President Fry hosts student ideas forum
Issue date: 11/12/10 Section: News
Also present to answer questions at the session were Dean of Students David Ruth and Senior Vice President for Student Life and Administrative Services James Tucker. The trio responded to questions and comments on a variety of topics from the expansion of library spaces to future plans for on-campus housing.
The most glaring complaints that students had for the administration involved the term master schedule, which students rely on to plan their course schedules. A number of students complained about how the various academic colleges go about scheduling classes. Some specific grievances dealt with departments failing to schedule certain classes at convenient times or cancelling sections of classes after students had already planned to register for them. Fry empathized with students on this issue, citing similar frustrations that his daughter is currently experiencing at another college, and promised to seek improvements.
"We need to have some standards and some regularity, otherwise people are kind of on a fishing expedition here," Fry said of the course scheduling process. "You're not always gonna get everything you want at that moment, but you at least want to be able to plan [your schedule] and know that you can sort of do it within a reasonable period of time."
Another scheduling-related complaint was that there are fewer course offerings during the summer quarter than there are during the rest of the year, which is an unfair inconvenience to fall/winter co-op students. Once again, Fry agreed that this is unacceptable and will be addressed in the near future.
"Summer is a time on many campuses that is not as productive, and it should be. I mean, in this day and age, people will go to school 12 months a year, and they need to utilize the summer," Fry said.
Another intriguing topic of discussion was the expansion of library spaces announced last week. Tucker clarified the exact location of the new space to open on Race Street this spring; it will be directly under the awning of Race Street Residences. He also listed a few other locations that were under consideration for conversion into learning spaces.
"We're looking at the Academic Building," Tucker said. "We have 4,200 students on campus living now, and we have 5,000 students living in the neighborhood behind it. So the more we can get a library up in that end of campus, or two, the better. The other location we're looking at was [the lobby of] Bossone."
Tucker also talked briefly about possible additions to campus dining. He mentioned Sabrina's Café, a locally owned and operated restaurant with locations in Center City and South Philadelphia, as a possibility to replace The Grille in Ross Commons, which closed down last spring. He also said the University will conduct a survey to find out what type of food option students would like to see in the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building, which will open this summer. Dunkin' Donuts is reportedly a popular candidate to occupy that location.
Another major possibility that Tucker announced was a plan to expand the Main Campus bookstore out toward Chestnut Street.
"We're actually looking at bringing out the Barnes and Noble almost to the street to make it feel like a full-service Barnes and Noble store that has a café," Tucker said. He also mentioned the possibility of adding a few floors of student housing above this proposed addition to the bookstore.
Other housing-related discussions at the session included an update on the overflow housing measures currently in effect. First, Fry noted that Drexel was one of several American colleges that had housing issues this year due to grossly underestimating or overestimating the incoming freshman class size.
"Other institutions really missed, so there's something going on in the market that no one can sort of put their hand on, so it's not like we didn't plan this year or did poor planning," Fry said. "It's a happier surprise to have more than less."
After Fry defended Drexel's planning for the incoming class, Tucker announced that all students currently housed in lounge spaces are expected to be relocated to permanent housing assignments by the beginning of the winter quarter. He also said that University Housing might keep some of the triple-occupancy rooms it currently has in Towers Hall and offer them as an option to next year's freshmen because many students currently living in the triple rooms say they enjoy them. Another reason that triple rooms might be offered as a voluntary option next year is that they cost less than the regular housing rate, and not all students can afford the cost of a standard two-person room or a suite.
"We actually had 400 students that, because of the recession we had, had to walk out of housing contracts last year," Tucker said.
In other business, Fry gave an update on some of the initiatives he had mentioned in his convocation address in October. To complement the expansion of the Public Safety patrol zone, he said that additional street cameras will be installed and improvements to street lighting and other various aspects of neighborhood safety are in the works.
When asked about the progress of retail expansion along Lancaster Avenue, he said the project is still early in its planning phase. Drexel is currently contracting with the University City District to evaluate properties that might be viable for retail expansion. There is still much research to be done before any businesses make an official decision to open a shop on Lancaster, but Fry said some of the restaurants on Baltimore Avenue may be interested when the time comes.
On the subject of his plans to buy a house in University City for hosting events, Fry said he is looking for a property that could use some renovation. He said he does not want to buy something that is already among the best houses on the local market because that would not contribute to his goal of beautifying the neighborhood as a whole.
"Instead of buying the proverbial best house on the block, you buy a house that needs some attention, but by fixing it up, you'll improve the quality of the block," Fry said.
Fry concluded the session by saying that he is still in the process of trying to establish permanent office hours in his schedule so that students can make appointments to talk with him individually. He said the most likely possibilities for office hours would be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. The office hours will be publicly announced when they are finalized.