UNH holds an open forum once a semester to discuss any topics concerning the UNH community, which allows for a question and answer dialogue hosted by President Mark Huddleston and Provost Nancy Targett, and is designed to be more democratic than the state of the university address.
Hundreds of students attended last semester’s forum where the town hall style discussion was first implemented. In his opening remarks for the second forum, Huddleston mentioned that he wanted to move away from the state of the university address because of its “pretentiousness.”
“The vibe of this campus is participation and democracy and I think this is in tune with that,” Huddleston said. “…I enjoy doing the forums, I think they’re important. I’m not sure that it’s always a representative slice of campus life, but it’s the best that we can do and it gives us an idea of what is on people’s minds.”
The forum became heated when subjects of controversy were brought up, especially ones that students felt had not been properly addressed by the UNH administration.
Charlie Durkin, a senior biomedical science major, raised concerns over the university’s handling of the Counseling Center, which, since last summer, had suspended the counselor’s ability to write letters for transgender students seeking hormonal replacement therapy as part of their transitions unless they had gone through the proper World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) training.
According to Durkin, nine counselors resigned due to the suspension of this program and increased workload. The university required more training during this time for counselors to be allowed to write these prescriptions, even though, as Durkin pointed out, it is not required by law.
“They didn’t realize the importance of this program and that a lot of these services can mean life or death for those going through their transition,” Durkin said.
Durkin commended Dean of Students Ted Kirkpatrick’s commitment to working on a solution. Kirkpatrick has raised the idea of integrating Health Services and the Counseling Center, which Durkin said would be amazing. Durkin said he appreciated Provost Nancy Targett’s answers, but criticized President Huddleston’s demeanor which drew criticism after he told a UNH journalism student, Raoul Biron, that he would speak slower so that Biron could understand an answer to a question.
“I thought he was being very evasive and petty with his questions and answers. He was very demeaning, like ‘oh it’s a very complicated issue, you wouldn’t understand.’ I certainly didn’t appreciate that… For the answer he gave me it was so evasive. I would have had an entirely different tone had he come at it by admitting it wasn’t the best way they could’ve gone about it. I would have had an entirely different discourse with him if he had been more open to working with us,” Durkin said.
Huddleston later apologized for his comments, which he acknowledged were not the best approach to answering someone’s concerns.
Nooran Al-Hamdam, a first-year economics student, asked about the steps the university is willing to physically take to address the travel ban and the recent immigration raids.
“To be honest, we have limited ability to stop the federal government from doing things. I would be playing to the crowd if I said we’d park our bulldozers in the driveway. That’s just not a realistic option for us. What we will do is to continue the long-standing practice of not allowing federal agencies, like ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to deputize our UNH [Police Department] and essentially put them in the immigration law business, that’s not something we will do,” Huddleston said.
Huddleston also restated his opposition to sanctuary cities or campuses by saying that they draw unwanted attention from the federal government. He said he didn’t want international students to have anymore of a target on their backs.
Andres Mejia, Connect program coordinator and student at UNH, raised concerns over how freely university professors are able to say anything they want, even if that means ignorant or hateful speech.
“What would you tell faculty or staff that tell students for example: ‘we know everyone voted for Obama because he’s black, right, Andres?’ And I’m the only person of color in that class. That’s an issue right there because you’re telling professors they can say whatever they want to a person of color and the only person of color in the class, because right there you’re not only dealing with the mental state of the student, but also the retention of students of color on campus which we all know is a huge issue,” Mejia said.
“I’ve seen a lot of efforts to respond to the needs of underrepresented communities. Jaime Nolan [associate vice president for community, equity and diversity] is here and she does a fabulous job trying to encourage those efforts. We are absolutely committed to it,” replied Huddleston.
Huddleston went on to deride the professor who made the comment toward Mejia and said that while he found that type of speech to be disturbing, he said that he is a free speech absolutist. Provost Targett also defended the free speech of professors by mentioning University of California Berkeley’s decision to have Milo Yiannopolous on campus, which was eventually met with intense protest from students that led to the cancelling of the event. Targett said that it’s a tough issue to weigh both the values of the university and the protection of free speech.
Other topics included protecting scientific research, which Huddleston said is a priority of the university. Some students raised concerns over the administration’s pay increase while others wanted more information on funding for the Paul Creative Arts Center. After an hour of discussion, the second open forum ended with answers that didn’t fully addresses the concerns of those in attendance.