Questions and voices heard at first Student Concerns Forum


Sergio Montanez

Representatives from 15 departments answer questions from the student body at the first Student Concerns Forum on Thursday, Jan. 23.

Students have a voice that matters.

Members of the student body were encouraged to speak to administrative, faculty and staff representatives on how to improve campus experiences during the first Student Concerns Forum on Thursday, Jan. 23 from 12-1:30 p.m. in The Habitat.

Representatives from 15 departments, including the Oakland University Police Department, Student Financial Services, Housing, e-Learning and Academic Affairs, were in attendance to answer questions and follow-up with students on their experiences so far on campus.

Students submitted their questions electronically and were given the opportunity to elaborate in front of the panel. Anonymous questions were allowed.

Senior Julio Lee began the question portion with his concern of not having adequate tutoring resources for students in higher level courses. Although he sees the Tutoring Center as a helpful resource, he feels 3000 and 4000 level students do not always get the help they need for their classes besides professors’ office hours.

Anna Maria Spagnuolo, chair of mathematics and statistics, explained that, while some resources are not highly marketed, it is there.

“[Our department] has set up a room within our building very close to where all faculty offices are, and we set up times where all students can come in to meet with other faculty,” Spagnuolo said. “We’re moving toward having that room full-time.”

In acknowledgement of the plans to renovate South Foundation Hall, which will displace classes, fifth-year student April Peera questioned how this would specifically affect Spanish and other foreign language classes. She felt since in-person classes help enforce correct speaking and learning techniques of a foreign language, fully online classes would not be a good route for these programs.

Mary Hartson, interim chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, assured Peera and students with similar concerns that most foreign language classes, especially higher level courses, would not be fully online.

“All of our beginning classes, the first two years, are still going to be the same number of contact hours and face-to-face,” Hartson said. “We went with a hybrid format [for some classes], which will be 50% class time and 50% online or outside of class learning.”

While questions covered a range of areas and departments, the majority of the concerns were directed at University Housing, Student Financial Services and the Graham Health Center.

With regard to housing, an issue was discussed about the status of the ongoing maintenance and renovations of the Ann V. Nicholson apartments. It was explained that maintenance workers have appeared outside bedroom windows with little warning and during early morning hours, disrupting residents’ privacy.

James Zentemeyer, director of University Housing, said the project to renovate these apartments was to be completed July 31, 2019. Due to contractor errors and faulty materials, the project was pushed into late summer and past when residents moved in for the fall semester.

“This project did not go as plan or as contracted,” Zentemeyer said. “For the most part, we have been able to get notifications out to residents that there is significant work being done. But I think on a case-by-case basis where we had a spot here, a spot there, we have dropped the ball on getting notification to you.”

Another issue involving housing covered how dining hall hours do not adequately accommodate students’ schedules when there is a three-hour break between lunch and dinner, leaving students to use more declining points to purchase meals. Since the cost of food at other locations on campus, such as Plum Market and the Pioneer Food Court, is on average more than $5, students quickly run out of declining points and have to use their own cash and credit cards.

“We can certainly look at extending the lunch hour during the regular week,” Zentemeyer said. “We would also have to look at what the cost differential would be like.”

With Student Financial Services, a concern was covered regarding seeing different financial advisers when the same issue is trying to be resolved on a tuition bill. It was argued that not every adviser gives the same explanation when viewing a complex tuition package.

Nancy Fetzer, associate director of Student Financial Services, explained that advisers each have their own style on how they communicate.

“We have definitely looked at different models for handling the caseload,” Fetzer said. “Listening to your concerns, maybe we need more training or job shadowing to make sure everyone is giving out consistent information … They’re getting the same message out, but they might say it in a different way.”

The OU Counseling Center, which is housed in the Graham Health Center, was at the center of multiple questions. Students raised concern with the Counseling Center being understaffed.

Dr. David Schwartz, director of the center, assured that solutions are being implemented to handle the problem. This includes hiring additional staff members and shifting the treatment model.

“We are getting the budget to hire another full-time counselor for the rest of this year to help with the overwhelming demand,” Schwartz said. “We are looking at shifting our model to what is called the step-care model of treatment, which offers more of a variety of services for students, so it’s not always one-one-one counseling.”

The issue with the long wait times to be seen at the center was also addressed. Schwartz explained that wait time is improving, but the demand of students seeking counseling increases each year. To help as many students as possible, the Counseling Center utilizes a triage process analyzing situations that need attention immediately and also is available for walk-in emergencies.

“I expect that with the addition of another full-time position, we can get those wait times even lower,” Schwartz said. “We were averaging six hours a day of emergencies in the fall semester.”

Aside from these issues, the panel also touched on concerns regarding the current grading scale, sexual harassment training for police officers, curriculum and diversity on campus. Throughout the event, 20 student questions were answered.