Discovery Park, Nov. 5, 2009
President Gretchen M. Bataille hosted the first of two Really, let’s talk sessions for fall 2009 at Discovery Park, UNT’s nearly 290-acre research park.
The open forum allowed students to get answers to their questions directly from the president. After an introduction from Student Government Association Senator Justin Jones, President Bataille opened the session by saying, “I have no agenda today. It’s about your agenda.”
During the hour-long session, President Bataille discussed universitywide issues such as parking, research and building projects. She also fielded a number of questions specific to Discovery Park.
Support for Emerging Research Universities
The first question of the session came from Tobye Nelson, a coordinator for Student Development at Discovery Park, who wanted to know how President Bataille felt about the passage of Proposition 4, the constitutional amendment that voters approved Nov. 3 establishing the National Research University Fund. The fund, which will be redirected from an existing fund, will provide a dedicated and independent source of funding for UNT and Texas’ other emerging research universities (UT Arlington, UT Dallas, UT San Antonio, UT El Paso, Texas Tech and University of Houston) once each institution qualifies.
It is part of a new state program to help the seven institutions become national research universities.
President Bataille responded that she worked hard with other university presidents to build support for Proposition 4 and was pleased with the outcome, though none of the seven universities are immediately eligible for the funding
The funding will enhance UNT research and education for UNT students. It also will make a difference in how UNT is viewed in and out of the state, she said.
Another question centered on how the university is supporting the balance between teaching and research as it moves more toward a research focus.
The Provost’s office has been developing a new universitywide evaluation tool that will help the university ensure instructional excellence, President Bataille explained.
SETE, the Student Evaluation of Teaching Effectiveness, as the tool is known, will help the university comply with House Bill 2504, which states that beginning in fall 2010 all Texas public universities must make student evaluations, course syllabi and instructor resumes available for each course via its institutional web site.
President Bataille also reminded students that she is open to comments and suggestions from them.
University spending and building also was a hot topic during the forum. In response to a student’s question on how UNT’s new football stadium would be funded, President Bataille clarified the funding mix.
Last year, students approved a new dedicated athletics fee, a portion of which will help build the new stadium. The fee will go into effect in fall 2011. The rest of the funds will come from private revenue, such as private gifts, corporate sponsorships, club and suite sales, facility naming rights agreements and gameday sales. Texas law does not allow state funds to be used for the construction and operation of college athletic facilities.
“Athletics is the window through which the public sees a university,” she said.
Parking and bus system
Parking also was the subject of several questions. President Bataille acknowledged that parking will increasingly become an issue as the campus continues to grow and internal parking spaces are lost. The university is increasing shuttle transportation and bike racks, she said.
“I wish I had an easy fix for all of the concerns about parking,” she said. “The police chief has met with the Faculty Council, Staff Council and the SGA to gather ideas.”
Buses are unreliable and the schedule is inconsistent, a student commented in a later follow-up question. An audience member noted that buses used to pick up at Discovery Park every 19 minutes, but that after the topic was discussed at last year’s Really, let’s talk session that time was reduced. The buses now pick up every 13 minutes Monday through Thursday in the mornings.
President Bataille said the university would check the bus schedules and timetables again.
Changes at Discovery Park
Creating additional amenities at Discovery Park also dominated the discussion. When a student asked about the status of a student lounge at the facility, another audience member confirmed that a student lounge was in the works.
As for a recreation center at Discovery Park, President Bataille said she had looked into one, but there are many liability issues.
But she said she would check with the Recreation Sports to see if it would be possible to add walking trails or basketball hoops at Discovery Park.
There also were several questions about extending the hours of the cafeteria and computer labs at Discovery Park. President Bataille informed students that the university hired a new executive director of Dining Services, Bill McNeace, and that he is in the process of reprogramming dining services across campus.
She also said she would find out why the labs aren’t open later and see if there is a solution that would give students after-hours access.
Lisa Campbell, the new assistant dean of students at the Center for Student Development at Discovery Park, is a valuable resource and can advocate for students as needs arise, President Bataille noted. Campbell was hired to help enhance student experiences at Discovery Park.
The session ended with President Bataille discussing opportunities for growth at Discovery Park. She reminded the audience that the research park is still in its infancy.
“This space is experiencing a lot of growing pains, but it also a great deal of potential,” she said. “I’m glad that I had the chance to visit with you and hear your issues and concerns today.”