Discovery Park, Nov. 4, 2008
UNT students, staff and faculty took time out of their work and studies on Election Day to ask President Gretchen M. Bataille whatever was on their minds in her first Really, let's talk question-and-answer session of the 2008-09 academic year.
Held for the first time at Discovery Park, UNT's 290-acre research park, the hourlong event drew more up to 75 people who gathered at Jazzman's Café and lined the second floor landing. President Bataille fielded more than 20 questions on topics ranging from rising tuition costs to the university's plans for Discovery Park in the first of two sessions held this semester.
After welcome remarks by Tobye Nelson, a coordinator for Student Development at Discovery Park and president of the Graduate Student Council, and Jeff Kline, president of the Student Government Association, President Bataille sat on a stool and started taking questions from the group.
"Almost any question is fair game," President Bataille told the group. "This is an opportunity for me to hear directly from students."
Rising tuition costs and what UNT was doing about it was the first topic brought up.
The university relies on four funding sources: funding from the state Legislature, tuition and fees, research grants and donor support, President Bataille said. When the state cuts funding as it has, universities often have to rely more on tuition and fees to help balance the budget, she said.
But we are lower in cost than other institutions in other states, she pointed out. We also need more advisors, smaller classes, and longer hours at the library, and we couldn't meet these needs unless we raise the budget, she said.
To get students to graduate in four years, UNT has a number of incentives, including a Timely Graduation Tuition program in which students can take 15 hours for about the same cost as taking 12 hours.
"We have made every effort to keep tuition in check," President Bataille said.
UNT also was named one of America's 100 Best College Buys® for the 13th consecutive year.
Some wondered whether the university would build a student center, a fitness facility or residence halls at Discovery Park.
A fitness facility had been explored but brought significant liability issues and the university had no current plans for such amenities, President Bataille told the crowd.But she said creating an obstacle course or hiking trails around the facility are possibilities to consider. Other facilities also are being explored.
She also pointed out that Discovery Park had come a long way since she first arrived at UNT two years ago. Noting the addition of Jazzman's Café and the number of people working and studying at Discovery Park, President Bataille marveled at the buzz at the research facility.
"Now, there is life out here," she said.
The university wants to make Discovery Park a draw for companies and industries that want to take advantage of UNT's programs, that want to do research and development at the park and that will hire UNT graduates, President Bataille said.
Addressing why the College of Information, Library Science, and Technologies — formerly known as School of Library and Information Sciences — moved to Discovery Park, President Bataille said it was because of strategic planning. The university wants to develop synergies between like departments, and Library Science is moving toward technology. Discovery Park also has more space, she said.
Why was there a $36 per semester parking fee at Discovery Park for the first time this year, one student asked. Parking needs to pay for itself because it is not supported by any state funding, President Bataille said. As more students began parking for free at Discovery Park and then taking the bus to the main campus for free, costs went up for bus service.
Questions also touched on UNT's status as a research institution and its bid to become a top-tier, or Tier 1, university, which typically draw top students and innovative industries.
National Research universities are institutions that bring in at least $100 million in research funding each year, have 50 doctoral programs and graduate more than 200 doctoral students a year, President Bataille explained.
UNT, she said, meets all of those standards except the research funding and is considered an emerging research university. The university, as well as some of the other emerging research universities in Texas, wants the Legislature to provide support through a matching funds program that will help the institutions create more endowed professorships, increase graduate student stipends and provide more scholarships, she said.
Right now, Texas only has two public institutions in AAU (Association of American Universities), the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. Dallas-Fort Worth is the only large metro area in the nation that doesn't have a top-tier university, President Bataille pointed out. But with three emerging research universities in its midst: UNT, University of Texas at Dallas and University of Texas at Arlington, there is plenty of potential to elevate one or more to top-tier status.
"Think about what it would do for Texas," President Bataille said. "It pays off in economic development for the region and in research for the region."
The recently approved new stadium, new buildings and the extension of the light rail system also came up as questions.
President Bataille said she wants to maintain accessibility and the kind of atmosphere where students can still have access to the president, even while the university is growing.
"We continue to grow. We're trying to have controlled growth," President Bataille said.
President Bataille commended students for approving the dedicated athletics fee that will help pave the way for the new stadium, but she reminded the crowd that students can only pay for half of the costs of the stadium. She said it was her job to seek the support of alumni and supporters to make up the rest of cost.
"We can't have half a stadium," she joked.
When the session wound down, President Bataille thanked the group for coming out, expressing that she hoped it was useful.