In place of their regular meeting time last Thursday, Student Senate hosted the first Town Hall event of the academic year, allowing students to directly pose questions to senior staff members.
Student Senate President Cayne Randle, senior, moderated the event with pre-prepared topics, with students able to ask follow up questions throughout and a time for open questions at the end. Around 30 to 35 students attended the event, with the audience mostly made up by current senate members.
The Town Hall began with President Teresa Amott and senior staff being asked to address the issue of the school’s deficit. Amott explained that many of the factors in managing the budget are difficult to predict, such as what enrollment for the next school year will look like.
Amott explained that this year the school has roughly a $5 million dollar deficit, around half a million of which has been shaved off through savings such as early retirement incentives. Going into next year, Amott believes another $1-1.5 million can be saved through not filling some vacated positions.
While the Board of Trustees wants the school to cut the deficit to $2 million for next year, Amott stated that hitting this target will depend on what the revenue from tuition next fall will be.
Asked if there were any plans to change Knox’s academic calendar, Dean and Provost Michael Schneider responded that current students should not expect to see a change during their time at the school.
The possibility of changes to the schedule is being examined by the Faculty Executive committee, which is in the process of conducting a study that will involve collecting student opinions, but the earliest a change could possibly be implemented is 2024.
Amott described the process as not being about simply finding out if the students like the current calendar, but identifying what specific aspects of the calendar students like and what students would prefer changed.
President Amott read from a statement she had prepared in response to concerns that had been expressed on campus regarding the wages of Residential Assistants at Knox, with a student group having done a survey of compensation at comparable schools.
While stating it was necessary to be aware that different institutions do things differently, Amott stated the overall concern about compensation was heard. As a result, RA compensation is set to be raised next year and ways to reduce their workload are being considered.
Asked about the fact that Duty RAs are not getting the same stipend increase as non-duty RAs, Vice President for Student Development Anne Ehrlich responded that this is because the Duty RAs are already paid more than the non-duty RAs, by an amount she believed to be disproportionate. She clarified that while Duty RAs do more work, she felt that they are currently being paid a fairer wage.
Counseling Services updates
Ehrlich reported on what she had heard from Counseling Services in terms of their efforts to improve their availability to students.
This fall the number of clinical hours was raised to 660 hours, up from 600 the previous fall. This winter term there will be 760 clinical hours available compared to 680 the previous winter. Two contract counselors have been added to assist the three core counselors with their workload.
Within the next few weeks, evening hours will be added to Counseling Services’ schedule, as well as launching teletherapy so that students can potentially receive therapy while remaining in their rooms.
Investment policy examined
The senior staff was asked about what had occurred with the proposals to ensure the college’s endowment is not invested in the private prison industry and the possibility to do so far the defense and military industry.
In her response, Amott noted that at the time of the private prison proposal, the college was already not invested in the industry, and the school continues to have no such investments.
Amott stated that leadership changes in the Board of Trustees and the subcommittee on investment that had caused a “loss of knowledge” in dealing with the issue, but there will be a discussion at the board meeting in February.
Amott explained that the proposal was to ask for what is called an investment screen, but the subcommittee on investment would also consider having active monitoring.
However, Amott noted the complexity that comes from working with companies that could potentially have a smaller subsidiary involved in an area like defense, believing there could be a risk of overly restriction the college’s ability to invest its endowment.
“I was a student during the Vietnam War, and we wanted no money put in any company that had a military defense contract,” Amott said. “Which in our case now, would mean we could not invest in Amazon, Google, Facebook — all the things that have (…) made it possible for us to do more scholarship money. So these are just hard trade-offs.”
SMC renovation progress
Vice President of Advancement Beverly Holmes spoke to the current state of funding for the remodeling of SMC and when the project would be completed. Holmes stated that $9 Million had been raised towards the $13 million needed for the current phase of remodeling.
As every phase of the full project will cost in the $9-13 million dollar range, Holmes noted that it will take time to raise funds for each phase, estimating that the next phase could be started in the summer of 2021 if the school has luck with the fundraising process.
Holmes believes it will take around eight years to complete the full project, which is made up by phases of construction for each wing of the building.
“Since we have the one wing done, I think it’s easier for our alums to visualize what we’re talking about when we talk about the renovation of the building,” Holmes said. “So being able to show them that (…) I think will create more excitement for the project. But it is a long term project.”.