On Tuesday, Oct. 24, SGA hosted the academic year’s first Town Hall in Farmer Hall’s meeting room.

The night featured two speakers: UM’s new provost, Dr. James McDonald and Library Director Charlotte Ford. McDonald spoke first and proposed four potential initiatives he believes would improve the University through the point-of-view of recruitment, retention and timely graduation.

The first suggestion McDonald made was that of an improved first year experience. The provost emphasized not only assimilating students into the University, but orienting them toward their specific college.

“We want students in the department of social sciences to learn what it means to think like a social scientist,” said McDonald.

He informed the room that the faculty senate is currently working on a program to address those needs, as well as others, such as teaching incoming students other necessary college skills like time management and studying.

The second initiative McDonald proposed was the integration of more engaged learning experiences, which he defined as instances of deep, profound learning. These experiences could take the form of semester-long projects that apply problem solving and creative thinking to real-world problems. McDonald said these significant projects would ideally be put into students’ portfolios.  

The third suggested improvement involved international outreach. McDonald is seeking to diversify UM’s campus, and believes he has the connections to do so. Having worked with students in China, South Korea and Morocco, McDonald wants to create a pipeline for those students into UM, and generally broaden the University’s reach into the international world.

The fourth proposition McDonald shared was integrating open educational resources (OER) in UM classrooms. OER reside in public domain or are licensed to be freely used and repurposed by others. In UM’s case, OER would be utilized as a means of combatting rising textbook prices. According to Ford, increasing book prices have led to students not purchasing required texts, taking fewer courses or, in extreme cases, dropping a course because they cannot afford the book.

According to McDonald, UM isn’t the only institution interested in OER. In the coming months, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education will be holding workshops pertaining to their use in university settings.

McDonald also utilized the Town Hall to inform students of an upcoming initiative he intends to take personally: setting up specific dates where students can have a meal with him to discuss their concerns. Academic affairs, ideas for the campus or personal matters are all welcomed topics of conversation.

The provost additionally encouraged students to voice any current ideas for improvement they had at the moment, and attendees chimed in with suggestions like offering a greater variety of foreign languages, addressing scheduling conflicts between required major courses and extending Thursday and Saturday library hours.

This meeting was not the first of its kind SGA has hosted. Rather, the organization has utilized these Town Halls as a means of community forum for some time.

“The purpose of Town Hall meetings is to open communication between students and the SGA, as well as faculty and staff the students wouldn’t normally have the chance to communicate with,” said SGA Vice President Tori Irvin.

“To me, this was the world’s best icebreaker as a new provost,” said McDonald. “We wouldn’t exist without students, and we want to make sure the student experience is a really good one and a really powerful one. I need to find all kinds of ways to stay plugged in with the student body and learn much more about their needs and interests and goals and aspirations.”