need for far more on-campus work opportunities.
Students appreciate the efforts of campus staff and administrators and note that most are friendly. They cited the addition of smart boards and on-line registration as notable improvements. But students also believe that improvement and greater consistency of service across campus is sorely needed, especially regarding technology support, financial aid, advising, and security (though they consider the campus overall to be well-lit and safe). Numerous examples were cited of what students considered to be service deficiencies or lack of teamwork between offices. (In contrast, students have consistently positive perceptions of the Graduate and Continuing Studies offices.) Residential students emphasized that direct communication with them on campus is badly needed, preferably electronically.
A second topic also elicited broad agreement among students and among students, faculty, and staff:
* Expanded Facilities and Improved Campus Signage and Other Visitor-Friendly Improvements (access, parking, landscaping, information.)
There is overwhelming campus-wide advocacy for new recreation facilities, with priority on a field house; a large lecture hall/auditorium; expanded meeting and meal locations, and student activities’ spaces like a night club. A lighted turf field was suggested as a way to maximize student participation and free up much of “lower campus.” Track, swimming, and football teams were suggested occasionally as possibilities, though most focused on expanding recreation and fitness/wellness options for non-athletes . . . and for those aging employees (like your president) who could benefit from better conditioning!
Addition of flexible and technologically enhanced classrooms was also urged, as was conversion of the library into a learning commons and development of a flexible performance venue and a one-stop location of business and student services. Commuters and older adult students especially were sensitive to the need for signage to welcome and guide visitors, but residential students also noted the need for improved landscaping and signage (especially regarding parking regulations!!)
Unlike the above topics, one infamous issue, though not as frequently mentioned, produced much less agreement:
Some students feel parking is woefully insufficient. Some feel that current parking practices unfairly favor resident over commuter students. Some also appear to believe that private parking adjacent to one’s digs is an inalienable right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Alvernia Mission. In contrast, some commented that parking was more available and far cheaper than on most campuses. A few suggested a parking fee as at many schools. Others (including many student leaders) feel the parking problem is overstated and due to unreasonable expectations about convenience. Most agree that better information is needed, that parking policies should be reviewed and updated, and that visitors to campus need to have adequate parking and informational signage.
All this and much more! My purpose is to faithfully report not editorialize, but let me close with a few comments. Progress is already underway. The expansion of evening hours by Aladdin food service to 10:30 on some nights and 12:00 midnight on others is a great first step. Others are underway. The Strategic Planning Council will recommend priorities to improve the quality of campus life and create a genuinely residential campus. A comprehensive plan for facilities will be launched this spring and completed nest fall.
Students participating in these sessions were impressive representatives of their fellow students and their future alma mater. Their voices deserve to be heard. They have been and will continue to be. Let’s all keep talking (and listening!) to one another.