Retention becomes a bigger issue

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1 Retention becomes a bigger issue Dr. Larry Williams assumed the presidency of Northeastern under circumstances completely different than those confronting the last three men who preceded him in the position. Presidents Collier, Fite, and Webb took the school s administrative reins during times of crises when social and economic problems threatened the university. In July 1997, when Williams became Northeastern s fifteenth chief executive officer, the school faced no looming economic, academic, or social disaster, although uncertainty concerning the Rogers University consortium (formerly the University Center at Tulsa) continued to threaten Northeastern s Tulsa-area recruitment base. Williams had visited the campus several times following his election and praised the infrastructure of support staff, faculty, and administration he inherited. Calling attention to his close interaction with students at Southeastern, the new president promised an opendoor policy and a willingness to listen. He also pledged to play an active role in community affairs and to maintain the university s place as a frontrunner in technology. Not long after his arrival, the new president hosted a luncheon press conference in which he explained his philosophy of education and answered wide-ranging questions. Asserting, We re not in the business of certification, Williams explained that he believed education was not confined to the classrooms, but took place in the dorms, classrooms, and other well-know places. Indentifying two areas that required immediate attention, Williams stressed the need to improve and enlarge the facilities that housed the science and optometry programs. Northeastern s new leader expressed his belief that the state s rising tuition rate was still fair and reasonable although he acknowledged that many students were leaving college heavily in debt. 1 The president had not mentioned the university center, which was also badly in need of repair, probably because it was already 1 TNE welcomes new President Dr. Larry Williams, Northeastern, 1 July 1997, 3. Kendra Wagor, New President promises open-door policy, Northeastern, 15 July 1997, 1.

2 scheduled for renovation. Bond funds had finally been authorized for the first major refurbishing of the building since its construction in 1968, but work on the building, which was repeatedly delayed, did not begin until During the prolonged planning phase, suggestions were sought from patrons of the facility. The administration building, which had not been renovated since the late 1960s, was remodeled after the completion of the NET Building when data processing offices and equipment were transferred from the administration building to the new technology high rise. The $50,000 project reconfigured the university s business office, creating a more comfortable, spacious feel. The main entrance to the building on the west was enlarged, paneled in oak, and made a lot more attractive, according to Arlan Hanson, director of business affairs. 2 Economic development in Tahlequah affected the university. Construction on South Muskogee Avenue that would have an impact on Northeastern students and other residents of the city neared completion as NSU began its new school year in August A Wal-Mart Supercenter was in the final phase of construction and scheduled to open in the fall. In addition to providing employment for Northeastern students, the center s thirty-six departments provided necessities and luxuries for most of the members of the academic community. For students beginning the new school year, buying excursions to Wal-Mart were as important as the visit to the campus bookstore. News that Dollar-Rent-A-Car, the nation s fifth largest car rental company, planned to establish a reservation center in Tahlequah, providing employment for 250, also improved the prospects for Northeastern students to secure work in town. 3 Two developments on Northeastern s campus affected students who worked for the university. To ease end-of-the-month cash-flow problems confronting many students, the school began paying student workers on a bi-monthly basis in July of An increase in the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour, effective the beginning of the fall semester, also provided a little relief from the increasing cost of a college education. 4 2 Elizabeth Ridenour, Changes in the works for UC, Northeastern, 1 July 1997, 5. Joey Zielazinski, Business Office gets face lift, Northeastern, 16 September 1997, 7. 4 Janice T. Clark, Students excited about bi-monthly pay checks, Northeastern, 1 July 1997, 1.

3 Retention becomes a bigger issue While most aspects of university affairs had improved during the Webb administration, the use of drugs on campus, as in the rest of the nation, seemed to defy whatever measures were instituted to counter them. While reports of arrests on campus for possession of controlled substances were up only slightly, a student newspaper report suggested that the problem was more extensive than the official statistics indicated. A Sperry senior claimed, I am aware of a tremendous amount of drug activity ranging from occasional use to those who are unable to function daily without it, The response of campus police to individuals caught using drugs varied with the circumstances, according to Officer Shirley Bowlin, but she stressed that there was a zero tolerance toward anyone dealing or selling drugs. She also noted that more cases had been seen in 1997 than in the past, which reflected the national trend. The most common drug on campus was marijuana, with methamphetamines in second place. 5 Several major shifts were made in the collection of the John Vaughan Library during the summer of Government documents, which had been housed in the closed stacks on the west side of the building, were relocated to the building s third floor, where they were opened to the public for the first time in the seventy-four years Northeastern had been a federal government document repository. The government documents office was moved to Library 309, where students and faculty could obtain assistance in accessing the collection, which did not use the Library of Congress classification system. The library s collection of curriculum materials used in the public schools was shifted to Library 221, the former reading room for government documents. The new location was more spacious and gave students and faculty better access to public school textbooks and other materials used in the classroom. 6 Under Roger Webb, Northeastern had been particularly attentive to student needs, but one area of concern had been ignored despite increasing interest in the academic community. As the percentage of non-traditional students grew so did the number of their offspring. Care for those children while their parents were attending class at Northeastern taxed the resources and ingenuity of many of the university s students as well as a few members of the faculty. 5 Jennifer Casey and Katy Stewart, Students speak out about drug use on campus, Northeastern, 8 July 1997, Elizabeth Ridenour, Many activities planned for library, Northeastern, 8 July 1997, 2.

4 Repeated pleas for the school to fill a demonstrated need were never formally rejected; they simply died from inactivity. Given the school s preeminence in professional education, proponents of university-sponsored daycare found it surprising that the faculty and administration of the College of Education had not seized an opportunity to offer practical training in pre-school education, a period increasingly considered crucial to subsequent educational development. During the summer term, when childcare was even more important, two staff reporters of the Northeastern outlined the need for university-sponsored daycare. Characterizing NSU as one of the few schools in Oklahoma which offered no daycare for the children of its students and faculty, the writers drew attention to Rogers State College and East Central, both of which provided daycare for seventy-five children as a service to their students and faculty. The reporters suggested that Northeastern consider their example and not only assist students with children, but also give valuable practical experience to education majors. Eighteen months later, an open forum was held in the Logan Hall lounge to air the issue. In November 2007, the student senate passed a resolution asking the administration to consider establishing an on-campus daycare facility, but when Williams retired in 2008, Northeastern students, staff, and faculty had to look beyond campus for care for their children. 7 For the second consecutive year, Northeastern and other statesupported institutions of higher education received major increases in funding from the state. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved a record-setting $1.1 billion-dollar operating budget for the state s colleges and universities for the academic year. NSU s share, almost forty million dollars, represented more than a nine percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Areas identified for an infusion of new funds included instruction, technology, salaries, and scholarships. Although the increased appropriations had not returned the university to the funding level it had achieved before the economic downturn, it enabled university officials to grant a five percent, across-the-board salary increase for staff and faculty, with pay raises for promotion 7 Lara Denning and Angelo Deaton, Campus daycare a major need for students, Northeastern, 8 July 1997, 8. Brad Borror, Day care option to be discussed in open forum tonight, Northeastern, 23 February 1999, 1-2. Madia Myers, NSU students, staff pose questions about daycare, Northeastern, 4 April 2000, 6. Keshia Whistelaw, NSGA considers on-campus daycare with resolution, Northeastern, 15 November 2007, 1-2.

5 Retention becomes a bigger issue and new assignments bringing the figure to almost six percent. The library acquisition budget received a major infusion of funds as did the university s computer labs. Enhanced support enabled the music department to purchase new uniforms for the members of the band. Their old uniforms, which had a life expectancy of ten years, had been purchased twelve years earlier. The band also received $40,000 for new instruments, the first large expenditure for equipment in a decade. 8 The energy crisis and increasing cost of gasoline had encouraged students to car pool and look for other ways to reduce the cost of commuting, including the creation of a Muskogee County Transit service. A fourteen-passenger van shuttled students from Muskogee and Fort Gibson for a round-trip cost of $1.75, eliminating the hassle of looking for a parking place. As the memory of lines at the gas pumps faded and inflation softened the impact of higher fuel prices, fewer students car pooled and the number of riders using the Muskogee shuttle service declined, threatening to end it. 9 Like most Americans, many members of the Northeastern community chose to ignore the need to confront the nation s increasing dependence on foreign oil and return to practices that squandered the diminishing supply of petroleum. Some of Northeastern s fraternities and sororities had established houses off campus over the years, but all were ephemeral and eventually abandoned. In the fall of 1997, members of Lambda Chi Alpha contracted with the university s housing office to occupy the entire second floor of Hastings Hall. Although four sororities had floors in Leoser dedicated exclusively to their use, the Lambda Chis were the only fraternity in which members roomed together in student housing. The fraternity had an unofficial floor some years before, and the older members missed the camaraderie they had experienced. To have a dedicated floor, an organization had to contract for 80% of the rooms before the beginning of the semester and fill the remaining rooms after the beginning of school. Several non-greek student organizations also occupied floors in campus dorms. Housing officials allowed groups some discretion in decorating the floors they occupied. Although the

6 Greeks would have preferred their own houses and explored establishing them periodically, the dedicated-floor arrangement proved an affordable alternative. In 2009 rules governing the allocation of dedicated floors in dorms would be restructured to provide more flexibility and to address the needs of non-greek groups. 10 For the fourth consecutive fall, enrollment at NSU declined in Bill Nowlin, director of admissions and records, called the figures part of a statewide trend, but also attributed the downward slide to the availability of upper-level classes at Rogers State in the Tulsa area and to Northeastern s academic standards, which were higher than the other regional state universities. As enrollment grew and funding decreased, the influx of students had been considered a mixed blessing, but after considering the 2007 fall statistics, Nowlin announced, When the numbers go down, retention becomes a bigger issue. Eddie Jackson, director of high school and college relations, promised, We are going to beef our recruitment to transfer students. This is our No. 1 focus. President Williams also focused the attention of the Northeastern community on enrollment management and emphasized the importance of effective recruitment. The loss of students in the western part of NSU s service area prompted Northeastern s head to look eastward for new students. For several years school officials had been considering extending in-state tuition to students from Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. Jackson credited Williams with putting the plan into operation. Before the middle of the fall semester, Northeastern recruiters were visiting schools in Missouri. The director of high school and college relations did not expect an immediate influx of out-of-state students, but his long-term goal was to attract about one hundred from each of the three states. 11 Jon Finch, director of special programs for the Sequoyah Institute, received the 1997 Governor's Arts Award for national and statewide achievement for contributions to the cultural enrichment of Oklahoma and his support of the arts. Since the establishment of Sequoyah Institute in 1985, Finch had been the driving force in attracting performers of national stature who normally appeared 10 Cori Grayson, Lambda Chi Alpha receives dorm floor, Northeastern, 9 September 1997, 5. Jacob Briggs, Housing works on floor agreement, 11 Jody Parsons, Enrollment down; declining factors up, Northeastern, 16 September 1997, 1-2. Cori Grayson, University taking steps to boost enrollment,

7 Retention becomes a bigger issue only in metropolitan areas. The quality of the programs he booked drew individuals and groups throughout northeastern Oklahoma to the Tahlequah campus and enhanced the reputation of the school as a center of culture and entertainment. 12 President Williams had identified expansion and renovation of Northeastern s science building as one of his top priorities. After the restoration of Seminary Hall, the science building, completed in 1957 with a 1962 addition, was unquestionably the classroom building most urgently in need of attention. With conditions described as dungeon-like by the student newspaper, the building was long overdue for repair, but the 42,000-square-foot structure, built when Northeastern s enrollment was 3,000, was obviously inadequate for an enrollment almost three times larger. Water damage, cracked floors, walls and ceilings, poor ventilation, and that musty odor highlight the problems with the Math and Science Building, according to Joey Zielanzinski, a Northeastern staff writer. Dr. Douglas Harrington, dean of math, science, and nursing, pointed out extensive water damage caused by a leaky roof that should have been replaced years earlier. Bob Patrick, director of the physical plant, said the building was in pretty bad shape and had not determined whether it would be more cost effective to demolish or repair it. With the building literally disintegrating, Harrington hoped money could be found to address the building s multiple issues, but the better part of a decade would elapse before the funds were found and the situation corrected. 13 School officials moved more expeditiously to preserve two murals in Seminary Hall, painted by Kiowa artists in the early days of the New Deal. The focus of protest during the planning phase of the renovation of the historic old seminary building, the administration had abandoned plans to relocate a wall containing a painting of a Kiowa buffalo hunt. The two murals had survived almost two years of construction, but were showing the ravages inflicted by the passage of two-thirds of a century. In October 1997, President Williams announced the beginning of a campaign to raise $40,000 to restore and preserve the murals. Fund raising proceeded slowly; by the following summer a committee to save the murals Joey Zielazinski, Math building in dungeon-like condition, Northeastern, 30 September 1997, 8.

8 had raised about half of the $40,000 needed to stabilize and protect the valuable paintings. 14 Since the beginning of the Seminary Hall restoration, Northeastern had been operating on a schedule in which classes started on the half hour. A few early-rising students and faculty members enjoyed the schedule, but the majority merely tolerated it. With the increasing importance of distance-learning technology, state officials decided that all institutions should have similar schedules. Effective the spring 1998 semester Northeastern abandoned its 7:30 classes and returned to a schedule in which most classes began on the hour. 15 Classroom space, particularly between ten and two, remained tight, but one classroom building stood vacant. The industrial arts building, constructed almost a half century earlier, had been abandoned entirely when the department of industry moved into the basement of the practical arts building. The classrooms, shops, and labs in the 22,400-square-foot building had been designed and equipped to train students in skills no longer needed in the contemporary job market. Dr. Donald Ruby, chair of the department, explained, The big heavy equipment is not part of our program anymore. Dr. Steve Archer, assistant professor of industrial operation management, elaborated, We re focusing on the computer automation aspect. We have eliminated the obsolete portions of our program. Sale of outmoded machinery raised funds for new equipment for the department, but plans to upgrade and modernize the building had been dismissed several years earlier as too costly by the administration. Various departments and colleges considered converting the building to other uses, but the cost of modernization stymied their plans, and for years the building remained vacant, except for temporary use and storage. 16 Although distance learning had never realized the potential envisioned by its advocates, it did offer educational opportunities for some students at locations more convenient than the Tahlequah campus. In part because of the effort of Dr. Tom Newton, professor of education, Southwestern Bell awarded Northeastern a grant of $60,000 to upgrade its distant-learning technology. Combined with a 14 Campaign launched to preserve murals, Northeastern, 9 October 1997, Kiemonn Jones, Times are changin on the spring schedule, Northeastern, 9 October 1997, Jody Parsons, Industrial Arts Building now defunct, expensive, Northeastern, 4 November 1997, 1-2. Gina Goins, Mural committee receives grants, Northeastern, 24 June 1998, 1-2.

9 Retention becomes a bigger issue $70,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Northeastern had $130,000 to create a distant-learning lab to train teachers and those who taught them. Newton admitted that in the past Northeastern s equipment had been inadequate, but he explained the additional funds had provided tools sophisticated enough that we can now do a good job of education at a distance. Distance learning now meant more than talk-back television; computers and CD-ROM databases that could be accessed remotely added a new dimension to the process. 17 The death of a twenty-year-old Louisiana State University student at a fraternity party where he drank enough to increase his blood-alcohol level to six times the legal limit, provoked headlines across the nation. Although consumption of alcoholic beverages was prohibited on Northeastern s campus and at off-campus events sponsored by university organizations, the rules were widely ignored by students on both sides of the legal drinking age of twenty-one. Ken Caughman, director of university housing, admitted that alcohol was a problem in the residence halls, but statistics maintained by the university indicated a decline in overall liquor-law violations, according to NSU s Public Safety Department. 18 Both campus police and housing officials had seemed willing to tolerate drinking as long as students behaved discretely. When a Northeastern fraternity member died of injuries sustained in an automobile accident following a party where alcohol was served, university officials cracked down on two organizations that sponsored activities involving drinking. Ron Cambiano, dean of student affairs, temporarily suspended Kappa Sigma and Phi Sigma Kappa after a preliminary investigation suggested fraternity funds were used to purchase alcoholic beverages. Both fraternities protested their innocence, cited their previous records free of major incidents, and stressed their service to the community. The president of the Phi Sigs acknowledged, however, All frats have parties with alcohol. They all do it, and that s a fact. The fact is, it s who gets caught. In mid-november Cambiano lifted the temporary suspensions and placed both groups on supervised probation, which required them to provide educational programs, working together in the area of 17 Cori Grayson, Grant allows to further distance learning, Northeastern, 9 October 1997, 6.

10 community service. The university s public disciplining of the two fraternities was a warning shot for Greeks and other organizations that those who flaunted the school s ban on alcohol would face similar justice. In reality school officials were no better equipped to prohibit drinking at NSU than state and federal officials had been able to compel their citizens to obey prohibition mandated by the eighteenth amendment and state laws. 19 Northeastern administrators missed few opportunities to promote the school. They rented billboards, advertised on television and in the newspapers, and sent recruiters across northeastern Oklahoma to high schools and junior colleges. The school band participated in many area parades, vocal groups performed at area schools, and tens of thousands of public school students visited the campus during the school year to participate in press days, band competitions, speech contests, history day, and scores of other activities. In 1997, Northeastern officials seized on a promotional idea that not only placed NSU s name in front of the public, but also produced revenue for the school. An NSU license plate, designed by the school s graphic artist, Terry Osburn, was offered to members of the university community for $27 beyond the normal fee charged by tag agents. Revenue from the tags was deposited in a scholarship account for the school s students. Dennis Bearpaw, the director of personnel services, was one of the first to purchase a tag featuring the running NSU logo. He chose NSU President Williams had promised to listen to what students had to say when he arrived in July. Apparently, they said they wanted an extra day off during Thanksgiving. The break, which had begun after 4 p.m., Wednesday in the past, was extended to include all-day Wednesday in Williams said, Holidays are an important time for families and we are pleased to allow this additional time for students to spend with families. Dr. Janet Bahr, associate vice president for academic affairs, explained that the large number of absences on Wednesday was a factor in extending the break; she expressed the hope that the extra day would not tempt people to miss all week J.C. Lonetree, University offers supporters license plate, Northeastern, 21 October 1997, J.C. Lone Tree, University changes Thanksgiving holiday policy, Northeastern, 4 November 1997, 1-2.

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