By Brittany Pierce
President Jeff Abernathy explained the detailed changes for the future of the college over the next few years to students during the State of the College Address on Monday, Mar. 12 in the Chapel building.
The group in attendance was small, aiding the address to be more of a dialogue rather than a lecture.
“My hope tonight was to have a dialogue conversation and to answer any questions you might have and to be in conversation with you about where we’re going in the years ahead,” said Abernathy.
The presentation started with addressing campus safety.
“We start with this because it’s the most important thing. Campus safety is, as I’ve said so often, first and foremost on our mind; it’s the first thing we’re concerned about,” said Abernathy.
“As faculty members we all have so many roles and so much to do but the first thing that we have to do is ensure that every student at Alma College is safe.”
Abernathy began by stating the importance of the Campus Alert System.
“We are taking several precautions [in regards to an active shooter on campus]. Here’s some things we’re doing now in the wake of Parkland and in the wake of CMU just last week,” said Abernathy.
“It is so important for students to register devices with our campus alert system. The reason is obvious: we can’t reach out to you if we don’t have the number for the phone that you always have on you. You live on this campus and we need to be able to get ahold of you.”
Abernathy also addressed the concern that students and staff would not be safe in classrooms if there was an active shooter on campus.
“We have installed new locks on the doors. We heard from you all and faculty that if we had a shooter here on campus, we can’t lock these classroom doors [and] we can’t be safe. So, now we do have those locks [on every classroom door],” said Abernathy.
In addition to these precautions, there will also be more emergency drills on campus beginning this semester.
“Karl Rishe (Vice President for Student Affairs) is heading up the effort to create a campus shooter drill; an active drill on campus in cooperation with local police and that will happen this semester. Also, we have scheduled regular exercises so that folks know what to do,” said Abernathy.
Abernathy also emphasized the importance of understanding the lock down and shelter in place procedures as well as the run, hide, fight guidance.
“We’re preparing an emergency manual as well that will give this guidance and be available on the Web. But what we know is that if we have an emergency, you’re not going to look up a website to see what you’re supposed to do. You have to know it because you have practiced it and that’s why we’re going to have a drill,” said Abernathy.
During the campus safety discussion, Abernathy further expressed his appreciation for the student activism on campus that is working towards preventing more school shootings through better legislation and social change.
“I appreciate that your generation is stepping up to make change in that [gun violence in the United States]. I’m grateful for that and I think that’s what needs to happen. We can make a change and your generation is showing us that,” said Abernathy.
After discussing campus safety, Abernathy moved to discussing Title IX on campus.
“Students at Alma College asked for a full-time position for a Title IX coordinator. We have been trying to get to that place for some time and have tried multiple avenues. We knew we needed to make a change and we did so by hiring Lynn Kraus,” said Abernathy.
However, Kraus’ last day was on March 13. Abernathy knew ahead of time that Kraus only wanted a short-term position.
“We knew that her term was going to be a relatively short, interim arrangement. She helped us put some practices in place and she worked closely with Ms. (Anne) Hall who is now our Title IX coordinator, but because she is my chief of staff and has lots of other duties she will not hold that title for very long. We are in the process of hiring a new Title IX coordinator,” said Abernathy.
“The position was posted at the end of last week so our target is to begin reviewing applications on April 1 and we’ll hire someone if we find the right person,” said Anne Hall.
“It’s going to be a full-time position with individual responsibilities in terms of providing more training opportunities and more other opportunities on campus. We posted it as a civil rights and Title IX Coordinator,” said Hall.
Abernathy said that there will definitely be students on the Title IX Coordinator search committee just like there was on the provost search committee. He also said Alma College will continue to uphold standards set in place regardless of changes at the federal level.
“Whatever the federal guidelines become, we are [still] going to hold the highest standards,” said Abernathy.
Aside from bureaucratic changes, the college is going to see some curriculum changes as well. During the next two years, the college will add an actuarial studies program, a Data Analytics program, a low-residency master’s program in fine arts, and the Center for Great Lakes Watershed institute, according to Abernathy.
“One of the things we’re doing as a college is looking at how we might develop programs that address needs in the broad community, Michigan and beyond,” said Abernathy.
“In the last eight years, we added 16 majors. Before that we hadn’t added a major in 17 years or added a sport in 25 years. Alma College is in the front end of innovation needs to be a place that is known for innovation and is known for addressing community needs. So, within the next few years we expect to move forward with these four programs.”
Within the next four years, the college will add a graduate level health program as well.
“We’d love your suggestions for the needs and where the opportunities are out there because you know better than we do. We’re having to study to figure this out but you all know right now what 21-year-olds are looking for in a graduate school and what 17-year-olds are looking for in a college,” said Abernathy.
Abernathy further mentioned that even though the college is adding a few niche graduate programs, Alma College will never become Alma University.
Renovations on various facilities across campus will continue for several years.
“We plan to spend $75 million in the next five years to remake this campus. What we have done with Gelston we are now going to do with the other residence halls as well,” said Abernathy.
Outside of residence hall renovations, the DOW Science Center will continue to be renovated as well through two more phases. The new DOW building will also have a green house on the roof.
Abernathy also has plans to make the Chapel building a more flexible space, too.
“What happens is we tend to move away from these fixed pews and we move towards much more flexible seating arrangements. We want this to be a dynamic learning space but it will forever be our chapel too,” said Abernathy.
The next major renovation will be on the library.
“We’re going to turn the library around and create an iconic space. We are going to create an icon that is this library: a 21st century learning commons,” said Abernathy.
The new library will include a Maker Lab, YouTube video production space and classrooms. s.space. and a new student-led café.