Q & A session with President White

Denny Patterson, Senior Editor

Last Tuesday, Nov. 12, Student Senate sponsored an open question and answer session with President Pat White. This was the chance for students and faculty to ask any questions they had concerning rumors about what is or will be happening on campus.

White recently held two open forums to enlighten the Millikin community on some of the major concerns facing the institution. Discussions included the university’s financial stability, the Woods apartments and future actions and decisions.

Since coming to Millikin in July, White has been intent on getting more students involved.

“One of the pressing issues is how a student feels about Millikin,” he said. “I think student engagement and involvement are things we are must always be concerned with. More importantly, we have to get students engaged and involved with the future of Millikin. This is really going to matter for us when we continue to try to help students feel an ownership of Millikin, a loyalty and commitment that says ‘Millikin is our place.’”

White talked about budget concerns first, which is one of the top priorities that require immediate action.

A couple of weeks ago, he reported to the Board of Trustees and Millikin is currently looking at an institutional deficit of $2.4 million. If nothing is done, next year’s deficit will be higher. This is linked at least somewhat to the fact that Millikin has been experiencing a slight decline in enrollment the past few years. There are multiple factors involved in decreasing enrollment. As White said in last week’s “Decaturian,” some of the issues are local. The number of high school graduates in Illinois is declining and the preparation of those graduating seems to be declining as well. Other issues include increasing competition not only from other four-year college, but community colleges as well.

“Colleges all over the country and state are facing enrollment and budget challenges,” White said. “Students see that they can get those two years out of the way before entering a four year institution. Wealthy families are sending their kids to community college to save money.”

White made it clear that we cannot cut our way out of the deficit problem, nor can we fundraise ourselves out either. Even though we can raise money through donors and grants, expenditures will have to be reduced. This may mean reducing the amount spent on one of the university’s most significant expenditures, the payment of faculty and staff.

This begs the question, though, of how enrollment stands to increase by cutting faculty. White and many other administration officials know it’s a big risk. Cutting faculty and

programs equals cutting attraction. Ultimately, faculty members will be reviewed as well as all departments and positions. White wants to try and decide what’s best for the university.

It has not been determined exactly how many faculty members will be cut and if any programs will be eliminated, but White knows that the college will be hurt if actions are made too quickly and without careful consideration.

Another area of concern is the Woods. Within five years, occupancy has dropped noticeably from 484 leases to 287. It was discussed at the open forums that in order to have more students live in the Woods, a residence hall might be closed down. All eyes are looking towards Mills. No decisions have been made as of yet.

“When Millikin collaborated with Jeffrey Tinvervin to create the Woods, part of the agreement was that Millikin will guarantee a certain occupancy rate,” White said. “The President at that time thought enrollment would go to 3000. For a few years, the Woods was nearly full. Now we are continuing to subsidize when not full. It hasn’t been full in years and we are paying money on those vacancies. How do we solve this? Two ways: we can spend $1.9 million every year for the next 20 years or we can attract more students to live in the Woods. But it is important to remember that budgetary problems are not just about the Woods. We have to attract more students to Millikin.”

Overall, White hopes to make Millikin a better and stronger campus.

Having these kinds of Q & A sessions is only the first step in communicating with the student body. Student Senate President Jacqui Rogers hopes to have more of these sessions in the future.

“I think it is important to have these kinds of forums because as Student Senate we are supposed to bridge the gap between the students and administration,” she said. “What better way to bridge this gap then having both in the same room?”

Dean of Student Development Raphaella Prange agrees.

“The Q & A with Dr. White was a great step by Student Senate to create transparency between institutional leadership and the student body,” she said. “I was happy to see good attendance and the engagement of the students through their good questions and attention throughout the two hour forum. I hope Student Senate will consider bringing in more members of the faculty and staff to discuss issues with students. It’s a great way to engage community conversation and bring forth creative ideas and solutions.”