Board of Trustees holds special all-student forum

In order to better communicate with students, the Board of Trustees held the first of many to come all-student forums as a way to hear what students have to say and their concerns with the University.

Dreyma Beronja, News Editor

Earlier this academic year, students dressed in red packed the ballroom of the Northern Center to show support for faculty and the then ongoing contract negotiation mediations. By the end of the forum, there was a mutual agreement that better communication needed to start between the University and its students.

Now, for the first time, NMU’s Board of Trustees held an all-student forum for students to attend and begin a better way of communication with the BOT with the hope of these forums becoming more regular.

The forum was held virtually over Zoom on the evening of Tuesday, March 15, from 7-9 p.m. and featured many BOT members (with the absence of trustee Lisa Fittante, trustee Robert Mahaney and trustee Jason Morgan), Interim President Kerri Schuiling and other university and student government members.

The forum began by having each BOT member introduce themselves. Members gave their information on their background, when they were appointed and what their values and passions are in higher education with all members expressing their excitement for the forum and the start for better communication between the University and students.

Along with the introductions, the BOT members announced that trustee Morgan had been appointed to serve as the appointed person for the BOT to speak with campus groups as another form of communication between students and the BOT.

Following the introduction, students attending with any questions were directed to ask them in the chat and from there assistant to the president for strategic initiatives Cindy Paavola read the questions for anyone to answer.

The top discussion points involved COVID-19 and the mask mandates, the ongoing presidential search, project and building updates, diversity and inclusion, parking, graduate assistant stipend, lack of childcare in the area, commuters and divestment.

On the topic of COVID-19 and mask mandates, one student asked what the data or thought process was behind mask mandates and when NMU will be lifting the mask mandate.

“We are at a point now where we all want to believe in our heart of hearts that this is behind us and I think we are unfortunately reminded sometimes daily that that’s not the case,” trustee Stephen Young said. “We’re doing much better than we were but now we are hearing that there’s some outbreaks in China and two mutations that are surfacing.”

Young continued saying that the University is aware of the issues going on and the agreement for the remainder of the semester is to continue following the mask protocols. However, if the protocols were to change, Young said that students would be the first to know.

Another student asked a question in relation to the ongoing Ukraine/Russia situation and what NMU can do to help along with divestment from NMU. The question was whether or not NMU will divest from the small Russian fossil fuels that they have invested into.

“The quick answer is the process has started,” trustee Gregory Seppanen said. “Just like a lot of things, when you’re dealing with a bureaucracy, and we are a bureaucracy here, it does take a little bit of time.”

On the topic of graduate assistants and their stipend, one GA posed the question as to whether or not their stipend would be increased or other ways to help them such as providing meal plans.

Vice president for finance and administration Gavin Leach said that the process of looking into GA stipends happens in the spring but he will speak with Dining Services on the idea of including a meal plan for GA’s.

At the end of the meeting, ASNMU president Bethany Beavers addressed a concern from a student who questioned how students would be able to voice their concerns about the University.

“The current structure that is in place at Northern is kind of assumed students will relay concerns to ASNMU who has positions in some of those meetings to be the student voice at those meetings,” Beavers said. “Part of that is we don’t have all the students’ opinions which is why we wanted to set up this forum.”

Students looking to voice a concern with ASNMU can contact them via email at [email protected] or phone at 906-227-2452. ASNMU also has an online form that students can fill out to voice concerns, comments or questions.

Anyone who missed the forum and would like to view it will be able to access the recording via Youtube.