In the general assembly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7, Student Congress welcomed Providence College president, Father Kenneth Sicard, O.P., who brought with him Chief Chad Carnegie, the head of Public Safety, Nedzer Erilus, the Assistant Dean of residence life, Tiffany Gaffney, the Associate Dean of Students, Ann Molak, the Executive Vice President, and Rosemary Mugan, the Director of Personal Counseling.
Fr. Sicard, O.P., began by bringing attention to a major fundraising campaign that the school will be starting soon and walked us through his vision for the College. He noted that he wants to gain much greater national recognition as an institution and thinks we will be able to do so by continuing to focus on academic excellence, creating a positive and inclusive student experience, and increasing the endowment to $1 billion. He referenced initiatives that the College is taking, including creating new programs such as the masters’ programs and the 700 new applications for the School of Nursing and Health Sciences. There is also talk of creating programs surrounding sports management, business analytics, neuroscience, cyber security, and new challenging academic programs for students to participate in. He concluded by reminding us of the search for a vice president for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office and the College’s persistent efforts to attract world-class faculty and create an inclusive environment.
One member asked about increasing financial aid, to which Fr. Sicard, O.P., said that we meet 90 percent of the needs of students, though we need to be closer to 100 percent, which can be done with an increase in our endowment.
Another student inquired about students fundraising for other causes, despite the College’s position as a non-profit. He answered that it is important to our Catholic and Dominican traditions that we work towards acts of service; however, he mentioned that PC rarely donates to charities in order to not take tuition dollars away from efforts on campus.
Next, a member asked how the school plans to preserve its rich Catholic identity when looking to expand our diversity. Fr. Sicard, O.P., noted that these should not be separate things and that we are unapologetically Catholic, but strive to be open to everybody; there should be no inconsistencies between our Catholic identity and the welcoming of all people.
A student asked about how much funding is provided for athletics. Fr. Sicard, O.P., answered,“The only team that makes money for the college is men’s basketball, while the others are all expensive. We spend about $25 million on athletics, which is about ten percent of the operating budget. $11 million is spent on scholarships. Revenues from athletics make up about five percent of the College’s total revenue.”
A student then asked about introducing a law school and was told that nothing is off the table. It has not been explored, but remains within the realm of possibility.
One student asked about the mental health initiatives that the school is working on, specifically in regard to satisfying student needs. Chief Carnegie answered a question regarding private rooms for spaces to study and spend personal time. In the Friar Development Center, there are private spaces built into the development plan. He referred the question about the Personal Counseling Center to Mugan. She mentioned that they have an increased budget and are searching for two new positions and have additionally proposed some new positions that are awaiting approval. One is an identity and multicultural-focused position with time dedicated to prevention and outreach. Another position has a specialty in abuse. In order to not have session limits, the center hopes to continue adding positions to grow the center. Specifically, in regard to student workers, Nedzer Erilus, the Assistant Dean of residence life, said that they are always exploring ways to support resident assistants. He seeks to identify ways in and out of his office’s control in regard to mental health. Reimagining the RA position is one way his office works to respond to the needs of their work. He urges students to take accountability and to support their RAs to limit distress. The counseling center also partners with the Office of Residence Life during training to offer them help and teach them how to assist themselves in addition to the students that are hired to aid them. They will try to get the resources, and the cabinet and board feel strongly about this.
One student asked about the College’s footprint as we continue to grow–will it impact the environment of the College and our relationship with the surrounding community? Fr. Sicard, O.P., mentioned how remote campuses are not out of the question. One example he mentioned was leasing space in California at a monastery for a west-coast campus to create further opportunities. There, students could study for a semester or work at internships over the summer. One trustee suggested expanding our immediate footprint by buying out a local college to grow within Rhode Island.
A member then asked about insight on if the growing class size will impact students’ experiences as well as the student-to-faculty ratio and the facilities that we have available. There are plans to increase facilities, which have started with Shanley Hall. The faculty-student ratio will not change; more faculty will be hired to ensure this. He stated that they will work to keep the small family environment that many love at the College, as he believes that they can afford to accept more students without sacrificing it.
In terms of the LGBTQIA+ Liaison permanent position on campus, Fr. Sicard, O.P., feels that the position is valuable at the school and the position’s responsibilities have expanded. He is optimistic the role will fit in well at the College, despite its difficult nature thus far. He mentioned that all diversity efforts must fit hand in hand with mission and ministry, but assured that this is something that will be focused on.
A member then inquired about the nursing school and the possibility of providing programs such as EMT certification for general students. There has been conversation about providing PA programs and nurse practitioner programs for the student body.
A representative asked about safety and security on campus. They shared experiences they learned from students at other schools regarding safety classes to foster comfort within the community. Fr. Sicard, O.P., answered that the College used to offer self-defense classes. Chief Carnegie offered his point of view, sharing that they are looking into different courses about safety and security. His office has been going through every floor in every building with resident assistants to ask for opinions and communicate better.
One student mentioned Pope Francis’s announcement of the necessity to care for our planet. They shared that a proposition has been sent to Fr. Sicard, O.P, in terms of a plan for sustainability, but he had not seen such a plan. He urged the student to send it again.
The speakers answered a student’s suggestion regarding single-bedroom spaces on campus after Fennel is knocked down. Aquinas and Shanley Hall will have some singles set aside. There will be about 80 to 90 spaces on campus where single-bedroom spaces will exist.
The student had a follow-up question regarding the College’s effort in recognizing women and women’s empowerment after the 50 Years of Women celebration, confronting the sexism that comes with PC’s inability to have a female president. Fr. Sicard, O.P., applauded his second in command at the College who is female, noting that the executive positions within the college are primarily filled by women. He insisted that the College is creating positions for talented women and acknowledged the remnants of PC being an all-male school, and stated that we continue to work to attract more women for the Board of Trustees and the Cabinet in general.
Student Congress is grateful to president Fr. Sicard, O.P., and his colleagues for attending the meeting. He will be sharing more information about initiatives on campus during the Friarside Chats. We look forward to working with him in the future.