Updated: 11/3/19, 7:36 a.m. CST
Ashleigh Crouch, News Correspondent
On Wednesday, October 30, the Jacksonville State University Student Government Association hosted a town hall on the fifth floor of Meehan Hall to discuss the proposed dining hall, $275 commuter fee and other campus related issues.
The event consisted of a panel including SGA President Ulises Hererra, SGA Vice President of Student Activities Desmond Thomas, acting President Don Killingsworth, Vice President for Finance and Administration James Brigham, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Christie Shelton, Vice President for Student Affairs Tim King and Dean of Students Terry Casey. The event was mediated by SGA Vice President of Student Senate Jerod Sharp.
Several students appeared before the panel to ask questions and voice their concerns for the panel to respond to.
Justin Jones, a junior and an SGA Student Senator, began by inquiring about communication between university leadership and students.
“Why did students find out about [the proposed dining hall] after the fact?” asked Jones.
Killingsworth conceded that the university was at fault for not properly relaying that information.
“Going forward [the university] will have better procedures in place to not let that happen again,” said Killingsworth.
Jamerious Borden, a sophomore at JSU, raised a concern about the proposed dining facility and $275 commuter fee. Borden said he likes the way the model of the proposed dining hall looks, but that he “feel[s] like we could use that for general funding or parking”.
“I can already barely afford to attend college and I’m just blessed that I even have the opportunity to attend this college, because I love it,” said Borden.
Brigham responded by stating that the $275 mandatory commuter meal plan was proposed by Sodexo and not finalized by the university.
“What was reported in the paper and what you heard that was approved at the Board of Trustees meeting was simply a proposal from Sodexo,” said Brigham. “The issue is that I think we’ve got a little ahead of ourselves because we haven’t even sat down and started the negotiation process yet. If you read in the paper that the $275 is a mandatory done deal, then that’s incorrect.”
Though the agreement has not been finalized by the board, the Management Committee and the university Cabinet, prior to negotiation of the contract, recommended Sodexo’s ‘Option 4’ proposal be adopted, an option that includes the mandatory commuter meal plan.
Students also brought up buildings on campus that are currently in need of repairs or reconstruction, including Merrill Hall and Wallace Hall. The panel of JSU officials stated repeatedly that the proposed new dining hall would not affect any other issues regarding building repairs on campus.
“Merrill is on the schedule to be rebuilt … and as we move forward there are going to be other changes made,” said Brigham.
Brigham also emphasized the possible benefits of a new dining facility, including a possible convenience store and meeting spaces for on campus organizations in the proposed dining facility.
“Some of the things that the Anniston Star or the Chanticleer didn’t mention is that there are going to be a lot of resources for students that come out of this process,” said Brigham.
A concern that the board raised as an argument for a new dining facility is the lack of space in the Jack Hopper Cafeteria.
Griffin Harris, a junior majoring in communication, disagreed that Jack Hopper lacks space and cited his concern with the state of the food in the cafeteria.
“One of the goals of the new cafeteria is to make more space, but I’ve never had a problem finding a seat in the cafeteria that we have now,” said Harris. “If we want a top tier place to eat in then first we need top tier food to eat.”
“If the student body doesn’t want a new cafeteria, then we don’t have to build a new cafeteria,” Brigham replied.
Harris also discussed concerns about conditions of buildings on campus and claims the Department of Communication receives a lack of attention. He went on to say that there are better things the university could spend a proposed $26 million on than a new dining facility.
“I agree that there are many buildings on campus that need to be updated,” said Brigham in response. “We understand that there are classrooms and buildings that need to be renovated. The cafeteria is not dependant on any other building projects that are going on.”
Discussion of former university president John Beehler’s termination made its way into the town hall as well.
“I think it needs to be made a public statement to all of our students why President Beehler was taken out of his presidency mid-semester, because the Chanticleer and the Anniston Star are blanket covering these issues and we aren’t really seeing what is going on internally,” said Darby Angel, who was elected Miss JSU in 2019. “Why are we spending this time looking for a new president when we had a fabulous one?”
On October 22, the board voted to terminate the contract of Beehler to serve as president of JSU, without cause.
“Dr. Beehler has never been accused of any wrongdoing that would cause him to be relieved with cause, and this is just the Board of Trustees’ decision to move in a different direction,” said Killingsworth, in response to Angel.
On Friday, November 1, a group of about 15 students protested on the lawn of the Theron Montgomery Building, after rallying at Mason Hall at 12:30 p.m. and marching around Trustee Circle.