Photo by Estlin Mendez (They/them)
Once a semester, the Illinois Tech Student Government Association (SGA) hosts its largest event of the semester, the President Provost Forum. True to its name, this event sees Illinois Tech’s top two administrators, the president and the provost, answer a series of questions from the Illinois Tech body about the overall state of the university and its future. This most recent installment of the forum was held on Monday, March 25 in the MTCC Ballroom from 12:45 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. Moderated by SGA’s Vice President of Events, Henry White, President Alan Cramb and Provost Peter Kilpatrick took to the stage to answer all questions brought before them.
Beginning with a series of pre-submitted questions sent to SGA before the event, White began by asking the duo about their ongoing plans to elevate the international ranking of the university to the top 50 in the country, according to the ranking scheme utilized by U.S. News & World Report. Kilpatrick responded that in the last year, Illinois Tech had already elevated by 17 places in the ranking list (from 113 to 76), based around student success elements such as academic performance, graduation rates, and job placement among students. To him, a top 50 ranking is “very doable, and I would point to other universities that have done it.” To add on to this answer, Cramb stated that he would also consider looking into ranking schemes beyond that used by U.S. News & World Report.
A follow-up question saw the two further explore the role of increasing both the size and prestige of the university in order to elevate its standing among other universities, with Cramb proudly boasting about Illinois Tech’s “phenomenal faculty, world-ranked programs, and academic strength.” The problem, Cramb believes, is having “people know about it” and bringing more recognition to Illinois Tech among national and international circuits as a technological powerhouse, especially as Chicago continues to rise as a global tech center.
Similarly, Kilpatrick spoke about the opportunities to “grow both in terms of our student body and our academic community,” as he called Vice President for Enrollment Michael Gosz to provide further details on the ongoing efforts to increase Illinois Tech’s student populations. For undergraduates, Gosz stated that efforts are being ramped up to recruit more “traditional” students graduating from high school while the goal of graduate admissions is to “diversify” and see more students from a variety of countries around the world.
The next pre-submitted question asked Cramb and Kilpatrick about the university’s plans for new residence halls, hot on the heels of the recent announcement that the currently derelict Bailey Hall on the northeast side of campus is going to be brought back online as a residence hall. Led by College of Architecture faculty member (and Illinois Tech alumnus) Dirk Denison, this project to bring Bailey Hall back online is especially important to him as it represents a chance to “give new life to these important legacy buildings.” Denison described how, when the building reopens in the fall of 2020, it will feature pod-style living arrangements primarily aimed at first- and second-year students, with opportunities for common areas throughout the first and lower levels, including spaces for laundry, classrooms, workout areas, and other multipurpose areas.
Cramb also added that there are ongoing plans to one day renovate Cunningham Hall next door to Bailey Hall, see further utilization of State Street Village (SSV), and possibly see the gradual deactivation or repurposing of McCormick Student Village (MSV). He called Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Katherine Stetz to the stage, who further added that student input is absolutely vital in making these sorts of key administrative decisions on the future spaces of the university, and that future considerations and suggestions should be directed either to her ([email protected]) or to Associate Vice Provost for the Office of Residence Life Jeanette Konieczka ([email protected]).
The final pre-submitted question was a more lighthearted one simply asking what the jobs of university president and provost entail and what a typical day looks like for both Cramb and Kilpatrick. Cramb answered first, giving a step-by-step account of his past week in which, repeating for several days in a row, he flew to cities across the U.S., met with Illinois Tech alumni, and attended formal dinner events on behalf of the university. Kilpatrick responded that this last week had seen him make his first new dean hiring decision, this time selecting the new dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law (a more formal announcement to come in the following weeks), as well as oversee a Chicago high school student science fair in Hermann Hall and begin negotiations on his second new dean hire, this time for the College of Science.
Photo by Estlin Mendez (They/them)
The floor was then opened for the students in attendance to ask any questions, and the first one asked about the various technical issues that oftentimes face students of the university, ranging from the fiasco in which every student that made the Dean’s List for fall 2018 received hundreds of notification emails to issues with Wi-Fi connectivity and card access to buildings not working. The answers provided by Vice Provost and Chief Information Office Ophir Trigalo, Access, Card, and Parking Services (ACaPS) Support Specialist Mairtin Mersch, and Vice President for Facilities and Public Safety Bruce Watts all collectively answer along the lines of how protecting student data is taken very seriously at a technical level and the various support offices of the university are all more than willing to listen to any issues that students may be facing.
Cramb and Kilpatrick closed this line of inquiry with the remarks that while a perfect technology environment may be impossible to ever achieve, the university’s body can and should work together to fix whatever issues may arise. Cramb concluded this question with the simple statement that “when things happen, let’s work together to solve them” by establishing and encouraging feedback loops among the various end users, especially students.
The next question asked about the usage of space in the new Kaplan Institute building, with a student remarking that he was subject to a very rude encounter with a faculty or staff member on the second floor of the building when he was using a conference room as a private study space. Kilpatrick plainly admitted that the university has seen “growing pains as we’ve occupied the Kaplan Institute building” due to the number of different organizations all concurrently habiting and using it. To that end, he stated that conversations with the Institute of Design have been and will continue to be had to make sure all students feel welcome in the space and no such interactions occur again in the future.
Kilpatrick further added that there is also a collective need to recognize that while the building is open for all to use, some awareness should be had to avoid interrupting ongoing classes or other work happening throughout it. As the Kaplan Institute was designed as an open building, some learning must be had for all within it to learn to coexist and be as minimally disruptive as possible while still utilizing it to its fullest potential.
Another question from a student in the audience asked about whether or not the university has any plans to make any official statements and adopt stances on key environmental issues, in light of the end of 2018 seeing the “Fourth National Climate Assessment” release. Kilpatrick enthusiastically remarked that he is currently “actively looking at the refurbishment of the physical plan for energy and heat on campus.” As such, his office is currently looking at the various cost-cutting opportunities available through the “dramatic cutting of carbon emissions” across campus. In his words, Illinois Tech should “be part of the solution, not the problem,” and being a “carbon-neutral campus by 2025 to 2030 is very realistic.”
Another student followed up on a question from the prior President Provost Forum about the adding of gender neutral restrooms in the MTCC, to which Watts responded that the conversion of the women’s restroom near the ramp by the MTCC Ballroom is approved to be re-designated as a gender-neutral restroom, with a sign due to arrive soon.
The next student question asked about the primary platform for student organizations, HawkLink, and whether it could possibly be made more user-friendly. Stetz once again took to the front to answer that ongoing changes in the Office of Campus Life (OCL) have created room for changes in managing student organizations and that efforts to make the system more intuitive for students are planned to be tested in summer 2019.
Following that, the next audience question asked about the ongoing process on allowing students to change their preferred names on the various digital platforms used by the university, including Banner, MyIIT, and Blackboard. Cramb wholeheartedly agreed that this issue is one in serious need of addressing, as the current system oftentimes lends itself to students being labeled by names they longer use. Associate Chief Information Officer Vince Battista provided a more technical answer about how with the recent update of Banner to its ninth version, collaboration with the Office of the Registrar should take place to ensure this functionality can finally be implemented.
The penultimate student question asked about the recent announcement that Illinois Tech tuition would once again be increasing (by 2.9 percent) and asked for a rough estimate of what these increased costs would be going towards, as well as what the main expenses for the university are. Cramb immediately responded that, like almost all organizations, Illinois Tech’s primary expense is in its salaries.
Kilpatrick further added that faculty and staff are a major expenditure for the university because the “real strength of the university” is the people it has. He also quickly qualified that his belief that this most recent tuition increase is “pretty modest, all things considered” and is also occurring as Illinois Tech maintains “one of the highest rates of scholarships per student” in the country, both in terms of merit-based and needs-based scholarships. While a full breakdown of tuition spending cannot be easily summarized, Kilpatrick promised that the university attempts to use its monies as effectively as it can, as scholarships, salaries, and renovations remain constantly growing considerations.
The final student question asked about the promised utilization of the Kaplan Institute as a space for career-building events such as hackathons and other networking opportunities and how the current rollout of such events has not happened to the desired level of either quantity or accessibility. Kilpatrick once again admitted that the opening and use of the Kaplan Institute has been a period of rampant growing pains and that efforts across multiple offices are being made to make sure this happens. Cramb concluded with the simple statement that “we built Kaplan to do these things. We just have to make sure how it does.”
Thus concluded the spring 2019 President Provost Forum. While it represents perhaps the easiest way for students to ask questions directly of these administrators, bodies such as both SGA ([email protected]) and the President’s Student Advisory Council ([email protected]) also do exist to link students and their concerns to the university’s administration.
Photo by Estlin Mendez (They/them)