The students spoke, and the administration listened.
On Thursday, President Katherine Conway-Turner hosted her annual open forum, giving students a chance to voice their questions and opinions in person and via web-submitted questions.
Also, because Oct. 11 was National Coming Out Day, the president and her cabinet members all wore rainbow ribbon pins in support of the day and the campus’ LGBT+ community.
One of the most noticeable changes from last year’s forum was that there were quite a few new faces to go along with some of the titles of the senior staff who appeared last year.
While the panel included some familiar members, like Vice President for Student Affairs Timothy Gordon and Chief Diversity Officer Karen Clinton-Jones, these new members of the college administration joined the forum as well: Vice President for Institutional Advancement James Finnerty, Vice President for Finance and Management Laura Barnum, Chief Information Officer and Vice President for Enrollment, Marketing, and Communications Jacquelyn Malcolm, and Associate Provost Amitra Wall (standing in for Provost Melanie Perreault). The new chief of staff, Crystal Rodriguez, was also in attendance in the audience.
Here are some highlights of the most talked about subject matters:
Parking Lot R-12
As many have noticed early on this semester, parking lot R-12 is no longer available for student parking.
It has been revealed that the space was needed for the construction that is taking place as part of the Butler Library’s renovation process.
“Sometimes when we have these types of projects come on, we have a little bit of growing pain during that process,” Barnum said. “As part of that, we need to create some space for the construction zone and that’s why we had to take the other lot offline behind Butler and we had to create spaces in R-12.”
Barnum clarified that this change is temporary and that once construction has been completed, Lot R-12 will once again be reserved for student parking.
Blackboard and Pedagogy
Angelo Viscuso, a veteran who has returned to SUNY Buffalo State after 22 years, expressed his appreciation for the accessibility of course curriculum and resources through Blackboard and asked why all professors are not required to use the system.
“My experience 22 years ago to today, I’m very thankful for Blackboard and the instructors [who] use it,” Viscuso said, “and the ones [who] don’t…they might be brilliant, but they’re bad teachers.”
In terms of the administration enforcing Blackboard use, it’s not possible; nor is it the only effective way a professor can teach and communicate with their students, despite its growing success rate.
“While we encourage all faculty to use Blackboard, because of academic freedom, we cannot force them to use it,” Wall said. “While Blackboard is an effective strategy, there are other strategies that suit student needs.”
Wall also said Academic Affairs is aware of concerns about the teaching styles of some professors, and the department continues to rely on student feedback to work toward better learning styles for students and teachers.
Conway-Turner noted that the use of Blackboard by faculty members increases each year, and she also made mention of the FITT Academy, a faculty development opportunity sponsored by RITE.
Malcom added her division manages the technical infrastructure and that many professors respond positively to the FITT Academy.
“Faculty do come to us. Our trainings are very well-attended, and it is an opportunity for them to come and receive additional training,” she said.
Wall also recognized the college’s support of exceptional professors by awarding the President’s Medal for Teaching Effectiveness and the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“Maybe faculty members are not taught how to teach in graduate school when they are getting their degree in their specialty; however, we acknowledge this and that’s why we have faculty development centers so that we can identify and share the effective teaching strategies,” Wall said.
Health and Wellness
Discussions surrounding health were initially sparked by one student’s question concerning her proposal for free student CPR certification to prevent emergencies and an inquiry about AEDs and defibrillators on campus.
“Those are strategically located around campus, our environmental health and safety group takes it very seriously,” Barnum said. “They keep track of them, they make sure that they’re current and they have batteries and everything is ready.”
Rock Doyle, the vice president for health and wellness also commented on the availability and effectiveness of the medical emergency devices.
“The AEDs have been used several times as needed,” he said. “They’re less than 6 minutes away from any type of incident that may occur on campus, so they are strategically placed around.”
Doyle also noted the current $25 cost for CPR training is mandated by the American Heart Association, but Weigel will try to incorporate more free training for students and is even looking into adding student programs for health and wellness into academic curriculum.
Another concern is some students feel the center should be open 24 hours for medical emergencies and that more doctors should be staffed (the center currently has one doctor and six nurse practitioners).
“They make an effort to do something for us, but I feel like it’s not enough,” said student Yaye Mama Sané, who proposed an around-the-clock emergency health center for students on campus.
Doyle clarified that the Weigel Wellness Center is an accredited ambulatory center, meaning students must walk in to be treated; but the center’s main objective is to provide support and resources, not necessarily emergency care.
Also, the former mandatory health care policy has been rescinded.
“Oh, Argo…” in the words of Gordon.
Since library renovations began, students and faculty alike have been much abuzz about the removal of the beloved campus staple Argo Tea.
It is unclear if the move is a temporary or permanent one, as distributor demands and money matters appear to stand in the way of a grand reopening.
“They have some pretty specified ways they want their product displayed, dispensed, produced, and so unfortunately, it was cost prohibitive for us to relocate them,” Gordon said.
“It comes down to numbers; unfortunately, I didn’t feel like it was a good use of student dollars to be able to do the level of renovation temporarily in the union to be able to deliver that experience,” he said.
Argo advocates are encouraged to plead their cases to the Food Service Committee to bring the café back to Butler.
Other topics this year included outreach to immigrant students, a desire to reinforce the campus’ tobacco-free policy, adequate space for dance team rehearsals and issues with vending machines not accepting Bengal Bucks.
A returning theme from last year’s open forum was more students requesting senior members make greater outreach efforts, such as coming to student org events.
Conway-Turner noted that she frequents campus theater productions, while Gordon explained his desire and efforts to support students and said that he attends at least one GI for every student group, as well as athletic events.
“The best way that I learn is spending time with students and I also talk to my team a lot about the fact that we need to be out there supporting you,” He said.
Clinton-Jones suggested students add staff members to mailing lists so that they become aware of events and can attend them.
“I can’t participate in what I don’t know,” she said. “So if I don’t know that you’re holding a program, I can’t go.”
One attendee, however, recommended the staff check outlets like Bengal Connect to find student events to show dedication to involvement and connecting with students.
In all, the forum appeared to be a success among panel and the audience.
The president expressed her appreciation for being able to learn and address different facets of student life.
“It’s really great to hear from students their perspective, the kinds of things they need and the kinds of things they’re thinking about;” she said, “so I think it went well.”
“It was nice to actually be here,” Viscuso said. “I wasn’t going to come because I’m not one that thinks a voice makes much difference, but I decided to come anyway; so it was actually nice to hear everyone’s thoughts and opinions. I’m glad I came.”
“Overall, I did like the answers I was getting,” Sané said. “I feel like they answered each and every one of my questions.”
One thing she feels would have made the forum better, however, was a greater turnout among students.
“I feel like students shouldn’t just talk within themselves; they should talk to who’s in charge,” she said.
Conway-Turner agreed, but recognized the involvement of those who did attend.
“The students that were here were very engaged and they had lots of questions and a lot of good conversation, so I’m really pleased with that.”
The president is even considering doing an evening open forum for students who have more availability later in the day. She encourages students to voice their preferences.