President Hemphill Holds Open Forum for Students

Students+gather+in+the+Student+Senate+Room+to+hear+President+Hemphill+speak.

Students gather in the Student Senate Room to hear President Hemphill speak.

Will Witt, News Editor

President Hemphill held an open forum for students on Wednesday, Oct. 5, to communicate where ODU currently stands in the region and what changes are coming for the university, as well as to address any concerns students may have. 

 

Hemphill opened the forum with a general question: “What do I need to know?” The students in attendance voiced concerns ranging from lack of communication with transfer students to international students not receiving adequate help with ODU’s Canvas system.

 

These issues were heard not only by Hemphill, but his cabinet as well. Chief Financial Officer Chad Reed was asked to answer direct questions, like one from Otsmilola Jegedi, a Ph.D. student who asked about the cost of graduate student health insurance. 

 

Jegedi also brought up student perception of  systemic racism in graduate advising. Provost Austin Agho acknowledged he was aware of and investigating this issue. Jegedi said that “persons of color receive different advising from white graduate students” which has made her feel as if she has been “thrown to the wolves” when making her way through her graduate program.

 

The conversation pivoted to the proposed merger with Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). The merger, which is planned to take place on July 1, 2023, would make ODU a billion dollar institution overnight. The amalgamation of both entities would help solve the issues in one of the largest regions in Virginia with an integrated health science system. 

 

However, Hemphill made it clear that if additional funds do not flow from Sentera and the Commonwealth of Virginia, he will be making the recommendation to the board at the call meeting in March to not move forward. To move forward without these funds, Hemphill would need to “look at resources that are in academic departments”. He referenced a similar merger at Virginia Commonwealth University, where academic funds were used and are still being paid back to the “academic side of the house”.

 

Sydney Burson, a Speech Pathology major, questioned if her ODU parking pass would be honored at EVMS. Reed responded that the passes would be honored, however, ODU may look into certain paths of study that would require students to be parked at EVMS. For instance, students with health science degrees may be required to receive a special parking pass honored by both institutions. When asked if after the merger would ODU establish a more reliable connection to the EVMS campus, and by extension, downtown, Hemphill explained that there is a bus shuttle system in place that completes this connection to downtown already. 

 

To address some upcoming changes at the university, those in attendance were informed that Student Health Services and Student Counseling will be moving to the Student Recreation Center (SRC).  This move makes one student, Mya Godwin, nervous, she stated that “some students may have experienced trauma in the SRC and would be less likely to seek help.” 

Jegedi said that “persons of color receive different advising from white graduate students” which has made her feel as if she has been “thrown to the wolves” when making her way through her graduate program. ”

Godwin also brought to attention that many handicap ramps and doors on campus are inoperational. A handicap lift in Batten Arts and Letters has not been in operation for a few weeks now. Reed, the officer responsible for issues like this, was unaware of these current issues. 

 

Another student-raised concern was pertaining to Aramark food services, the quality of food provided and the length of the contract in place. Reed said the contract with Aramark will continue for the “better half of the decade”. In the past, an issue that had been previously presented to Hemphill was wait times at Chick-fil-A. The wait times were decreased from 45 minutes to two to three minutes. Another new change coming to dining will be posted nutritional information for the food options, which was championed by Director of Athletics Wood Selig. 

 

When pressed about the existing monorail structures that seem to be more of an aging landmark than a research project, Hemphill said that sections of the existing system, especially those near the new Biology building, will need to be demolished due to their proximity to the footprint of the new building. There are plans to extend this demolition beyond these areas. 

 

When asked if the sections that cross Hampton Blvd could be repurposed as a raised crosswalk for students, Reed said that this topic has been discussed before and ruled out due to the location of the rail in the middle of the block. This was deemed as an inconvenience to students and other options for safer crossings are being explored at the ends of the blocks where crosswalks already exist. 

 

Overall, the few students in attendance were pleased with the state of ODU and the strategic plan. Hemphill said he was also “very pleased” with this new strategic plan.  

 

Hemphill concluded his open forum meetings with students on Oct. 6. He can be reached by emailing [email protected]