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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato


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Opening the discussion campus wide

MSU administrators and student leaders discussed space utilization of the CSU and future potential program cuts Monday at open forum

by John Fritz

Issue date: 11/09/09 Section: Campus News
Open Fourm
Media Credit: Wale Agboola
(Left to right) MSSA Vice President Bob Dooley, Vice President for Institutional Diversity Michael Fagin and Director of Chicano-Latino Affairs Guadalupe Quintero were among those who contributed to the open forum discussion Monday afternoon in the Centennial Student Union.

Several higher-up members of the Minnesota State administration gathered on the first floor of the Centennial Student Union Monday to hear student concerns regarding the use of space in the CSU and the prospect of closing or suspending academic programs in response to projected budget shortfalls beginning in 2012.

President Davenport was there, as was Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Scott Olson, Vice President of Finance Rick Straka and Vice President for Institutional Diversity Michael Fagin, among others.

Leaders of the student body, including MSSA President Murtaza Rajabali, Vice President Dooley and chairman of the Student union Board Jayme Pretzloff, were also there to answer questions.

MSU students heard about, asked questions about, and voiced their opinions and ideas about issues that may affect their experience at MSU in the near future.

Most of the student questions came in the first half of the discussion, which centered on the use of space in the student union.

"Utilization of space (in the CSU) impacts [students] directly because students own and pay for this building, and they should have a lot of voice about how to use it."

The subject has been on students' minds recently because of a proposed Latino Center in the student union.

The Plaza Comunitaria, housed within the center, would provide Mexican immigrants with an opportunity to earn a high school equivalency diploma from the Mexican government.

Davenport said he had received a letter from the Chicano Latino American Student Association saying it "would like a Latino Center, and the first choice would be on the first floor of the student union."

At the forum, students asked what that would mean for other organizations trying to get a permanent spot in the union, and why a Latino Center would potentially receive priority over them.

Davenport acknowledged that, with more than 200 clubs and student organizations vying for space and time, allocating permanent places within the union is "a really big issue."

Dooley said the determining factors in getting a spot include "how closely to the union's mission [the groups] adhere, how much space they need and where, and how many students they serve."

When asked if the Latino Center wasn't a question of "if," but of "when and where," Davenport nodded.

Director of Chicano-Latino Affairs Guadalupe Quintero reiterated the case for a Latino Center. "The Latino population [in Minnesota] is increasing rapidly," she said. "Other public schools in the area look to MSU as an example of Latino programming."

But at least one student expressed concern that the center could have the effect of segregating the student population in the CSU, rather than fostering multiculturalism.

"That's why the majority of the MSSA is opposed to [the Latino Center]," Rajabali said. "We want the CSU to be open; that was the reason for its $13 million renovation just a few years ago. "

Fagin disagreed with that assessment, saying there was a "misconception of what the Plaza Comunitaria will be … The glass window [outside the Latino Center] won't be a barrier, but will welcome all students to come inside."

Some students wonder how the administration can be so sure of the Latino Center's feasibility.

Though the exact costs involved in the project aren't yet known, said Straka, money wouldn't come from student fees but from the general fund, reserves or strategic initiative.

There is no money available to accommodate new centers by adding on to the CSU, Pretzloff said, adding that the more than 200,000-foot union already exceeds the recommended 10-square-feet per student by a wide margin.

CSU Operations Director Scott Hagebak noted that more than 2 million people pass through the union each year, and every square foot is designated.

"Unless you want to reduce the usability of the building, instead of adding new centers you should take a look at the use of space currently," he said."

Davenport conceded that there hadn't been such an analysis of space utilization done in the CSU, like there has been in other areas of campus.

"We need to do that," he said.

Students appeared less interested in the second half of the forum, which dealt with the prospect of cutting or suspending academic programs once the extent of the 2012 budget restraints becomes known.

This may be because the cuts won't have a huge immediate impact on students already attending the university.

"There will be a four-year step-down process that phases out any program getting cut," Olson said.

This would entail gradually reducing the classes offered and not allowing new entries into the major, rather than an immediate shutdown of the program, so students already in a major slated to be cut are assured they can find enough credits to graduate.

There are many unknowns heading into 2012, Olson said, and nobody knows what, if any, programs will be cut.

"We don't know what the budget situation is going to be or the number of professors willing to take an early retirement" that could alleviate spending cuts, he said.

The university is developing criteria it will use in the spring to determine what programs may get cut. These criteria include centrality to the university mission, enrollment within and cost of the program, and the employability of the program's graduates.

Students offered one partial solution: charge higher tuition for programs that cost more to maintain.

Administrators said they have looked into this idea, known as differential tuition, and already employ it in graduate and doctoral programs where demand is higher.

While there isn't any undergraduate differential tuition, "We've thought about doing it at satellite sites, such as in the metro area, where convenience factors in," Olson said.

Though not of immediate concern, students will likely suffer the effects of program cuts in the near future.

The school's budget "is about to go down a cliff in 2012," Rajabali warned.

John Fritz is the Reporter news editor