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Hodge answers students' questions

President addresses bicentennial, student center at press conference

By Austin Fast
On April 17, 2009

  • President David Hodge addresses a small audience at a press conference Thursday.

Addressing an unexpectedly low turnout, Miami University's 21st President David Hodge fielded questions and concerns from a gathering of mostly journalism and communication students at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The conference was the third event of its kind sponsored by Miami's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

Patricia Gallagher Newberry, lecturer in the journalism program and adviser of SPJ, was surprised at the small audience of about 15 and cited a few reasons to explain the reduced numbers.

"Through no fault of his own, the president is no longer as newsworthy," Newberry said. "He's not brand-new anymore. He gave his Annual Address just a month ago. I think it's a little less novel now that journalism students have had other opportunities to be in his presence and ask him questions."

Newberry also explained that the event was not scheduled early enough for professors to build the press conference into their syllabi, as was the case for the previous two conferences.

According to Newberry, those students who were present received a high quality experience. Students raised questions on a wide variety of topics varying from academic advising to the future student center.

During the conference, Hodge emphasized the differences between his first year as president and the current year.

"The first time around, there was a lot of listening and learning and not so much doing," Hodge said. "Now we are listening and doing. There's a lot more heavy-lifting going on behind the scenes. Our initiatives that we started last year now require attention."

One of Hodge's leading concerns is the Bicentennial Celebration in 2009.

"The bicentennial is enormously important to our future," Hodge said. "The real value of the bicentennial is as the launching pad of our future-of our third century as a university. It's a moment to bring back our alums and deepen their connections with Miami."

Hodge said that he believes one of the ways to reconnect with Miami alumni is through a new student center, which he termed the Bicentennial Student Center. He said that a large donor's name would precede the center's official title-but that donor is yet to be established. Hodge sees the new center serving as a crossroads of the Miami experience.

Altogether, this new student center will require about $70 million in funding. Of that amount, the university hopes for $50 million to be in gifts, so Hodge and the university are currently searching for a large donor to front the campaign.

"We need to find someone with the right passion," Hodge said. "The gift will have tremendous visibility on campus and impact on the future of the university."

Hodge feels confident that the university will be able to raise $35 million in major gifts and another $15 million in smaller gifts.

According to Hodge, only 48 percent of Miami alumni have donated money to the university at some point. His goal is to raise that number to 50 percent.

"We have 180,000 alums," Hodge said. "If every alum gave a few hundred dollars, it would raise $30 million. What those gifts will do is reduce fees that any future students would have to pay for the building."

Hodge revealed that of the four or five possible sites still being considered, two have emerged as the most likely for the new student center. One option is along Spring Street from the location of the Campus Avenue Building to the Bonham House and the other is at the current location of Kreger and Gaskill halls.

"Anytime we take down a building, there will be controversy," Hodge said. "We will need to think about all the actions we are taking."

According to Hodge, the final location of the student center will be determined by the end of the school year, if planning goes well, or by next fall at the very latest. Hodge said he is determined for construction to begin in the bicentennial year of 2009.

"We will break ground in the bicentennial year, even if it is just a ceremonial groundbreaking," Hodge said.

Hodge also discussed problems with the academic advising process and explained that the university has hired consultants to analyze the problems and submit their reports by the end of November or early December to discuss the steps necessary to improving the system.

Hodge stressed that students need to be understanding with their advisers and not set unrealistically high expectations for them when it comes to knowing all aspects of the Miami plan.

"It's real easy to make a mistake as a faculty member," Hodge said. "However, we have a number of programs that are very tightly programmed and we cannot afford to give bad advice."

According to Hodge, students can expect changes in the advising system to take effect within the next two years.

The student response to the press conference was overall positive. Sophomore mass communication student Allison Shagrin said she felt that Hodge touched on several current university issues without overlapping too much from his presidential address earlier in the year.

"I think he answered (questions) as well as he could have," Shagrin said. "Some things can't really be answered fully because there aren't definitive answers yet or the public isn't supposed to know yet, so in dodging the heart of those questions I think he was justified. Overall, he did a good job answering."

Sophomore Janet Mokhnatkin was also impressed with the quality of Hodge's answers, but felt that some issues had been skipped during the conference.

"President Hodge dealt with some of the issues that I expected him to deal with, such as the new student center," Mokhnatkin said. "However, I have heard students around campus talking about other issues that were not discussed such as distribution of funding and budget cuts for various programs on campus."

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