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Tuition hike, Res Life move, and more: BSG hosts its first town hall of the semester

Beloit Student Government held its first town hall on Mon, Feb. 26 in Richardson Auditorium. The meeting was inspired by student concerns about the recent tuition increase and by Residential Life’s recent move to the North side of campus, nearer student residential halls. Stacie Scott, chief financial officer, addressed tuition concerns and provided a presentation on the college’s financial situation. John Winkelmann, Residential Life director, answered students’ questions about moving offices and other topics. 13 other administration members were present at the meeting. 

BSG co-presidents Farhan Tahir and Daniel O’Leary began the meeting. They introduced themselves and relayed the organization’s goals to a full auditorium. O’Leary stated, “We’re ready to create transparency, get connections between students and the administration, and we’re hoping to make Beloit the place we all want it to be.”

Tahir then invited Scott to the podium. Scott’s presentation dealt mostly with statistics. One slide presented the breakdown of the college’s expenses. In the 2016-17 school year, salaries and benefits made up 58% of expenses, 33% went to supplies and services, 6% went to debt payment, and a mere 3% went to student employment. With the recent complaints about student salaries, this statistic caused students to whisper to one another.

“If tuition is increasing, why is student wage not increasing?” one student asked.

“This is an area of the budget where we do a poor job,” Scott replied. According to Scott, if the pay were raised, hours or positions would be reduced. With lower wages, more students are given an income, however small. 

A big concern for students was the suspicious parallel between the tuition increase and the Powerhouse. The Powerhouse is a $38 million project to renovate an old generating station into a student center. Scott assured students that they are financially separate. She provided statistics showing a gradual tuition increase over several years.

“The Powerhouse is funded 100% from external funds,” Scott explained.

Multiple students questioned the college for putting money toward the Powerhouse instead of making buildings on-campus accessible to people with disabilities. An administrator refuted this by commenting on the high cost of elevators and ramps. Students were not satisfied with this response and tensions rose. One student asked if fundraising efforts for the Powerhouse impact fundraising for other programs.

Beth Monteiro, vice president of development & alumni relations, responded, “when we do fundraising we operate in regular, special, and ultimate giving. Regular is the money that we ask people to contribute every single year to the college. Special is when we ask somebody to go over and above for a special project. Ultimate has to do with requests.” Monteiro went on to assure students of the fundraising team’s awareness. “When we’re going through this kind of a project, we’re very conscious about keeping those ones going and not having one bleed from another.” Completely preventing this impact is impossible, but Monteiro’s statement persuaded students that the fundraising team is doing its best.

Scott also addressed financial aid concerns, saying, “We did allocate $400,000 to address students who have the greatest need. This will be on a case-by-case basis.” She introduced a new aid concept: “Emergency Aid,” a one-time aid process to assist struggling students. “We want people to know that we do recognize that things happen, financial situations change at home, whatever the case may be. We’re trying to develop this to be able to help and provide assistance.”

When Scott’s time ran out, Winkelmann took the stage. He explained the motivation behind the Residential Life move.

“Financial Aid had two to three people in an office, and that doesn’t work when you’re trying to meet with students. Financial Aid and Accounting work best when they work together, so they’re in the same location right now. So that meant somebody had to move,” Winkelmann said. He also provided his personal opinion on the move: “Actually, I think it’s kinda cool… the long-range goal is that the Health Center will eventually move to the Powerhouse, and my hope is that the Res Life team moves into that Health Center office.”

Winkelmann also spoke about the accessibility debate concerning ID cards. After serious harassment incidents last year, building security has become a big concern. With Residential Life offices now in Blaisdell and Aldrich Halls, nearly all students can access these buildings during work hours.

“If you sit outside any building on campus, someone will let you in,” one student pointed out.

Winkelmann advised against letting unknown people into the building upon entry. Then the conversation got heated as students began to ask about accountability in cases of sexual assault and hate crimes. Winkelmann agreed that the system is flawed.

“The keycard conversation is one we should continue to have,” he admitted.

He also answered questions about ongoing laundry issues throughout campus. “Part of the increase that we built into Res Life is a plan that says ‘free laundry next Fall’. We are negotiating with laundry companies as we speak.” He blamed the laundry issues on students tampering with the machines. “When it’s free, we hope that [tampering] will not be an issue,” he stated.

Administration ended the debate abruptly. The town hall lasted almost two hours, and the conversation is still ongoing. “It’s very important to have that relationship between students and administration,” Scott said. BSG plans to continue holding town halls once a month; student worker wage rates and the Powerhouse will be future topics.

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