Reporter’s Notebook: Presidential Town Hall

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A week or so ago, I sat in on the university’s town hall meeting. It was filled with some of Pacific University’s top administrators—and it was a chance to lay bare students’ concerns and top brass’ responses.

   Out of the gate, the two first questions asked were about the lawsuits currently facing Pacific. At The Index, where we have been covering the unfolding drama, we were on the edge-of-our-seat curious with the administration’s answers. With tuition on the rise, one student questioned if the lawsuits are a cause of tuition increases. “There is no connection between those two things,” President Jenny Coyle responded.

   Next up: An anonymous student asked, if Pacific is found negligent in the pending lawsuits, would insurance pay potential settlements or would that money come out of the operating budget? President Coyle’s response: We have good insurance. She did add that insurance rates have increased because of the lawsuits, but doubled-back to reassert this does not affect the price of tuition.

   At some point, Interim VP Sarah Phillips proposed bringing back a “student budget forum” from about a decade ago, where administrators field questions specifically about money allocations. Clearly students are concerned about tuition prices—and worried about the (non) transparency for how decisions are made to ratchet up prices.

   But it was more than lawsuits and tuition: Two other primary themes emerged during the Town Hall session: One, accessibility at Pacific.

   The student VP of the Unified Sports through Special Olympics Club point-blank requested greater support from the university (their club budget is just $350). And, due to lack of space in the Stoller Center, where varsity sports are given top dog priority, the Special Olympics Club is pushed off campus and practicing at an elementary school a mile away. President Coyle gave the response that she dreams of increasing fundraising to recreate Stoller Center as a public wellness center with increased accessibility and space. We’re hearing a lot of President Coyle’s dreams. At what point will she need to back up her words with actions? 

   VP of EDIA Garcia-Chitwood chimed in that the addition of “accessibility” to the EDIA office will help raise awareness of accessibility concerns around campus. But one student quickly responded that awareness is great, but action is still lacking.

   And now President Coyle chimed in: One million dollars were recently allocated towards improving accessibility on campus, she said, and that most of that money will go towards improving ramps, door access, and lifts, but that her long term goals include replacing and adding several buildings on campus. With an indication that the honeymoon may be waning, more than one student made it clear that simply getting into buildings is their bare minimum expectation, and lack of consideration for other aspects of accessibility in the short and mid term was disappointing.  

   The other primary theme was that interim positions have been filled by white faculty, leaving BIPOC members of the student body feeling underrepresented. Students asked if there was any plan to fix this, to which President Coyle and VP Barr-Gillespie responded that interim positions had to be filled by currently available staff. Nationwide hunts are currently being conducted for candidates to fill those roles “with a lens toward hiring BIPOC faculty.” Again, the future will tell. — Ashley Strobel


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