President Newkirk Holds Town Hall

President Newkirk Holds Town Hall

As a student at the University of Redlands, do you feel your voice is heard by the administration?

In an effort to increase dialogue between  the student body and administration, University of Redlands President Krista Newkirk held a town hall in the Orton Center on Thursday, September 29. The event was sparsely attended, perhaps attributable to the fact that it was held between 12:15 and 1:15, when students were grabbing lunch between classes. The town hall was also available to spectate online.

ASUR President Derrick Ball introduced President Newkirk before her presentation, which was titled, “Proposed Framework for Our Shared Vision and Strategy.” Newkirk began by discussing efforts undertaken to improve the university on multiple fronts. In speaking to students, faculty, and high school counselors, Newkirk always asks five questions: What do we do well? What can we do better? What can we change immediately? What should we never change? What advice do you have?

Last winter, the University of Redlands hired a strategic planning consultant to increase awareness of its strengths and weaknesses, as well as its aspirations. In Spring of 2022, they held workshops with over 450 university members and conducted 60 interviews with current Redlands students and high school counselors. 

Faculty and staff felt the university’s strengths lie in its beautiful campus, pathway programs, and personalized education; while they identified opportunities for improvement in diversity initiatives and leveraging alumni support for student opportunities. 

High school counselors said they recommend the University of Redlands to high school students because of its generous financial support, interdisciplinary studies, business and education programs, and support for first generation students. In 2018, 33 percent of students were first generation. Last year, that number had increased to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the university could do better by building its reputation. 

President Newkirk also emphasized the university’s goal to prepare students for the workforce. Market research indicates employers favor oral and written skills, teamwork, and critical thinking. Employers hire Redlands graduates because of proximity, academic strength, and workplace readiness. 

From there, Newkirk transitioned into presenting some changes made in the university’s branding and identity. Newkirk realized that, prior to her arrival, the university lacked a defined set of values for the institution. She identified the values of the University of Redlands as courage, excellence, exploration, inclusivity, justice, and kindness. 

Newkirk also argued that the university’s mission statement was too long and therefore not “memorable.” She narrowed down the university’s mission to one sentence: To welcome, educate, and empower diverse students for lives of leadership, meaning, and joy. Newkirk then shared the vision for the university, which is to lead California in student-driven, personalized education experiences that result in student success by 2032. 

Following this presentation, Newkirk opened the floor for student responses and questions. The first question was quite simple: How? The words sound nice, but how will they be practically implemented? Newkirk responded by indicating that she would like to have more dialogue with the students, and that some tangible projects would be creating a commuter lounge, installing more air conditioning on campus, and increasing accessibility to buildings. 

The next student to voice a concern argued that the faculty and staff at the university are overworked and that the university should improve its “labor practices.” The student felt the university should hire more professors to alleviate the issue. President Newkirk responded that the student to faculty ratio has remained the same, and that 63 percent of revenue and expenditures are already going towards faculty and staff, given that the university is not for profit. 

The following student echoed many of these concerns, saying that classes are not being offered due to understaffing and that the entire Chemistry department has had to implement degree modifications for its students to graduate. Newkirk acknowledged that the university has undergone financially tough times due to the pandemic. The cost of utilities has increased by 38 percent and the university is currently one million dollars over budget. Newkirk highlighted that despite this rise in cost, tuition has only increased by 3 percent. Consequently, the university is currently operating at a deficit and is pulling from reserves. Moreover, Anderson Hall is currently under renovation to install air conditioning, and the university will be in debt over it for the next 30 years. 

Nevertheless, the student persisted in her call for the university to hire new faculty, and Newkirk was left to bluntly respond that the university is not sitting on excess money they can spend. 

The final comment from students was that Newkirk should increase the accessibility and frequency of town hall forums. Newkirk said she planned to, in addition to welcoming ASUR members, sports teams, and Greek life members to her house for dinner on multiple occasions. 

Indeed, only time will tell if President Newkirk holds true to her promise of increasing dialogue with the students. If she does, the Redlands Bulldog will be there to cover it. 

Photo contributed by Photo Editor Kyle Eaton.