Smile Politely

Campus Town Hall meeting provides more questions than answers

Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida held the 2nd annual Campus Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, and they left many questions unanswered.

The pair had sent out an email to all of campus, including faculty, students, and staff, inviting them to join them at the meeting. While I can’t know who joined in for the live streamed broadcast, it was clear that those at the meeting were from the faculty and staff segments. The only other students I noticed were taking notes like myself, likely for an extra credit opportunity or other journalism assignment. Maybe talk of pensions and budget issues are not worth most students’ afternoon.

The Chancellor began by describing the 2013-2016 Strategic Plan that was unveiled last August. The plan was asked for by President Easter and was quickly put together since they had spent the previous 18 months talking with small groups of alumni, students, faculty, and staff. The plan is only 20 pages long and outlines the goals and plans for the University over the next three years.

Next on the meeting’s agenda were the two “elephants in the room”. First, the Chancellor addressed the pension challenges facing the University. She didn’t have too much to say other than that they were all working hard to do the best they could to “mitigate and alleviate” the impact of pension changes. She acknowledged that providing a competitive pension plan is critical to recruiting and retaining quality faculty. In short, she basically told the crowd, “When we have a plan we’ll let you know, but right now we have no idea.” Of course she said it in much more fancy rhetoric.

The next “elephant in the room” was the budget and this issue was passed off to the Provost. He again emphasized the importance of staying competitive. He also said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the upcoming budget. However, everything he discussed was only proposals, so it was all merely speculative. It was another, “Yeah we don’t know yet, but we’re trying.”

After a brief introduction from the Chancellor, the Provost began to describe the progress that has been made in the past few months since the creation of the Strategic plan. The accomplishments were split into four categories: foster scholarship, discovery and innovation; provide transformative learning experiences; make a significant and visible societal impact; and steward current and generate additional resources for strategic investment. While the Provost did provide additional details, most of his points could have been read off the pamphlet that was on each of the seats when you walked in. He also kept saying that “for more information visit the website” or “more details can be found on the website”. Personally, I would have preferred more answers and less orders.

The above was the pamphlet placed on every chair.

When the Chancellor again took over the microphone, I figured she would begin talking about specific, immediate plans for the University. The Provost had just dedicated a long portion of the meeting on the past, it seemed logical the next thing to discuss would be the future? However, the chancellor instead began her concluding remarks. She told the crowd she was extremely proud to be their chancellor and that she is continually inspired by the people she works with.

In regards to the challenges facing the university she noted, “When times get tougher, I think we get even more loyal, more dedicated, and more energetic.”

The Chancellor then opened up the floor for questions. The first question was asked by a student, one of the only who showed up, who quickly stood up when it was announced it was time for questions. Unfortunately, the microphone was not actually working, so all I could hear from her was something about an initiative students had voted in favor of 6 to 1, and she asked what actions the university had been taking. The Chancellor said there had been a committee who had looked into it, and she would email the student the committee’s findings. I couldn’t help but feel kind of left out because I won’t get that email. What if I want the findings? Granted I didn’t even know what the question had been, but it still seemed like an incomplete answer.

The second question (the microphone was now working) was asked by Richard Laugesen from the mathematics department. He commented on how there were going to be a lot of retirements and potential retirements this year and asked about the University’s plans. The Provost again began on his rant about excellence and said that the University was “working hard that decisions are accelerated”. Again, it was a “we don’t know yet, but we’re trying.”

In the end, I left the Campus Town Hall Meeting with more questions than answers. It was a great lesson in equivocation but not much more. As a proud student of the University, all the talk about how great the University is normally leaves me feeling pretty warm and fuzzy inside. Instead, I left with a stale taste in my mouth. The whole meeting felt like an overly contrived public relations stunt. While the Chancellor acknowledged the meeting was meant to be a vehicle of feedback, this certainly didn’t seem like the reality. Both questions were given rushed half-answers even though the meeting ended early and there was plenty of time for explanation.

Throughout the meeting, the Chancellor kept referring to her favorite quote by architect Daniel Burnham, “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Based off the meeting it seems the University has a lot of grand ideas but very little in the terms of plans.

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