Image Courtesy of Catholic University Communications
By Chanel Cole
President Kilpatrick has been working away these past three months, and a town hall hosted by the Student Government Association was another one of the many things on his agenda. On October 24, 2022 at 6:30 p.m. in the Pyrz Great Rooms, students, faculty and administrators alike came together to listen to their new president and his mission for the university.
The town hall commenced with an open statement by the President in which he expressed his goals and hopes for the future of the Catholic University of America. From his time meeting with alumni and current students, Kilpatrick decided that the university must come together under a “unity platform,” or a few shared beliefs that stimulate the community. One of those beliefs surrounds CUA’s Catholic identity, in which he wants the university to act “in the heart of the Church”. That means that every action students take should be governed by the Church’s teachings. Furthermore, another belief for the unity platform involves becoming a nurturing, welcoming community on campus, regardless of religious identity. This belief, according to Kilpatrick, is rooted in the Catholic faith and the truth that all have human dignity and value. As Kilpatrick attested, “We shouldn’t be divided on issues that really, at the end of the day, aren’t important enough to be divided on.” His proposed unity platform therefore seeks to consolidate the community on key principles that are core to all of us so that we can focus on more pressing issues.
And the university’s growth is just one of those issues. During his time here, Kilpatrick’s goal is to help the university grow and expand so that it may have the resources to solve its most dire problems. He seeks to not only increase enrollment in the coming years, but also retain students and help academic programs expand.
After his opening statement, there was a transition into Q&A in which questions were submitted via Google Form prior to the meeting.
The first question asked for some elaboration on the President’s proposed speaker series. His motivation for this was derived from the speakers that have come to the university in the past:
“It was my impression that some of the speakers we had invited to campus in the past were speakers that would be attractive to a particular student group on campus and would really engage in a talk or speech in a topic that would be really engaging for that group, but not to another group. In some sense, that’s being part of an echo chamber and I don’t think that’s what we want to focus on in a university.”
According to Kilpatrick, this current predicament discourages constructive dialogue and he hopes that with a speaker series students will be able to understand both sides of an argument or debate, not just the side they agree on.
Another student asked for an update on campus construction. The President responded that Garvey Hall is projected to finish by mid-November, ideally before Thanksgiving break. Inside the building, there will be more lounges and open study space than the Pyrz and he is open to the idea of inviting other food venues if space allows. Moreover, Dr. Kilpatrick is considering a new project to add more residence halls as enrollment expands. He also acknowledged the much-needed renovations that ought to be done in Pangborn Hall.
After that, another question came in pertaining to the Women’s Report from the Sister Bowman’s Program which seeks to foster diversity and inclusion for all. Kilpatrick said that the program is working on outreach from all over the country and abroad to expand diversity on campus. University alumni are the organs behind this program and take a great interest in this area.
A question was then raised about the Growth Task Force. As President Kilpatrick stated in his opening statement, growth is a priority of his and he has to now consider how the university will grow and the ways in which that may upset the current culture. In his words, the university is comprehensive and in order to keep itself afloat there are only two options: to eliminate academic schools or to grow them. The best option can be found in the latter. There is also the concern of upsetting the university culture that must be weighed out. As Kilpatrick stated, “Students set the culture.” The more open students are to change, the more an environment conducive to change is fostered. He shared that in order to grow, the university should establish an office in India. Why? 1.4 billion people live in India, with a sizable amount of them being young people. Furthermore, Catholic education is highly valued in India. Kilpatrick said, outreach initiatives there have great potential of increasing student enrollment.
Dr. Kilpatrick also provided a brief overview of the Guadalupe Project, which is the university’s response to the Dobbs decision and is a “pro-life way to deal with infants”. He promised that the report on this project would be released before the end of October.
Another important question was asked on whether or not Dr. Kilpatrick would support LGBTQ+ students on campus, to which he shared that he opened up dialogue with CUAllies and met with them in his living room in Nugent Hall to see if they could come to a solution. Additionally, he also met with LGBTQ+ representatives from the Law School. To him, this is a prime example of the culture and Church teachings being at odds. The President stated that he wants the University to be reared in the heart of the Church, but still wants to be sensitive to student views. Kilpatrick believes there are boundaries that must be maintained if a formal relationship between the club and the University arises.
Similarly, the President also wants to bridge the gap between liberal and conservative Catholics on campus. He wants CUA to rise above politics and insists that the University should be apolitical.
SGA President Tony Crnkovich reminded the audience of the newly created “report misconduct” link that was created as an easier way for people to report misconducts and all the information is in one place. It was also announced that Catholic University is the first in the country to have a divestment, or collaboration with other Catholic institutions to create investment standards. Kilpatrick stated that there was not a comprehensive report available just yet.
With that, a general Q&A from the audience ensued. A student was handed the mic and expressed his concerns to Kilpatrick about dining on campus. He wanted to know what structural changes would be made with the establishment of Garvey Hall. The President responded that all the food will be made to order at the new dining hall in the hopes of decreasing food waste. As it stands, Kilpatrick said, over 35% of the food in the Eatery is wasted. There will also be more allergen-free food stations. As Kilpatrick already mentioned, Garvey Hall should be finished before Thanksgiving break.
The next question was concerning the lacking language program at CUA compared to other universities like American University. The President’s response to this was that American is larger and that there are exchange programs in place in which students can take their desired language classes at another university that offers it. If the university grows like he plans it will then CUA will have the resources to offer more language programs.
Someone asked if there will be another campus dog and much to everyone’s chagrin, Dr. Kilpatrick replied no.
As we wiped away our tears of despair, another question was asked by a student, which pertained to tuition caps. The sudden rise of tuition has been a concern for many students and to alleviate some of that distress, Kilpatrick is planning on providing more students with impact scholarships. These will hopefully promote more diversity on campus.
A student asked if there was any foreseeable improvement on the long wait times with Garvey opening up. The President said that he would study this issue and work towards a solution. Some ideas that he threw in the air were cutting a deal with the restaurants on Monroe Street to accept card swipes or inviting more venues to campus.
A question was asked about how the university plans to support non-Catholic students. Dr. Kilpatrick replied that he was exploring the construction of an interfaith area in Pangborn Hall and expressed a serious desire to be more welcoming of students of all religious backgrounds on campus.
The final question pertained to the construction of the Conway School of Nursing and its completion. The President was told it would be finished no later than December 2023 because they are ahead of schedule, but supply-chain delays could stall the completion to the spring of 2024. His goal with the creation of the Conway School is to overcome the challenges of finding qualified professors and clinical opportunities for nursing students. He wants to experiment with using technology as a teaching tool that will simulate a real hands-on experience. Of course, the technology would not substitute a nursing curriculum, but rather complement it, he said.
And with that, the Town Hall meeting was adjourned.