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Niehoff stops by SU

September 23rd, 2010

The Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J., president of John Carroll University, addressed student senators and an audience of one student and a few administrators at the weekly Student Union meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Issues discussed during the question-and-answer session were plans for the former Bohannon Science Center, parking on campus, the University’s relationship with University Heights, sustainability, spending and diversity.

Niehoff said alumni donors were disappointed that the green space on campus had decreased and wanted the temporary parking lot to go. The University determined that with student, faculty and staff numbers down in recent years, they could afford to restore Hamlin Quad to a green space. The temporary parking lot was turned back into a quad during this past summer.

“We haven’t been maxed out in parking at all during my time at John Carroll,” Niehoff said. “Before that, we were maxed out all the time.”

Negotiations between the University and Target had been ongoing for a few years because space existed in their parking garage.

“If I had the option between parking in the garage and parking outside on a snowy day, I would consider the garage,” Niehoff said.

Ideally, Niehoff explained, Bohannon should have been taken down first before Hamlin Quad was restored. However, that was impossible due to financial reasons.

“Taking Bohannon down is a multi-million dollar project and I had to raise the money to do that,” Niehoff said.

Four years ago, an architectural firm came to campus for consultation. The firm told the University by demolishing Bohannon, they would get more parking out of the space than in the temporary lot.

In order to demolish Bohannon, the University must obtain a permit through University Heights first and disassemble the inside of the building.

“We’ve raised most of the money to do this project, but we can’t begin until after graduation next year [2011],” Niehoff said.

After the graduation and alumni reunion event next summer, the building will be taken down and parking will be put in on the site. According to Niehoff, most of the $3.5 million needed for the project has been raised. His goal is to have the building taken down and new parking in place by the fall of 2011.

Intramural fields are also planned for Milford Road near the Carroll Blvd. gate to campus. The University also needs permission from University Heights to put the fields in place, which will require the demolition of houses near that corner.

“If those first five houses are gone, we’ll be able to see the [administration building] tower from Warrensville [Center Road],” Niehoff said. “That’d be fabulous for us. University Heights will be more attractive with those houses gone.”

Along with the intramural fields, which students at Gesu Catholic School will also use, Niehoff thinks Hamlin Quad will also be large enough to have a soccer field once Bohannon is torn down.

New dean for Arts and Sciences

Niehoff said that in conversations with Jeanne Colleran, the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, they discussed that students have the power to control their academic experience at JCU.

“You are part of the academic programs,” he said to the student senators. “You need to be part of the discussions both with the various departments [and] with the dean and others about new majors, new minors [and] the things you would like to see enhanced.”

He encouraged Student Union to invite Colleran to a future meeting. Amanda Papa, President of Student Union, said in reply that Colleran is planning to attend an upcoming Senate meeting.

Saving money, reducing tuition

In response to a question about cutting spending to save money, Niehoff said approximately $10 million has been slashed out of the University’s operating budget over the last five years, including a $4.5 million reduction last year.

“There are fewer staff around. We are doing a few less things than we used to do,” he said. “But we spent a great deal of effort trying to make sure that [the students’] educational experience was not diminished by our budget reductions.”

The reductions were put in place to reduce tuition, however, Niehoff was quick to mention that JCU gives out more financial aid than most of its peers. Changes in family finances and circumstances can allow for recalculation of a student’s financial aid by contacting the financial aid office, he said.

“I wish we could be more generous,” Niehoff said. “There are other institutions in Northeast Ohio that are cheaper than us. But, they don’t provide the education we do. They don’t have the quality of faculty that we do. Students can’t finish in four years.”

Niehoff welcomes suggestions as to where to cut spending, but also said there have been areas where the University has had to invest more, such as the Counseling Center and in Admissions.

JCU’s bout with Univ. Heights

The relationship between JCU and University Heights has not improved, despite the best efforts of Susan Infeld, the City’s mayor, according to Niehoff.

“One of my daily headaches is to deal with University Heights, and that hasn’t gotten better,” Niehoff said. “The mayor is very hopeful and is trying to work with us [to secure a permit to demolish Bohannon].”

JCU owns a duplex at 4070 Carroll Blvd., which it plans to renovate and turn into student housing. Niehoff wanted to begin renovation work two weeks ago on the property, but University Heights has not issued a building permit yet. He further stated that unlike with the previous owner of the property, the City sent out a building inspector the day after the property was purchased.

“We have to be very careful to follow exactly what the City’s regulations are, even though we try to be cooperative [and] respectful,” Niehoff said. “I came here naively five years ago thinking that reasonableness and cooperation would be enough. It hasn’t [been].”

The University also pays over $400,000 per year in property taxes to the City, even though it is a tax-exempt non-profit corporation.

“We’re very conscious of the fact that John Carroll provides 15 percent of all the income that University Heights receives,” Niehoff said. “We’re [also] paying property tax on all these properties. That can’t go on forever, especially when the property becomes less valuable to us.”

Students need to be very thoughtful of their actions, especially where they park, to improve relations with the City, Niehoff said.

“What you can do is exactly what the John Carroll student at their best does,” he said to the Senate. “Be respectful, be thoughtful about the choices you make and encourage your friends to do the same.”

Niehoff believes more students voting in upcoming local elections would get the attention of the City. He wants students to get more engaged in community issues. He believes the best way to get them involved in these issues is for the University to provide copies of the Sun Press to students. The Sun Press is a weekly newspaper that covers Beachwood, Cleveland Heights, University Heights, and Shaker Heights.

“We need to hold [elected officials] accountable to the positions they take and to whether or not they are serving the entire city,” he said.

Diversity and sustainability

Following the report issued by the Diversity Task Force and the task force’s town hall meeting last week, Niehoff came away feeling a need for stronger support for all John Carroll students, especially those of color and older students. He also stated the need for diversity in the curriculum and among members of the University’s faculty.

“John Carroll will be rolling out a series of things all designed to make us more inclusive and to help support diversity on our campus,” Niehoff said. “This is based on the work that the [Diversity] Task Force did [and] the work that other committees have done. I have never heard the level of conversation at this University as serious about making progress in this issue as it is now.”

Other universities have established programs where the savings from sustainability projects goes into a general fund for other projects on their campuses. Niehoff said that this is probably occurring already, and if it isn’t, it is an option. Funding for sustainability projects has come from alumni gifts, which have increased over the past two years. Niehoff said he targets the alumni gifts for sustainability projects.

Student Union Executive Vice President Rita Rochford said it was important for Niehoff to come to the meeting.

“It is important that Fr. Niehoff attend an occasional Student Union meeting because it shows his commitment to student concerns while also providing the Student Union and student body with accurate, direct information regarding major issues,” she said.

Even though only one student attended the meeting, Rochford understands the busy schedule of students.

“It would have been great if we would have had more students in attendance, but at the same the life of a John Carroll student is a busy one,” she said.