Board of Trustees discusses campus resources for students

Millie González, interim chief diversity and inclusion officer, speaks to the Board of Trustees. (Ashley Wall / THE GATEPOST)

The Framingham State Board of Trustees met to discuss decreasing student enrollment and the changing nature of academic affairs and disability services during its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

Lauren Keville, coordinator of student retention and graduation success, gave a presentation on students who leave the University.

Keville said students leave for “a multitude of reasons,” including financial burden, convenience of the locations of other schools, or switching to a community college because they felt overwhelmed by the rigor or environment of a four-year institution.

The top reason students leave the University is acceptance to their first-choice insitution, according to Keville. The most popular institution to which students transferred is Bridgewater State University, with 14 former FSU students transferring after the spring 2018 semester.

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, addressed student mental health in her report. 

According to Holloway, there was a 28-percent increase in student visits to the Counseling Center during the 2017-18 school year, as well as a 162-percent increase in “unplanned” visits.

Holloway said this is a national trend across universities, and she encourages students to use the center. “This is what we want to see – students getting the help they need.”

LaDonna Bridges, associate dean of academic success and director of CASA, gave a presentation on the growth of CASA’s registry numbers and the subsequent increased usage of the University’s disability services in recent years.

Bridges said the number of students self-identifying as needing services increased from 231 students in the 2007-2008 academic year to 770 students as of the fall 2018 semester, a more than 200-percent increase.

This has led to the growth of CASA in terms of staff and support services, added Bridges. 

Both Bridges and Holloway said the increased use of campus services indicated a greater student awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing and decreased stigma surrounding usage of these resources.

Executive Vice President Dale Hamel updated the board on the total costs and extent of renovations to the Danforth Museum, saying the project would require additional repairs for which costs would amount to $224,000.

Hamel said the board identified $112,000 that could cover the cost, with a remaining $112,000 to be covered by a loan that would help “close that gap.”

The $112,000 is from the former Danforth Museum Corporation, according to Hamel in a Feb. 14 email – “per the agreement, all remnant funds after payment of liabilities” were transferred “in support of the renovation.”

He added the funding also comes from fiscal year 2019 “capital adaptation and renewal funds.”

Trustee Michael Grilli, chair of the committee on administration, finance, and technology, motioned to approve access to an unsecured line of credit from MutualOne Bank for up to $150,000 “for costs associated with the cultural arts center project.”

The motion passed unanimously.

In the email, Hamel said, “However, the Danforth recently secured a second $100,000 donation that will be directed to the building project, so it is likely that we will not need to make a draw from the line of credit that had been approved.”

Grilli also spoke briefly about a proposed tuition increase of 3.8 percent as opposed to an originally proposed 3-percent increase.

During the timeframe for public comments, sociology professor Virginia Rutter and chemistry and food science professor Sarah Pilkenton presented to the board their arguments regarding the unfunded contracts for members of the Massachusetts State College Association (MSCA).

Rutter, who is vice president of the FSU chapter of the MSCA, said, “We’re sad, and we’re angry. When we say a long time, it’s been 759 days with no raise, [and] 578 days with no funded contract.”

Pilkenton reminded the board “the tax reviews for fiscal year 2018” were “above benchmarks every month since June, with the exception of December.

“How can we go into the classroom when we feel this way for such a prolonged period of time?” Pilkenton asked. “Right now, we feel so demoralized. We are in a constant struggle.”

She added, “Why are we fighting over a 2-percent raise? I ask you to think about the mindset of your faculty. Think about how we feel when we go into the classroom and how we want to teach these students, to get them ready to go out into the Commonwealth and prepare them to be workers and contributing members of society.”

Rutter stressed the MSCA has held up their end of the bargain and called on the Board of Higher Education and the Council of Presidents to do the same.

“All this time, we have been playing nice with the folks at the end of the table. We have been bargaining in good faith, and we have been working in good faith. 

“The Council of Presidents sent their team in and are now claiming to be victims. It’s disingenuous,” she said. “The response that we kept getting back was, ‘This is how it works.’ And in conversations, we would routinely get that same answer.”

Rutter added, “This sort of response has the same effect as being patronizing the first time you hear it, but over time, when they keep failing to come to an agreement, it has the quality of gaslighting. … It’s the metaphor for what you see is happening – isn’t really happening.”

She added she and other MSCA members are demanding more accountability from the board and that they address the responsibilities its members have to University faculty and librarians – “to ask questions, exert oversight, as well as express publicly their commitment to getting the state universities to take responsibility and meet their commitments.

“There is a crisis at Framingham State,” Rutter said. “We are pretty soft – like teddy-bear people. And it’s lucky for you, because now we’re angry, but we haven’t been angry before.”

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