Gaber engages community in an open dialog about University of Toledo
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University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber held an open forum on Nov. 12 to discuss the challenges UT is facing and the progress it is making to overcome them.
After a brief opening monologue, Gaber opened the floor to questions from her audience members, ranging from budget numbers to CPR training and parking prices.
The largest amount of questions in the forum were pointed toward the enrollment rates. Some were interested in what Gaber has planned for the future to increase these rates while others wanted to know more about how to increase the amount of returning students and how to better brand ourselves.
Gaber said she brought in consultant group called Ruffalo, Noel, Levitz to assess what the university’s strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to enrollment because she was disappointed when this year’s numbers came out.
“I was thinking [the numbers] were going to be up, or thought that that was what the general perception was,” Gaber said. “… Five years of declining enrollment is not good. That doesn’t help us maintain stability financially or for our students or our faculty or staff.”
She also believes the university will be “up” in enrollment in the following year. Gaber used other universities such as Bowling Green State University and Oakland University in Michigan as examples of other universities who have had increasing enrollment for the past couple of years as well, saying it is not impossible to “turn this tide around.”
Someone said having a smoking ban on campus may deter those students who do smoke from coming to UT. Gaber was quick to bring up her previous work at the University of Arkansas, which is also a smoke-free campus, where enrollment increased by nearly 40 percent over six years.
“The reality is that most state agencies are saying for you to get state funding, you can’t smoke in state facilities or on state property,” Gaber said.
One associate professor in the department of English said the largest issue in recruitment for them is in graduate student stipends. She said multiple graduate students declined offers she extended, saying inadequate funds were their biggest issue.
Gaber agreed that the largest decline in enrollment was of graduate students, but the resources to encourage them to attend are lacking.
“It’s a vicious cycle, right? At a time where we don’t have resources, I can’t put more resources into it,” Gaber said. “We’ve got to figure out how we turn it around.”
Gaber also said it will be a step-by-step process over a couple of years to generate the revenue needed to bring more attention to programs like this and make progress.
Campus Health and Safety
Multiple questions during the session were about campus-wide health and safety which included Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate training, CPR training and drug and suicide prevention.
Gaber addressed the topic of ALICE training, saying she first had the police come to give the training to the senior leadership team at UT. She plans to ask the provost to ensure the deans of each of the colleges have completed ALICE training. She also said she encourages students and groups to undergo ALICE training so they are also prepared.
One attendee was concerned for the well-being of event attendees and asked about having a CPR program available on campus. They said there have been events at UT where some attendees fainted or had other health issues. Another audience member answered this by mentioning the training program offered by the Recreation Center.
There was also a discussion about potential changes to parking, including changes to the cost of permits and the possibility of switching to fees based on proximity to popular locations instead of the current flat rate.
Gaber said this is one of the changes that could help to cover the $13 million deficit the university holds. She also said UT’s permits are under the average price in the region.
UT worked with advisory group Walker Parking Consultants last year, which provided a report saying the university does not run parking in the most efficient way, Gaber said. She also said she was surprised to see students pay more for their parking than faculty and staff.
“I’ve not been on very many campuses where students pay more than faculty and staff,” Gaber said. “Students are already paying tuition and fees and we’ve talked about those. And then they’re paying in some cases twice as much as faculty and staff or in some cases, five times as much.”
She also said most schools differentiate their prices based on how close you would like to park to your buildings, where a “closer” permit would have a higher price.
After being here for five months, Gaber said she hopes to continue making progress and move forward. Although the fixes will not come overnight and she appreciates the interest shown by others in sharing information and getting to know each other.
“This isn’t my university, this is ours,” Gaber said. “… It is not that any individual will change how things are working and how we succeed, we do have to do that collectively.”