By the people, for the people: Town Hall meeting

On Wednesday, October 22, Chatham University hosted its third annual Town Hall meeting, where students had the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding a wide variety of campus issues.

Chatham Student Government Executive President Sarah Jugovic moderated the meeting, which was held in the Beckwith Auditorium in the Buhl Science Building.

In addition to asking questions at the meeting itself, Jugovic also carried a basket around with her in the hours leading up to the meeting, in which students could write questions on a piece paper and submit them to anonymously.  There was also a Twitter account to which students could submit questions.

At the meeting itself there were about 50 people including students, faculty, staff, and administration. This was different from past years, when the Town Hall meetings were exclusively for students.

The rationale behind including faculty, staff, and administration in the proceedings was to eliminated the “middle-man,” and make the lines of communication more direct between students and administration.

The meeting itself covered a broad variety of topics, but some of the most discussed topics had to do with Chatham University’s ongoing transition to coeducation and the changes that are occurring as a direct result of that transition.

One anonymous question spoke for a large portion of the student body when it voiced concerns about the recruitment of male athletes and whether or not it was disproportionate to the rest of the recruitment efforts.  In response, Amy Becher, Vice President of Enrollment, said that 20 percent of the current applicants for the 2015-2016 school year are men, and most of them are interested in Chatham for academic reasons, not sports.  To emphasize this point, she went on to say, “We’re targeting academics. We’re targeting regionally. We’re targeting music and arts.”

In fact, Becher pointed out that the first deposit from a male student was from a young man from Fox Chapel School District with a 4.0 G.P.A who is interested in social work, which elicited a cheer from the social work majors in the audience.

Another big question was whether or not current sports teams, like the tennis team, were cut to make room for men’s sports, in accordance with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex.  However Dean Zauyah Waite, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students assured students that this was not the case, explaining that Title IX says nothing about the number of sports teams, but rather its specifications are based on enrollment.

In regards to if the tennis team would be re-instated soon, Waite said, “Not in the near future, at this point in time…[but] we’re always looking for interest.”

Chatham University President Esther Barazzone then spoke up saying, “There’s something underlying these questions that needs to be addressed…anything that is cut is not cut to make room for men.”  Rather, she explained that the transition is meant to “enrich the experience for everyone.”

At this point in the meeting, Jugovic had the various Deans stand up and introduce themselves, including Darlene Motley, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the College for Women; and William Lenz, Dean of Undergraduate Innovation.

Lenz spoke to the issue of the transition by saying that they had been, “meeting and talking about a number of issues that will have an impact on what happens next fall,” including general education requirements, tutorial and internship structure, professional development, and technology.  He also said that they would involve students more directly later in the process.

A concern of Alex Waasdorp, Class of 2018 President, was whether or not class sizes would remain small, but Motley allayed her worry when she said, “When you get more students, you get more professors,…classes, and resources.”

This led to a conversation about Chatham’s historic focus on liberal arts, with Lenz saying, “I can promise you the liberal arts are there–alive and well,” although he also said that it may not look quite the same as it has in the past.

Lenz went on to say, “We’re starting from ground zero–what should a meaningful Chatham College Undergraduate experience be?”

Merissa Clark then voiced her concerns that, “small majors where one professor teaches the whole curriculum,” are being neglected, and required classes are not being offered, to which Lenz responded that they would be conducting a “curriculum audit” to see where the various majors are falling short.

To close the meeting, administration once again asserted that the transition is a success, citing the fact that applications from the 2015-2016 school year are up 290 percent.  Through marketing efforts, including increased campus tours, they are “busting the myth” that surrounds Chatham, Becher said.

Jugovic also pointed out that people can still email or tweet the Chatham Student Government with questions and that information from the Town Hall meeting will be dispersed.