Bruce Hall, Nov. 5, 2008
UNT President Gretchen M. Bataille spent face-to-face time with students Nov. 5 at Bruce Hall taking questions in the second session of her Really, let's talk forum for the 2008-09 academic year.
Decreases in summer and night classes, declining scholarship dollars and UNT's participation in the Sun Belt Conference were among the topics explored in the question-and-answer session. About 25 people attended the Bruce Hall forum.
The first question was whether UNT would one day provide facilities for transgendered people. The university provides some facilities, like unisex bathrooms, and Gilda Garcia, the vice president of Institutional Equity and Diversity, is currently meeting with different groups to address such issues, President Bataille answered.
"Thanks for bringing it up and reminding us that we need to include everyone," she said.
Many of the questions touched on perceptions that resources and classes at UNT were on the decline.
Student Body President Jeff Kline asked why there seemed to be fewer summer and night classes. The university is providing courses that are in high demand or of great need, President Bataille explained. Summer classes used to be dictated by what a faculty member wanted to teach, leading to courses that attracted only a few students, she said. Now, UNT is taking into account what summer courses would draw the most students and make the best use of faculty time and resources.
President Bataille also sympathized with a graduate student who talked about his difficulty in getting much-needed scholarships. She said the competition was great right now.
"Faculty have a lot of anguish because they know they have a lot more students than they have money to give," she said.
When asked what UNT is doing to advance itself, President Bataille said the university is focused on the things that make UNT great — education, arts and music — while nurturing its growing research strengths. The university is doing this by investing in collaborative research clusters and bringing in more external research dollars, she said.
"We want to keep ratcheting up and making UNT better in every way we can," she said.
President Bataille reiterated the need to focus on external funding when someone asked how the university is trying to increase its amount of donors.
Increasing donor gifts — one of the four funding streams the university relies on — by reaching out to alumni all over the nation was one of President Bataille's first priorities when she first arrived at UNT. As a result, endowments increased her first year, she said.
"I believe the reason it went up is because I'm connecting with alumni," she said.
Even though the university's endowments are down right now because of the economy, it's still higher than when she first came, she said.
"Fundraising is incredibly important to us," she said.
Increasing the university's research grant funding, which is another revenue stream, is another one of the president's priorities.
Parking and transportation were other issues that cropped up during the discussion. One student expressed frustration with Parking Services, saying staff seem to hand out a lot of tickets and recommended that the department institute a better appeals process.
Parking Services is doing a good job, especially when one considers UNT's size, President Bataille said. She reminded the group that Parking Services staff members face a tough job because they often deal with people who violate the law. But, she said, she would convey the message to Parking Services and reiterate the need to maintain good customer service.
When asked whether UNT would consider joining a different athletic conference, President Bataille said there are always ongoing discussions about UNT's participation in the Sun Belt Conference.
The university has to weigh the costs and burdens on student-athletes against the benefit of being in a conference that might require more travel and money, she said. She also expressed support of the Sun Belt Conference's stand on promoting academic success, which is an important part of UNT's athletics program.
The scholarship program, the Emerald Eagle Scholars program, came up toward the end of the session when a student wondered if UNT could do more to publicize the need for peer mentors for the scholars.
President Bataille agreed that more could be done to get the word out. She also lauded the program, which provides free tuition and fees and mentoring to academically talented students with financial need. Because the program caters to many first-generation college students, their siblings and family members are seeing that higher education is possible for virtually anyone, she said.
"We're not just changing the individuals. We're changing their families," she said.