By Branden LaCroix
The Board of Trustees held an open forum for students to communicate directly with the board Feb. 27.
Student Trustee McKenzie Ward said the forum was held so students could learn more about how the Board of Trustees operates and ask its members questions.
“This is just a way for students to get to know the trustees better and also for the trustees to get to know the students as well,” she said.
The forum was attended by Chair Kevin Foley, President Nancy Niemi, Provost and Academic Vice President Kristen Porter-Utley, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement Jeffrey Coleman, Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, and trustees Diane Finch, Anthony Hubbard, and Nancy Budwig. Vice Chair Beth Casavant and trustees Mariel Freve and Claire Ramsbottom attended via Zoom.
On behalf of a student not in attendence, Ward asked the board members what their greatest accomplishments have been while on the Board of Trustees.
Foley said he was involved in the decision to freeze FSU’s tuition during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said FSU was one of the first universities that did so.
He added, “We recognized collectively … the burden that was placed with the pandemic going on, on the finances of the families and the students.”
Foley added the board has recognized the need for mental health services on campus and has ensured there is sufficient funding available to the Counseling, Health, and Wellness Center.
Finch said her time on the Board of Trustees has been challenging but rewarding.
She said she had the “privilege” of being on the search committee for the vice president of DICE.
Coleman was selected as the new vice president of DICE during the Fall 2022 Semester.
Finch added during the board’s January meeting, Coleman presented a “blueprint” of what he plans to do during his time as vice president. “I sat there that night and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. How wonderful to see this because we got the right person at the right time in the right place,” she said. “And so that to me was really exciting.”
Ramsbottom said she was a member of the search committee for FSU’s new president.
She said, “From the board's perspective, this is probably one of the most important responsibilities that we have. So I’m proud of where we landed and the job that Nancy is doing for the institution.”
SGA Senator Dillon Riley asked the board members what their five- or ten-year “vision” is for the University.
Foley said the University’s new branding and strategic enrollment plans are pivotal “for the future of the institution.”
Finch said she wants to “benchmark” Framingham State “so that when people think about going to a school, Framingham is on their mind front and center.
“I want Framingham to be there at the top being a competitive public institution,” she said.
Finch said FSU offers “quality programs,” is equitable and inclusive, is affordable, and “embraces different pathways for achievement, and it has a strong support system and executive leadership.”
She added when she heard updates about FSU’s new branding, there was a lot of “excitement” and “enthusiasm” among the executive staff.
Trustee Anthony Hubbard said he wants the University to “have a reputation for equipping students” with the “tools” they need for success after graduation.
Regarding the recent closures of colleges and universities across the nation, Hubbard added, “I think there are pressures on higher ed.”
He said he would like to see Framingham State become as “financially strong” as it used to be and “be in a position to determine its own fate.”
Ward said, “Having goals for FSU is great because they're the people that are helping you get to the graduation line.”
Evelyn Campbell, outreach and events coordinator for SGA, asked the board members about how they view the University as anti-racist after they underwent anti-racist training following remarks made by a former board member last September.
Trustee Budwig said FSU is located “in a state that takes these issues very seriously” and provides a “wealth of resources” for the board to use.
“What we need to really unpack and think about is centering on diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism in terms of really centering the structures, processes, and procedures,” she said.
Budwig acknowledged that it is “a work in progress” and thanked Campbell for “keeping us on task.” She also suggested getting feedback from students regarding DEI issues.
Trustee Freve said the issue is about “changing that mindset” and considering the ways the decisions from various committees impact the students.
“It can’t be just about sort of training and being self aware,” she said. “That doesn’t cover enough.”
She added the board is focused on being critical of the decisions it makes in order to further anti-racist initiatives.
Ramsbottom said DEI training is good for “raising awareness.
“It’s a culture change,” she said. “It’s a personal soul-searching mission about how do I contribute or detract from that culture? And how do I do it in ways that I may not even be aware of … that way, and then what does it look and feel like every day for folks living on the campus - working on the campus?”
Finch said, “I think it's really important that there is training, that we have a dialogue, that we're honest with ourselves, as well as call each other out when it's necessary.”
She added as trustees, the board makes decisions regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion every day and it is important to be mindful of the effects of those decisions.
“I think this training is helping me step back and say, ‘OK, where am I coming from? What am I holding on to? What do I need to let go and be honest about?”
A student attending the forum asked the board members what plans they have for incoming first-year students regarding FSU’s declining enrollment.
He added FSU is not the only institution facing declining enrollment.
According to a report on enrollment in state colleges by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, there has been a decline in state college enrollment since 2009, with a 16.2% decline in the fall of 2020.
“The demographics are changing,” Foley said, but added there should be more college-age students enrolling by 2030.
He said FSU is looking at alternative “opportunity sets” such as focusing on non-traditional students.
SGA President Dara Barros asked the board members how they incorporate FSU’s “core values” into their decision making.
Finch said the decisions she makes concern making sure there are structures and supports in place for student success.
“I'm always looking at, ‘OK, is everybody having access to this opportunity? What about the resources? Where are the gaps? Where do we need to put the funding in?’” she asked.
Trustee Budwig said affirming the University’s core values is “at the heart of what we do.”
She added, “The question, always for us, is not, ‘Do I like the program?’ but, ‘How does it fit within the broader values of the institution - the strategic framework?’”
Trustee Hubbard explained while the alumni and student trustees are elected by their peers, the rest of the members are appointed to the board by the governor through Massachusetts’ Boards and Commissions group.
He said the group looks for people “to give different representation to the University” and who are familiar with it and have experience in a related field.
On behalf of another student who was not attending the forum, Ward asked the trustees what their motivation was to become a trustee for FSU.
Foley said he is an alumnus of FSU and was a member of the Framingham State University Foundation before he was asked to be a member of the Board of Trustees.
He explained the process for becoming a trustee is not a “shoo in,” but is a long vetting process conducted by the Massachusetts governor’s office along with training potential trustees must take.
He added, “I was more than happy to undertake that experience,” and said he has been on the Board of Trustees for eight-and-a-half years.
Trustee Freve said she has a “unique background” that she brings to the board.
She said she was previously involved in higher education, but is currently working in corporate finance and accounting.
“I thought it would be a good way for me to bring my experience with sort of both things and be able to contribute to a public university,” she said.
Finch said she is a person who “very much enjoys being civically engaged,” adding, “It was very much a part of my undergraduate experience in college.”
She said she never thought about becoming a trustee until she was asked. She said, “I really wanted the position because I thought, how interesting would that be as a person who teaches at another university who really thinks about issues of, ‘How do we structurally organize the university to make sure that learning goes on for all students? What would it be like to sit in a very different kind of role than somebody who researches that or teaches about this topic?’”
Ramsbottom said she joined the board as a way to give back to the Framingham community by ensuring students have the same opportunities she did as a student.
She said she was a member of the Alumni Board for six years before she was asked to become a trustee.
“Framingham made a huge difference in my life when I was a student there and really is what launched me into the career I’ve had,” she added.
Hubbard said part of his motivation for joining the Board of Trustees was to ensure students “have the capacity and the tools to do what they want to do when they leave here.”
He said what “brought it home” for him was when he attended a Brother 2 Brother event, which he said was “eye opening.”
Ward asked the students attending the forum what their favorite aspects of FSU are.
Barros said her favorite opportunity has been being an orientation leader and relating her experience from her first time on campus with new students on their first day.
Riley said when he went through his orientation, it “opened doors” for him.
“I think opening up opportunities is the biggest thing,” he said. “Life will bring opportunity to anyone who's willing to take that step that might not have initially taken that step, and seeing that potential and that ability because I think everyone has the ability.”
Ward said she became the student trustee to represent the student body on the board.
She said, “I really wanted to make sure that before I graduate in May that I could leave FSU a little bit better of a place than when I found it.”
Ward is the eighth person in her family to attend FSU and added her younger brother is attending the University as well. “I love this place more than anything,” she said. “This is basically my second home.”
[Editor’s Note: McKenzie Ward is the Opinions Editor for The Gatepost]