Safety, diversity, shared governance lead list of concerns at University Town Hall Meeting
ATHENS, Ohio (Oct. 23, 2006) — Three major themes emerged at the first-ever University Town Hall Meeting, hosted by President Roderick J. McDavis and intended to encourage dialogue among members of the Ohio University community. These themes were safety, diversity and shared governance.
About 127 students, faculty, staff and community members attended the event.
"There's been an increase in violence in Athens lately," contended the first student questioner, who identified herself as an Ohio University sophomore and Athens native. This sentiment was echoed by Chris Knisley, a university administrator and Athens resident, who suggested the university and community collaborate to address the issue. Other students, however, expressed concern that campus and city police are overreacting in their law enforcement tactics.
"I take your concern very seriously. There is no higher priority than the safety of our students," McDavis said about safety. He committed to engaging with the Athens community and Ohio University students on that and other matters. "What I think is important is (that) our students develop a sense of personal and civic responsibility."
Questions about diversity came from a number of stakeholder groups. Students wanted to know about amenities and cultural sensitivity for African-American students; funding and staffing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender programs; funding for the International Student Union; recruitment of Appalachian students and service to the region; and a comfortable climate for conservative students.
Administrators – the president's cabinet, deans and the director of athletics were all on hand to answer questions – promised follow up to specific questions about diversity. "Our diversity does not have blinders," McDavis maintained, adding "we have found a way to make room under the big tent for everybody."
Shared governance was the major topic of conversation from the mostly student questioners. A number of members of Students for Effective and Accountable Leadership said they want to see shared governance with students and other stakeholders in the university.
“Shared governance at Ohio University means every constituent group gets to have input into decisions the university makes,” McDavis said. Vice President for Student Affairs Kent Smith added, "Should we involve students in decision-making? Absolutely."
But students pressed the administrators to clarify and expand what they mean by shared governance. Student Olivia Dawson said that student senate "only has the power to suggest." Will Klass contended that "our voice is heard and they can just ignore it and they have."
Dominic Barbato, president of Graduate Student Senate pointed out that governance structure at the university hasn't changed in about 30 years. "Maybe we need to re-examine whether the representation works," he suggested.
Provost Kathy Krendl responded by saying, "This is an invitation to look at what changes we may make and to look at best practices."
McDavis observed that "some students have some very tough questions and they've been good questions." He invited the questioners to return to the next event, saying "this is about trying to open up more communication channels within our institution."
Rounding out the discussion were questions about graduate student health insurance, health care facilities for women, Vision OHIO goals, high-risk drinking policies, the fate of the Oasis and availability of off-campus housing.
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