Martin answers budget queries

Talks with President Susan Martin invite students to take a more active role in understanding their university.

Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin discussed an overview of current initiatives and answered questions from students and faculty members during the “Conversations with the President” dialog Tuesday afternoon.

This dialog was one of four that has taken place since Feb. 2010.

In introducing Martin, vice president of communications and public affairs Walter Kraft said the series of speeches have covered a wide range of topics.

“In these sessions President Martin has been asked questions about parking, about faculty advising, safety and about financial aid,” Kraft said.

President Martin’s speech began by announcing the appointment of two new regents, Mike Morris and Mike Hawks. Morris is an EMU alumni and CEO of American Electric Power. Hawks, whose father just ended his term as an EMU regent, works as a lobbyist in Lansing for Governmental Consultant Agency Inc.

Martin also addressed budget cuts to the university.

“In the past ten years Michigan’s been 50th in the 50 states in funding higher education,” Martin said.

Martin is currently working with state legislatures to attempt to maintain a balanced budget.

“There’s a structural deficit which is estimated to be at 1.6 to 1.8 billion,” Martin said.

“It’s an enormous challenge, so I’m up at Lansing almost every week working hard to get to know new people and leadership positions. We have some good friends there, but I am very worried in the short term about what they will do to get the state budget back in order.”

In addition, Martin also encouraged students to contact their home district senators and representatives and ask them to support higher education.

“Ask them in particular to reward Eastern in particular because we held the line of tuition,” she said. “We feel that tuition restraint should be rewarded.”

Larry Gates, Director of University Dining Services, was acknowledged by President Martin for managing last week’s snow day.

Martin briefed students and staff on the difficult decision to cancel classes without knowing for sure how severe the weather would be.

“It’s difficult to make a decision to close when there’s not a snow flake in the air, but we did and I think that it was the right decision because of the severity of the storm,” Martin said.

The decision to close the university was decided by Martin, facilities and the chief of police, who constantly monitored the weather forecast.

“A university this size, we would rarely close,” Martin said. “We usually make our determination frankly based on safety and security.”

However, Martin said the decision for another snow day this year is unlikely.

“That was fun having a snow day, but don’t count on it happening again.”

Afterward, students and staff were invited to ask questions about the university.

EMU student and director of student relations for student government, Phoebe Conybeare raised concerns about EMU day.

EMU day is when students visit Lansing to raise awareness for Eastern.

According to Martin, EMU day has been scheduled this year for March 15.

“We’ve moved it up because we want to maximize participation by faculty and employees that would like to go,” Martin said.

Other concerns raised by students included the poor availability of wireless Internet in the dorms.

Martin said efforts are already in process with $600,000 currently being spent on improving wireless signal in the freshman dorms.

Improving wireless services in the rest of the residence halls would cost an estimated $2 million.

Martin realized the need for better wireless internet services herself one day when she was unable to get a signal on her own laptop while sitting next to a student who had a signal.

“The first year I was here, I went to spend the night in Phelps Hall and I went to every floor trying to get the signal from my laptop to work and kept getting disconnected,” she said. “So finally I was down in the first floor lounge, sitting next to someone, a student, who was connected to the Wi-Fi, but I wasn’t, so I was like, ‘what’s up with this I’m the president, I’m sitting right next to you’.”

Martin asked students to think about what they would do to improve EMU if they were on the Board of Regents.

Suggestions included not allowing scholarships to interfere with students’ decisions on where to live on campus, funding for Master and Ph.D. programs and offering free bus fares for students.

The next conversation with the president is scheduled to take place in March.

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