Fast Forward Syracuse

Responding to criticism, the Campus Facilities Advisory Board is tasked to provide transparency on decision-making

Jessica Sheldon | Staff Writer

The Campus Facilities Advisory Board was created partly in response to increase transparency as some faculty members publicly criticized the university administration on the construction of the $6 million University Place promenade.

In an effort to dispel skepticism over Syracuse University’s transparency in decision-making, the university has commissioned an advisory board to evaluate the Campus Framework’s academic and non-academic investments.

The Campus Facilities Advisory Board — led by Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly and Vice President and Chief Facilities Officer Pete Sala, along with 21 students, faculty and staff members — held its first meeting on Feb. 16. Cathryn Newton, special adviser to the chancellor and provost for faculty engagement, who serves as the lead faculty adviser to the board, said the committee is “all about” transparency and timeliness.

“The sooner that people can hear what the committee is working on, the healthier it is for the campus,” Newton said. “ … I think it is the goal of this group that this be a place where there can be open sharing of viewpoints and directness. That is always very encouraging to me, because I think Syracuse makes its best decisions when we are open and direct and informed.”

The Campus Framework is one of three components in SU Chancellor Kent Syverud’s flagship Fast Forward Syracuse initiative.

During the Feb. 16 meeting, the board made two recommendations: to support the draft Campus Framework’s recommendation to position the physical heart of the campus as the academic core of SU, and to support “a time sensitive request” to identify additional space for teaching, learning and research.

Wheatly announced the board would be established during the first University Senate meeting of the spring semester in mid-January after the Senate demanded more transparency and communication about the infrastructure on campus, specifically regarding renovations.

Faculty members who were dissatisfied with how SU decided to construct the $6 million University Place promenade publicly criticized the university administration. Despite two petitions opposing the promenade with more than 300 signatures being submitted to Syverud — and a protest against the promenade that took place in May — the university forged ahead with the construction plan without a delay. Critics argued that the money should have funded SU’s academics, not its aesthetics. The promenade was completed August 2016.

During the University Senate meeting, Wheatly acknowledged that the administration can do a better job at collaborating with the rest of campus, and that the board will hopefully create “a flow of information so we get broader input on some of our decisions” regarding facility renovations.

Of the controversy, Newton said if the promenade construction were under consideration now, that matter is “exactly the kind of thing that would first go before this board.”

Newton said when Wheatly came to the university last May, she recognized a need to have some kind of a committee to look at and understand the university’s needs. Wheatly was interested in how the university could get a list of needs from schools, colleges and all divisions of the university to plan for construction, Newton said.

Given that there had not been a panel that reviews the needs or input from student organizations or student affairs on campus, Newton said Wheatly wanted to facilitate the process jointly with students, faculty, staff and administrators.

Mary Lovely, one of the board members and an economics professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said the board’s purpose is to create not just transparency, but also an opportunity where different voices on campus are heard. The board members were selected from seven schools and colleges, SU administration, the Disability Cultural Center, Department of Public Safety and the Office of Campus Planning, Design and Construction.

Lovely said her goal on the board is to share her thoughts on whether a given academic building is welcoming for undergraduate students, noting that there are not many undergraduate students present on the Maxwell-Eggers complex compared to other buildings on campus.

“If we increasingly want to attract, retain and motivate more academically-oriented students, we have to make space for them in the main campus area,” Lovely said.

There is no fixed schedule on when the board holds its meeting but Newton, as a board member, said she hopes meetings will take place “periodically with regularity.”

Newton said one of her goals would be transforming the campus to be a more vibrant space that supports student activities than it is right now.

“I’ve put a challenge that any of you could come back in five years or 10 or 15 or 20, and the real measure of our success will be how the campus moves and how this space informs academic discovery then,” Newton said. “We are always building a campus for people who aren’t here yet.”

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