August Pelliccio – News Writer
Southern is amidst a watershed moment, according to president Joe Bertolino. He said the community must recommit to becoming and being a social justice university.
Bertolino opened his speech at the President’s Town Hall Meeting, Feb. 26, with how he would like to proceed in this effort. He said the administration is seeking active involvement from the community to build on its inherent strength as an inclusive multicultural community.
“Now is the time,” said Bertolino.
For example, he said the results from a recent campus climate survey were helpful, especially because the participation was so good.
The president proceeded to spend a considerable amount of his time, speaking before the community, to highlight some new renovations coming to Southern.
He mentioned the new building for the School of Health and Human Services and the beginning of Southern’s Reflection Garden project. Also he spoke about the large-scale upgrade to solar energy on campus and the Strong-21st Century Communications Magnet School and Laboratory breaking ground this semester.
At the close of his speech, Bertolino shared a pre-release preview of Southern’s newest television commercial. It depicted a United States Military soldier coming home and pursuing an education at Southern, to further his family.
“So those are the highlights,” said Bertolino, “and now we’ll end on a touch of reality.”
Bertolino shifted the conversation to the lack of consistent leadership at Southern, but credited the school’s faculty with being committed to doing what is necessary for their students nonetheless.
The president opened the floor to any comments, questions or concerns from within the Southern community.
Professor of philosophy, David Pettigrew, said to Bertolino the commercial that was shown, and in fact most of the presentation preceding it, in his opinion, did not give due credit to faculty.
“At some point I think you need a strategic vision for academic excellence,” said Pettigrew, “that includes our faculty, and highlights the work they are doing.”
University Controller, Loren Loomis Hubbell, raised another point, this time about service to students.
“You mentioned under ‘academic reputation,’ ‘delivery model,’” Hubbell said. “What are we doing to change our delivery model for academics?”
Bertolino prompted an answer to Hubbell from university provost and vice president for academic affairs, Robert Prezant.
Prezant explained that the current plan is to update and enhance systems that have already been put in place to improve delivery of service to students. Prezant specifically mentioned online and hybrid course selection. He said he “reinvigorated” an ad-hoc committee to refine the online curriculum, and train faculty members to effectively utilize an online classroom.
“From our perspective,” said Bertolino, “Why reinvent the wheel, when it already exists.”
Sal Rizza, director of new student and sophomore programs, directed the dialogue to the campus climate as it stands, especially after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
“I’m wondering if you could share some of your thoughts on how you feel we could, as a community, help support our students.”
Bertolino replied that the best course is to talk to, get to know, spend time with students. He said students have voiced in the past they don’t know where to turn after a crisis situation unfolds.
“Our students need to know that there’s somebody they can go to, to talk to,” said Bertolino. “Probably, more than anything else.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio