Photo by Estlin Mendez (They/them)
Once per semester, the Illinois Tech Student Government Association (SGA) hosts an open event wherein the university’s president and provost take to the stage and answer direct questions from the student body. The fall 2018 installment of the President-Provost Forum saw President Alan Cramb and Provost Peter Kilpatrick answer a plethora of student questions during the lunch hour on Wednesday, October 28. Amid the sheer white backdrop of the new Kaplan Institute building, Cramb and Kilpatrick addressed topics ranging from the university’s strategic plan to specific housing and dining concerns.
SGA’s moderator for the afternoon, Events Chair Henry White, began the forum by reciting a pre-submitted question sent in through an online survey distributed by SGA asking the administrators what their future plans for the university in the next 20 years are. Cramb began answering this question with an immediate focus on the success of Illinois Tech students. As he pushes for the university to become “one of the top 50 undergraduate universities in the country,” Cramb reiterated that this would only be possible through specific focus on the success of students both during their time at Illinois Tech and beyond it.
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Kilpatrick further added to this student-centered answer. Specifically, he stated his desire to see student retention and graduation surpass a rate of 80% as part of this strategic planning process, as well as having the university “do a better job of providing co-curricular and extracurricular activities,” with the example of the work done to promote Illinois Tech E-Sports.
The next question came directly from an audience member at the forum, and it concerned the recent evacuation of North Hall residents within McCormick Student Village (MSV) due to what has been interpreted as mold issues in the hall. More generally, the student asked about the apparent divide between the statements of staff and students involved and what steps are taken by administration to verify information about situations on campus.
After cracking a quick joke about the asker’s Joy Division band shirt, Cramb responded in general terms that when situations arise, his administration will “immediately get the person responsible to look into [the situation] and find out exactly what is going on.” He emphasized his focus on basing decisions on “true info and facts” before he asked Vice President for Administration Bruce Watts to give some further insight on the administrative process.
Watts then addressed the audience by giving further details on the situation in North Hall. He stated that the concerns in North Hall arose at the beginning of the fall 2018 semester, with noted reports of humidity and moisture issues in certain rooms in the hall. After calling in an external testing firm and conducting “extensive sampling” of the hall, it was found that “mold readings were lower than outdoor readings and well within levels of safety,” aside from one or two rooms found to be above the minimum thresholds. Watts stated that the decision to move students out of North Hall was not made due to “an extensive mold problem.” Instead, he stated that this decision was made to give the university the ability to address a number of issues related to North Hall, in addition to the mold and moisture issues. Concluding, Watts stated that “it is to be determined whether we do open North Hall again.”
After this, White introduced the next question from the online survey. This question asked about the reasoning behind recent changes in the pricings of on-campus housing options. Specifically, Cramb and Kilpatrick were asked why MSV had seen a price increase of four percent while State Street Village had seen a corresponding decrease of 10%. Vice President of Finance and Treasurer Mike Horan was called to respond to this question. Horan responded by stating that the decrease in SSV’s pricing was done out of a desire to “make SSV more attractive to students and fill its occupancy.” Meanwhile, the increase in MSV’s pricing was made to bring the complex more in line with “market prices.” Overall, Horan concluded that “net-to-net, no additional revenue has driven out of housing on campus,” and the “offsets balanced each other out.”
A student in the audience asked the next question: the current progress on having more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Kilpatrick took the lead answering this question, stating that he is currently awaiting a report detailing where all restrooms are around campus. After already being asked about this issue in a prior President’s Student Advisory Council (PSAC) meeting, Kilpatrick affirmed that this an issue he is “absolutely working on.”
Watts and Cramb added to this answer, with Watts stating that he is currently working on adding a list of gender-neutral bathrooms to the Diversity and Inclusion at Illinois Tech webpage (found at web.iit.edu/diversity) in addition to adding more elsewhere (including two in the new Kaplan Institute building). Cramb added some additional historical context to this topic, bluntly stating that a majority of the campus’s buildings were made during “a time where architects were not thinking about having such a balance [of gender inclusivity],” further adding that “we don’t have enough bathrooms at all.” However, he finished this question with the same point as Watts and Kilpatrick that he is “committed to making sure everyone has a bathroom they feel comfortable in.”
The next question also came from the audience and considered the university’s Title IX procedures. For reference, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 states that no U.S. student “shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program.”
The student’s question directly stated that “Title IX cases on this campus are conducted with little regard for the trauma of victims,” citing direct examples of students’ poorly handled Title IX experiences with various university staff members. This question continued with the request that the university pushes for “more respect for survivors of sexual assault on this campus and…that they are told in-person the results of their investigation and given information regarding mental health services and legal services without having to specifically ask for it.” Finally, the student asker concluded by asking Cramb and Kilpatrick if they “think the way Title IX cases are currently conducted is acceptable” and asked what they will “do to make sure these changes are implemented.”
Cramb’s initial response to this question was one of total agreement, first laying the foundation that the university has a legally-mandated Title IX process that it follows but the university must absolutely be “thoughtful of the process we go through and thoughtful of the people involved in the process.” Dean of Students Katherine Stetz then took to the microphone to give further insight on the university’s Title IX process. She quickly affirmed that she has “had conversations about this very point of notifying students of the next steps of the process in-person, and we will be doing that.” She also agreed with the points the questioner brought up, stating a guarantee that the university has “to make it more of a human process.” While, by law and by process, the university must maintain the balance between its treatment of both parties in a given case, Stetz made it clear that “we learned” from prior mishandlings of Title IX procedures.
Kilpatrick added some final notes about Title IX by affirming that he takes “this issue very, very seriously,” while also mentioning his having hired a new full-time Title IX investigator to join the team of other investigators on campus.
Another audience question asked about a recent armed robbery at the 7-Eleven inside the MTCC. The student referred to a friend that had been held at gunpoint during this robbery and asked Cramb and Kilpatrick what was being done, in more general terms, to address ongoing concerns over campus security, specifically asking if an Illinois Tech Public Safety officer could be stationed outside the 7-Eleven. Watts was once again called to help answer this question, and he began by first stressing the important statistic that the overall crime trends on the Illinois Tech campus have been decreasing over time. He also made sure to state this is by no means an attempt to make light of a robbery occurring on campus: “one is still too many. We won’t be happy until that rate is zero.”
Watts then specifically went into detail about efforts to increase security around Youth Connection Leadership Academy (YCLA), an alternative high school that holds classes in a rented space inside 3424 S State St. He described how Illinois Tech has been in close communications with YCLA’s own security forces as well as the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to maintain tight security presence on the corridor of State St and 35th St when YCLA classes are let out for the day. Finally, Watts mentioned how he is in “active dialogue” with SGA, taking in student input on areas of campus that are in need of stronger security presence.
A student from the audience then asked the next question about claimed renovations that were going to be made in MSV, noting that the only apparent difference in the building is the new paint applied to the main hallways of the complex, going on to state that “it feels like now we're paying more to get kicked out, because [MSV] is unsafe to live in.” Cramb quickly reiterated the points from earlier in the forum that North Hall is by no means unsafe to live in and that “an abundance of caution” prompted the mass moving of students from the hall to address outstanding maintenance issues.
Cramb then shifted the discussion to a longer-term overview of campus housing, referring to ongoing plans between him and the university’s board of trustees to “bring Bailey Hall back online as a fully renovated hall and to take portions of MSV offline.” Eventually, he foresees MSV being gradually taken offline as he sees a “need [for] a more modern facility for our student body.”
Stetz returned the conversation to the current state of MSV, stating that, beyond the new paint job, many of the promised MSV renovations have been ones that are less visible to the students and are part of larger, more ambitious plans for the complex. She gave the example of 400 new mattresses being purchased for the complex, alongside a nebulous reference to changes “inside the walls,” likely referring to improvements and maintenance related to the building’s overall structure and systems. However, she also shed some insight on longer-term plans for MSV, including new lounge furniture coming in 2019 and eventual plans to move basement components of MSV (mainly the laundry rooms and fitness room) to ground-level areas of the building (although where exactly these would be moved is uncertain). She concluded by promising that communication about these changes would be coming soon “because we owe you that.”
Before the next question, Cramb finished the discussion on MSV by reminding the audience that the most-requested change in MSV was its wireless connectivity, which had been upgraded in the summer of 2018.
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The next audience question cited several studies, including the Princeton Review, and their overall consensus that Illinois Tech consistently ranks among the unhappiest campuses in the U.S. and what administrative actions are being taken to address this. Kilpatrick responded by referring to the most recent installment of the university’s Future of Higher Education forums (for more information, see the article "Future of Higher Education forum held on 'being more student-centered'” on page 3). This forum, attended by over 140 staff, faculty, and students generated “300 or 400 actionable items” that he believes will address this exact issue to pursue his overall goal of making Illinois Tech a “student-centric campus” and focusing on “the happiness, success, and flourishment of our students.” Cramb further added that he sees it as vital that the university does everything it can to “develop a culture where people join [student organizations] and more people are a part of things.”
Fielding the next question from the audience, the two were then asked for insight into the overall decision process that led to Chartwells being selected as Illinois Tech’s new dining service provider. Horan was called back to the stage to elaborate on how it was clear from an administrative standpoint that students were dissatisfied with the prior contract with Sodexo as the dining provider, going on to state “Sodexo had very little vision for what the future could be...Chartwells had the vision for the long term.” He further explained attractive elements of Chartwells’ proposal that led to them being chosen, including a promise of $6 million in investments from Chartwells towards improving campus dining infrastructure, a negotiated $30,000 to be used annually for scholarships specifically providing needs-based food services, and $25,000 to be used annually for maintaining student interns.
Change management was the topic of the next audience question, asking the duo to what extent university administration would be transparent about upcoming changes in structures, possible feedback systems, and when to expect the university’s next strategic plan. Kilpatrick’s response included mentions of how structural changes such as the one the asker referred to are made with the overall goal of increasing synergy between various campus departments. He expressed his belief that communication from administration can and will continue to occur through outlets such as the Future of Higher Education forums, town halls by SGA, and coverage in TechNews. He concluded by stating that he hopes to have the university’s next strategic plan launched in April or May of 2019.
The final audience question asked specifically about the Illinois Tech Student Health and Wellness Center (SHWC) and how the student noted that the SHWC seems to require upwards of a month to see students for mental health services. Stetz was called to answer one last time, stating that there is an important difference between calling or interacting with the SHWC’s online scheduling system and approaching the department in-person. Through its built-in triage system, the SHWC is capable of seeing a student in the event of a mental health emergency situation that very same day.
After some final audience comments, the forum concluded. SGA hosts a forum with the university’s president and provost once a semester, with the next one scheduled to occur sometime in the spring 2019 semester. The remaining questions from the online survey will be sent to the president and provost, who will then prepare written responses to be published in TechNews and other SGA outlets. In the meantime, further concerns and questions about the state of the university can be directed to SGA at any time via email at [email protected]
Photo by Estlin Mendez (They/them)