University President John Stewart held four town hall meetings during Nov. 21 through Nov. 25 to close the book on his five year strategic plan that started in 2009.
Held in the master classroom of Wills Hall, Stewart welcomed students, faculty, alumni, parents — anyone involved or interested in the university.
“Almost everybody in central Alabama was invited, but not everybody in central Alabama came,” Stewart said of the meetings.
The last meeting was on Monday, Nov. 25 at 7:30 in the morning. Sleepy eyed students and professors sipped coffee and chewed doughnuts, making polite conversation as they chose their seats and waited for Stewart to start.
Handouts stacked in the middle of the table detailed the goals of the now finished five year plan. The points that were fully or nearly met between 2009 and 2013 are highlighted in gray, areas that are in progress in a different manner are highlighted in yellow and the areas the university fell short of are marked in red.
Stewart began the presentation by thanking his audience for attending. He mentioned that the first town hall meeting wasn’t quite as engaging as they had originally hoped. Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Susan Johnston helped to rearrange the seating and scheduling of the meeting to better meet the standards of feedback expected.
Stewart first outlined the bubbling future vision of UM, as started by the plan. He talked of the university becoming “the next great public liberal arts school” name checking UC Berkeley, the university of Michigan and the College of William and Mary as role models.
The former strategic plan is divided into five broad themes that encompass several aspects of the university. From the improvement of university facilities to the integration of a more diverse student body, each topic contains several branches.
Johnson introduced the first audience participation segment of the meeting. Groups were formed according to the table each member sat at. The groups’ instructions were to look through the five year strategic plan and find one or two goals that they collectively felt the university met while also identifying those goals that fell short of the mark.
After five minutes, each table was asked to share their thoughts. A general strength mentioned are the aesthetic improvements to the campus. From the completion of Peterson Hall, to the renovations done to Reynolds and the newly opened UMOM, it was agreed that these new features helped to strengthen not only the look but the learning environment of the university.
A common complaint concerned the lack of diversity, a major theme of the plan, still prevalent in the university. Some suggested recruiting international students by specific disciplines, much like the efforts given to recruit many of our international athletes. Other remarked that the freshman experience needs improvements.
Next, Stewart asked the tables to reconvene and discuss future goals for the university. Each table was asked to highlight what made their “hearts sing” about UM and also point out a few future challenges to be tackled.
After about 10 minutes, the consensus was given. Compliments centered mostly on the small student to teacher ratio, praising the academic opportunities resulting from more personal interactions. Stewart commented that though the plan is to grow the student body, more staff will be hired so as not to upset that balance.
Complaints mainly focused around a comment made by professor of art Scott Stephens that the university of Alabama stole much of UM’s future students.
Various groups chimed in on the issue. The topic soon switched to the perceptions parents had that sending their children to UA would guarantee them a well paying job after four years.
Stewart retorted that though many UA undergrads do have high paying jobs right out of college, half of the Fortune 500 CEOs have a liberal arts degree.
The familiar parking issue also arose. While Stewart assured the gathered that he was aware of the problem, he contrasted the relatively small sized campus parking woes of Montevallo to the 10 mile long campuses of other large state universities.
Finally, a conversation about improved facilities arose. Stewart asked everyone to name three new hypothetical facilities to be built if the university were suddenly granted $10 million. An improved science building was suggested first. After conversation, the idea of a new large meeting space for both the theater department and student organizations to make use of was suggested. New and improved residence halls was last, Stewart saying that the university loses many students because of the older conditions of the dorms on campus.
With the meeting objectives met, Stewart thanked everyone for participating and briefly mentioned the schedule for the new plan. During the first part of 2014, work groups will form to submit work to an overall skeleton of the plan. From these submissions, a draft will be created during the months of May and June. After some tweaking, the board of trustees will see the draft at the end of next summer.