DISCLAIMER: This posted was edited on Oct. 4 to reflect that the counseling center’s location is now posted on the SRU website. Its location (Rhoads Hall Suite 118) is posted here.
The Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SGA) hosted its first town hall on Sept. 25 to give the SRU community a chance to ask President William Behre about any concerns on campus.
With about 40 students, administrators and faculty members in attendance, Behre addressed questions concerning tuition, graduate student involvement and other general improvements to the SRU community.
This academic year, there were no increases to tuition or fees at SRU. Behre was quick to note that this wouldn’t be sustainable for next year, as SRU started with $1 million “in the hole” at the beginning of this year.
For next year, Behre said that there will be a proposed tuition increase, although he didn’t specifically state what the increase would be.
“We’re going to propose a tuition increase, nothing crazy, but a few percentage points, and we’re going to dedicate a portion of that tuition increase to go back into financial aid,” Behre said. “One of the intriguing things on our campus right now is that the only demographic that’s growing is students whose families make $100,000 or more, which means that if we are a state-supported institution that’s supposed to be here to serve folks who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to college, we’re starting to shrink that actual demographic.”
Behre also said that the financial health of SRU’s sister schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) may impact how SRU functions in the future.
“Because we are linked to the other schools, we have to help them figure out how to become more financially viable and more financially resilient because as my boss, the chancellor, likes to say, we all have one single checking account,” Behre said.
Tabea Ohle, SGA graduate senator, asked about the possibility to better engage graduate students who attend the Harrisville or Cranberry locations on SRU’s main campus. Ohle, who mainly attends the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry while pursuing a master’s in business administration, mentioned that there is a lack of communication between administration and graduate students.
“We don’t have the communication that would offer us to still be kind of involved,” Ohle said.
Currently, there are no scheduled stops on SGA’s Happy Bus route for the Harrisville or Cranberry locations. The shuttle system costs SGA $300,000 to operate.
Ohle also mentioned that certain graduate students don’t have access to the student health center and Aebersold Recreation Center. According to a representation from student accounts, this is true in the case of graduate students who are studying exclusively at Harrisville or Cranberry.
Behre suggested working to support the sub groups of graduate students in order to support graduate students who are highly involved or more “transactional.”
Matt Lerman, parliamentarian of SGA, mentioned that while there are graduate senators in SGA, graduate students don’t have a specific dean or school of graduate studies.
Behre said that he had mixed feelings on if a graduate students should graduate from a school that represents their academics or from a school of graduate studies.
“I hear the point about needing a graduate school advocate,” Behre said. “I don’t think that you need a dean. I don’t know the answer to that.”
Ian Coates, president of the College Republicans, asked about how to fix the polarization of politics on campus. Behre commended the College Republicans and Young Progressives for “putting democracy above party” by helping 35 students register to vote at an event on Tuesday.
Behre also warned that care must go into having these political discussions, specifically stating that Kaitlin Bennett’s role in the campus carry rally in April was more of “a distraction than a help.”
“When we’re trying to get a headline or win an argument, we’re not trying to progress a conversation,” Behre said. “I think the more we can work to model that across all groups, the better, and I think the co-sponsorship of events… is useful.”
Behre mentioned that an upcoming SRU Performing Arts and Lecture event, “Crossing the Political Divide with Donna Brazile and Ana Navarro” on Nov. 19 will address this topic.
In response to a question concerning SRU’s biggest challenges this year, Behre called the campus community cordial, yet segmented.
“What we need to do is help break down the walls between those segments, and I think that will help us become a stronger community, it will help us become a richer community, and it will also help us sustain students who can’t figure out where their segment is,” Behre said.
One of the final topics of the night focused on student mental health and accessibility of the counseling center. The counseling center works on an 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. schedule on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and a 10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. schedule on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The student-submitted question also stated that the location of the counseling center was not listed online. As of Oct. 4, the location is now listed online.
While Behre was unaware of the website issue, he said that students may prioritize other events over going to the counseling center. Last year, 24 percent of the counseling center’s appointments were cancelled or no shows.
“The issue that we are facing, in my opinion, is creating a culture in which students are more likely to engage in their mental health hygiene in the same way they engage in their physical hygiene,” Behre said.
Behre added that the university added three job positions, including two in the counseling center, to help support students.
Nicole Dunlop, SGA president, said that the town hall went well and that SGA will develop specific plans to address the topics discussed at the town hall.
“I think students were able to have their voice heard, but I also think that there’s definitely places to improve,” Dunlop said.
In addition to WSRU-TV’s live stream of the town hall, any SRU students who didn’t attend can read SGA’s notes here.
The next SGA town hall will be on Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. in the Smith Student Center Theater. This event will feature a panel of guests to answer questions about mental health and self care.