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Commuter parking, student leadership addressed at Administrators’ Forum


By Branden La Croix

Asst. News Writer

Students raised concerns over commuter parking and residence hall issues, and discussed possible incentives for student leaders at the Administrators’ Forum Oct. 11.

The administrators who attended the forum were President Nancy Niemi, Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, Dean of Students Meg Nowak-Borrego, University Chief of Police John Santoro, Wardell Powell, interim chief inclusion and diversity officer, Aretha Phillips, general manager of Dining Services, Eric Gustafson, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, Lorretta Holloway, vice president of Academic Enhancement, Kristen Porter-Utley, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, and Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel.

The discussion was led by Student Trustee McKenzie Ward.

Ryan Mikelis, vice president of the Student Commuter Group, said he and other students have concerns about the difficulty of finding parking spaces on campus for commuter students.

Mikelis said in the Maynard and Salem End Parking Lots, “If you go down there at night, you’ll see 80% of the lot filled with cars,” adding most cars parked overnight either have expired parking permits or no permits at all.

“It just makes it more evident that these cars are not commuters’ and they're taking up precious parking for commuter students,” he said.

He added, “We have commuters driving up to an hour and a half to get to campus. We get to campus and we cannot find a single parking space at either of these parking lots. And that is honestly unacceptable.”

Mikelis said he is aware University Police is currently understaffed, but added, “That can’t be the excuse the police fall to every time a parking complaint comes up.”

Chief Santoro said there is currently a position open for a parking enforcement officer, but the position has been vacant for over two years.

Santoro added the department is “down to one officer per shift when we usually have two to three officers per shift.” He said the department’s priorities are for “emergency calls, life-safety calls, emergency-in-progress calls, fire alarm calls,” and other “patrol functions.”

He said officers will perform parking enforcement “when time allows for that to happen.”

Santoro suggested having a student representative on the University’s Parking Committee which could help address these concerns.

SGA Senator Austin Van Lingen asked if the University could hire an outside company to help with the parking issues.

He said, “Obviously, that’s an extra cost in the school budget,” but added as a commuter student, he would “not be ashamed” of paying an increased fee for parking and suggested a decrease in the parking fee for resident students.

Van Lingen also suggested a “test run” of making Maynard Road and Salem End lots commuter only while sectioning off part of Maple Lot for residents and charging “a premium price point.

“The demand for parking is high. So you’re going to make that revenue. You’re going to have students buying that,” he said.

Santoro said University administration has given permission for University Police to hire outside contractors to help with parking enforcement, but said the three companies they reached out to declined due to a lack of personnel.

Santoro added there have been conversations about “color coding” the parking lots, with colors designating one area for commuters and another for resident students.

Mikelis also raised concerns about cars speeding on State Street.

“When students are crossing the road, specifically between classes, I have seen cars fly by. They do not give students the right of way and nearly hit students,” he said.

Santoro said while University Police do have the authority to enforce traffic laws, they are limited in what they can do due to being understaffed.

“We can't have officers out there stopping cars when in turn, somebody needs a medical call or somebody needs something else,” he said. “We have to prioritize where we let our officers do their work.”

Students also raised concerns about various facilities issues in the residence halls.

Antonne Toney, a sophomore, said she has concerns about the lack of heat in some of the older residence halls, specifically Larned Hall. The student said during the winter, the dorms become “freezing cold,” and students are not allowed to have heaters in their dorms, despite the heating units in the buildings not working.

She said, “It's really unfair that we pay so much money for room and board, but you don't even have heating.”

Executive Vice President Hamel said students can submit work order tickets to Facilities to address that kind of issue.

Hamel added there are routine maintenance checks for certain areas of the residence halls, including the elevator and HVAC systems. He said, “The maintainers are supposed to identify to our trade workers anything that they see as well, but they probably wouldn't see things like a radiator not working. So that would have to be reported.”

SGA President Dara Barros said the issue is not only present in Larned Hall, but the other residence halls as well.

She said, “I lived in West Hall last year and I was freezing cold every single day.” She added, “There has to be a new system in place for all the residence halls, because it’s not just West. It’s not just Larned. It’s also Towers. It's also Miles Bibb.

“It’s not an issue just from one person who has to put the order in - it’s a University-wide thing,” she added.

Hamel said the University is able to monitor the temperatures in the residence halls. He said, “Typically when we get these heat tickets, we go in and take a look to see if there's a systemic issue.”

He explained the energy management system can control different temperatures in different rooms, and if needed, adjustments can be made. “Basically cool down one room so the other room cranks up,” he said.

SGA Senator Dillon Riley asked if the University checks the heating or air conditioning units prior to the start of the fall semester.

Hamel said systems were implemented over the summer which could not “get up and running” until the fall because “it has to be cold enough to figure out how the system works because they're all electronically generated.”

Toney also brought up the issue of leaking ceilings in Larned Hall as well as a lack of communication from Facilities.

She said the leak in her dorm is supposedly “coming from the sixth floor and trickling down to other rooms,” and she returned from class one day to find “a puddle of water” on her desk and on the floor.

She added after submitting a ticket, the person who was sent arrived “randomly” while she was at work and had to be let in by her neighbor.

“It’s just communication with them. They don’t email us that, ‘Hi. We've seen that your request has been approved. We will come on this day. Is this OK?’” she said.

She added something like this could be a safety issue for students as well.

Hamel said if a student cannot submit a ticket themself, they should reach out to their Resident Assistant or Resident Director for help.

Barros also asked for an update regarding non-functioning doors in the residence hall entrances.

Santoro said University Police have an institution security officer who checks to make sure the doors of buildings on campus are functioning and puts in work orders “on a regular basis” for anything not working.

Hamel explained part of the delay in getting doors fixed is because the person who repairs the doors does not have the materials needed due to “supply chain issues.”

Students can enter tickets for residence hall issues through the myResLife portal on the Student Life section of myFramingham on the FSU website.

On behalf of a student not attending the forum,Van Lingen asked if it was appropriate for a professor to change an in-person class to remote “because it would benefit their schedules, but not their students, because they teach at another institution.”

He said this happened in an anatomy and physiology class, which is “a very workload heavy class,” and the professor “changed it to completely remote because he teaches at Worcester State University.”

He added as a working student, if he puts in his availability at his job around his school schedule and professors suddenly change the modality, “that kind of really screws me over.”

Provost Porter-Utley said, “There should be no changes in modality to a course” once it has started.

She added the student can contact her at the provost’s office, as well as reach out to Margaret Carroll, dean of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

Trustee Ward said she had a similar problem with the Registrar’s Office when a class she signed up for was listed as being in-person Mondays and Wednesdays and asynchronous, but the professor of the class told her they submitted it as in-person Mondays and Wednesdays and over Zoom on Thursdays.

“If it wasn't for me catching it as soon as I did, students would have missed classes that first day of class,” she said.

She added she signed up for the class in April, and because the class was listed as asynchronous during that time period, students could accidentally sign up for classes which overlap.

Ward said because she works on campus, it’s easy for her to change her schedule, but said, “I know other students who had the same issue in their classes and they lost their jobs because they had to tell their bosses they couldn't work certain days.”

Porter-Utley said, “There needs to be multiple checks and balances to ensure that the schedule that's posted is accurate. So it sits with the registrar, but it sits with all of us.”

Barros said she has been working with other student leaders to create a student-leader incentive program. “We get a lot of things thrown at us. A lot of departments asking us for student voices. It’s draining,” she said.

“We are giving so much to the University for free,” she said. “When is the University going to show that they also care about student leaders?”

Mikelis said one of the reasons for the lack of student representation on University committees is students “are stretched thin.”

He added, “It takes an extra push” to get students more involved on campus outside of classwork.

“There needs to be new faces and new people who are interested in serving on these committees, and I don't think that that's going to happen unless students are incentivized to spend their time serving the community,” he said.

Senator Riley said there needs to be a greater incentive on the part of administrators to listen to student leaders. “We're here right now because we care - if I didn't care, I wouldn't be here.”

He added, “At the end of the day, there is no university without the students. And, if all the students said, ‘You know what? We’re leaving.’ Guess what? There’s no more university.”

In response, Student Trustee Ward said, “A lot of stuff does go on behind closed doors that we don’t see in higher education that’s very difficult to work around,” adding, “We may not be able to get everything done right away, because unfortunately, … we don't have all the money in the world, especially the manpower, too.”

She added a possible solution to many of the concerns raised is clearer communication.

President Niemi agreed, and said as the person who is “ultimately responsible for all this,” that the University should “follow up” with students.

“I know my team, I know all of you, and I know these people who care deeply. And so things do get done, but for reasons that all of us still understand, they get done at various times at various levels,” she said, adding, “And sometimes they don't get done because somebody drops the ball, too - I absolutely agree.”

Niemi said, “If we’re not showing our appreciation enough, then we need to.”

[Editor's Note: McKenzie Ward is Opinions Editor for The Gatepost.]

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