Dr. Warner holds town hall to hear directly from students
Updated: Mar 10
Students vocalized their questions, comments, gripes and more directly to RIC President, Dr. Jack Warner, for over an hour at Wednesday’s town hall. Several key topics were discussed such as RIC’s declining enrollment, dedicating a 24/7 study space for commuter students, ensuring students with disabilities are seen and heard and having the free period block actually class-free.
Two students early on in the town hall raised concerns about the lack of a 24/7 lounge where commuter students can study. In his response, Warner said the college “will look into that.” Warner talked about this topic further in a post-town hall interview with Anchor TV, saying, “We’ll do a scan of the campus. We do have available spaces on the campus, particularly since we opened Horace Mann because we had surge space. So, there’s likely a reasonably good space we can identify.”
The Anchor’s very own Tyler Jackman brought up RIC’s enrollment woes. Jackman cited an article recently published in the Providence Journal by Amy Russo that talks in-depth about this continuing trend and possible effects it could have on RIC such as possible staff cuts.
“We have suffered enrollment declines in recent years, and that is only a problem if you think it’s a problem,” Warner said. “The biggest problem that that causes is that it takes a while to align the new level of expenditures with the revenue that comes in from tuition. We think we got a good handle on that now, and we also think that if we do need to downsize as a result of smaller enrollments that we could do that naturally.”
Warner further explained what realignments are in the works, saying in the post-town hall interview, “Investing in a new learning management system. We’re investing in systems that will make sure that our financial aid awards get processed a whole lot faster than they do. We’ve never really automated some of our business functions like our human resources functions and all of those kinds of things, so we’re going to make investments in those as wells.”
Warner said, “not planning on them” when asked if there would be any layoffs as enrollment decreases.
In his response to Jackman’s question, Warner explained what the college is currently doing to boost enrollment. Some of the initiatives include recruiting much more aggressively, admitting students and sending financial aid packages out quicker and yield activities. Warner said those efforts resulted in admissions applications being “up by over 50%” and that Apply to RIC for Free Day was utilized by 803 students.
There is a piece of legislation RIC will showcase their support for in hopes of it addressing enrollment issues: The Rhode Island Hope Scholarship Pilot Program Act. Currently, the House version, H 5099, and the Senate companion bill, S 0077, have been introduced to their respective committees.
Sam Gervais, who also works for The Anchor, brought attention to the need for students with disabilities to not only be seen, but heard by RIC. She brought up in her questions to Warner that the handicap buttons are not working for certain buildings.
Warner said the college will do an audit of the doors to make sure the buttons work.
Anna Cano-Morales, interim vice president of external relations and diversity equity and inclusion at RIC, said the college is doing an inclusion audit assessment this semester that will look at all aspects of life and experiences on campus.
“That’s going to be very helpful to us and giving us information and recommendations on what are some of the things that we need to change, not just because they’re the right things to do, but because there’s a law,” Cano-Morales added. “There’s a lot of compliances that we also have to make sure that we’re upholding at the same time.”
Warner also said in his response, “I’m certainly happy to invest in an awareness campaign or a programming campaign about the unique needs of disabled students on campus so we elevate that discussion.”
Another topic of many that was raised were the budget cuts all student organizations on campus received during the recent budget requesting process. These budget cuts would take effect in the 2023-24 academic year and are a result of enrollment declining.
The Anchor newspaper alone will see an almost $8,000 decrease from last year’s budget. Warner urged student organizations to “lobby your student representatives.”
Student Community Government is funded entirely by the student activity fees that undergraduate students pay in their bill. As enrollment decreases, so does that pot of funding. The other part surrounding available finances is SCG are finishing up negotiations with RIC over an operating agreement that will, once signed, result in the frozen Spring 2022 deposit being unfrozen.
“There’s still some negotiating taking place over the final form of the agreement,” Warner said. “After that is put in place, there’ll be quite a bit of more funding available. But there’s a little bit of distance to travel, we thought we had it done and then I was informed today that it’s not quite done.”
Warner cited trouble getting timely responses from SCG’s attorney as to what’s causing the delay, saying this process, “should’ve been settled months ago.”
An additional piece of the funding pie, student activity fees that graduate students pay, currently does not go to SCG. The rationale Warner told The Anchor recently was, “We do not allocate those to SCG since there is no graduate student representation on SCG and their needs are quite different.”
Warner provided an update on this topic upon learning SCG has funded graduate student organizations. He said, “We will be sure to release sufficient funds so that they’re reimbursed for the funding that they’ll have there.”
As for the funding moving forward, Warner said, “We also want a more focused set of attention from a kind of focus group of graduate students themselves that talk about their unique needs,” adding, “We want to do more for our graduate students, so we need a mechanism that’s much more focused on them. Their needs are very different.”
Warner had positive takeaways from this town hall.
“It was great,” he said. “There was never a time when there weren’t at least a half a dozen, sometimes a dozen hands in the air. All positive questions. All advocating for just better life for students on campus. Not selfish interests coming out, none of that. I was very heartened by it.”
Warner also said that he’d be happy to hold more town halls in the future.
The town hall in its entirety can be viewed on Anchor TV’s YouTube channel using this link.