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GSS talks COVID, fiscal updates, diversity with BGSU admins

BGSU figureheads Joe B. Whitehead, provost and vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, Sheri Stoll, chief financial officer and Jennifer McCary, chief officer of Diversity and Belonging, spoke to the Graduate Student Senate about how the university is doing after the pandemic on March 18. 

As the CDC lifted the COVID-19 mask-wearing guidelines, BGSU had to make decisions about what to do next. 

“It’s at a point now where it’s about personal responsibility and that will allow us to provide flexibility,” Whitehead said. 

Since the mask mandate was lifted, Whitehead emphasized the defense mechanisms to fight the virus, like wearing a KN95 facemask or receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Whitehead said people need to be respectful of those who still want to wear a mask around campus. 

With graduation around the corner, Whitehead mentioned that people will have the choice of wearing a mask but will not be required to during the ceremony. 

Stoll spoke with GSS about the university’s funding and how the budget looks for the fiscal year 2023. 

“It’s very difficult to kind of wrap your head around how your performance can improve year over year and yet it might not positively impact your funding,” Stoll said. 

In 2018, BGSU’s finances were increasing but started declining due to the pandemic. The state of Ohio informed universities to expect immediate cuts to their funding. 

Stoll explained that salary and benefits make up the biggest percentage of the budget, along with student aid for both graduate and undergraduate students.

In order to achieve a balanced budget, BGSU made reductions in staffing around support areas on campus. Most of these staff openings have now been filled.

Stoll said “some of them are still not replaced, not refilled because obviously, we’re still trying to recover.” 

As BGSU plans for the fiscal year 2023, they are not planning on an increase or decrease in enrollment and focusing on the state budget that increased by 0.9%.

Also in the fiscal year 2023, there will be an increase of 5% in graduate tuition; however, it isn’t final until after a meeting with the finance board being held on May 19 and 20.

In regards to the graduate tuition increase, there will also be a rise in graduate funding. 

“It has not been a one-to-one increase. We’re still moving forward extremely slowly and conservatively until we have a little bit more certainty,” Stoll said.

GSS President IkpemesiOgundare said “we’ve had a lot of discussion from our Provost as well as our Chief Financial Officer and Vice President about money. I understand the frustration because you consistently see money being spent on other areas and there’s the concern that we as the people who are doing the work and serving the university may be getting overlooked.”

If a graduate student is struggling with housing or bills, the Dean of Students does have emergency funds to help. The emergency forms to fill out are located on the BSGU Dean of Students webpage

BGSU’s Office of Diversity and Belonging and McCary are working on curating Initiative 9: Culture of Inclusion, Respect and Curiosity. 

The initiative was made to create a culture of inclusion, diversity and democracy through educating the community of these topics. 

“We will have a culture of inclusion respecting curiosity and … how we will make more strategic efforts to recruit and obtain and support a diverse community of students, faculty and staff,” McCary said.  

In order to complete this goal, McCary is relying on thematic strategies including advocacy, education, programming, community and accountability. BGSU is requiring students to participate in classes to help shape their life design journeys which will then expand their cultural understanding before graduation. 

The Office of Diversity and Belonging is also tracking graduation rates in order to close the gap between caucasian, African American and Hispanic or Latino students. 

There will be a 5% increase in diverse hires and BGSU is looking to improve diversity amongst students, faculty and staff from marginalized groups. They are also conducting a survey that will measure 70% of the BGSU population’s sense of belonging within the community. 

This year, Diversity and Belonging has created a safe zone for the LGBTQ+ community, received the Silver Seal for the All in Campus Democracy Challenge and upgraded the Affirmative Action plan from 2020.

They also fundraised over $90,000 for the Spirit Programs to compete in a national competition, increased the applicants for the President’s Leadership Academy by 300% and held a Title IX training for all student-athletes.

“One thing I’m really proud of you all is Title IX. Our Title IX coordinator, Lakeshia Dowlen, was able to train 100% of the student-athlete (population), 455 student-athletes this year,” McCary said.

This division partnered with USG to create stickers that lead people by QR codes to the nearest gender-inclusive restroom and placed Green Dot stickers in 2,157 bathrooms.

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