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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Board of Trustees discuss shared governance, Multicultural Center, extend emergency rules

By Rachel Sandal and Western Front staff

At the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 9, the Board heard faculty concerns regarding shared governance, extended emergency rules, discussed student concerns with plans for the Multicultural Center and questioned whether Western could give more opportunity to diverse contractors.

Shared governance

The Board discussed its commitment to shared governance and said it is working to give faculty, staff and students more of a voice in university decision. This commitment came out of faculty concerns last quarter when the university signed a contract with Study Group, an international student recruiting company, without consulting the Faculty Senate. This led to President Sabah Randhawa issuing an apology in November, which included a commitment to shared governance.

However, Faculty Senate President Allison Giffen expressed her disappointment at the meeting. She said faculty should have been invited to attend a meeting the Board had the prior day that was about shared governance.

“There is a growing thought on this campus that shared governance isn’t working as well as it should,” Giffen said. “Some people call shared governance a philosophy. I think it’s a commitment.”

Sue Sharpe, chair of the Board, said the meeting was for the Trustees to better prepare themselves to engage in shared governance. She said they had been working with a consultant.

Giffen said while she didn’t doubt the intent of the Trustees, there is a growing sense of distrust among faculty of the language of shared governance, and that it could become a bigger issue if unaddressed.

Extension of emergency rules

The Board of Trustees also extended the emergency rule changes involving demonstrations, firearms and dangerous weapons without discussion at the meeting. The emergency rules were put in place in October of last year in response to demonstrations on college campuses nationwide. The demonstration rules make it so outside demonstrators require a campus community sponsor and must reserve a spot in Red Square. Randhawa submitted a request for extension in which he said the rules were necessary for campus safety and “to preserve University property and scarce state resources.” The rules are to be extended while the rule revision committee continues to work on permanent rules, the proposal said,

Lack of contractor diversity?

The Board approved giving Dawson Construction the contract for renovations to Buchanan Towers, which will occur in spring and summer of 2018 and 2017. Dawson was also selected as the general contractor for the Multicultural Center.

While the Board approved both, Boardmember Karen Lee said she was concerned that Western’s lack of diversity of contractors isn’t in line with Western’s ideals. Lee recognized the university has to make decisions that make the most financial sense, but questioned whether Western was supporting small businesses and those that employ minorities and women.

“It’s been very devastating across the state for smaller businesses and Western puts out a lot of construction dollars into the community,” she said. “And it’s also a multicultural center.”

Rick Benner, university architect and director of facilities development and the capital budget, said Western has limits as to how it selects contractors in a fair way.  

“We do work with contractors to try to maximize the opportunities for those businesses,” he said, adding that there are also around 20 subcontractors on the VU project.

Randhawa said Western should look into the matter more.

The Multicultural Center

Melynda Huskey, vice president of Enrollment and Student Services, has been overseeing the Multicultural Center project since she took over the position seven months ago.

Huskey explained that the Multicultural Center will have office and meeting space for the Ethnic Student Center and AS Representation and Engagement Programs clubs. Huskey said she wants Western to stretch its thinking about inclusion, as ethnic diversity is a big component, but the school needs to elevate students with disabilities, LGBTQ students and non-binary students.

“No student has just one identity,” Huskey said. “We need to space that recognizes that people move across many axes of salient identity and that they can be supported in all of those places in a visible way.”

Huskey said about 17 percent of the offices, which equates to six offices, in the center are not yet assigned because Randhawa asked her to think about how to align services.

This has been an area of concern for students involved in the Ethnic Student Center, AS President Simrun Chhabra said.

“I think my peers have expressed concern very openly about the ESS (Enrollment and Student Services) multicultural space,” Chhabra said. “I believe my peers have expressed concern about the lack of knowledge about what will go in there.”

She stressed that this expansion of the ESC was created for students by students.

“The space wouldn’t have existed without the sacrifice of time and energy and a lot of love, dedication and mental help from a lot of students who were previously here,” Chhabra said. “This is a space students fought for.”

Enrollment and Student Services reorganization

Huskey said she is looking to reorganize the offices under her division and evaluate what services aren’t being provided by the end of this quarter

“A new person in the role is an opportunity to think differently about what we do going forward and how we might want to reshape the division in ways that meets the future,”  Huskey said. “I’ve had opportunity to see places where we have, over the years, I think failed to meet obligations that we needed to meet.”

Sculpture Woods gift

The Trustees also discussed the gift Western has received from local artist Ann Morris, who is giving her 14.5-acre estate on Lummi Island that features her art to the Western Foundation.

“All gifts make a difference at Western,” Vice President of University Advancement Stephanie Bowers said. “But this one is really special.”

Sculpture Woods will be used by students in many different departments in the College of Fine and Performing Arts, Bowers said.

Legislative update

The Board approved the 2017-2019 capital budget from the legislature, around a $27 million package, which includes funds for the design of a renovation and addition to the Environmental Studies Building, as well as facilities maintenance.

The Board also approved using one-time university funds to give $2.7 million to the Disability Resources and Veteran Services offices and $1.99 million to the Multicultural Center, as this was not received from the legislature.

Becca Kenna-Schenk, executive director of government relations, updated the Board on legislature being considered this session, including: free tuition, fully funding the State Need Grant, decoupling student and activity fees from tuition, open education resources, suicide prevention and behavior health and financial aid for undocumented students.

There is a possibility of that Western and other universities would be tasked with needs assessment study with a budget proviso. The university also has the possibility of obtaining funding towards a new early childhood education program. There was discussion in legislature about the teacher shortage in Washington as well.

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