Board of Trustees pass motion to support proposal of $20 million in library renovations: Members discuss retention, enrollment, and changes on campus

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, shared enrollment trends with the Board during their Nov. 20 meeting. (Cara McCarthy/THE GATEPOST)

Brennan Atkins & Jared Graf

Editorial Staff

Framingham State’s Board of Trustees passed a motion Nov. 20 to endorse the finance committee’s “submission of an application” for $20 million in renovations for the Whittemore Library. 

Trustee Michael Grilli, chair of the Board’s finance committee, advocated for the proposal, asking, “What would a university be without a library?”

Grilli described “code deficiencies” within the building and a need for renovations – including sprinkler system updates and better handicap accessibility – as well as expansions and upgrades.

At the request of the finance committee, Grilli asked the Board to “take action” by approving the submission of the application. The Board of Trustees held a motion to approve the submission, which passed without debate. 

The proposal for $20 million to renovate the library would be in addition to the nearly $200 million spent in the last 5 to 6 years for capital projects on campus, according to Grilli. 

Eric Gustafson, vice president of development and alumni relations, spoke about recent fundraising efforts, crediting the student “phone-a-thon” team with reaching out to alumni and raising over $20,000 this fall for 328 gifts and pledges. The average gift size was just under $100. 

“It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it actually represents quite a bit of our participation,” said Gustafson.

Student Trustee Olivia Beverlie’s report updated the Board on changes that have resulted due to SGA’s recent administrators’ forum and campus safety walk.

One of the concerns brought up during the administrators’ forum by commuter students was the need for a designated space where they can spend time between classes.

Beverlie said, “As a result, one thing is that the CIE [Center of Inclusive Excellence] is starting to be reinvented in how it’s looked at … in terms of trying to provide commuters more space.” 

Specifically, the space outside of the CIE, which is located in O’Connor Hall, will be remodeled with new furniture for commuters.

In regards to the campus safety walk, Beverlie said changes have been made to ensure students feel less vulnerable. 

A bush that obstructed the view of a blue light was trimmed, and SGA received quotes for the possible installation of more blue lights in the future, she said.

A speed radar was also placed at the bottom of Maynard Road in response to students having difficulties crossing the street from West Hall to Adams Road due to the lack of a crosswalk, she added.

Beverlie also told the Board she received approval from University Police to hold a guided discussion, slated for next semester, between officers and students. 

The Q-and-A-style talk intends to “bridge the gap that’s there,” she said.

The guided discussion will consist of taking questions from students and then breaking off into smaller groups, with a police officer assigned to each, in an attempt to make it “a lot more personal.” 

Regarding the administrators’ forum, Beverlie said SGA has “created an open line of communication with Dining Services, because students had identified some issues with food quality that have been pretty consistent.”

She credited SGA President Matty Bennett for working closely with Aretha Phillips, general manager of Sodexo at Framingham State, to “figure out what they can do better.”

Beverlie added SGA invited the Student Transportation Center (STC) to attend their Dec. 10 meeting in order to comment on student feedback about the RamTram. 

She also said STC has been paying attention to students’ suggestions. Recently, an online complaint form has been added to the FSUgo app for students to voice their concerns. Physical forms are also available at the STC desk in the McCarthy Center lobby.  

Trustee Nancy Budwig spoke on behalf of the academic affairs committee and relayed three items discussed in an earlier meeting that day.

The sabbatical requests of the faculty for academic year 2020-21 was first on Budwig’s agenda. “We had the chance to look over … what the various faculty are doing to discuss [the sabbatical requests], as well as the financial issues associated with that.”

“I think everybody on the Board knows sabbaticals are just a really critical aspect of faculty life,” she added.

When trying to determine what Academic Affairs can work on in the future, Trustee Hope Lozano Bielat said, “Something that came up was this division between teaching students and taking care of students.” 

Bielat asked for support to address the issue of mental health as a Board.

Finally, Budwig spoke about two kinds of support for new students interested in the STEM programs. 

One method of support provides students with the academic foundational skills needed to succeed – specifically in math and science – while the other provides a sense of belonging and promotes student-to-faculty engagement. 

Budwig said these methods have been known to help retain students in the STEM programs, and she described current retention rates as “off the charts.” She said she hopes to replicate the success of the STEM programs in other areas of academics. 

“The students who are being retained at a higher rate are those who come in with particularly low SAT scores and some other kind of risk factors – and yet they’re being retained higher. That’s just like a Hollywood story,” Budwig said. 

This fall semester, FSU enrolled 776 freshman students and 380 transfers, resulting in a total enrollment of 3,857 undergraduate students – down 2.03% from 2018, according to the Department of Higher Education’s headcount enrollment data.

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, blames the drop on years that saw an increase in enrollment. She said the enrollment number for 2009 was 3,847, while the fall of 2019 is 3,857. “Over the long term, we had this big bump where we had an entering class of 900 one year, and then three years [later] a class of 800.

“The MetroWest Daily News says, ‘Oh my goodness, Framingham State dropped 16% in enrollment!’” Holloway said,

She added, “What I think is important for people to note is that, yes, we do have a drop in enrollment – you can compare this year’s fall numbers to last fall’s numbers – but we’re really looking at it longitudinally. 

“Not to say that we’re saying, ‘Oh, well that’s the reason we can walk away,’ but I think it’s looking at the news article, which gives you sort of an incorrect picture,” Holloway added. 

Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel as well as secretary to the Board of Trustees, acknowledged the recent passage of House bill 4099, formerly known as bill 4075. 

Bill 4099 is “An Act to support improved financial stability in higher education,” which includes a mandate for public institutions to provide an annual financial report, as well as requiring all members on a Board of Trustees to participate in a comprehensive training program. 

Beth Casavant, one of two Trustees who has already attended the training program, said, “It didn’t feel like training. I mean, it was informative … but it’s hard to train for something like that, because each university is so different.” 

During his president’s report, F. Javier Cevallos announced, “For the eighth year in a row, we have been recognized by The Princeton Review as being a green campus.”

He said it’s a recognition that “speaks highly about the efforts this institution has [undertaken]” to promote environmentally friendly practices.

One of the reasons the University was recognized was because of environmentally conscious projects – such as the addition of solar panels on campus, he explained.

In his president’s report, he also referenced accomplishments such as the McAuliffe Center’s acquisition of a replica of Neil Armstrong’s space suit and the renaming of North Hall to Mary Miles Bibb Hall, commemorating the first African American graduate.

At the end of his report, Cevallos gave the floor to economics professor and co-director of MERC Luis Rosero, who then introduced the Board’s Student-in-the-Spotlight – senior Valeria N. Arauz, an international business major.

Arauz said she is originally from Bolivia, but is a longtime resident of Framingham. She transferred from Fitchburg State to Framingham State because of her interest in its international business major. 

She said she chose to pursue that major because she knew the importance of business. “Since the sixth grade in Bolivia, I was taught that business is everywhere, so I followed that ideology and chose international business,” Arauz said. 

She credited a MERC internship with providing her many opportunities, such as being able to work closely with staff and study abroad in Rome. 

“I am grateful for coming to FSU, because they have provided me with so much in so little time.”

[Editor’s note: Asst. News Editor Evan Lee contributed to this article.]