Discovery Park, March 24, 2011
About 15 students gathered in Discovery Park's student lounge to participate in President V. Lane Rawlins' second Really, let's talk session of the spring 2011 semester.
Before taking questions from students, Rawlins shared why his commitment to higher education remains strong.
"I was at Berkeley in the 1960s," he told students. "For you young people, that probably doesn't mean very much, but one of the big issues at Berkeley was that students felt they had lost their identity. One of the things I like about UNT, as large as it is, is that it's my feeling that we still pay attention to students."
He added that students are central to UNT.
"I want you to know that it's my focus to center this institution on having the highest quality undergraduate education we can have," Rawlins said. "The best undergraduate education in the world is at American research universities, and that's what we want to do."
The state's budget process and how it would impact tuition and faculty hiring also were discussed. Students raised other issues, including parking and possible legislation that would allow guns on campus.
To help address cuts the state Legislature is proposing to make in funding for institutions of higher education, UNT has made plans for reducing its budgets and sought a tuition and fee increase, which was approved by the UNT System Board of Regents in March.
The tuition and fee increase ensures that students will continue to have the resources they need in the classroom and that they are taught by quality faculty, Rawlins said. It was not sought or approved to replace the anticipated lost funding from the state.
"We've also pared the base budgets down," he said. "I think we're well prepared in the face of hard economic times while everybody else is struggling because we made some hard decisions early."
Additionally, the university has frozen some administrative and staff positions and implemented a voluntary separation program for tenured faculty who met certain qualifications, Rawlins said.
"We're going to be OK," he said. "I don't want anybody to say we're not being hurt by these cuts. We are being hurt, and we could move even faster if it didn't happen. I think we've managed them as well as we could."
Limited parking on UNT's main campus also came up for discussion.
"We're not going to solve the parking problem because we're going to continue to grow," Rawlins said. "I know this is a problem and a big perceived problem, but I've been on campuses where it's much worse than here, and I've been on campuses where it's much better than here."
Building parking decks is one solution but it is expensive, Rawlins said.
"We need to start thinking about alternative modes of transportation," he said.
In the near future as UNT's student population grows, students will be forced to think of new ways to get around the main campus and to and from Discovery Park, Rawlins said.
"We're now investing money in parking out here," he said of Discovery Park. "The free parking out here will go away. We have a parking problem, but I don't think there's an easy solution."
Guns on campus
Students and faculty during the Discovery Park session also expressed concerns over proposed legislation that would allow concealed weapons on university campuses in Texas.
"This law troubles me," Rawlins said. "I think it ignores the overwhelming opinion of higher education institutions."
Rawlins said many universities are limited in what more they can do.
"We will do all we can to maintain safety on campus," he said. "We are going to listen to people and think about our options."
More course offerings
Students also expressed that the university has a limited supply of courses that they need for their degrees from semester to semester, but there seems to be more prerequisite course offerings every semester. They encouraged the university to offer more of the courses that they need to fulfill their degree requirements more regularly throughout the academic year.
Rawlins said there is no simple or single answer to the problem, which has a lot to do with UNT being a fast-growing university.
"This tuition and fee increase we passed is to handle the growth," he told students.
Rawlins thanked students for attending the session and ended with "Go Mean Green."