President Bertolino holds his first presidential dialogue

Melanie Espinal – General Assignments Reporter

President Joe Bertolino opened his first presidential dialogue on campus by asking everyone to sit in the front row.

“I hope that this is an opportunity,” Bertolino said, “for us to exchange ideas and provide information in an open forum.”

Before allowing questions on what is wrong at Southern, Bertolino took the moment to establish what’s been going right.

He highlighted Southern’s most recent accomplishments, most of which were before his time here, as he has only been in office a little over a month.

Some of those accomplishments include the computer science department being recognized by the White House, the new Liverpool John Moore’s University Study abroad program, as well as new access to New Haven’s Southwest Ledge Lighthouse for marine studies research and many more.

He also established some ground rules. The first one being that everyone shows compassion and respect to fellow staff members and students.

“I also ask,” Bertolino said, “that we limit the discussion to substantive issues and policy.”

Which he said would be more productive than of asking about specific issues in an individual’s department, like new printers.

One of the biggest challenges, he said, is that Southern will be entering in the new year with 2.4 million dollar deficit. While Southern had budgeted for a shortage, he said, they did not anticipate an additional 1 million dollar debt from an overwhelming amount of students receiving the Governor’s Scholarship.

He said the amount students that are receiving Pell Grants has also gone up, as well as significant improvements in SAT Scores.

“That shows that our students academically are getting stronger,” Bertolino said, “but their needs are becoming increasingly more difficult.”

For this reason, he feels Southern needs to open the discussion on those needs and what Southern can do. One thing the university has been doing is providing food drive services.

“Our students need us,” Bertolino said, “in new and different ways outside of classes that we didn’t anticipate.”

Another issue is the 30 percent decrease of transfer students, many of those students going to Central Connecticut State University, as well as a general decrease in part-time students.

This, he said has been because of a perception the LEP program poses as a barrier to transfer students, an issue that needs to be addressed.

This opened the discussion on class size, which students asked about at the meeting.

Interim provost Ellen Durnin said that, as of now, SCSU has about a 14 student to one faculty member ratio, which is good for an institution of Sothern’s size.

Student Maureen Najarian, who has attended Southern on and off for years as a senior said she learned a lot at the event.

“This helps me relate more to staff,” Najarian said, “it gave me an overall perspective of budget issues.”

Judite Vamvakides, Director of Annual and Leadership Giving, said she feels a lot of people will benefit from the discussion.

“President Joe is very positive,” Vamvakides said, “he’s collaborative and engaging.”

Robert Stamp, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, said the main focus is students.

“Continuity is a big part of that,” Stamp said, “many staff haven’t been here long, Dr. Tracy Tyree is considered a vet at four years.”        

Bertolino agreed with this notion, agreed with this notion. This is why he did not feel the need to hire new staff.

“I just bought a house,”Bertolino said, “I plan on being here for a while.”

He said he was surprised people did not ask him more hardball questions, which could be due to his great deal of outreach to the departments before the forum.

“I encourage more students to come out,” Bertolino said. “We really want to hear from them.”

The next open dialogue will be on Nov. 21.

“I’m glad a lot of people came,” Bertolino said, “I hope it’ll set a tone of transparency.”

Photo Credit: Melanie Espinal – General Assignments Reporter

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