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Tackling Mills’ growing pains

During an interactive forum on campus growth-related issues, the Mills administration unveiled plans to move housing selections and course registration online. Faculty and staff addressed how the college will handle its growing population while students voiced concerns and suggestions.

The forum, entitled “Smart Growth,” was sponsored by the ASMC and took place on Nov. 2 in the Student Union. Representatives from Public Safety, the M Center, the housing department and the Office of the Provost discussed how the dramatic growth of the college has affected their departments. They also proposed solutions for the growing pains of the college and answered questions from an audience of a dozen or so students. Student concerns centered around housing and campus security.

Carolina Salazar, a senior and ASMC president, said the event is the first in a series of informational forums designed to “close the gap in communication … between staff, faculty, administration and students.” She hoped students would “come to the forum to get informed, ask questions and get answers … about how Mills plans to address issues of growth.”

Revisions in course registration were just one of several proposed solutions to mitigate the growing pains of the college. David Gin, director of the M Center, said his office is working on making course registration available online. A pilot program will be tested within two weeks and the entire system is expected to be available by April 2006. Gin said he is both excited and daunted by the task of completing the program. “I’m looking forward to it but it’s scary,” he said.

Room draws may also become an online procedure. Karen Maggio, assistant vice president for business affairs, said she and other members of her department are unhappy with the current system as it “doesn’t provide an even playing field for students.” Online room registration would permit students to sign up for housing regardless of if they were present on-campus or not. Per Salazar’s request at the forum, Maggio said she will also look into generating interactive maps of each residence.

“Nobody is really happy with the way room draw is right now,” Maggio said. “We can do better.”

Andrew Workman, associate provost for academic affairs, discussed the future of student enrollment. Until last year, Mills had been facing a steady decline in applicants. Workman said that the college now expects continued growth due to having “solved the admissions problem.” He predicts a community of 1550 undergraduates and graduate students will be the maximum number the college can feasibly sustain, a 13 percent increase from the current population.

Both Workman and Maggio agreed that growth has strained housing, class sizes and parking. Workman said Mills plans to keep classes small by increasing the number of sections for popular courses and spreading out the number of classes that occur during the peak hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Workman and Maggio believe such efforts will also reduce the strain on parking by evenly distributing the hours that students will be on campus. Maggio stressed how addressing parking issues was a collaborative effort.

“This is not just a stand-alone issue but an entire transportation concern,” she said.

Mounting enrollment has also affected student housing. Maggio said the college has generated a three-phase plan for increasing the number of beds on campus while renovating existing buildings. Phase I involved re-opening Mary Morse hall and includes building additional housing for upperclassmen and graduate students. The remaining phases will expand undergraduate and family residences.

Several students voiced concern with the current plans. Elyse Rainey, a sophomore, believes family housing should be renovated before additional graduate housing is added.

“The ghetto appearance of the family residences … is a huge issue that needs to be dealt with,” Rainey said. Tina Sogliuzzo, a junior, agreed and also would have preferred plumbing renovations on Mary Morse.

According to Maggio, the Campus Planning Committee based much of its decision on the number of students who require housing. The need for single-student housing exceeds that for families, as they comprise a larger portion of the Mills community. Workman said the age of particular buildings was also taken into consideration, with older facilities getting higher priority for restoration.

In addition, the financial backing for housing projects such as alumni donations or bonds must be spent according to specific parameters.

“Mills is much like a city when concerning finances,” said Maggio. “Money is allocated to certain things and we try our best to make an educated decision.”

Maggio said increased enrollment has provided the necessary “financial upswing” to begin each project.

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to do within six months,” she said. “It takes healthy student enrollment, funding and planning [and] this year we have all three.”

Workman said additional financial resources have also enabled the school to enter “a hiring binge” while offering new courses.

“There are many real benefits [to growth] such as … expansion of the curriculum and a more vibrant social life,” he said.

Growth has also initiated changes in Public Safety. Maggio said Mills recently hired the largest number of Public Safety officers in the history of the college. In addition, the housing department has begun converting the residence halls, as well as the Stern and CPM computer labs, to a keyless entry system.

Niviece Robinson, interim director of Public Safety, said she has requested additional security cameras. Her plans for the department include increasing security at the front gate, holding talks on emergency preparedness and “emphasizing joint training” between safety officials and students.

The event concluded with Lt. Donald Williams, an Oakland police officer who has worked closely with the campus, providing tips on individual safety. He stressed community vigilance as the key to keeping the campus crime-free.

“Community action is one way to keep a campus safe,” he said. “Officers can’t be everywhere.”

Students also questioned the role of Public Safety in situations such as assault or robbery. According to Williams, the penal code of California prohibits safety officers who work for private institutions to arrest criminals unless they witness the crime.

Karuna Kline, a senior, found Williams discussion to be one of the most informative parts of the forum. “People don’t understand the policies that govern Public Safety’s actions,” she said. “I’m glad he was here because he had a lot of good, general advice.”

Both panelists and audience members felt the forum was successful, yet were distressed by the low attendance. Workman and Robinson enjoyed having a chance to talk with students. “The students asked great questions and I hope we provided good answers,” he said.

Maggio said she was pleased to share her ideas yet wished more people had attended the event. “I wish everybody were here [because] I’m so excited about the things I’m doing,” she said.

Several students shared her sentiment.

Sogliuzzo said she came because she “cared about the school and wanted to know what’s going on.” “It was informative,” she said. “I’m surprised more students weren’t here considering the protest on Friday,” referring to the student protest at the Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 3.

Junior Mailee Wang also expressed frustration at the low turnout of her peers. “So many people complain [about the campus] yet don’t do anything about it,” she said. “I thought it was really awesome that they had this public forum for us.”