Early afternoon on Tuesday, Nov. 2, UNH President Mark Huddleston and Provost Nancy Targett held an open forum and fielded the public’s questions with some help from the deans of each of the respective UNH colleges. The Memorial Union Building’s (MUB) Granite State Room (GSR) was filled with students and professors alike, some of whom approached the microphone with comments regarding issues important to them.
After a brief introduction to the forum, the faculty was quickly probed about the controversial allocation of unrestricted funds to the athletic department, specifically toward the new scoreboard.
“I actually had no clue that subject was going to come up today,” Huddleston said jokingly.
He proceeded to explain in-depth his reasoning behind the decision. It’s his job, he said, to make sure UNH Athletics sees the attention it deserves. It’s such an integral part to this university’s identity that it would do the community an injustice to ignore it’s growing need for amenities.
“It’s not that we put athletics before education or any other department. It was simply the athletic department’s turn,” Huddleston said.
Of course there were disagreements on the matter. The scoreboard situation was referred to several times throughout the forum, most often by disgruntled members of underrepresented or low-funded campus organizations. One specific member of the arts community explained how she and her peers felt marginalized. According to that student, the Paul Creative Arts Center (PCAC) has suffered a lack of funding and attention; despite being promised elevator access to the building’s third floor, it never came.
Huddleston, with Targett’s input, continued to stress how thinly stretched UNH’s budget is.
“The PCAC’s development is still on schedule, but we don’t have the money to complete it any more quickly,” Huddleston said.
One after another, students inquired about their groups and organizations and wanting to know why the sports department was put before theirs. It was uncomfortable and borderline heartbreaking at times for the individuals asking the difficult questions, but the UNH president did his best to ease their stress. His responses were concise but firm, each supportive of the problems many organizations seem to be having. Although a few students remained displeased with the answers, they couldn’t have claimed Huddleston wasn’t straightforward with them.
As the event stretched onward, the crowd thinned. The questions, though, became arguably more refined. Huddleston was presented the opportunity to comment on more than just the university’s budget and its effect on various communities. He was asked about the spreading notion of UNH’s businesslike behaviors.
“I do not in any respect consider our university to be a business, and I think that wording is very unfortunate. It does no justice to our community,” he said.
They closed the forum after addressing a few questions regarding the potential drop-off in retention and graduation rates at UNH in the future. Targett pointed out that the university has one of the highest retention rates in the country, graduating nearly 80 percent of its freshmen; and yet, she and management have plans to improve those numbers. “The goal is to go from a place that’s already good, to a place that’s even better,” she said.
In fact, the open forum was held not only to answer questions, but also to garner feedback. The faculty prepared a list of topics that they anticipated would come up—not a single one from that list did. Instead, students and faculty made their voices heard with the hopes of potentially changing UNH’s priorities.